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CATHY YOUNG

Muslims and the Holocaust

RECENTLY IN England, four Muslim-staffed committees appointed to advise Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Cabinet on issues related to Islam have come up with a recommendation: Get rid of an official event viewed as offensive to Muslims. What event would that be? A celebration of the Crusades, perhaps? No, Holocaust Memorial Day.

In the words of one committee member, ''The very name Holocaust Memorial Day sounds too exclusive to many young Muslims. It sends out the wrong signals: that the lives of one people are to be remembered more than others."

That ''one people," of course, are the Jews.

The committees aren't exactly proposing that the Holocaust commemoration be scrapped outright. They want it to be folded into a ''Genocide Memorial Day" that will also include such crimes as the slaughter of the Tutsis in Rwanda and the massacres of Bosnian Muslims by the Milosevic regime.

Unfortunately, even against the bloody backdrop of the 20th century, there are strong reasons to regard the Nazi extermination of the Jews as a unique atrocity. It was the first, and so far the only time that, as Cornell University historian Stephen Katz put it in his 1994 book ''The Holocaust in Historical Context," that ''a state set out, as a matter of intentional principle and actualized policy, to annihilate physically every man, woman, and child belonging to a specific people."

But the problem with the proposal goes far deeper. The other ''genocides" for which they want recognition include the Israeli killings of Palestinians.

Clearly, Palestinians have suffered under the occupation. Over 4,000 have been killed since the renewal of violence five years ago. Some of these dead were completely innocent victims; others were fighters, violent protesters, or suicide bombers. (Nearly 1,000 Israelis have died as well.) This death toll is tragic; but to call it ''genocide" is to cheapen the word.

Any equation between the Holocaust and Israel's treatment of the Palestinians is absurd. The effect of such a parallel is not to promote ''inclusiveness" -- it is to erase and minimize the tragedy of the Jews as past victims of genocide by slanderously assigning them an equal role as its present-day perpetrators.

The committees are formally presenting their proposal (backed by the head of the Muslim Council of Britain) to the government later this week; the Home Office has already reportedly indicated that it does not plan to act on the recommendation. What's frightening, however, is that such a proposal could come from a group of people charged with the task of helping the government combat extremism.

Alas, this is not a unique case. The same issue of the London Daily Telegraph that reported the attack on Holocaust Day carried another remarkable story. Ahmad Thomson, deputy chairman of Britain's Association of Muslim Lawyers and occasional adviser to the prime minister, recently claimed that Blair had been pressured into entering the Iraq war by a sinister conspiracy of Jews and Freemasons. In his 1994 book, ''The Next World Order," Thomson (a convert to Islam) claimed that the Holocaust is a ''big lie" and that the presence of US soldiers in Saudi Arabia is especially outrageous because many of them are Jewish.

These two stories illustrate an uncomfortable truth: The infection of anti-Jewish bigotry is alarmingly widespread in the Muslim community today, not only in predominantly Muslim and Arab countries -- where the media routinely circulate anti-Semitic libels and conspiracy theories while preachers and editorialists compare Jews to pigs and monkeys -- but in Western democracies as well. Some apologists on the left blame this virulent hatred on the Israeli occupation of the territories. But is it plausible to believe that a state of Israel within its 1948 borders would be less hated by those who believe all of its land rightfully belongs to Muslims?

This is not to tar all or most Muslims with the same brush, or to deny that anti-Muslim bias and paranoia exists, too. (In the United States, some right-wing bloggers have been shrieking that the proposed memorial to the victims of 9/11's Flight 93 is shaped like -- horrors! -- a crescent.) Nor is it to say that Islam is inherently intolerant: All religions and ethnic groups have their bigots and haters. For a variety of reasons, the bigotry and hate in Islam are perilously close to the mainstream.

Cathy Young is a contributing editor at Reason magazine. Her column appears regularly in the Globe.

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