I know that some of my readers are Jewish. I hope that I have established my bona fides in your eyes that I am not an anti-Semite, nor will I rush to defend Jews when they are wrong. I see Judaism and Jewish people in the same way I see all religions and religious people – not deserving of sainthood, but definitely not deserving of hatred and violence. I am not a Holocaust denier, I do not think the Holocaust was a cover-up or a lie – there are mountains of evidence, and I am satisfied that the truth is more-or-less represented accurately in the current narrative. I am aware that there is a community of deniers out in the world, and I try to stay as far away from them as possible.
Elie Weisel wants to make it a crime to deny the Holocaust:
Wiesel did disagree with (author Salman) Rushdie over whether Holocaust denial should be a crime, saying it should be outlawed everywhere except in the United States. That’s because the First Amendment in the U.S. guaranteeing freedom of expression is too important, Wiesel said. Rushdie, on the other hand, said prosecuting Holocaust deniers simply extended them a platform. The author said freedom of speech and the value of human rights were both topics that could not be discussed enough.
I agree with Rushdie, although for slightly different reasons. Many European countries have made it a crime to deny the Holocaust. My concern is not simply that making it a crime makes martyrs out of those who are arrested (although that will almost certainly be the case), my concern is that outlawing any speech is cause for pause. The unbelievably inconvenient thing about free speech is that you can’t pick and choose which speech should be free. It’s either free, or it isn’t free. If we’re not going to have free speech, then we need to establish reasonable criteria to infringe – we can’t simply arbitrarily decide that some things can be discussed and some can’t, no matter how horrible they might be. One of my favourite bloggers talked about this a couple weeks ago, and you can find me sprinkled all over the comments section. Orac had, among other things, this to say:
Quite frankly, Wiesel’s advocacy of a ban on Holocaust denial while championing free speech to criticize Islam doesn’t just look hypocritical. From my perspective, it is hypocritical. Why this one exception to free speech for Holocaust denial bans? Why not other exceptions to free speech–such as for criticizing religion or racist hate speech against others besides Jews?
At what point does some speech become “incorrect”, but similar speech is okay? Are blasphemy laws justified because it strikes at the very core of some people’s belief systems? Should all anti-religious speech be off-limits, even if it’s to criticize specific abhorrent practices that are done in the name of religion?
The other side of it, and perhaps the more compelling argument, is that banning speech doesn’t make the problem go away. It simply drives it underground, where it is allowed to grow and metastasize until it erupts and hurts people. We’ve seen a number of examples of that on this blog alone – where taking away the ability to talk about something only serves to make it worse. If the goal of the law is to eliminate the hate, then it must be done similarly to using surgery or radiation to treat a tumour – sometimes things have to get worse in order for them to get better. Once the hate is out in the open air, we can counter it with facts and demolish its support, finally putting it completely to rest. Or, as Orac puts it:
Let them have their free speech. Then bury them with refutations and ridicule.