Why criminalizing genocide denial is bad
Nearly a century after between 1 million and 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks in what is considered the one of the first examples of modern genocide, Turkey continues to fight efforts to label the event as such.
Turkey’s prime minister on Saturday sharply criticized France for a bill that would make it a crime to deny the 1915-23 mass killing of Armenians was genocide, The Associated Press reported.
“Saying France should investigate what he claimed was its own ‘dirty and bloody history’ in Algeria and Rwanda, Recep Tayyip Erdogan insisted Turkey would respond ‘through all kinds of diplomatic means,’” the wire service reported.
While Turkish officials quibble over labels, there’s little question of the horrors inflicted upon Armenians by Ottoman Turks as their empire collapsed.
However, Turkish leaders reject the term “genocide” for the tragedy, arguing that the toll is inflated, that there were deaths on both sides and that those killed were victims of civil war and unrest.
Later this week, the lower house of French Parliament will debate a proposal that would make denying that the massacre was genocide punishable by up to a year in prison and $58,500 in fines, putting it on par with Holocaust denial, which was banned in the country in 1990.
While one can understand the desire to set the record straight when it comes to events such as the Holocaust and what happened to hundreds of thousands of Armenians beginning in 1915, criminalizing the denial of such horrors seems Draconian.
Perhaps that view is to be expected from someone who’s lived his entire life in a country where freedom of speech is a prized right.
Perhaps it’s also to be expected from someone who, though fate and good fortune, never had members of his family butchered by genocidal regimes who stopped at nothing to get what they wanted.
Still, laws criminalizing genocide denial would seem to set a dangerous precedent.
For, as the Los Angeles Times wrote in 2006, freedom is a principle that must be applied indiscriminately.
“Once the laws are in place to jail dissidents of Holocaust history, what’s to stop such laws from being applied to dissenters of religious or political histories, or to skepticism of any sort that deviates from the accepted canon?” the publication wrote.
Unfortunately, as with the present-day Ku Klux Klan in the US, genocide deniers often get exactly what they’re looking for when authorities take action against them: attention.
Instead of banning individuals from denying that events such as the Holocaust and the massacre of Armenians took place, the state does its citizens a far greater service when it allows learning and logic to disprove deniers, rather than turning to the force of law.
Certainly, it’s tempting to try to enact legislation to counteract the views of individuals who are either severely misguided or simply out to stir up trouble of the worst kind, but as has been said many times before, you simply can’t outlaw stupidity.
(Above: A scene from the Armenian holocaust of 1915-23.)