Tuesday, October 17, 2006

New York Times in Denial

Anti-French protesters in Istanbul

I could not disagree more with Tuesday's New York Times editorial, "France in Denial." The editorial attempts to strike some sort of "balance," on the one hand condemning Turkey for not dealing with its past and prosecuting writers who mention the Armenian Genocide, while on the other hand calling the recent French National Assembly vote "absurd," "cynical," and "outrageous." But the argument the Times offers against the resolution appears utterly incoherent. Indeed, calling it an argument does not do justice to the term. Instead of making its case for why such a law should not exist, given that a similar law against Holocaust denial is on the books in France, the Times offers the following reasons for its opposition to the resolution:
  1. French politicians are exploiting anti-Turkish feelings
  2. French legislators are pandering to the large Armenian community in their country
  3. The resolution could increase anti-Muslim feelings in France
  4. The law would deal a blow to freedom of expression
To me, these appear more like excuses than reasons. Even if 1, 2, and 3 were true, are they really grounds for not having a law like this on the books? As for the third reason specifically, Armenian Genocide denial is now in its 91st year. Does action against it really have to take a backseat to the possibility of increasing anti-Muslim feeling? I also fail to see how this law would do something like that; it seems rather illogical. Finally, I wonder whether similar "arguments " might not be constructed for a law banning Holocaust denial today (in #1, substitute "Muslim" or "Arab" for "Turkish," and in #2, "Jewish" for "Armenian").

The last reason, which to me seems contradictory to the first three, might represent a more solid argument, except that the law forbidding denial of the Shoah (Loi Gayssot) overrides guarantees of freedom of expression in France. So how does the Times deal with this problem?

The editorial admits that the Loi Gayssot too violates freedom of expression. However, in the case of this law, the Times argues, the "laws at least are based on the threat posed by die-hard anti-Semites who still subscribe to Hitler's racist theories." On the other hand, the "Armenian question poses no dangers in France. Playing politics with it trivializes not only the Holocaust, but also the Armenian genocide."

I'm not familiar enough with the Loi Gayssot in France to evaluate whether it is true that this law is actually based on the threat of fanatical antisemites. Certainly, denial of the Shoah can be seen as a form of hate speech. But the same could be said for denial of the Armenian Genocide. Let's not forget that memorials to the Genocide have been defaced in France and elsewhere. And let's not forget that anti-Armenian stereotypes and hatred are alive and well among many people, whether in Turkey, Russia, Azerbaijan, or even the West. And yes, these stereotypes sometimes have profound consequences for Armenians. Denial of the Genocide is frequently combined with accusations of "Armenian treachery" and conspiracy theories about Armenians controlling the media, government, or academy. As for the last sentence - I simply do not understand what it is supposed to mean. How could a law forbidding denial trivialize either the Holocaust or the Armenian Genocide?

If the Times had wanted to make an argument against this law, it should have stuck to the question of freedom of expression. But in that case, the argument would also have to be aimed contra the laws against Holocaust denial.

See also the coverage of the bill's passage on Kishkushim, which includes a link to the resolution's pre-history.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You're right about the Times's faulty logic, Amos. But the logical position would have been for the Times to have supported free speech tout court. They were unfortunately not willing to bite the bullet and advocate de-criminalizing denying the Shoah.

As a Turkish historian who lives in Europe and has made considerable personal sacrifices for the sake of forthright scholarship on the Armenian genocide said to me last spring, when this law was being prepared and other countries were talking about the same:
"If this law passes, who will believe that I'm saying what I really think when I tell them that there was an Armenian genocide -- when to say the opposite would land me in jail?"

THAT is the compelling argument against criminalizing anyone's statements about history.