Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Real Free Speech.

Some time ago in my attempt to understand the shock felt by many Muslims over the Danish Cartoon controversy I wrote in a previous post:
For obvious historical reasons, most Europeans are deeply shocked whenever someone makes anti-Jewish humour and especially when they deny humorously or not the Holocaust.
I also read this in VOA News article yesterday:
Some Muslims who live in the West are also offended by what they see as a double standard in the laws against inciting hatred and violence that have sprung up in Europe. They ask why it is forbidden to challenge the veracity of the mass murder of the Holocaust, or to espouse the Nazi's racist ideology, but not forbidden to criticize Islam.
I must say that after more thinking and discussing over the issue, I have somewhat changed my mind a little and believe that religious offense does quite not equate denying the Holocaust, even if both are offensive. If we thikn about it, the former is, after all, about a personal belief while the other is about documented facts. I am not putting any moral status to either one, I'm just trying to acknowledge that they are quite different in nature.
It is obvious that no country permits complete free speech. The question is really about where you draw the line. While there is
no such thing as a national hate-speech law in the United-States, there are laws in seven European countries against what is called 'revisionists', that is those who deny the reality of the Holocaust.
When the law on Holocaust-denial was passed in France in 1990 (Loi Gayssot), I thought it was a good idea. After all, those who opposed it where the far-right extremists whose political agenda is revised version of old fascist ideas, and that's precisely the problem. The European far-right has hijacked the issue by making anyone critical of that law suspicious of ideological complicity.
But by now, 16 years later, it looks to me that France has actually returned to its old obsessive habit of putting everything into law. There are what is called "lois memorielles" (memory laws) which consist in having Parliament vote laws that recognize certain historical facts:
the Armenian Genocide in 1915, slavery or the colonies (the latter was very controversial as you can read here and here).
I can see the dangers in having people proclaim that the Holocaust is a myth, but we must also accept that living in a democracy is also a dangerous thing. As The Economist also said this week, denying the Holocaust should certainly NOT be unlawful precisely because it is a well-documented fact with ample evidence. Denying such major historical facts should cause public outrage for sure and put those who deny it to shame and ridicule but at least, it wouldn't trun them into victims or martyres.
Besides, the danger also comes from pressure groups who want THEIR history and their past recognized by the law. Where does it end?
Finally, the repeal of those laws would show some coherence and avoid any suspicion of double-standard. Isn't it President Chirac who recently
said :
"Laws are not meant to write history," and that "The writing of history is for historians.
This may sound very naive but I do believe that education has more impact that the law (This is the teacher talking no doubt.). So it seems to me that France needs fewer constraints on free-speech. The limits should be the protection of people from libel or murder, not the writing of history. Unfortunately, i am not naive enouhg to think that will happen any time soon.


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