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Saturday, March 9, 2013

Should Holocaust Denial be a crime?

I like Media Law. It's the most interesting of all the modules I'm currently studying. It's not as tedious to study as something like Land Law. I'll go as far as saying it's the most interesting thing I've done all the while I've been at University. We've been studying Hate Speech of late. Generally, this is anything that would be classified as having the power to incite racial/sex/religious discrimination. This morning as I rushed through my Seminar Questions, question 5 caught my eye.

It wasn't just any hypothetical question. I looked it up on Wikipedia.

"Holocaust denial is explicitly or implicitly illegal in 17 countries: Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, and Switzerland. The European Union's Framework decision on Racism and Xenophobia states that denying or grossly trivializing "crimes of genocide" should be made "punishable in all EU Member States". Slovakia criminalized denial of fascist crimes in general in late 2001; in May 2005, the term "Holocaust" was explicitly adopted by the penal code and in 2009, it became illegal to deny any act regarded by an international criminal court as genocide."

It strikes me as an attempt to govern what people think/feel which I see as a violation of human rights. I studied History at A Levels and hold the desire of visiting Auschwitz one day so I think I know enough to avoid being called ignorant. I have no doubt that the Holocaust did happen but I don't see the sense in criminalizing suggesting it didn't happen. There are hundreds of conspiracy theories: The government being behind 9/11, The Royal Family planning Diana's death to ensure she didn't get married to Dodi al-Fayed (A Muslim), 2Pac being alive. Apparently, he's hanging around in some Cambodian village.

Majority of people don't take these theories with any seriousness, I don't see why we should have to legislate on that. One of my classmates who shared the same view argued that for society to evolve, we must engage and offer an audience to dissenting views. Exactly. How can one filter for the truth without taking in both sides? Not too long ago, whilst Fabrice Muamba attended some award ceremony where he started by thanking God for saving his life. On Twitter, I saw tweets from people (Chief among them on Joseph Anthony Barton) who felt that by attributing his recovery to God he was doing the Doctors a disservice. I felt no inclination to be offended. People have their views and these have been shaped by their experiences, I don't think we should attempt to try and inhibit that.

I see the pattern in that the countries where it is outlawed were those where Anti-Semitism was particularly prevalent but I still don't think that's good enough reason. By that reasoning, Apartheid denial should be a crime in South Africa. Stupid people are perfectly entitled to think stupid thoughts, no need to waste taxpayers money on them.

With regard to the theme of inciting racial hatred, I would argue that by denying people the right to assert their views that the Holocaust didn't happen, it's got graver repercussions on race relations. Denying people this feeds the notion of Jews being this precious subculture whom one has to be extra sensitive about. (Why can’t we just live in peace and harmony?) It creates distrust which subsequently would create discord and tension reinforcing discriminatory sentiment in the process. If someone got locked up today for Holocaust denial, there would be a bunch of people protesting against this. By extension, Jews would have to deal with having the tragedies that occurred at the Holocaust resurrected. The media coverage would be immense. In the public interest, I think it's a safer and more progressive bet not to police it at all. 

In the true spirit of democracy and to avoid being called a hypocrite, I would consider the opposing view. The one person in the Seminar who did not agree built their argument on the premise that by denying that this tragedy happened, the wounds of those who lost family members and suffered would not be healed and that they shouldn't have to witness something which clearly happened discarded. I might come across as insensitive but I do not think that outweighs the need for 'free speech'.(We don't hear of families of 9/11 victims getting upset at those who cheapen the lives lost by saying the US government planned those attacks on its own citizens) I like transparency and criminalizing radical views screws that up.  I saw a quote that described Holocaust denial as the "worst form of racism because it pretends to be a research." I'm still not sure I agree with that. In 2010, I watched a very daft documentary on British TV that suggested that black people were intellectually inferior to white people. I'm pretty sure I've seen some Professor who argues on that theme on Question Time. That is research built on racist foundations. I don't agree with it (It goes without saying that it's stupid) but you won't hear me calling for it to be criminalized.

What do you think? Am I being insensitive or do you see some sense in all this?


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