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“Different cultures have different myths. Why? Because they have different ideas about which stories are worth insisting are sacred and true. We do not need to force one group’s myth upon the other group. But we do need to engage in dialogue with people who do not share our myths.

The official account of 9/11, according to which 19 Muslim extremists destroyed the World Trade Center and part of the Pentagon, was obviously intended from the beginning to function as a sacred myth, inaugurating a new era in which “everything changed.” The myth of the 19 hijackers, the genesis of the “war on terror” religion, was stillborn in the Islamic world, where less than 20% believed it from the very beginning. In the West, that myth has gradually been chipped away. A recent New York Times poll showed that only 16% of the American people believe the government is telling the truth about 9/11.”

(Kevin Barrett, Ph.D.)


History is written by the winners, or so goes the cliché. And so is the daily news, I would add.

Different cultures create different mythologised versions of history and contemporary reality, but how often do they engage in dialogue with each other to compare notes? The following humanist article was kindly contributed for this site by the outstanding American scholar Kevin J Barrett, Ph.D., providing a humanitarian overview of certain key aspects of the history of the world of the last 500 years.

Dr Barrett has taught Islam, English, French, Arabic, Humanities, African Literature, American Civilization, and Folklore at colleges and universities in the San Francisco Bay Area, Paris and Madison, Wisconsin, and holds a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in African Languages and Literature (Arabic).

In 2004 he co-founded the Muslim-Jewish-Christian Alliance for 9/11 Truth (MUJCA), and is currently writing a book entitled The Myth of 9/11: An American Muslim Speaks Out. Dr. Barrett, an Arabist specializing in the analysis of myth, literature and folklore, argues that the official story of 9/11 is a myth, both in the popular sense of an untrue story, and the scholarly sense of a founding narrative legitimizing a particular social order. You can read his articles and books by visiting his website at http://mujca.com. Introductory Comments by Simon Rees, March 2007


Holocausts, Genocides, and Denial: Moral Mythographies of the Unspeakable

Kevin Barrett, March 2007 http://mujca.com

“In 1993, I came across a review of a book about people who deny the Nazi Holocaust actually occurred. I wrote to the author, a university professor, telling her that her book made me wonder whether she knew that an American holocaust had taken place, and that the denial of it put the denial of the Nazi one to shame. So broad and deep is the denial of the American holocaust, I said, that the deniers are not even aware that the claimers or their claims exist. Yet, a few million people have died in the American holocaust, and many more millions have been condemned to lives of misery and torture as a result of US interventions extending from China and Greece in the 1940s to Afghanistan and Iraq in the 1990s...
...She made no comment...not even to acknowledge that I had raised the matter. The irony of a scholar on the Nazi Holocaust engaging in such denial about the American holocaust was classic indeed.”
—William Blum, Killing Hope, p. 16

“Conrad could no more avoid hearing of the ceaseless genocide that marked his century than his contemporaries could. It is we who have suppressed it. We do not want to remember. We want genocide to have begun and ended with Nazism. That is what is most comforting.” –Lindqvist, p. 141

“We, white man?” –Tonto, in response to the Lone Ranger’s “We’re surrounded by injuns!” (Lenny Bruce)


Books discussed herein: 

William Blum, Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II. Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press, 2004.
Alfred Crosby, Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900 (Cambridge UP, 1996)
Sven Lindqvist, Exterminate All the Brutes (London: Granta, 1997)
Michael Shermer and Alex Grobman, Denying History: Who Says the Holocaust Never Happened and Why Do They Say It? Berkeley, U of  California P, 2000.


In spring 2006, during one of my guest appearances with Casey Hoff of WTDY talk radio in Madison, Wisconsin, someone—I don’t remember whether it was Casey or one of the callers—compared 9/11 skeptics to “people who think the Holocaust is a myth.”

“Of course it’s a myth,” I responded, explaining that the word myth, in the academic sense, means “sacred narrative that is believed by its users to be true, and that often inaugurates and legitimizes a social order or a way of understanding the world.” I explained that scholars are far more interested in the social and political effects of myths than whether or not they are empirically true. Calling the Holocaust a myth, and exploring the destructive effects of that myth, as Norman Finkelstein does, says nothing about whether the story is true or false. Interestingly, we know that the Holocaust story is a myth precisely because anyone who questions it is reviled as a kind of heretic. That is how you can tell which “true stories” are genuine sacred myths, and which ones are just stories that everyone believes. 

After a commercial break, Casey came back with: “We’re talking to Kevin Barrett, who says the Holocaust is a myth.” Casey seemed to be deliberately trying to mislead his listeners by ignoring the careful distinction I had made between the formal academic sense of the word myth, and the popular sense of “untrue story.”

Different cultures have different myths. Why? Because they have different ideas about which stories are worth insisting are sacred and true. In Islamic culture, the sacred story of the reception of the Qur’an by the Prophet Muhammad, the reception and transmission of other scriptures by other prophets including Moses and Jesus, and the reception and transmission of prophetic utterances (ahadith) forms the central myth. In Christian culture, the gospels of Jesus, and to a lesser extent the Old Testament, provide the core myth. In some contemporary circles, evolution, the big bang, and global warming function as myths. (Those who doubt the Darwinian account of evolution, or offer minoritarian interpretations of global warming data, are reviled as heretics by those who hold the official narrative sacred.)

The official account of 9/11, according to which 19 Muslim extremists destroyed the World Trade Center and part of the Pentagon, was obviously intended from the beginning to function as a sacred myth, inaugurating a new era in which “everything changed,” the Constitution and international law no longer apply, Arabs and Muslims are demonized, Zionism’s war on the Middle East is joined by the USA, and anyone who questions any of this is a heretic, a “conspiracy theorist.” It is obviously no accident that Philip Zelikow, the author of the 9/11 Commission Report, is a self-styled expert on “the creation and maintenance of public myths.” Equally obvious is that Zelikow knows the real issue is Israeli interests, not American ones, as he admitted when he said that nations like Iraq pose no threat to the USA. The real threat, Zelikow says, is “the threat that dare not speak its name”—the threat to Israel. Because this argument is “not a popular sell,” Zelikow argues that the American people must be hoodwinked into believing that they are threatened, when in fact they are not. 

The myth of the 19 hijackers, the genesis of the “war on terror” religion, was stillborn in the Islamic world, where less than 20% believed it from the very beginning. In the West, that myth has gradually been chipped away. A recent New York Times poll showed that only 16% of the American people believe the government is telling the truth about 9/11, while a Scripps-Howard poll shows that 36% believe the US government either perpetrated the attacks or intentionally let them happen in order to launch its war in the Middle East. Thus the heretics outnumber the true believers more than two to one, with the trend running strongly in favor of the heretics.

As a last-ditch defense of their doomed “19 hijackers” myth, the few remaining true believers in the gospel according to Zelikow have been trying to equate 9/11 skeptics with Holocaust deniers. In doing so, they are appealing to what may be the most powerful myth in contemporary American culture. Americans may question any or all of the world’s sacred scriptures; they may doubt the theory of evolution or the big bang; they may lampoon or excoriate their own national myth-of-1776 as much as they please. But let them say anything “off-color” about the Nazi Holocaust, and they will be damned as heretics and drummed out of polite society, mainly by people who have no idea precisely what the heretic may have said or how it contravenes orthodoxy. All they know is that the heretic is a “Holocaust denier,” just as the witch-burners knew a witch when they saw one. 

Personally, I see no reason to disagree with Shermer and Grodman on the basic facts of the Holocaust myth—roughly six million Jews and a great many other “undesirables” were killed by the Nazis during World War II, mainly as an extension of the earlier Nazi eugenics programs, not just as an accidental effect of war. In short, I accept the Western consensus Holocaust story as empirically true, as much as I accept any other Western consensus history that I have not carefully investigated for myself. What I do not understand, however, is why this genocide story, and this one alone, has become America’s dominant myth, our one unquestionable sacred narrative. White invaders of the Americas, after all, killed more than 50 million of the native inhabitants—over 90% of the population—and some accounts of the deaths caused by the Euro-American slave trade put the number of murdered Africans over 100 million. (You may, of course, quibble about these numbers, thereby proving my point that these stories, unlike the Nazi Holocaust narrative, are not sacred myths.)

Europeans have utterly and completely exterminated many dozens of peoples in Holocausts that were entirely successful, unlike the Nazi Holocaust which killed less than half the world’s Jewish population. About 500 years ago, in the first genocide of the European expansion, the natives of the Canary Islands were systematically exterminated. Since then, the Herero, the Tasmanians, the natives of the Argentine pampas, the Yahis of California, and countless other peoples have been slaughtered to the last man, woman and child in intentional and systematic genocides by Europeans and European-Americans.  Almost all of the world’s temperate zones outside Europe have had their inhabitants exterminated and replaced by Europeans. 

The genocide has continued into the 20th century. Just a few examples include: the Italians exterminating half the population of Libya under Mussolini; the French killing perhaps a million Algerians in their effort to maintain their theft of that country; and now the Americans murdering over 1.5 million Iraqis while poisoning the cradle of civilization with depleted uranium, piling bodies upon the many millions of other victims of what Blum calls the “American Holocaust.” The future bodes even worse, as the American-Zionist destruction of Palestine is threatening, as I write, to expand into the decimation of the entire Middle East. 

Yet these monumental crimes, this colossal series of genocides that altered the very ecology of major parts of our planet, are barely remembered by the white folks who are descended from the perpetrators. Instead, white folks have sanctified the story of the Nazi Holocaust precisely in order to avoid acknowledging their own complicity in the greatest genocide in the history of the planet—the “European expansion” of the past 500 years. For Americans and most Europeans, genocide is something Germans do. “We” brave, valiant Allies, who incinerated whole cities full of civilians at Dresden and Hiroshima and Nagasaki, are the heroes. The Germans are the scapegoats who allow us to continue on our genocidal path without acknowledging what we are doing. 

Lindqvist points out that Euro-Americans have justified their genocides as the natural and beneficial “weeding out” of “inferior races.” This genocidal racism continues in the pages of the New York Times, which devotes sixty times as much space to each Israeli death as to each Palestinian death in its coverage of that conflict. The Times would never print a report by one of its own journalists, Chris Hedges, describing the way Israeli soldiers lure Palestinian children into range of their guns in order to gut-shoot them for sport; it had to be published in Harpers Magazine. The Times  will not follow up on the British Medical Journal article describing the intentional sniper-murder of more than 600 Palestinian children who posed no threat—many are shot in schoolyards and on their way to and from school. These 600 documented cases of child-murder presumably represent the tip of the iceberg; yet there are no Israeli attempts to stop this sick sport indulged in by its soldiers, nor any coverage in the New York Times or Washington Post

The surreal, even Orwellian use of the Holocaust story to excuse ongoing US-Israeli genocide makes almost everyone outside Western Europe and North America roll their eyeballs and shake their heads. It also makes many of them instinctively doubt the empirical truth of the Holocaust story, which seems to them to be an entirely-too-convenient excuse for the Israelis and Americans to continue their genocidal ways. 

During my year as a Fulbright scholar in Morocco, I met dozens of educated people, including several university professors, most of them of a secularist orientation, who expressed various degrees of doubt about the official Western version of the Nazi Holocaust narrative. I did not meet a single person there who said he or she completely believed the Western consensus version. When I learned that the Arab world’s leading statesman and socio-historical commentator, Mohammed Heikal, says he is convinced that the actual number of Jews killed in the Holocaust is less than one million, I realized the cultural gulf that separates Americans, who deem “Holocaust deniers” heretics, from the Arab world, where doubt if not denial is virtually unanimous. Most of the formerly Euro-colonized world, especially Muslim-majority societies, likewise doubts the Western Holocaust narrative, which is why Iran’s president could score huge political points all over the world by hosting a “Holocaust revisionists’” conference last year.

Before we deem the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims and most of the folks in the ex-colonies “Holocaust deniers,” we should look at the way Americans and Israelis deny their own crimes against humanity. The American denial of the American holocaust of post-WWII interventions is just as astounding as the Muslim world’s doubts about the Nazi Holocaust. One could even argue that it is worse, since Muslim doubts about German bad deeds seem more charitable than American refusal to acknowledge American crimes.

Israel, too, is in a deep state of denial about its criminal history. Israelis deny the obvious fact that the modern nation of Israel sits on land stolen from its rightful occupants just a few generations ago. They deny that they lied for decades about the brutal 1948 ethnic cleansing that killed or exiled the majority of those rightful occupants. And when they finally admit they were lying, and that the Palestinian accounts of the 1948 massacres and expulsions were correct, as Zionist historian Benny Morris does in Righteous Victims, they quickly turn around and excuse, or even endorse, these crimes against humanity! “There are times in history,” Morris tells us, “when ethnic cleansing is necessary.” He even goes on to lament the decision to halt the massacres and expulsions prematurely—a sort of Zionist equivalent of the neo-Nazi slogan “Hitler should have finished the job.” Since Morris seems to be saying that the problem Ben Gurion should have pro-actively solved is the existence of millions of Palestinians, it sounds like he wishes Ben Gurion had murdered the entire population. Such an endorsement of genocide by a relatively liberal, “pro-Palestinian” Israeli intellectual raises questions about the sanity and humanity of the less-liberal Israeli Jews who revile Morris as a softie. And if a liberal Israeli Zionist is that murderously fanatical, what does this suggest about the American Zionists who have made AIPAC the most feared lobby in Washington, and who contribute about half of the money America’s politicians raise for their campaigns? Do these guys have any scruples about how far they would go to serve Israel’s interest, even at the expense of America’s?

When Morris endorses the slaughter-by-bayonet of villages upon villages of Palestinians in order to terrorize the entire population of Palestine into fleeing, and his views are placed at the liberal, pro-Palestinian end of the Zionist spectrum, it is no wonder that for most Arabs and Muslims, pro-Zionists are seen about the same way that Jews see pro-Nazis and Holocaust deniers.  

Many Arabs and Muslims refuse to associate in any way with pro-Zionists, just as many non-Muslim Americans refuse to associate in any way with pro-Nazis. Many Arab countries will refuse you entry if your passport has an Israeli stamp. Prior to the emergence of al-Jazeera, no Arab news channel would give Israeli spokesmen airtime. The story of Zionist crimes against Palestine is a sacred myth in Arab and Muslim countries, just as the story of German crimes against Jews is a sacred myth in Israel and the USA.

We do not need to force one group’s myth upon the other group. But we do need to engage in dialogue with people who do not share our myths. Those puzzled and dismayed by “Holocaust deniers” should be open to dialogue with the deniers, as Shermer and Grobman seem to be. How else could anyone find out why they think the way they do, and perhaps enlighten some of them with more accurate historical facts and interpretations? And given all the crazy, non-factual beliefs people hold, why should relatively minor quibbles about the Nazi Holocaust land people like David Irving in jail, while pervasive denial of much larger holocausts is itself denied, and beliefs far more un-empirical than Irving’s, about all sorts of things, are tolerated?

Anti-Zionists, for their part, need to learn to tolerate Zionism enough to engage in dialogue with pro-Zionists. In the end, the debate about Zionism, like the debate about Nazism, is mired in the past, distracting our attention from ways we can make the world better in the present. Myth should be relegated to the realm of the sacred, and history moved firmly into the world of contingency and empirical analysis. We should be able to debate history without mythologizing it. 

Those who hold wrong beliefs about history are simply wrong. They are not heretics. Those who understand the empirical facts, however, and intentionally distort them, spinning artificial myths in order to achieve political power—as the neoconservatives do—are morally depraved. It is they, and not the honest-but-mistaken “Holocaust deniers” and “Zionist stooges,” who ought to be reviled and excluded from public life.

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