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Imams brief congressman on trip to concentration camps to battle anti-Semitism
September 23rd, 2010
07:13 AM ET

Imams brief congressman on trip to concentration camps to battle anti-Semitism

WASHINGTON (CNN) - An American imam took an eye-opening tour last month of the Dachau and Auschwitz death camps and said that what he saw was unfathomable - and undeniable.

"You see the ashes of people. You see the pictures. You walk the trail; you see the gas chambers," said Imam Muhamad Maged of the All-Dulles-Area Muslim Society in Virginia, vice president of the Islamic Society of North America.

"It is beyond imagination that somebody would do something like that."


Maged was one of a group of imams who went on the trip. And on Wednesday, they described their visit in a public briefing on Capitol Hill led by U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota.

Rabbi Jack Bemporad, one of the trip's leaders who has long worked on interfaith projects, and Marshall Breger, a professor of law at the Catholic University of America in Washington who is Jewish, led the weeklong trip. It was co-sponsored by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and Bemporad's group, the Center for Interreligious Understanding in New Jersey.

The trip was designed to fight anti-Semitism and the denial of the Holocaust, the Nazi attempt to exterminate world Jewry during World War II. It comes amid tensions in the West over Islam and hostility between Jews and Muslims over the problems in the Middle East.

"It occurred to me that the important thing was for them to go there and simply say, 'this is what the truth is.' Not a political statement, not a propaganda statement, not even necessarily a religious statement. It had to be a statement in a sense that bore witness to what was the truth," Bemporad said at the briefing.

"There is no way you can deny evidence of history when you have seen the actual hair, the shoes," he said referring to exhibits at Auschwitz that display hills of hair and shoes from the tens of thousands of Jews gassed there.

Hannah Rosenthal, the U.S. State Department special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, said she accompanied the imams because of her concern about what she said is the rise of Holocaust denial that has taken root in the Muslim world.

"Holocaust denial doesn't just feed anti-Semitism, it is anti-Semitism, and it is growing," she said.

Rosenthal monitors anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial, and she said the trip was so important for fighting those issues and raising awareness in the Muslim community in the United States.

"Sometimes the message is the most important thing. And sometimes it's the messenger," she said: Having Muslim leaders condemn anti-Semitism carried more weight than her own condemnation would.

As the imams, the rabbi and Rosenthal were in Europe, a Florida pastor threatened to burn the Quran, and demonstrators took to the streets in Manhattan to protest the building of an Islamic center so close to ground zero.

For Bemporad, the rhetoric around those two events and subsequent debates
was eerily familiar.

"The same patterns that I studied teaching Jewish history, with respect to anti-Semitism, are now occurring with respect to anti-Muslim," Bemporad said. "It's the same propaganda, it's the same character assassinations, it's the same dehumanization, it's the same de-contextualization. [Jews] have to be the ones, because of our history, have to stand up against what's happening to the Muslim community."

Ellison, who is a Muslim himself, said he traveled to Auschwitz as a college exchange student and said "that had a transformative effect on me," It was one of the main reasons he got involved with the group who took part in the briefing.

The lawmaker said the administration's response to the threats of Quran-burning was the right one.

"What they did was help maintain America's level of liberty and freedom, where nobody has to fear who they are based on whether they have a kufi on or hijab on or a yarmulke, whether you're a Mormon or a Hindu, you can still worship as you please. It's your business, and you don't have to fear."

Maged spoke about the importance in Islam to speak truth.

"One of the most dangerous things in Islam is to have a false testimony,
and when someone denies the Holocaust, they bear false testimony."

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Interfaith issues • Islam • Judaism • Leaders • Persecution • Politics • Quran

soundoff (287 Responses)
  1. caroline

    C'mon, this is a PR tour for the Imams' own benefit. They should be ashamed of themselves. This isn't about the anti-Semitism, it's about making them look good and politically correct so they can get their 9/11 Victory Mosque built.

    September 23, 2010 at 6:58 pm |
  2. Kerry Berger

    How many Imam's from the Middle-East (Arab) countries attended this visit? I assume none and that is the problem. The American Imam has a conscience about humanity. The Nazi anti-Semitic propaganda that permeates throughout the Middle-East is the reality of mainstream Islam sects - Wahabi, etc. That's the shameful truth, and until that changes, we are only patting our own people on the back because they recognize the horror of the Holocaust in ways that many Arabs Muslims simply deny.

    September 23, 2010 at 6:53 pm |
    • Saladin

      Why should Muslims have to apologize for the Holocaust? It was German Christians (Gott Mit Us) that were responsible. Christians need to get over themselves and how civilized they are ... and please please please stop raping kids in churches. Ok?

      September 24, 2010 at 10:05 am |
  3. Kenny

    I am as good an Islam basher as the next guy but what does muslims have to do with Holocaust, they specialize in throat slashings...and blowing themselves up with others in case you havent noticed.

    September 23, 2010 at 6:46 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Kenny: Maybe it's because you are an Islam basher that this article doesn't make sense to you. But at least you admit it openly.

      September 24, 2010 at 11:39 am |
  4. Ace

    Now he should take the rabbis to iraq and palestine to see the Holocaust done by jews.

    September 23, 2010 at 6:42 pm |
    • tim

      Really? I had no idea George W. Bush was jewish.

      September 24, 2010 at 6:17 am |
    • cweinblatt

      When Jews have enslaved and murdered millions of innocent Palestinians, you can call it "genocide." Meanwhile, Palestinians teach their children that Jews are "vermin" (Oh, I wonder where that came from?) and "pigs." Palestinians use the very same language that Nazis used against Jews. Of course, sixty years of repeated military attacks, intefada, suicide bombings, rocket and sniper attacks against your legal home would anger you, as it does Israelis. Israelis teach their children to be doctors. Palestinians teach theirs to murder Jews.

      September 26, 2010 at 5:24 pm |
  5. Peace4All

    Nice start by the Imams here. But I honestly don't see a parallel [yet] to the Palestinians. The could quite easily have peace and live in harmony with their neighbors if they would just police themselves. I believe the majority of the Palestinian people would be happy to have their own country adjacent to Israel. But to accomplish that, they must first take control of the radical military elements within their own population. Clamp down. Kick them out of the would-be peaceful Palestinian state. And if they more moderate Palestinians can't accomplish that on their own, then their more Muslim friends in neighboring states should be openly willing to come to their assistance. But for some reason those "friendly neighbors" seem more intent on stirring the hatred and/or supporting the radical militias (or turning a blind eye to those they know are doing just that).

    September 23, 2010 at 6:41 pm |
  6. dontlie2u

    It is an entirely unfair to leave out the many holocaust deniers who are NOT muslim. this article makes it seem that holocaust denial began among muslims which is not true – let's not forget who waged the holocaust in the first place either.

    September 23, 2010 at 6:35 pm |
  7. Daithi mac curtáin

    The reason we have the state of Israel is because of the mass extermination of 6 million Jews in WWII , Iran could care less about the Palestinians but the fact is In the Koran it says the jews are CONDEMNED by God so we must condemn them , that for me is a load of rubbish , the jews were systematically murder by the Nazis in one of the most well organized slaughters in history , why does Iran deny some thing that happened only 70 years ago we have the evidence we have the films we still have the concentration camps , of course Turkey still deny the Holocaust of 1 million Armenians , why should we be surprised . Islam has a bad memory when its ills against others are pointed out to them.

    September 23, 2010 at 6:31 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Daithi: Except it's not Islam that has a bad memory. Islam is a religion and not a person so it cannot have a bad memory. These Imams have proven that what you say does not apply to all the followers of Islam.

      September 24, 2010 at 11:27 am |
    • cweinblatt

      Israel does not exist because of "the mass extermination of 6 million Jews." Israel has existed for more than 3,000 years. From time to time, it has been conquered militarily. But that does not mean the nation (and its people) do not continue to exist, or have a right to live in their ancestral homeland.

      Palestinians arrived just yesterday, in historical terms. They lived side by side with Jews and Christians in the ancient Jewish homeland, until the UN created Israel in 1948. Israel is the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people. The current iteration of that nation exists upon the same land.

      That being said, Israel would love to share this land with Palestinians. All that Palestinians must do in return is to recognize that Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish nation and to stop the violence against Jews. This has been Israel's offer for peace four times (Oslo, Camp David, Dayton and Annapolis). Each time, the peace was broken because Palestinians refuse to recognize Israel's right to exist as a Jewish nation.

      It is also not very useful to claim (as someone else did here) that Jews are not evil; only Zionists are evil. This point is not congruent with facts. About 98% of Jews are Zionists, which is defined as desiring that the State of Israel exist. Therefore, if one were to condemn Zionists, it amounts to condemning Jews.

      September 24, 2010 at 2:49 pm |
  8. Sarah

    CNN why do you allow some really uneducated and bigoted comments to be posted? Why cant this comments section be used for actual discourse in order to understand a situation more clearly? Seriously...if you have nothing good to say than don't say anything at all. Its ok to disagree with something, but do it with respect; don't be hateful about it. I disagree with a lot of things, but present your opinion with some degree of respect.

    With that being said, I am an American Muslim who greatly admires Richard and what he did with these Imams. I know these Imams and know that the majority of them never denied the holocaust, but the trip did serve as a reminder of humanity and what we are capable of. It is specially important to remember this stuff so as to tone down the anti-semiticism among Arab/Muslims.

    Muslims forget that the people they disagree with are Zionists, not Jews. In fact, one of the first things the Prophet Muhammad did, when he immigrated to Medina, was that the Jews (who are numerous in Madina at that time) have all the same rights as Muslims do, should be treated in the best way possible and should not be seen as enemies. Prophet Muhammad (along with all other prophets) are all ultimate example: We are supposed to emulate the Prophet.

    So really, anti-semitism is anti-Islamic. Unfortunately, many Muslims do not know their own religion. As a devout and practicing Muslim myself I can tell you that my moms best friend is Jewish. Our backgrounds have never, ever been a problem.

    I

    September 23, 2010 at 6:27 pm |
    • Faiza

      hear, hear sarah. its sad to see the post laden with uneducated slobs that think they know about islam, but really dont. as a muslim American, i agreed 100% with your comment. good job 🙂

      September 24, 2010 at 1:12 am |
    • cweinblatt

      If "Mohammad granted Jews equal rights," why are Jews (and all non-Muslims) today second-class citizens in Muslim nations? Why can't they own property wherever they please, run for office, obtain a civil service job or openly observe their religion? What happened? Remember, this has little to do with secular law, as most Arab (and Persian) nations are still theocracies. Why would all of these cultures turn their backs upon Mohammad's desire to give Jews equal rights?

      September 24, 2010 at 2:32 pm |
  9. avdrdr

    Being the only member of the world's smallest church, I thank the Creator, who rides my every breath, that our relationship is not dependent on the opinion or approval of anyone else. I am graced with the miracle of life.

    September 23, 2010 at 6:22 pm |
  10. Chris

    m.24.m,

    I disagree with what you wrote. The US actual goes beyond what it does for other religions in protecting those of the Muslim faith from what might be deemed "offensive". How often do you see the Federal Government stepping up to stop disparaging remarks about Catholics, Mormons, Baptists, Jews?

    September 23, 2010 at 6:18 pm |
    • avdrdr

      Maybe because the disparaging remarks about Muslims are fueling a war.

      September 23, 2010 at 6:28 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Chris: The Federal Govt has stopped people from making disparaging remarks? Did I miss this? I think if the govt were fining people or throwing them in jail or shooting them for saying things I'd have seen the footage on the news or in the papers or something... I guess I must have missed it.

      September 24, 2010 at 11:26 am |
  11. Teufel Eldritch

    He went there & learned something alright. He learned how to make gas chambers & crematoriums.

    September 23, 2010 at 6:16 pm |
  12. John

    They say the cultural center being built near ground zero is supposed to be about healing, but the problem is that it still will be very muslim, where terrorists who claim to be speaking for muslims destroyed those buildings there. So what happens, a muslim building goes up. That is pouring salt into the wounds regardless of what they say. Let other denominations take to lead to build the cultural center and NOT the muslims. Most muslims are not bad, but how would they feel if christians went to a place where alot of people died and then built a cultural center. They would accuse of trying to convert them and doing the christian crusades all over again.

    September 23, 2010 at 6:05 pm |
  13. Rabbi Father Imam

    An American Imam.
    A Saudi, or Iranian, or Yemeni Imam would have clicked their heels and clapped their hands while singing, goody goody.

    September 23, 2010 at 6:01 pm |
  14. Alemanni

    The Imam – "Dang.. the Nazis were WAY better at exterminating their enemies than we are."

    September 23, 2010 at 5:58 pm |
    • Sulayman F

      Jokes are supposed to be funny.

      September 28, 2010 at 2:57 pm |
  15. Race

    @kendra
    Anti-anyone sentiment is dangerous?
    How about anti-pedophile, or anti-racist.
    Those are "dangerous" too, are they?

    September 23, 2010 at 5:53 pm |
  16. cweinblatt

    I often wonder how people feel that "Arabs lands were stripped away," when Israel was declared a Jewish nation in 1948. Israel is the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people, dating back 3,600 years. Jews fled to Israel after their exile from Egypt (see your bible or Quran). Only Canaanites lived there then and they have no surviving decedents. The Jewish Kingdom of Israel precedes Islam by more than 1,000 years and it predates Palestinians by at least 1,500 years.

    The Jewish Kingdom of Israel has been militarily defeated over time, but Jews never left their ancestral homeland. Again, according to laws of precedence, Jews own the land because it was theirs and they never left or forfeited their land.

    Along come Palestinians, who arrived in historical terms just yesterday; and they claim to hold a legal relevance to ownership of Israel. OK, should we wish to use their terms for legality, which means whoever can claim the land by military victory, then Israel obviously belongs to Jews, who defeated combined Arab armies repeatedly during the past 62 years.

    According to the legal claim of precedence, Jews own Israel by virtue of the fact that they have had a kingdom there for most of the past 3,600 years. Yes, they were defeated by the Islamic armed forces. But, that was dozens of centuries ago. And, that military victory does not equate to ownership. Even if it did, Jews can claim the very same right to ownership by virtue of their victories over Arab armies since 1948.

    Any way you view it, the law of precedence and the law of victory both give Jews ownership over their ancestral homeland – Israel. Palestinians stole Jewish land for a few years. Having taken it by force, they cannot in turn deny the fact that Jews re-took their ancestral homeland by force. Whichever way you examine the issue, Israel belongs to Jews. The only people who might have had a valid claim over the land were Canaanites. Since they have no surviving descendants, only Jews have a valid claim over the Holy Land.

    Charles Weinblatt
    Author, Jacob’s Courage
    http://jacobscourage.wordpress.com/

    September 23, 2010 at 5:49 pm |
    • Kate

      @Charles

      So would you mind if you gave us our land back now please? After all, we were also here first.

      Just sayin'

      September 23, 2010 at 5:55 pm |
    • Momo

      its more of a question of rights and equality than land the way I see it now. Palestinians live in squalor and dont enjoy the same rights as the israelis do. Destruction of homes, refugee camps. If Israel truly owns all that land then why dont they invest in treating all the people who live in these lands equally and not discriminate against them. I know it happens on both sides, but the ISraelis have the power.

      September 23, 2010 at 6:16 pm |
    • runswithbeer

      Everyone in the United States please leave my people were here first.............. How dumb is that? Today is today . Israelis and Palestinians should each have their own homeland.

      September 23, 2010 at 6:29 pm |
    • charlie lucky

      Home to JEWISH KINGS, THE HOLY TEMPLE, and soon the home of Moshiach. May Moshiach not keep us waiting much longer, as my blessed father of memory used to tell me, "its rude to keep people waiting". This is Enough nonsense going on and on. Moshiach Now!!

      September 23, 2010 at 8:53 pm |
    • Reality

      cweinblatt,

      Going back into ancient history, you will find that it was the Hitt-ites who first settled Palestine taking over after the Nean-derthals in the area went extinct.

      September 23, 2010 at 11:54 pm |
    • Eric

      It might be asked why there are no surviving Canaanites. The answer is interesting.

      September 24, 2010 at 12:51 am |
    • Egyptian

      Me, as Egyptian, I am afraid that you claim Egypt is part of your state, since israelis lived there once upon a time. But know what, Abraham, the grandfather of Israel, lived also once in Iraq, so you should consider it in the "historic" calculations of your state. And, before all, Adam the grand grand grand father of Abraham lived in the Arabia and his kids are now all over the world. So, hooray cweinblatt for your state of the world.

      October 3, 2010 at 2:42 am |
  17. Tim

    Great photo at the top of the story. When did Ice Cube become an imam?

    September 23, 2010 at 5:47 pm |
  18. Amrullah Yousafzai, Margalla Hills
    September 23, 2010 at 5:46 pm |
  19. Reality

    The imams should first combat the koranic-driven terror and horror that continues to wreak bloodshed and death all over the contemporary globe.

    Some examples (only for new members):

    1a) 179 killed in Mumbai/Bombay, 290 injured

    1b) Assassination of Benazir Bhutto and Theo Van Gogh

    2) 9/11, 3000 mostly US citizens, 1000’s injured

    3) The 24/7 Sunni-Shiite centuries-old blood feud currently being carried out in Iraq, US Troops killed in action, 3,481 and 924 died in non-combat, 97,172 – 106,047 Iraqi civilians killed, iraqbodycount.org/ and
    defenselink.mil/news/casualty.pdf

    4) Kenya- In Nairobi, about 212 people were killed and an estimated 4000 injured; in Dar es Salaam, the attack killed at least 11 and wounded 85.[2]

    5) Bali-in 2002-killing 202 people, 164 of whom were foreign nationals, and 38 Indonesian citizens. A further 209 people were injured.

    6) Bali in 2005- Twenty people were killed, and 129 people were injured by three bombers who killed themselves in the attacks.

    7) Spain in 2004- killing 191 people and wounding 2,050.

    8. UK in 2005- The bombings killed 52 commuters and the four radical Islamic suicide bombers, injured 700.

    9) The execution of an eloping couple in Afghanistan on 04/15/2009 by the Taliban.

    10) – Afghanistan: US troops 1,116 killed in action, 902 killed in non-combat situations as of 08/10/2010. Over 40,000 Afghan civilians killed due to the dark-age, koranic-driven Taliban acts of horror

    11) The killing of 13 citizen soldiers at Ft. Hood by a follower of the koran.

    12) 38 Russian citizens killed on March 29, 2010 by Muslim women suicide bombers.

    13) The May 28, 2010 attack on a Islamic religious minority in Pakistan, which have left 98 dead,
    14) Lockerbie is known internationally as the site where, on 21 December 1988, the wreckage of Pan Am Flight 103 crashed as a result of a terrorist bomb. In the United Kingdom the event is referred to as the Lockerbie disaster, the Lockerbie bombing, or simply Lockerbie. Eleven townspeople were killed in Sherwood Crescent, where the plane's wings and fuel tanks plummeted in a fiery explosion, destroying several houses and leaving a huge crater, with debris causing damage to a number of buildings nearby. The 270 fatalities (259 on the plane, 11 in Lockerbie) were citizens of 21 nations.

    15) Followed by the daily suicide and/or roadside and/or mosque bombings every day in the terror world of Islam.

    September 23, 2010 at 5:46 pm |
    • Iqbal khan

      [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hUA_G5-2KVI&w=640&h=360]

      September 23, 2010 at 9:20 pm |
    • Lee Oates

      I wonder what kind of list a blackman in the Southern States could make of White terrorist actions against black people over the last hundred years.

      September 24, 2010 at 11:55 am |
  20. ingorance is bliss

    joe and hgwd:

    you both are idiots and are the definition of "ignorance is bliss" oh wait, you probably dont even know what that means

    September 23, 2010 at 5:45 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.