Denial – A Movie Review Part I

Denial – A Movie Review Part I


Howard Adelman

Last evening, I did not attend the community memorial to Shimon Peres. I intended to do so. But I went to an afternoon movie to see the film, Denial. Directed by Mick Jackson, using a script by the British playwright David Hare, the film was based, in turn, on a 2005 book called History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier by Deborah E. Lipstadt. That volume recounted Lipstadt’s legal defence against three charges of libel allegedly contained in her 1993 book, Denying the Holocaust. The Growing Assault on History and Memory.

The suit was brought against her by David Irving, the so-called English military historian and Nazi sympathizer whom Lipstadt had described in her 1993 book as one of the most dangerous spokespersons for Holocaust denial. In his statement of claim against Lipstadt (as well as the publisher, Penguin Books), Irving cited Lipstadt’s descriptions of Holocaust deniers as those who, “misstate, misquote, falsify statistics, and falsely attribute conclusions to reliable sources. They rely on books that directly contradict their arguments, quoting in a manner that completely distorts the authors’ objectives. Deniers count on the fact that the vast majority of readers will not have access to the documentation or make the effort to determine how they have falsified or misconstrued information” (p. 111)

On p. 161, Lipstadt cited other scholarly descriptions of David Irving, specifically. “Scholars have described Irving as a ‘Hitler partisan wearing blinkers’ and have accused him of distorting evidence and manipulating documents to serve his own purposes. He is best known for his thesis that Hitler did not know about the Final Solution, an idea that scholars have dismissed. The prominent British historian Hugh Trevor-Roper depicted Irving as a man who ‘seizes on a small and dubious part particle of’ evidence using it to dismiss far-more-substantial evidence that may not support his thesis. His work has n described as ‘closer to theology or mythology than to history,’ and he has been accused of skewing documents and misrepresenting data in order to reach historically untenable conclusions, particularly those that exonerate Hitler. (Sunday Times, 12 July 1977)”

“An ardent admirer of the Nazi leader, Irving placed a self-portrait of Hitler over his desk, described his visit to Hitler’s mountaintop retreat as a spiritual experience, (Harris, 1986) and declared that Hitler repeatedly reached out to help the Jews. (Canadian Jewish News, 16 March 1989) In 1981 Irving, a self-described “moderate fascist,” established his own right-wing political party, founded on his belief that he was meant to be a future leader of Britain. (London Jewish Chronicle, 27 May 1983) He is an ultra-nationalist who believes that Britain has been on a steady path of decline accelerated by its misguided decision to launch a war against Nazi Germany. He has advocated that Rudolf Hess should have received the Nobel Prize for his efforts to try to stop war between Britain and Germany.10 On some level Irving seems to conceive himself as carrying on Hitler’s legacy.”

Canada played a role in the trial. I am not referring to the fact that Lipstadt, like Donald Trump, was born in Queens, but her father was Canadian, a possibly important element in the conflict between truth and lies. Lipstadt in her 1993 volume locates David Irving’s conversion into an outright Holocaust denier to his attendance at the trial of Ernst Zundel for hate speech where he testified for Zundel and, most importantly, was introduced to the Boston engineer of execution machines, Fred A. Leuchter, who had claimed that the chemicals used in the so-called gas chambers were intended to kill the lice on the corpses of Jews who had died from typhoid.

“In his foreward to his publication of the Leuchter Report, Irving wrote that there was no doubt as to Leuchter’s ‘integrity’ and ‘scrupulous methods.’ He made no mention of Leuchter’s lack of technical expertise or of the many holes that had been poked in his findings. Most important, Irving wrote, ‘Nobody likes to be swindled, still less where considerable sums of money are involved.’ Irving identified Israel as the swindler, claiming that West Germany had given it more than ninety billion deutsche marks in voluntary reparations, ‘essentially in atonement for the ‘gas chambers of Auschwitz.’ According to Irving the problem was that the latter was a myth that would ‘not die easily.’”

None of these quotes are cited in the movie that I can recall. However, the Leuchter argument introduced at the trial of Ernest Zundel in Toronto plays a crucial role in the movie, it is simplified and summarized when Lipstadt argues that the amount of cyanide needed to kill humans would be 20X the amount needed to kill lice. Further, as Tom Wilkinson in the role of Richard Rampton pointed out in court, why would one want to sanitize bodies that were to be burnt in a crematorium? And why would you build a shelter for Nazis 2.5 miles from their barracks?

After watching the movie, I lost my motivation to attend the homage to the late Shimon Peres, a man I admired greatly. I was in attendance at the Jerusalem auditorium when Egyptian President Anwar Sadat on 20 November 1977 paid his historic visit to Israel and turned politics in the Middle East upside down forever. The visit, his talk and the subsequent negotiations led to the Camp David Accords and the peace agreement between Egypt and Israel. In 1978, Sadat would justly win a Nobel peace prize for what he had set in motion. As he had said in his speech the previous day in the Knesset, “Let us put an end to wars, let us reshape life on the solid basis of equity and truth. And it is this call, which reflected the will of the Egyptian people, of the great majority of the Arab and Israeli peoples, and indeed of millions of men, women, and children around the world that you are today honoring. And these hundreds of millions will judge to what extent every responsible leader in the Middle East has responded to the hopes of mankind.”

On the stage of the Jerusalem Theatre the next day in addition to Anwar Sadat were Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Labour Party Chair, Shimon Peres. I was in Jerusalem that year as a Lady Davis Visiting Scholar at Hebrew University. The Jerusalem Theatre occasion was an opportunity to address the world press and I managed to get accredited as a journalist to get into the theatre. If you listened to the three speeches, they echoed much of what had been said the day before in the Knesset. I have not been able to locate their speeches given at the Jerusalem Theatre that day. But my recollection is very vivid – the day was so extraordinary for me.

Sadat’s speech was dramatic and very moving. The words I remember best came near the end: “Love justice and do right.” [I hope I remembered correctly and I cannot recall whether he went on to the echo the psalm and ask that right and justice be allowed to kiss.] In order for that to happen, you had to be straightforward and honest. Truth was not an end in itself, but a prerequisite to a just and peaceful world. I recall how Sadat’s speech exemplified those values.

Sadat did not try to hide the truth about the bitter enmity between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East. It was not a manipulative speech, but one addressed to all Arabs and Jews as well as the rest of the people in the world to come together and win together, to win a peace instead of a war. It was also poetic as he addressed the sorrowing mothers, widows, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters for whom the ghosts of their loved ones fill the air like the raindrops in a London downpour. Use that memory, he urged, to fill your hearts with the aspiration for peace where hope transforms the world to create a new reality in which lives can blossom. For Sadat, an international agreement was not the prelude to peace, but the culmination of a radical change in attitude which requires a struggle against both the whim of indifference and egocentric personal ambition.

Sadat had chosen not to dwell on the past, not to rehearse the struggle for Arab independence from colonial rule and the perception that the Balfour Declaration and subsequent events were understood by Arabs as a continuation of colonialism that led to a history of warfare between the Arabs and Jews, between Israel and Egypt, But, while recognizing the need for Israel to be guaranteed the right to live in safety and security, he did challenge Israel to recognize the injustice to the Palestinians, to end the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, to withdraw from East Jerusalem and to recognize the rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination. He called on Israelis and Arabs together to make Jerusalem a free and open city for people of all faiths.

How did Begin and Peres respond to this prophet of peace? Like Sadat, Begin stressed a belief in right rather than might. However, in contrast, to Sadat’s speech, Begin focused on the past. He began with the Arab rejection of Israel’s offers to live in peace with her Arab neighbours from the very beginning of the founding of the state, only to receive the response of a military attack from three sides of the many against the few. He did not carry the history forward but went back to the history of Jews expelled from their land and sent into exile. Jews never forgot their land, even for a single day, but instead longed for and prayed for return. And they never forgot Jerusalem. But also never forgot the obligation of all religions to maintain and visit their holy sites, something that had not been allowed during the nineteen years of Arab control of the city. Then he dwelled on the Holocaust. For before Sadat addressed the Knesset the previous day, Begin had accompanied him to Yad Vashem. Never again! Israel had been built on the pledge, “Never again.”

Peres took a different course than either Sadat or Begin. Though he too believed in hope rather than cynicism, though he too knew that the past had to be recalled lest it be repeated, though he, like Begin, reiterated the commitment of all Israelis to peace, he stressed that a common past bound Arabs and Jews together and so would the aspirations for a great future, but Peres, ever the pragmatist, focused on the present. He began by recognizing Sadat’s courage in an Arab world hostile to Israel to travel to Israel and, specifically, to Jerusalem. He insisted that, in seeking peace and entering into negotiations, Israelis would accept this as a new beginning, a new start, where it would be necessary for Israelis to free themselves from pre-conceived notions.

On the other hand, Peres was brutally frank. He said that he disagreed, not with the aspirations for peace, but with much of the substance of Sadat’s opening position. But negotiations start with differences and only proceed if each party listens to the other and tries to forge a compromise. Sadat’s courage in coming to Jerusalem was proof that negotiations could now proceed on a new foundation so that with patience, a peace agreement might be forged. He then went on as a total realist, without circumlocution or deceit, to outline Israel’s opening position and then to list the actual steps that would have to be taken to achieve peace.

In the movie, Denial, the theme is not about how enemies can come together to forge peace, but how allies have to come together and make compromises in a peaceful way in order to expand the realm of peace and justice. That is where the dramatic tension is, not between the liar and falsifier versus those concerned with truth. In that case, there is no room for compromise, but one side must win.

With the help of Alex Zisman


The BBC Documentary – Genocide Denial

The Rwandan Genocide Revisited:

Part V The BBC Documentary – Genocide Denial B


Howard Adelman

The BBC video is available at

Since genocide means the intention to wipe out and exterminate a specific group, if a very low calculation of the number of Tutsi who lived in Rwanda before the genocide is used as a base line, if only 40% of those were murdered, if only half or about 100,000 had been targeted specifically because they were Tutsi, if the killers themselves were motivated by retribution or pre-emptive actions to prevent their own slaughter, and if a far larger number of Hutu had been killed, especially if the numbers killed in the Congo are folded into the calculation, what justification can there be for labeling the slaughter of Tutsi in Rwanda as genocide? This is the implication behind the calculation used in the documentary, even if no explicit denial of genocide was ever made by either the makers of the BBC documentary or the American academics. In fact, both affirmed that a genocide took place. But with such a low proportion of those killed were targeted Tutsi by executioners with extermination intent, if the killers targeted the significantly reduced numbers for other reasons than to engage in exterminating them all, what justification can there be for labeling the slaughter of Tutsi in Rwanda as genocide? What rationale can there be for the concentrated attention the Rwanda genocide has received?

The BBC defended itself against the charge of genocide denial, not by any review of the evidence used in the documentary or any of the explicit and implicit argumentation, but by an insistence that the broadcaster had a duty and mandate “to investigate difficult and challenging subjects”. Their program, they argued, “was a valuable contribution to the understanding of the tragic history of the country and the region”.

I argue it was not a valuable contribution, if only because the investigation left out any of the evidence and arguments that could falsify its major thesis. As Karl Popper had argued, a proper investigation entails the appropriate effort to falsify one’s own proposition and not the singular advocacy of one interpretation. The program was an exercise in disinformation and a contribution to misunderstanding. Using the difficulty of the subject matter as a cover for a terribly flawed process is no excuse. Freedom of inquiry does not account for terribly sloppy research. The presentation was a travesty against objectivity. But did it constitute genocide-denial?

What are the characteristics of a genocide denier? I suggest at least the following two clear categories. There are those who deny the genocide took place at all, for example, the supporters of the Hutu extremists and their johnny-come-lately partners who argue that the genocide is a myth perpetrated by Paul Kagame and his acolytes in search of international sympathy to cover up their own crimes against humanity, and/or to solidify the power of and to acquire wealth for the RPF. There is a second category. Genocide deniers also include those who agree that Tutsi were targeted for killing, but argue so were Hutu, and many more of them; further the Tutsi who were killed were not murdered because of an intention to eliminate all Tutsi, but because those Tutsi were believed to be supporters of the enemy invading Tutsi-led fighting force at war with their own government and as a pre-emptive measure in the belief that, if the RPF won, they themselves would be slaughtered. Further, RPF troops were targeting Hutu and systematically slaughtering them.

Genocide deniers usually undercut their case by a number of conspiracy theories and blame the war in Rwanda, Burundi and the Congo as a plot of the American CIA in partnership with big capital like Barrick Gold and specific Israeli billionaires using America’s ally, President Yoweri Museveni in Uganda and his satrap, the Tutsi RPF, to gain control of the vast mineral wealth of the Congo. (See Robin Philpot’s book, Rwanda 94: Colonialism Dies Hard). Whatever the ills attributed to the so called genocidaires – such as calling the Tutsi inyenzi (cockroaches) – these are all libels and are really the creation of the Tutsi-led RPF.

One example of genocide denial in Toronto is allegedly the broadcast Rwanda 94 by the University of Toronto student radio station in April of 2013 of an interview with Robin Philpot. (Philpot was a graduate in English and History from the university.) Robin’s brother John Philpot, a Montreal lawyer, defended Jean-Paul Akayesu who had been accused of the crime of genocide by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda based in Arusha, Tanzania. When Robin Philpot ran for the Parti Québécois in the 2007 federal election, he was quoted in Le Devoir as saying, “In none of my writings have I denied that there were mass killings, some even of an ethnic character. However, I categorically reject the abusive use of the expression ‘genocide’.”

What about the category of those who concur that a significant number of those murdered, but still a very small minority, were Tutsi, and those Tutsi were deliberately targeted for murder because they were Tutsi, but the number killed was relatively small compared to the number of Hutu killed. This is the position of Robin Philpot. It happens also to be the position of the producer and director of the BBC documentary and the two American academics used in the program, Allan Stam and Christian Davenport. They affirm that a genocide took place. If they make such an affirmation, how can they be classified as deniers? It appears illogical. However, both the BBC director and host, as well as Stam and Davenport, minimize the numbers of Tutsi killed, especially in comparison to the very large numbers of Hutu killed by the Tutsi-led RPF and the current government of Rwanda.

The BBC broadcasters and American academics do not appear to be genocide deniers, but they are, at the very least, genocide minimalizers. And they put their position forth by using many of the same arguments, the same type of evidence, the same approach and the same illogic of the deniers. Like Philip Taylor who hosted Robin Philpot on his weekly University of Toronto radio show on CUIT, overwhelmingly, only people who support the denial thesis were used. In the Toronto case, direct witnesses, easily available in Toronto, were NOT interviewed, including General Romeo Dallaire, Major Brent Beardsley and Dr. James Orbinski. Nor were many others who were on the scene at the time or very soon after. Scholars – the vast majority critical of the BBC/Stam/Davenport thesis – were not interviewed in the BBC production, or, if interviewed, were excluded from the final product.

Even some of those interviewed, who are very critical of Paul Kagame and were recognized authorities on Rwanda, were not asked questions that could have queried the major thesis, or, if asked, their answers were not included in the broadcast. But Stam, and presumably Davenport, alluded to a prominent thesis of genocide deniers. Behind the war in Rwanda and then in the Congo is to be found the partnership of American and British imperial interests. The story of the genocide of a large number of Tutsi dead was a result of a cover-up that had been plotted by the Americans, allied with Uganda and Rwanda, in the determination to replace the French culture and French economic domination with an English-speaking American influenced culture. According to some genocide-deniers, General Romeo Dallaire was a CIA operative.

However, overlaps with deniers, revisionism, very questionable research and non-detached journalism does not constitute genocide denial. Nor are personal associations with figures accused of genocide denial. Stam and Davenport worked with Peter Erlinder (The Accidental Genocide, 2013), Director of the International Humanitarian Law Institute, who had been arrested and charged with genocide denial in Kigali. Erlinder was the defence attorney for a client accused of genocide. Erlinder’s help was used by Stam and Davenport to obtain maps showing the RPF and FAR positions during the war. With Erlinder’s aid, the American academics also obtained 12,000 witness statements. From that information they concluded that the FAR (presumably with the help of the Interahamwe) was responsible for most of those killed. “Our research showed the vast majority of the 1994 killing had been conducted by the FAR, the Interahamwe and their associates.” Could these be the words of a genocide denier?

However, they minimize the numbers of Tutsi killed for genocidal motives and maximize the numbers killed by the RPF. The evidence may be weak. The arguments may be illogical and fallacious. The presumptions may be false. And they may overlap with many of the propositions of deniers in arguing that the RPF played a significant “role” in the mass murders. But does that make them deniers?

Before I examine in detail the propositions, inferences, interpretations and evidence Stam and Davenport put forth for their case, I want to first examine the arguments for and against their being genocide deniers.
Neither Allan Stam nor Christian Davenport fit the general profile of a denier. They are not academic pretenders, but significant fixtures in the academic establishment. They are not zealots. They are much more careful than a Holocaust denier such as David Irving in their use of figures and use of words. They are certainly much more personable. Nor is there a record of either of them having associations with racists, anti-Semites or others guilty of group hatred. They have no known associations with extreme right-wing groups. They do not deny that a large number of Rwandans were killed or even that Tutsi were targeted in that killing. In fact, their research proves that the total numbers of those killed were larger than the original estimate of 800,000. They simply argue that most, indeed, the vast majority, of those murdered in Rwanda were Hutu. They have never been convicted of defaming the memory of the dead in Rwanda as David Irving, the most high profile Holocaust denier, was by Germany.

However, David Irving has been pronounced a Holocaust denier even though he is on record as saying, “I am absolutely without doubt that the Holocaust took place.” Similarly, Stam and Davenport are both adamant that a genocide took place in Rwanda, that is, that Tutsi were systematically slaughtered by extremist elements in Rwanda simply because they were Tutsi in an effort to exterminate all Tutsi in Rwanda, though that number is significantly reduced by subtracting the large number of Tutsi killed for other motives and fades into obscurity and significance relative to the large number of Hutu deaths. However, unlike David Irving who was barred from entering Australia, Austria, Canada and Germany, Stam and Davenport have only been barred from entry into Rwanda.

Tomorrow, I will deal with the question of whether Stam and Davenport are as guilty as David Irving was found to be by a British court, that is, of egregious inaccuracies, omissions, distortions and manipulating and misrepresenting historical and statistical data. But, for now, it is worthy to note that, in spite of significant differences, there are parallels between David Irving and the far more sophisticated, astute and persuasive American academics. David Irving, for example, pointed to an alliance of Winston Churchill and Chaim Weizmann in helping create the myth of the six million dead to cover up British crimes in places like Dresden and Zionist crimes in Palestine. The BBC documentary highlighted the friendship between British ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair, and Paul Kagame. Allan Stam implies that Samantha Power, Obama’s ambassador to the UN, and Susan Rice, his top security advisor in the current administration, were apologists for the RPF. Kagame was hailed by them as “the man who ended the Rwandan Genocide.”

In that revisionist version, President Bill Clinton did not send American troops to Rwanda to stop the genocide either because of a direct request or because of a threat to attack American peacekeepers if he did. Since our research, and that of many other scholars, dealt specifically with the motives for America’s wariness about intervening in Rwanda, I find this charge to be particularly offensive, not simply because it lies well outside of the overwhelming concentration of Stam/Davenport on the numbers killed in Rwanda and the way they were killed, but because they ignore all the arguments and evidence to the contrary that Astri Suhrke and I originally revealed. There is absolutely no indication that they even read that research. Stam and Davenport claim they went into their research with the conventional wisdom that there was a genocide in which the majority of those killed in Rwanda were Tutsi who were targeted in a genocidal operation. They claim that the evidence they collected forced that shift.

However, the shift is suspect on other grounds. David Irving was never a diehard Holocaust denier until 1988. His position also evolved. The real issue is whether the evidence collected forced the shift or whether the way they collected and analyzed the evidence was determined by a prior conviction. Certainly, like David Irving, they do present their case more as advocates for a particular position rather than as detached examiners of all the evidence, but that may be because presentations at such conferences require both terseness and comprehensiveness. (See the presentation Allan Stam gave entitled, “Coming to a New Understanding of the Rwanda Genocide,” at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan, 18 February (2009

What surprised me most other than the sparse attendance was for his lecture – he is a marvelous presenter – is that no scholars were invited who could challenge his position, except perhaps Filip Reyntjens. But Reyntjens was invited to slam Paul Kagame and not to offer a critique of the Stam/Davenport thesis of which Reyntjens is very critical. Otherwise, other presenters, widely considered by many to be Rwanda genocide deniers without similar academic credentials, were invited to offer presentations.

I referred above to David Irving’s evolution into an absolute Holocaust denier in 1988. Irving then testified that only about 100,000 Jews had been killed as a result of genocidal action at the Ernst Zundel trial in Canada for disseminating neo-Nazi and Holocaust denial materials. Irving previously speculated in an interview in Australia just two years earlier that the number of Jewish victims could have been in the millions or just in the hundreds of thousands. So Stam and Davenport have, over the years, consistently revised their figures downward from 300,000-500,000 Tutsi killed in the Rwanda genocide, to 300,000, and then to 200,0000 of which only one hundred thousand or more (the same phrase Irving used) were killed as a result of genocidal targeted murders.

Just as David Irving made wide use of the totally discredited Leuchter Report, Stam and Davenport made use of the Gersony Report that they claim was suppressed by the UN (though very widely available) which the UN refused to allow to be formally published let alone with its stamp of approval. Again, like David Irving in his charges against Zionists and Jews, Stam and Davenport join with genocide deniers in the conviction that the myth of the 800,000 Tutsi killed along with moderate Hutu in the Rwanda genocide has been the result of a very well financed and brilliantly executed public relations campaign by the Kagame regime, even though Paul Kagame was only Vice-President of Rwanda when the very large team of which I was a member did our research. Stam and Davenport not only ignore all that research, but make assertions that are precisely contrary, libeling all of us, in the process, as lackeys of the Kagame publicity machine.

Further, just as David Irving argues that the courts after WWII represented victor’s justice rather than the detached and unbiased dispensation of international criminal law, the justice delivered by both the International Tribunal at Arusha in Tanzania and in the Gacaca courts within Rwanda stank of victor’s justice rather than impartial hearings of all those accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity. In this narrative, the courts are simply the instruments of the dominant new powers in the area, America and Britain. These powers in concert with the government of Rwanda sought to perpetuate the myth of Paul Kagame as the country’s and the Tutsi’s savior. Kagame, in this narrative, was the one who finally stopped the genocide.

Some would argue that if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck. However, in spite of the large number of similarities with the best-known Holocaust denier, there are too many significant differences. An adjudication as to whether Stam and Davenport are genocide deniers must await my analysis of the conceptions, analogies, misrepresentation of the recent history of Rwanda and misuse of the data on the Rwandan genocide to allow us to better assess whether Allan Stam and Christian Davenport are genocide deniers or simply genocide minimizers.