Thursday, October 12, 2006

Minding your own business

I may not agree with the Turkish need to deny the Armenian holocaust, but honestly, what business is it of the French to make it illegal to deny it? Now, it is unlikely (I hope) that this bill will make it all the way into law in France, but I think this marks a high point in the whole "getting in each other's business" Western countries seem to be so good at lately. I know France and Turkey have some kind of snotty bitchfest going on with each other lately, but this goes past ridiculous.

Yes, I realize it is illegal in Germany, and perhaps other European countries, to deny the Nazi holocaust of WWII, so there is precedent for this sort of law. But I can't say I agree with that law either. I know a big part of it stems from guilt - and there should be some guilt there - but if people want their delusions, well, it shouldn't be illegal. And if you say that denying the holocaust (any holocaust) is hate speech and so that is why it is illegal, I don't buy into that either. Now if the denial of the holocaust is followed by some vitriolic invective against Jews or some other race, there is the hate speech. Not the denial of the holocaust. But I have my own problems with hate speech laws, so lets not even go there.

This is the one big problem with freedom of speech in the Western world. It works, just as long as you don't offend anybody. Just as long as you don't speak untruths about genocide. Just so long as you agree with the status quo. Is that freedom, or control? So if the Turks want to maintain that while lots of Armenians died during WWI there was no holocaust, let them have their delusions. It should be their right to protect their own history, true or not.


Anonymous said...

I like the way you think but you are way off on this one. There is a systematic movement to deny the Nazi WWII holocaust, as well as the Turkish holocaust of Armenians and others. This is not just a matter of denial or free thinking. There are systems in place to erase these things from history. It is the very last dignity to be stripped from the victim: the very recognition of the wrongs done to them (their ancestors). It's hard to think that future generations might not know that these events actually took place but it is entirely possible that this may happen and every attempt should be made to prevent that. You might read, "Black Dog of Fate" to get another view of this. --Cheers.

Kofi Anon (not) said...

Anonymous: From one anonymous poster to another, I have to agree with you on your initial premise; however, I'll ask you a scarier thing.

Who is to say that the exact same thing that you propose has not ALREADY happened. (and we don't know about it)

We may already be living in a time when past civilizations may have killed or committed genocides against people we never knew existed, and the memory of their existence has been covered up by years of lies and deceit.

That is a scary thought! And you may have a good point in your reasoning.

BUT, and this is the biggest BUT of all, even a bigger BUT than the Women in the USA who screen your carry-on bags at the Airports:

So, the question is this: Wouldn't there be proof of this cover-up? Some sort of evidence that couldn't be denied.

In closing let me say that even if the wacky, lunatic, racist people deny the holocaust and other crazy things like that, they really, truly, cannot cover it up, because remember what ole' "GRISSOM from CSI" says all the time:


So, I'll have to side with Melusina on this one! Free speech has to win out every time!

melusina said...

Anonymous, I don't undermine the need to make sure knowledge of holocausts worldwide is held fast in history, I just don't think arresting and fining people who deny it is the solution. That won't change their minds or educate them about what really happened.

The thing with the whole Armenian genocide goes much deeper than just denial of the genocide - the Turks have rebuilt and reshaped their entire history in lies. There is no arguing the truth of history with Turks who have been brainwashed to believe these things, even though the rest of the world acknowledges history as it really happened. So I really think the French passing this sort of law would be futile, not to mention it hurts ties with Turkey. Of course, does the E.U. *really* want ties with a country so hellbent on changing their past?

As far as the Nazi genocide, I really don't see that being denied on a level to erase it from history. I know people who don't like Jews who acknowledge the genocide after all - I just think it is extremists who hold such a position. And sure, extremists get their hands on young minds and anything goes. But if we get to the point where the extremists have so much power of the world, it won't be because we didn't have a law forbidding people from denying the genocide.

My point here is education, education, education. Like I said, slapping a fine and jail time don't change opinions. This isn't criminal behavior we are trying to correct. If you want to make the law, make the sentence some sort of education program to sensitize the person to what really happened. Beyond that, it is up to the governments of the world to make sure real history is known, and learned, and accepted. In American schools we never even get as far as WWI in our history classes - and that is a problem. If anything, today's classroom should work from modern history and go backwards. I just don't think laws like this solve the problem. They are merely a quick, ineffective fix.

mindthegap said...

I fully agree with you Melusina that there is a problem with freedom of speech in the Western world. I believe that among the things that make free speech valuable is that it can be thought provoking. This it can’t be if there are all sorts of qualifications about what can be said or not. In this respect, I also agree that there is a huge difference between freedom of speech and hate speech. An awareness of the difference is very much a matter of the sort of education that you mention in your response to Anonymous.

I feel it is also true that many Western attitudes and sensitivities are the result of guilt. This, for instance, makes some countries keen to meddle in the affairs of other countries with a sort of self-righteousness that makes it seem as though they have forgotten their own history. There are, on the other hand, ways of being critical without excluding oneself from such criticism.

Yet the first and last points in your initial post highlight an interesting tension. Real freedom of speech (the kind that might offend) includes, among other things, the freedom to meddle. So the real freedom of speech you rightly defend doesn’t sit well with the idea of minding one’s own business or the right of countries to protect their history. Countries attempting to protect their own self-serving version of history are among the prime targets of freedom of speech. One of the main reasons here is that history is not a merely local affair.

I think the main problem with the French vote is that it actually does a disservice to freedom of speech by attaching a prohibition to it. You are right that slapping a fine wont change anything. I think it might even be self-defeating to have things change that way. To this I would like to add that prohibitions of this sort tend to undermine the very facts they aim to protect. A fact, especially a fact like genocide, is the sort of thing that doesn’t need our help to convince. But once we tamper with it in an attempt to give it even more credence, it seems to lose some of its initial import and moves an inch closer to being a matter of rhetoric or official dogma.