Jan 4 2012

France's Armenian Genocide Bill An Attack On Free Speech

William Bauer

Denying the historical veracity or authenticity of a genocide is
wicked, untruthful, and immoral. It is a post-mortem affront to those
many people who perished, to their descendants, and to the collective
memory of humanity. It is truly one of the basest intellectual acts an
individual can commit. However, the act of genocide denial, written or
verbal, must never be made an illegal, criminal act.

Recently, France stirred up controversy, especially with Turkey, when
their lower house of parliament passed a law that would criminalize
any denial of the Armenian Genocide and sentence anyone convicted to
one-year imprisonment and a fine of $60,000. The upper house will
review the law this month, amidst a diplomatic spat with Turkey, who
froze military ties with France after the bill initially proceeded.
Turkey has threatened further action if the bill makes it to French
President Nicolas Sarkozy's desk.

The genocide of the Armenians by the Turks from 1915-1923 in the dying
years of the Ottoman Empire cost the lives of over 1.5 million people,
and can be deemed the first near-total holocaust of a people by
Turkish soldiers. It was evil and brutal murder of a people in cold
blood, one that wiped a thriving community off the face of the earth.
Of this there can be no doubt. Yet, many Turks have long vigorously
denied this historically accurate version of events; now France, for a
plethora of reasons, seeks to make this denial illegal.

This is an utterly unacceptable attack on freedom of speech.

The actual law, which has yet to be signed into law by Sarkozy, was
passed by the French lower house of parliament in late December. It
provoked a sharp diplomatic response from Turkey, who withdrew its
ambassador from Paris in protest of what it views as an unjustified
attack on Turkish state history. This could have long-term diplomatic

Reasons as to why France decided to pass this unnecessary and
unenforceable law at this current juncture are mixed. Ostensibly, this
law would combat genocide denial, however it seems the bill may be a
short-term vote-winning measure designed to sway over key voters from
the Armenian community in upcoming presidential elections. This is
also not the first time Sarkozy has used history for electoral gain.

Freedom of expression is sacrosanct. It must extend to opinions
mainstream society would never want to hear or consider. Indeed, it
extends over opinions that many of us find distasteful, even
repulsive. However, freedom of speech covers the rights of all people,
of all strife and stripe, of all races and creeds, of all backgrounds,
to be able to express their beliefs in security and safety. This
French law, purportedly enacted to protect the historical memory of
the Armenian genocide, actually hurts it, by giving the deniers a
platform from which to proselytize these very falsehoods to a wider

Eventually, history will render its judgement on this era without help
of this ineffective legislation. France needs to ensure that freedom
of speech is protected, that no event is too large to be considered
exempt, and that those who want to speak should be allowed to do so,
no matter what they choose to say. It is both dangerous and foolish to
let the will of the majority of the community dictate the legal
codifying of opinions, no matter how noble the intention.

In the 18th century, at a time of great strife and turmoil, and of new
ideas versus old ones, Voltaire, the great French philosopher, wrote:
`I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death
your right to say it.'

The French Republic, whose very foundations lie upon such
enlightenment, should not forget the precepts of this mantra. Equally,
we in turn must not forget that the strength of our long held freedoms
lies in our ability to counter such ill-founded genocide denials, not
suppress them with suffocating laws.

Weigh in: In a time when people across the world are still fighting
for freedom of speech, is it right to erode our own so willingly at