Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Wrong Remedy

Jorg Luyken has a thought-provoking op-ed in the Jerusalem Post on how to deal with Holocaust denial and other forms of hate speech:

In April, the European Union outlawed racism, xenophobia and the "denial of genocide," though the legislation, known as a "Framework Decision," did not mention anti-Semitism or the Holocaust by name.

The legislation, promoted by Germany, criminalizes "publicly condoning, denying or grossly trivializing crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes."

While at first blush this sounds like a good idea, it actually reinforces a closed-minded attitude promoted by Europe's well-meaning elite. It is a mind-set that is slowly impinging on people's freedom of speech and which - in the long run - may lead to a backlash from the very extremists the legislation aims to silence.

While I don't agree with all his points, I think his essential argument is correct:

HOWEVER, passing restrictive laws seems to be turning a blind eye to the root causes of these tensions. Just as you are not going to convince someone that it is wrong to insult another person's religion by making it illegal to do so, you are not going to convince skeptics that an act of genocide happened by making it illegal to say it did not.

The fact is that legislating what we can and cannot discuss is inherently anti-liberal and goes against the very ethos of an open debate that leads to a better understanding of history. It also shows up governments which claim to care so much for our individual freedoms as being hypocritical.

No matter how well intentioned, allowing governmental authorities to define the terms of speech or debate sets a very dangerous precedent.


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