Marquette student publication claims Holocaust-denying bishop not anti-Semitic

An opinion piece in this week’s The Warrior by Adam Ryback claims that the ultra-orthodox bishop Richard Williamson, who claimed only 200,000-300,000 people were systematically murdered in Nazi Germany camps i.) is not a Holocaust denier, and ii.) is not anti-Semitic. On both points, Ryback is simply wrong. That’s a blunt way of putting it. But he’s wrong.

i.) When someone says the standard death-toll of the Shoah is 5.7 million high, they’re denying the Holocaust. They’re denying  82 percent of the Holocaust, 82 percent of those killed. You’re saying the testimony of millions more of the families of those butchered is 82 percent fabrication, 82 percent of the trauma and nightmares and disillusionment is a put-on.

No Holocaust revisionist denies the Nazis maintained the camps, nor do they claim that prisoners did not die by the thousands within them. What deniers deny is that the camps were built with the intention to serve as killing facilities with working gas chambers; and the magnitude of the killing, which Williamson clearly does, by admitting only a fraction of the murders. To say Williamson isn’t a Holocaust denier is to render the the term “Holocaust denier” meaningless.

ii.) Besides Holocaust denial,Williamson has made other inflammatory statements about the Jews. He believes The Protocols of the Elders of Zion to be an authentic document by Jewish and Masonic megalomaniac collaborators, and maintained that Jews are devil-worshipers and antichrists.

Ryback doesn’t appear to have done the preliminary Google-search or Wikipedia-scanning that would have made this clear. At least, we can hope he didn’t.

Taking him at his word, Ryback writes, and apparently believes, an unattributed comment by Williamson in which the bishop claimed were based on the case presented by trusted historians*, and that “emotion” didn’t play a roll in his deliberation. Why are we taking Williamson’s lame excuse at face value? “If your mother tells you she loves you,” an addage of journalism schools commands, “Check it out.” For a journalist, Ryback displays a worrying trust in Williamson’s stated motives, even while the bishop is trying to cover his ass for expressing a belief he knows unacceptable.

I cannot believe anyone was ever convinced of the claims of anti-Semitic Holocaust deniers without bringing their own anti-Semitism to the table. Williamson may well have believed a truer account of the Shoah while smoldering in a very public theological contempt for the Jews, and later connected on subliminal level (or, more likely, fully conscious level) with similarly hateful historians. It is one of the commonest cognitive biases to attribute the decisions of others to capricious emotivism, and our own choices to cool-headed deliberation.  Reason is, for better or for worse, slave to the passions. Johan Lehrer writes:

It turns out that we weren’t engineered to be rational or logical or even particularly deliberate. Instead, our mind holds a messy network of different areas, many of which are involved with the production of emotion. Whenever we make a decision, the brain is awash in feeling, driven by its inexplicable passions. Even when we try to be reasonable and restrained, these emotional impulses secretly influence our judgment.

The notion of an actor moved by pure reason its itself a chimera. Experience tells us we can’t approach most questions with no presuppositions, and when we our ignorance of a topic precludes judgment, our preferences, prejudices, and biases show through; Williamson’s should be obvious.

Why anyone would raise a finger in defense of a misogynistic, illiberal, conspiracy theorist and bigot only makes sense when one realizes the temprement of The Warrior’s staff has never been conservative, but reactionary. In their minds, Marquette’s institutional orthodoxy is overshadowed by the disparate expression of personal opinions by academics and fellow students. Under this sense of marginalization, any critique of any Catholic, no matter how outrageous–except those who thinks gays should ever be allowed to be at peace with themselves, or that contraceptives might affect some good–is percieved as an attack on the entire faith.

Because I foresee people reading into this interpretation, I would like to answer it now by saying I don’t believe Ryback himself is necessarily anti-Semitic. But at the very least, one can say he is uncritical in his defense of the Catholic Church as a human institution, and woefully misunderstanding of the nexus of issues involved in Holocaust revisionism. This degree of misunderstanding is actively harmful; Holocaust denial is marginalized in the US, but still prevalent on the Continent, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Latin America. It is still vital to collective progress and healing that we recognize Holocaust denying bigots for what they are.

I’m really hoping the Anti-Defamation League gives a deserved written scolding to The Warrior. I’m all for these kids’ Constitutional right to express their opinions, however ill-founded. But in expression, they open themselves to critique and censure.

*Williamson’s criterion for “trustworthiness,” which admits the Protocols, should tell us all we need to know.

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One Response

  1. Excellent post. I’ve blogged about the Holocaust denying Bishop as well:

    http://mattwion.blogspot.com/2009/02/popes-poor-judgment-say-it-aint-so-joe.html

    and

    http://mattwion.blogspot.com/2009/02/vatican-does-right-thing.html

    The comments I receive from people made claims similar to the claims made in The Warrior piece: he’s not techincally denying the holocaust and so on.

    This is absurd of course. As you right see, he may “technically” be not denying the “entire” holocaust, but what he is is denying it’s esence and downplaying it’s horrore. I see no moral difference between that and a totaly denial. He is a holocaust denier.

    And he is clearly – a quick google search shows this – known for blatant anti-semtism. Indeed, what motive would anyone have for such denials other than anti-semitisim?

    I know the warrior article claimed he was simply reading “historians” which is lame.

    And yes the Warrior is a reactionary news source. I affirm very strongly their right to publish their views. But let’s call them what they are extremist reactonaries peddling a far right agenda, not simply conservatives.

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