Saturday, January 06, 2007

Jamil Hussein and Holocaust Deniers

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Digby compares Eason Jordan to a battered wife in his desperate attempt to win the love of the right-wingers who beat him up for an article he wrote suggesting that U.S. troops might be targeting journalists:

Many great bloggers have already written definitive posts about the rightosphere's Jamail Hussein witch hunt so I won't go into the particulars. It's an ugly story all around and I'm hoping that it shows, once and for all, the difference between the "angry left" who boisterously criticize the media and the truly pernicious lynch mob mentality of the right. They go for journalistic scalps, and in this case, they may have literally gotten one.

One of the more sickening aspects of this awful little story is the Eason Jordan sideshow in which the former president of CNN, who was scalped earlier by a rightwing mob for saying that the military may have been targeting journalists, has been using this story to gain credit and linkage from the same wingnuts who took him down. I had wondered in the beginnning if perhaps he wasn't playing some sort of advanced jiujitsu to get revenge, but that's obviously not the case. He's clearly trying to curry favor with the wingnuts. Even today, he continues his pathetic quest to become Michele Malkin's man in Bagdad. ("The controversy likely will linger in this area, with third party reporting being done to determine the accuracy of Captain Hussein's statements to the AP.") The man has become a living example of the battered media wife.

Digby also points to an analysis of the whole Jamil Hussein right-wing witchhunt phenomenon -- by Jonathan Schwartz at A Tiny Revolution -- that I find so extraordinarily on target that I'm quoting the entire piece, below.

Schwartz analogizes the argumentation methods used by Malkin and other rightist commentators to that of Holocaust deniers.

Most people looked at Iran's Holocaust Denial conference and thought: wow, that place is really screwed up. And rightfully so. How crazy does a country have to be to host that kind of poisonous nonsense? in America we don't have much grounds to criticize. Because we take lots of people with the exact same moral and intellectual standards as Holocaust deniers, and then—rather than consigning them to complete obscurity, as sane cultures do—WE PUT THEM ON NATIONAL TELEVISION.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Michelle Malkin and the Saga of Jamil Hussein.

Sadly, you're probably familiar with this. If not, here's the gist: last month AP reported that several Sunnis in Baghdad were attacked and set on fire in front of a mosque. One of their sources was a Baghdad policeman named Jamil Hussein. But the Iraqi government claimed (backed up by the U.S.) that they had no one on their payroll by that name. Ah ha! screamed Malkin and her one million bloggy friends. Jamil Hussein does not exist! AP made him up, just to make Americans think Iraq isn't a 100% success! This turned into a huge brouhaha.

Now, predictably enough, it turns out Hussein is real. Whoops.

But why do I compare Malkin to Holocaust deniers? Let me explain:

1. In every historical event involving massive violence and brutality, things get reported that eventually turn out to be wrong. Rumors get started. Witnesses, driven insane by fear, don't remember things clearly. Troubled individuals fabricate tales to inflate their own importance. Sometimes there's even conscious propaganda.

For instance, regarding the Holocaust, several celebrated books have turned out to be hoaxes—notably The Painted Bird by Jerzy KosiƄski and Binjamin Wilkomirski's Fragments. Stories that the Nazis made soap from human fat, once widely-believed, appear to be false.

Now, normal people understand and accept this is the nature of reality: tiny false details around the edges don't mean the Holocaust didn't happen.

2. In every historical event involving massive violence and brutality, there are those who want to deny it occurred. Usually they have transparent political motivations, but there's often a fair amount of personal weirdness—as with Fred "Dr. Death" Leuchter—mixed in too.

These deniers first pretend the massive violence and brutality never happened. Then, when presented with mounds of evidence, they fall back on a second strategy: a blizzard of accusatory questions about every detail. Could you really cremate a human body with three pounds of coal? Why are there records of inbound trains to the camps but not outbound? What proof is there of this supposed soap made from people?

While doing this, they take the pose of disinterested scholars: "All we are asking for," they say, "is an open debate." (One of the most prominent Holocaust denial organizations calls itself "The Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust.")

3. 999 times out of 1000, you can provide simple answers to the deniers' questions—though bothering to do this is in itself a victory for them, as they've wasted your time and created the appearance they should be treated as normal, rational human beings.

But the one time out of 1000 is even better for them: due to the nature of reality (see above), they INEVITABLY will eventually stumble on mistakes or even fabrications. And then they will screech triumphantly about this for decades on end.

"Look!" they cry. "The soap legend is false! Surely for anyone honest, this will raise doubts about the entire Holocaust story!"

Now we return to Michelle Malkin.

In the case of Iraq, she and her squad of winged attack monkeys have followed this script precisely:

1. Normal people understand the situation in Iraq is catastrophic, with massive violence and brutality on all sides. Because humans aren't perfect, not everything reported about it will be 100% accurate. But normal people know this doesn't mean things aren't horrific.

2. Malkin et al first denied things are bad. It's all just a plot by the MSM! When presented with mounds of evidence, they fell back to Strategy #2: the blizzard of questions irrelevant to the larger picture.

"Who is Jamil Hussein?"

"If he's not getting official information, then who is he and why would he know all this stuff about what goes on all over Baghdad?"

What about reports one of the other witnesses to the story is a former member of Saddam's secret police?!

• Etc.

And they cry: all we're asking for is an open debate! Our so-called "agenda" is simply finding out the truth!

3. In this particular case, it turns out Jamil Hussein is real. That's okay, because it served to waste the time of dozens of serious people and forced the world to treat Malkin like a non-lunatic. And as always, More Questions Remain.

But if they'd hit the jackpot with this one—as they eventually will with something—they'd be shrieking about it for the next fifty years: "The Jamil Hussein legend is false! Surely for anyone honest, this will raise doubts about the whole Iraq-is-terrible story!"

Now, what's happening in Iraq, as dreadful as it is, obviously does not compare to the Holocaust. Nevertheless, it's important to recognize that the motivation and credibility of Malkin & co. are exactly the same as Holocaust deniers. (And indeed, if the U.S. were setting up death camps in Iraq, Malkin would be leading the denial of that.)

But there's an even larger point: every society has hatemongering nutjobs like Malkin. So the mere fact she exists isn't remarkable. However, normal countries leave them to fulminate in their parents' basement. Abnormal countries let them host "conferences" or put them on Hannity & Colmes.

It's easy to see the problem with Iranian culture isn't the individual attendees at the Holocaust Denial conference; rather, it's powerful figures like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who give them legitimacy. But we need to recognize the same thing is true here: what we should be focusing on isn't Malkin herself, but the powerful people who give her a platform.

AND ABOUT ANNE FRANK: The reason I have Malkin talking about Anne Frank is an article by notorious Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson called Is "The Diary of Anne Frank" Genuine? If you read it, you'll find it sounds eerily like every right-wing blog post you've ever seen.

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