Posted by: bklunk | February 7, 2007

Okay, but . . .

The matter discussed below is obviously serious, given the efforts by the Iranian government and others to lend credence to the Holocaust denyers.  At some point it is certainly a perversion of the notion of free speech and corrosive of democracy to pretend that malicious lies should be given equal status with truth.  Something more important than bad taste is involved here.  That’s not to say that I would criminalize Holocaust denial.  What I find confounding in this post is the assertion that only Germans can “fairly evaluate” what goes on in Germany. Insiders’ perspectives are inevitably partial.  The perspective of an outsider can probably be a useful complement, just as it is in personal matters when others can sometimes understand us more clearly than we can understand ourselves. Unless we believe that there is a truth about the Holocaust and about free speech and other important matters and that the truth is worth defending, then there may not be much hope for free society.

No Holocaust?

In an article from February 2 in BBC News, Germany hopes to pass a measure in the European Union which would “criminalise, and possibly imprison, not just those who downplay the Holocaust but also those who belittle genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.” Germany views it as a responsibility they have (think World War II); however, others (even though they admit that anti-Holocaust, genocide, etc. remarks are not in the best taste) worry about freedom of speech .  The article goes into various cases in which this lack of freedom could present problems. 

Germany has tried to push legislation like this through before, but it was rejected.  (The forefront of the opposition then was Italy, but Germany hopes that it will be received better this time around with a new ‘centre-left’ government there.)  The last comment in the article is by Hugo Brady, who is a research fellow.  He feels that “these proposals prompt debate – but I predict nothing more.  They are from the heart, not the head.”

A lot of Americans especially have a hard time with a measure such as this becauseof our strong history in the belief of freedom of speech.  Unfortunately, not everyone has had this history.  I don’t think that Americans (or really anyone outside of the European Union) can judge this issue fairly because culture and history is driving this, something that unless you’re directly involved, you cannot fairly evaluate.  There’s an emotional issue involved with this, not just political, with Germany trying to push this through.  (It is already the case in Germany and several other European states, but not EU-wide.)  All in all, I agree with Brady.  It’s understandable why they would feel so strongly about this issue, but in the end, it is going to be extremely difficult to implement it politically.

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Responses

  1. Sorry, maybe I should have clarified. (I don’t know if this is what you replied to or not), but I don’t think that it’s right for Americans (or anyone else who is so fond of free speech) to sit back and judge Germany or the other countries which maintain that it is illegal to deny the Holocaust. I believe in free speech. I know there was a holocaust. I don’t want to deny it, but I want to know that I have that right to. After all if first it’s the right to say something, then what next? However, we discussed in one of my other calsses how many Germans are not ready to have that right because of that sensitivity still to the Holocaust and their part in it. It’s not a part of their history that they want to be reminded of everyday. I think that in that atmosphere, maybe it’s right that they don’t have the right to deny it. Without understanding the mindset of the people involved, I don’t think that we can sit back and judge, just as I don’t always think it’s right that America can occasionaly get involved in issues that we should probably stay out of. We get caught up in crusades in which sometimes…we don’t understand culture so it gets in the way of our “political” aims, and sometimes our imput just isn’t wanted. I still maintain that it is not right for us, or another country who it is not affecting directly to push our personal belief systems on another.
    (And btw, I still don’t think it’s going to pass the other countries who don’t already have this as law.)

  2. I feel that though the Holocaust and Genocide are and were two very explicit acts of hatered, this does not denote the act of free speech. The freedom to speak freely is one that is given to a citizen dispite their feelings about any issue. Those who claim that the Holocaust did not occur can claim all they want, that does not make them correct. Any level headed person would aknoledge genocide as a horrific act, and it is any persons right to deny this fact. I do not feel as though opinion should constitute jail time, no matter the vugarity of the topic.

  3. The concept of criminalizing the Holocaust seems, in Utopia, to be a great idea that would automatically become law without any problems. Why wouldn’t it? The idea that somebody would reject another groups pain / death seems criminal. The problem is that this is their opinion, and they are entitled to it.
    I feel that this sort of law should be implemented at the state level, not an international organization like the EU. This is a very basic “what kind of freedoms should we afford our people?” I would be very surprised if many countries in the EU agreed to this law, simply because many have a strong history of social freedoms (e.g. France or Sweden). If one or two countries wanted to make it a law, they should do it in their own state, and allow the other individual countries to decide in their own governing body. While I’m sure my bias as an American who grew up believing in social freedoms, the Bill of Rights, etc. affects my perspective on this issue (as the previous blog mentioned), many countries in the EU have the same perspective on social freedoms. This makes it unlikely for this bill to ever pass into law through the European Union.


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