We have been following the rapid diminishing of free speech in the West in recent years. It is particularly disconcerting to see this trend in our close allies of England and France (For a prior column, click here). Now, the French Senate has added a new speech crime — denying the fact of the Armenian genocide by Turkey. While I commend the motivation, the legislation is blind to the implications to free speech by criminalizing certain subjects for debate. It seeks to force critics to be silent under threat of criminal prosecution — an approach that produces only the appearance of agreement while denying citizens the basic right to be heard on such controversies.
Germany took the same approach to denying the Holocaust as the display of Nazi symbols. I have always disagreed with that approach. It has not stopped the existence or extremism of Nazi groups. Instead, it gives them a claim to be victims of government coercion. The best way to be rid of extremist and racist ideas is with more not less speech.
While the sponsors insist it is meant only “to honor the memory of genocide victims and struggle against hate speech,” it does so dishonoring a basic civil liberty. Other sponsors are a bit more honest. Critics have charged the that drafter Valerie Boyer, the senator from Sarkozy’s UMP party, is just playing for votes among the 500,000 Armenians who live in France. Boyer responded simply “That’s democracy.” Perhaps but it is not liberty. Indeed, a pure democratic model was rejected by James Madison in writings like Federalist No. 10 in this country due to the need to temper passions through a representative democracy. Madison noted “A pure democracy can admit no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will be felt by a majority, and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party.”
Various respected academics have supported the claim of genocide by Turkey despite the denials of that country. However, this debate is not won by forcing those who disagree into forced silence. It is anti-intellectual. It is anti-free speech. It is wrong.
We previously heard of Boyer in her campaign against airbrushing of photos as a way to safeguarding history. Yet, it appears that shutting down speech entirely about history is fine.
19 thoughts on “French Senate Makes Denying Armenian Genocide A Crime”
What about the genocide in the “Belgian” Congo under King Leopold? Like 10 million died. About the same time period, too, a hundred years ago. And how to describe the military campaigns against native Americans in our own country except as genocide? That was the plan, certainly.
Any law that imposes criminal liability on individuals holding absurd and factually indefensible views reduces respect for the law generally. Europeans are having a very difficult time dealing with increasingly pluralistic societies.
Thankfully, we have the protection of the Constitution in this country, thereby enabling state and local school boards to rewrite textbooks and deny any historical or scientific truths they find unappealing, all without the risk of criminal prosecution.
Nobody is telling you not to learn about genocides. Nobody is telling you the genocide didn’t take place. What I like about Jonathan Turley’s blog is that it brings up true civil libertarian issues. I thought my comment was in agreement with Turley’s point. So I’m surprised you didn’t criticize him instead.
Oh ok…because I’m rude…(and yes I apologize to all readers for having used the word B***S**T in a previous comment)
The comment I made here has nothing to do with the genocide itself, but about taking away the rights from people that like to question things or simply express views. People were slaughtered all over the world in the most gruesome ways, yet we pick and choose which events people have the right to talk about, and which event you’ll get in trouble with the law for questioning. That’s a civil libertarian issue.
When Europeans brought slaves in chains, stacked them in boats like animals, dragged them in the mud, humiliated them to the extreme, then hanged them when they dared to use the wrong sidewalk or public restroom, that’s obviously shocking to any sensible human being, and I consider myself human. Yet I would strongly oppose any legislation that silences people for expressing themselves on the issue, in a different way. People have every right to judge for themselves if a certain story is exaggerated by comparison to another within a certain context, even if they’re wrong.
The art of deciding which event is more shocking than which is the trick these days.
In France, sometime in the renaissance, the King Charles IX and his mother Catherine de Medici ordered the slaughter of every protestant in the kingdom. Twenty cities joined in, including Paris where the massacre was quite ugly.
Today, a person can verbally express the view that that event (Saint Bartholomew)might have been exaggerated in the way it was told, without risking anything from a legal stand point, Yet today, doing so with respect to Armenia is a punishable crime. This is hard for me to grasp.
The true issue, for us civil libertarians, is mind control. We do not like people forcing us to say things even if they’re obvious.
Israel……is another story!
If Keith prefers others not mistake his sentiments as I might have, he may want to stop making the ignorant statements he made on the Adler thread. Perhaps he can use googles to learn.
You’re possibly correct that *I* needed more of an explicit smiley than I should have in reading Keith here.
However, given his clear sentiments and ignorance of history on the Adler thread, I think I can be forgiven the misreading given his first statement, “This incident happened in World War I. How long should we go back in History?”
What fits the model more:
Keith cares about Palestinians but not Jews in Palestine but Keith cares about Turks and Armenians in Turkey, or
Keith cares about Palestinians but not Jews in Palestine and Keith cares about Turks but not Armenians in Turkey?
And you’re accusing me of being rude? ┌∩┐(◣
Keith seems highly selective in his compassion, given the two comments you cited and that to me seems highly ideologically selective. Given his reasoning Israel’s 65 year history should make a Palestinian nation a moot point? I don’t think he sees it that way though.
┌∩┐(◣_◢)┌∩┐, ” Hey Keith, ….rude rant…”
You missed the point of Keith’s comment. Facepalm much?
And by conflicted, I mean cowardly.
The the Armenian Genocide comes up in American Politics on a semi-regular basis.
Our political elite are usually conflicted over to make any official recognition of what happened out of fear of pissing off Turkey
Listen Keith, to some of the survivors, who are still alive.
Google the rest if you know how.
Near as I can tell, you’ve made two comments, one here, one in the piece about the dumbass Adler.
Both comments indicate you’re an idiot with no knowledge of history.
This piece proves the point that you’re an offensive, insensitive, arrogant jackass.
Not only is it important that we learn of all genocides, if only to acknowledge the human nature, and honor the suffering of others, your desire to ignore this directly opposes your claim in the Adler piece that somehow your opposition to Israel is because of your desire there to acknowledge history.
Truth is that almost all of the European nations lived through the Shoah with blood on their hands and even the US refused to strategically bomb certain accesses to the Death Camps. Perhaps too sentimentally, as a Jew, I hold Denmark in high esteem for the actions of its King during that time, which make that country seem heroic in the face of danger. With the popularity of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” series we see that Sweden while “neutral” in WWII had many NAZI sympathizers. In reality none of this should surprise us in that European History, indeed human history, bears many examples of genocide towards those perceived as outsiders. While as a Jew it is personal to me, Gypsies, Homosexuals, Cathars, Armenians, Serbs etc. (to name but a few examples off the top of my head) have all suffered genocidal repression. The one thing that makes the Shoah stand out from the ills we humans inflict upon each other was the methodical planning and ghoulish record-keeping done by Germans under the NAZI’s. In the end though all the results are the same: death, pain and horror inflicted upon people simply because of stereotypes of who they are.
Shush….We’re now gonna be in violation of the law….Was there a Armenian Genocide…We are supposed to only know what we are told to know….
What they need is a law pertaining to the denial of the gypsie and jewish holocaust of 1940-45 in which many, many, French participated, whether they were Vichy French or not. The frogs rolled over with the German onslaught and then cut the Vichy deal and retained a large part of France as Vichy France, unoccupied. The removal of gypsies and jews went on there without the help of the German SS. So, now that they are being so outspoken about the Turks let us celebrate the French participation in the biggest world wide Holocaust imaginable. Danke Marshal Petain. We, the Brits and Americans overlooked all of this genocide right after the war because we were afraid to push the frogs into the hands of their communists. So we supported DeGaulle and his schmucks and let the Vichy dogs off the hook. Did I say dog? Pardon my French, I am just a labrador.
The State must certainly have other remedies than criminalization to deal with this problem.
“There was an Armenian Genocide….Really?”
Yeah there was a fairly well documented Armenian Genocide. It was perhaps less well organized than the Shoah, but carried out with the same brutality. It is many years since I was an undergraduate, but I still remember with pain, my making fun of an Armenian friend when he talked about it. Only to discover many years later how devastating this was to the Armenian people, how devastating it must have been to his family and how stupidly insensitive I was to ridicule him before hearing his story. If you live a long life, there will be many regrets oft remembered, of your own insensitivity to another’s pain.
As to JT’s point I couldn’t agree more. The German’s banning of free speech regarding the NAZI era failed to eradicate fascist longings and perhaps strengthened them. The notion of free speech not only is a necessity of societal freedom, it actually serves as an amelioration of hateful behavior.
Observe America, where actions to stifle hateful speech towards Blacks, morphed into the false anathema “politically correct”, which then became the racist resurgence of today. All the single Black “friends” happily portrayed in beer commercials merely mask the underlying continued racism of this society. Banning speech on a topic only leads to its expression via “code words” ad actually helps encourage the behavior being banned.
Anonymously, as was said (supposedly), “Who now remembers the Armenians?”
While I agree with Prof. Turley’s remarks about the criminalization of certain speech (I have always been uncomfortable with laws concerning denial of the Shoah), I wish there had been mention of the outrage in Turkey — where it is similarly a crime (I believe) to state that there was a genocide conducted against the Armenians. For its faults in principal, at least the French are criminalizing the stating of a lie, rather than the truth.
This incident happened in World War I. How long should we go back in History? How about the Goulags where Gazillions have died? Should we put people in prison, for questionning the number of the victims in the former soviet union? how about American Indians? Colonial France, England, Belgium and Spain in Africa and Latin America. They surely engaged in murder on a rather massive scale there. Vietnam lost 4 million people for simply chosing a type of government that wasn’t in America’s taste…..
How about Atilla the Hun? can we question the number of deaths he caused without going to prison?
This is ridiculous..!!!!
There was an Armenian Genocide….Really?
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