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Jail for denying genocide good, jail for affirming genocide bad?

by Colman Tue Nov 8th, 2005 at 08:19:29 AM EST

We've seen a lot of condemnation of the Turks for suppressing debate on the Armenian massacres early in the last century, for, among other reasons, the restraint on free speech.

Can someone explain to me why this is different in principle?

A German Holocaust denier who has regularly lavished praise on Adolf Hitler has gone on trial in Germany.
Ernst Zundel, 66, moved to Canada in 1958 but was judged a national security threat and deported earlier this year.

Germany, where denying the Holocaust is a crime, has charged him with a string of offences based on 14 pieces of written work and internet publications.

Mr Zundel, who once described Hitler as "a decent and very peaceful man", faces up to five years in jail if convicted.

In a 20-page charge sheet, Mr Zundel is accused of using "pseudo-scientific" methods to try and rewrite the accepted history of the Nazi Holocaust.

He is charged with incitement offences, as well as libel and disparaging the dead.

He denies the charges, asserting his right to free speech, and questions the constitutionality of the laws being used against him. (BBC)

It looks like the same thing from here: views that go against government approved reality are being punished. In terms of freedom of speech they seem the same. Why is one acceptable and necessary and the other wrong?


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Post-war Germany was so afraid of itself that they needed  to outlaw Nazi propaganda, Holocaust denial and the like. Ataturk's refounding of Turkey was not such a clean break from the Ottomans.

Blair is now getting ready to crack down on "offensive speech" and "enocuragement of terrorism" in hair-raising ways.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Nov 8th, 2005 at 09:41:26 AM EST
Blair's intentions are hardly a recommendation!
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue Nov 8th, 2005 at 09:43:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I did call them hair-raising.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Nov 8th, 2005 at 11:59:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Can someone explain to me why this is different in principle?

If you're talking about freedom of speech as an absolute, the way us Americans see it, no difference in principle. That's why the ACLU routinely goes to court to defend white supremacists.

However, postwar Europe adopted the principle that certain ideas are dangerous, that there is a rather substantial difference between racism and anti-racism and the former should be a crime.

Personally I prefer the former, but few Europeans seem to agree with me.

by MarekNYC on Tue Nov 8th, 2005 at 04:40:22 PM EST
I agree on principle, but I can understand the rationale for the German laws.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Nov 8th, 2005 at 04:46:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I more tend to agree with the German laws. The absolutes of Enlightement failed us once, they can fail us again.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Dec 9th, 2005 at 04:59:07 AM EST
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I don't think its good at all.  Unfortunately, I don't get to vote in Germany.

Idiot/Savant
No Right Turn - New Zealand's liberal blog

by IdiotSavant on Tue Nov 8th, 2005 at 05:56:04 PM EST
Nazism arose in democracy and free speech. German lawmakers had a direct memory of the failure of the ideal absolutes of liberal democracy.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Dec 9th, 2005 at 05:00:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I missed this thread, but to me it's quite simple:

  • in one case, you promote ideas that have led to genocide in the past. The reasoning is that you are a potential threat for going down a known dangerous path

  • in the other, you are being prevented from talking about history. You can be a threat, but not to a democratic regime.

I understand the US First amendment logic and am glad it exists, but I cannot blame the European countries, with their history, for choosing this path. Note that France has a similar law against négationnisme.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Nov 9th, 2005 at 02:59:57 PM EST
And some of them mentioned in the comments above.

1) It happened in Germany despite a democratic constitution (Weimar Republic) so we Germans probably feel that we shouldn´t tolerate such speech again.

Simply said, the first German republic failed after only 15 years. We didn´t want it to happen again, so....
It´s a bit different with the USA. After more than 200 years living in a republic, Americans probably feel more confident about their constitution. :)
Although I agree that laws and regulations in Germany should be relaxed now. More than 50 years after the "second" republic was founded.

2) Public relations.
It´s one thing to publish Holocaust-denying stuff in Canada, the USA or Denmark. Or hold speeches glorifying Hitler and the Nazis. Free speech there. It probably would be quite another thing if such stuff would happen in Germany.
Can you imagine the worldwide media coverage if such things would be published in Germany?
I can just imagine the headlines in Great Britain or the USA! :)

Simply said, stuff happening in the USA or Canada that would be ignored by the media, would be headline news if it would happen in Germany.

by Detlef (Detlef1961_at_yahoo_dot_de) on Wed Nov 9th, 2005 at 04:07:21 PM EST
the first German republic failed

I don't remember off the top of my head, but weren't some German republics established for a short time in 1848?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri Dec 9th, 2005 at 05:04:21 AM EST
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