The Washington Post’s On Faith site poses an interesting question for its panelists:

Is it better to challenge or ignore Holocaust deniers such as Catholic Bishop Richard Williamson and Iranian President Mahmoud Amadenijad? Why?

A lot of the responses are moralistic in nature, and although mostly written from the religious perspective of their authors, not far off base. However, for me — although Holocaust denial is rooted in anti-Semitism and therefore has a mostly-religious basis — the question of whether or not the Holocaust happened, is inherently historiographical, not religious. That is, the most important question is the veracity of the Holocaust and what we have since learned about it.

So in a way, the question of “engaging” Holocaust-deniers is not a sound one. It’s premised on the idea that Holocaust deniers have something to say that’s worth hearing, or that their opinions are worth wrestling with.

This is not a safe assumption, however. Not all views have any validity, nor is there always an “equivalence of viewpoints.”

Let me use a different example. Say you meet someone who thought the earth was flat, not round. (Not a kid in school just learning about the shape of the earth … I mean an adult who has been educated in physics but has chosen, for whatever reason, to believe the earth is flat rather than a sphere.) Would you bother arguing the shape of the earth with such a person? If so, why? What reason would any rational person have, to “engage in dialog” with someone whose beliefs are obviously contrary to science (and have been for the many centuries that have passed since the ancient Greeks, among other peoples, determined the earth is a sphere)?

I suppose if the person is a friend, you might want to straighten him/her out, but otherwise, why bother? The idea that the earth is flat, is not a view that’s worthy of any discussion. It is not a notion that could be “balanced” somehow with the (correct) notion of a spherical earth. There is no equivalence, no “balance point,” and no merit to entertaining such a view.

The same goes for Holocaust denial. There is no merit to even discuss the possibility the Holocaust didn’t happen, since it did — and we know it — just as surely as we know the earth is a sphere.

The cold hard fact is that Holocaust denial has no historiographical basis any more. It is motivated solely by hatred of Jews and/or Judaism, and a desire to rob them of their heritage. In this regard it’s no different from, say, British-Israelism, which claims that modern Jews are not actually Jews; rather, the peoples of Britain are descendants of the “lost tribes of Israel” and therefore the British — not the Jews — are God’s “chosen people.” In the same way, Holocaust-denial is a way of eliminating any consideration of the Jews as a distinct people (whether ethnically, socially, culturally, or religiously).

When people are motivated to believe something because of religion or hatred, there can be no “reasoning” with them, no constructive dialog. There is nothing that Holocaust-deniers can say about the Holocaust that’s worth hearing, because it has no basis in fact or rationality.

The only reasonable way to deal with Holocaust-deniers, is to marginalize them. Laugh at them. Dismiss them. Call them kooks, cranks, or wing-nuts. But don’t do anything that even implies they have anything worthwhile to say — because nothing good can come from hearing what they say.

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