In 2016, Mohammed al-Issa was appointed head of Saudi Arabia’s Muslim World League (MWL), the state-run organization that, for decades, has been the world’s major exporter of the most extreme, intolerant, and anti-Semitic form of Islam. Issa’s mandate, in keeping with the country’s overall reformist turn, seems to involve transforming the MWL into something else entirely. Robert Satloff, who has spearheaded efforts to bring awareness of the Shoah to the Muslim world, hails Issa’s surprise decision not only to visit the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington but also to follow up with an open letter to the museum’s director:
Saudi Arabia: land of religious purity, whose king (Faisal) once celebrated the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as historical fact, whose UN representative (Jamil Baroody, 1976) once denounced Anne Frank’s diary as a forgery and claimed the murder of millions of Jews by the Nazis was fiction? The country . . . whose religious hierarchy exported bigotry and intolerance to mosques and madrasas around the world for decades, fueling the hate on which al-Qaeda, Islamic State, Hamas, and all Islamist extremist movements thrived? Yes, that Saudi Arabia. . . .
But Issa surprised me. . . . He wrote a lengthy missive. . . . In it, he labeled the Holocaust “an incident that shook humanity to the core, and created an event whose horrors could not be denied or underrated by any fair-minded or peace-loving person.” . . . On Holocaust denial, Issa had particularly harsh words: “We consider any denial of the Holocaust, or minimizing [of] its effect, a crime to distort history, and an insult to the dignity of those innocent souls who have perished. It is also an affront to us all, since we share the same human soul and spiritual bonds.”
And unlike many Muslim interlocutors with whom I have discussed these issues over the years, Issa did not try to deflect potential criticism of [his] engaging on the Holocaust by wrapping himself in the false equivalence of Israel’s “genocide” of Palestinians. To the contrary, he stayed away from the issue altogether. . . .
I assume there are many reasons—some sacred, some less so—why the head of the Muslim World League took pen to paper to denounce Holocaust denial. . . . But action matters so much more than motive. And having been written, Issa’s words cannot easily be undone.