It's easy to demonize Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. What other head of state in the 21st century would call together more than 60 of the world's most notorious Holocaust deniers, fete them in his capital, and lead them in a chorus calling for Israel's destruction? That the radical Ahmadinejad sits atop a regime seemingly bent on acquiring nuclear arms and vying for leadership of the Muslim world is bad enough. But what is equally worrisome is the level of base ignorance he represents.
Ahmadinejad is the product of a decades-long rise in anti-Semitic vitriol in the Muslim world, a drumbeat of propaganda worthy of the Nazis' Joseph Goebbels. Exposed to a constant stream of movies, literature, and news media blaming the world's ills on Jews, many Muslims believe the Holocaust to be a myth or have simply never heard of it. Somali immigrant Ayaan Hirsi Ali, whose courageous stands while in the Dutch parliament earned her death threats from extremists, wrote a revealing piece in the Los Angeles Times on Sunday. Growing up in Muslim communities in Saudi Arabia and Kenya, she heard nothing but hatred toward the Jews, and nothing at all about the Holocaust. "Jews were said to be responsible for the deaths of babies and for epidemics such as AIDS, and they were believed to be the cause of wars," she wrote. "If we [Muslims] ever wanted to know peace and stability, and if we didn't want to be wiped out, we would have to destroy the Jews."
It's that mindset that informs the bigotry of men like the Iranian president. Ultimately, Iran's own people may repudiate Ahmadinejad and he'll end up where such demagogues belongon the ash heap of history. But the misruled societies, religious zealots, and foundering economies that have created his ilk will not be so easily dispatched.Photo Credit: BEHROUZ MEHR—AFP/GETTY IMAGES