Tuesday, October 17

Les censeurs ont tort.

Last Thursday, France passed a law making it a crime to deny the Armenian genocide perpetrated by the Ottomans during the First World War and its aftermath. This leaves me frustrated, in spite of the fact that I have recently had a series of unpleasant and caustic encounters with several very angry readers of this blog who denied that what happened to Armenians during the last years of the Ottoman Empire constituted genocide.

I do not believe that censorship is the answer. Rather, those who deny the Armenian genocide should be treated with the scorn and derision that they deserve. The solution is to deprive them of their legitimacy, not their voice. I would make the same argument about the phenomenon of Holocaust denial, which is illegal in many European countries as well as Israel.

To me, these laws are no better than the infamous Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code under which the “Public denigration of Turkishness” is punishable with a prison sentence ranging from six months to three years. Under the terms of the law, the celebrated Turkish author Orhan Pamuk (Snow, My Name is Red), who was recently awarded the 2006 Nobel Prize for Literature, was brought to trial last December for comments he made about the Armenian genocide during an interview with a Swiss newspaper in which he stated: “30,000 Kurds and a million Armenians were murdered. Hardly anyone dares mention it, so I do. And that’s why I’m hated.”

The charges were eventually dismissed on a technicality, but during his trial Pamuk offered the following defense, which deeply resonates with me: “What I said is not an insult, it is the truth. But what if it is wrong? Right or wrong, do people not have the right to express their ideas peacefully?”

I agree with Pamuk and I applaud his bravery and his integrity. Pamuk did not choose his conscience over his country. He did not betray his patriotism; he obeyed it, by choosing to acknowledge the darker episodes in his country’s past. And while acknowledging them should not be a matter for the courts, neither should denying them.

4 Comments:

Blogger Marcelo Daniel said...

The hypocrisy of the French (and other Europeans), to write laws that make it a crime to even say something, while disapproving of Turkish laws that do the same. Reminds me to of the double standard that became obvious during the whole Mohammed cartoon mess: In Europe one is forbidden from defaming certain groups, but in the name of free speech, feel free to go after this other group. Europe doesn't seem to hold true freedom of speech as dear as we. But I suppose we need to keep in mind that the bloody wars and ethnic cleansings of that continent has witnessed have left Europeans rightfully sensitive and intolerant of any speech that provokes ethnic tension. If only they were more fair and even handed about it. Banning headscarves and insulting a religion in cartoons seems provocative enough.

10:29 AM  
Blogger Sandouri Dean Bey said...

i agree completely. i think you're exactly right about their rationale.

12:00 AM  
Blogger gay super hero said...

Why is nobody making a big fuss about similar laws that ban Holocaust denial in many European countries and under which both nazi apologist David Irving and right-wing leader Jean Marie Le Pen were condemned? Because Europeans rightly assume that to deny historical crimes of the magnitude of the Holocaust or, in this case, the Armenian genocide is a politically calculated insult to the victims that should be punished. And that is equally true if you're an Arab who has a justifiable grudge over Israeli policy or an ultra-nationalist Turkish immigrant. But let's witness the double standard here: the same people who would not risk offending Israel by proposing the abolition of laws that make it a crime to deny the Holocaust, say that denying the Armenian genocide(which was by the nazis' own admission the prototype of their policy of annihilation) should not be a crime because that would offend Turkey! Ok I agree that a prison sentence may be going too far and risk produsing martyrs in the name of some perverted notion of "freedom of speech" or more accurately freedom of hatred. But society should definetely register its disapprobation when it faces this kind of remarks with a steep fine.

11:00 AM  
Blogger LeeAndrew said...

Hey there!

Surfed your blog - great reading it this morning. Very well written and thoughtful.

Decided to post a comment on the "European" issue -- As an American living in Europe since 2001. Moving after the horrible elections because I predicted where the "American" menatlity was headed under Bush and the neo-cons.

I agreeto a degree about the "freedom of speech" issues. I could take issue and go into greater depth but...

The Europeans have always looked-up to Americnas as moral compasses - Bush has all but destroyed that concept.

I agree with the Europeans who insist upon for example scarfs and veils be removed -- hold on -- If a foreigner decides to relocate, they must adapt to the communities of their new residences to a certain degree.

Without learning the langauges, and customs of your host, friction will always be there.When in Rome, do as the Romans is my advice.

Hold onto your cultrual identities but release your superstitions and customs and fears which oppress you.

The bridges are easier to cross and doors opened in your new home if you accept them, via respecting language and heritage.

LeeAndrew GIABENELLI

12:08 AM  

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