Thursday 12 November 2015

Musing on Holocaust Denial

My recent post on Nick Griffin and the BNP sparked an interesting debate on Twitter yesterday regarding the limitations on freedom of speech, and it wasn't too long before the subject of Dieudonné M'bala M'bala's recent court case soon came up. In case you are unfamiliar with his case, The European Court of Human Rights has recently rejected a claim from the French "comedian" who claimed his right to freedom of speech was denied when he was convicted and fined for making anti-Semitic comments, and for repeated denial of The Holocaust. The court upheld a decision by a French court in 2009 and said it would not hear controversial comedian Dieudonné M'bala M'bala's appeal against the conviction because the show that led to it was "unmistakably negations and anti-Semitic in nature."

Now, before you read any further, I'd like to ask you to vote in the poll below. Votes are absolutely anonymous, and no personal information is recorded.
Should Holocaust denial be a criminal offence?
Thanks. Putting the poll aside, for now, let's look specifically at Holocaust denial. There are several countries in which it is a criminal offence to deny the Holocaust. 
The denial of crimes against humanity is against the law in no less than thirteen European countries, alongside Israel. These laws are much younger than Holocaust denial itself. Most of them were made in the late 1980s or 1990s, as a counter-measure against the rise of white supremacist in a European generation which had no experience of the war. During most of post-war history, more than 40 years, Holocaust denial has been legal in all countries of the world. It was only in 1990 that the French government enacted the Gayssot Law, which declares questioning the scale or existence of any crimes against humanity a crime. This was the first European statute explicitly outlawing denial of the Holocaust.
Most of these laws outlaw denial of all crimes against humanity, not limited to the ones committed by the Axis of World War II, but also explicitly (as in Poland, Slovakia, or the Czech Republic) or implicitly, including crimes by Communist regimes, and other crimes often emphasized by Holocaust deniers. Only in Romania is the law exclusively limited to Holocaust denial. Further, and perhaps, unsurprisingly, Israeli is the only country in which legislature refers specifically to Jews.
Currently, there are 179 countries, and several autonomous territories, without any law or judicial precedent against Holocaust denial. This includes all of North and South America, Africa, Oceania, Asia (except Israel, should any Holocaust denier have an overwhelming desire to go there in the first place) and 37 of the 50 countries in Europe. On July 8 1986, the Israeli Parliament passed a law criminalizing denial of the Holocaust. In 2007 The European Union approved legislation that makes Holocaust denial a crime punishable by imprisonment. Genocide denial, for example, is legal in the former Yugoslav states, Greece and several other countries where the Nazis abducted Jews during the war.
The number of countries banning genocide denial has been largely constant since the 1990s. Spain repealed their law against genocide denial in 2007. Parliaments in United Kingdom and Sweden have rejected proposals for such laws. The European Parliament has also rejected a directive to criminalize genocide denial. Canada's Supreme Court sentenced James Keegstra in R. v. Keegstra in 1990 for hate speech not limited to Holocaust denial, but in R. v. Zundel in 1992 they acquitted Zündel, and declared Holocaust denial to be protected by the Canadian Constitution. The only recent law against genocide denial was made in Hungary in 2010. Previously, trivialization of the Holocaust was illegal. The new law prohibits "denial of genocide committed by Communist or Nazi system," with no special mentioning of the Holocaust or Jews.
Deniers often claim that these laws are a product of Jewish influence. In which case, perhaps one could explain why Holocaust denial is perfectly legal in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Russia, all of which have significant Jewish populations, however is illegal in Poland, Romania and Lithuania, where few Jews live today.
I've always found the perceived anti-Semitic side of Holocaust denial, along with established figures to be deeply troubling. Certainly, anti-Semitism plays a large part in the denial of what is an historically established fact. Ask most people how many people died in the Holocaust, and the answer is simple. Six million Jews. In actuality, almost 12 million people, that we know of, perished in the atrocity, and several recent studies suggest the figure may be as high as 17 million. I have every sympathy for the plight of the Jews during the Second World War. I do wish, however, that when referring to the Shoah, the other 5.5 million who were brutally massacred, were given more prominence.
Whilst the extermination of the Jews is widely known, the remaining demographics are less well known, and even less well publicised. And so, for those unfamiliar with the official statistics, this shows the total number of people who perished at the hands of The Third Reich.
Jews - 5.93 million
Soviet POWs - 2–3 million
Ethnic Poles - 1.8–2 million
Serbs - 300,000–500,000
Disabled - 270,000
Romani - 90,000–220,000
Freemasons - 80,000–200,000
Slovenes - 20,000–25,000
Homosexuals - 5,000–15,000
Jehovah's Witnesses - 2,500–5,000
Spanish Republicans - 7,000
It is plausible that not all Holocaust denial is born out of anti-Semitism. There are people who simply find it inconceivable that almost 12 million people could be systematically exterminated by one regime. This is understandable, as it is an unimaginably high number of people. In fact, it is the equivalent of the entire population of Zimbabwe or Belgium. Should you be more familiar with US population, it equates to wiping out every single resident of the state of Illinois. I have, for many years, been interested in the history of the Holocaust, and even after much study, I find it incredibly hard to comprehend that level of industrialised murder.
Next, we must turn to freedom of speech. Holocaust denial is, in effect, a "thought crime". It is simply articulating the belief which, in certain countries which is criminal. Realistically, does arresting, charging or even imprisoning someone have any effect whatsoever on their thought process? Somehow, I very much doubt it, and would postulate that it is entirely counterproductive, further rationalising the belief that Jews somehow exercise some control  over their freedom.
Whilst the laws in countries where Holocaust denial are in force are presented as encompassing the denial of all genocides or atrocities, prosecutions for those extending beyond the Holocaust are largely unknown; personally, and despite considerable research, I have been unable to find a single case where, within civilised countries, charges have been laid against anyone for denial of The Crusades, or The Rwandan Genocide.
If someone holds a sincere belief, however foolish or misguided, should that be criminalised? And if so, where does one draw the line? We, rightly, frown upon Middle Eastern countries who implement harsh punishments for apostasy or espousing atheistic views. They truly believe they are defending their religion. Blasphemy laws are still enforced in many of these nations, often with the ultimate punishment.
It is a sad irony that those who would deny people the right to deny the deaths of almost 12 million people, are, in effect, fighting to give up one of the freedoms that 21 million Servicemen gave their lives to protect. One of the things I admire most about the United States is the First Amendment, granting absolute freedom of speech to everyone. Of course, there are caveats, as I mentioned in my previous blog post. One cannot shout "bomb" in a crowded airport, and expect free speech to protect you. And rightly so. Neither can you incite violence or criminality.
Free speech is a beautiful privilege; a right which we should all enjoy. And with that beauty, comes great ugliness. Free speech must extend to hate speech, without incitement, and it must extend to ignorance or blind stupidity, including denial of one of the worst atrocities in the history of the human race. After all, when repressive regimes rise, speech is usually the first privilege that the suppressed will lose. In the case of the United Kingdom, should a party such as the BNP ever rise to power, minority groups, such as Muslims or gay people, would be considerably worse off without the protection of freedom of expression. One only has to look to France, and their legislation against female Muslims wearing the Burqa or Niqab in public places. Likewise, one can look to Russia, which legislates heavily against the ‘promotion of’ (education about) homosexuality.
Ultimately, the solution to ignorance, be it wilful stupidity, failure to comprehend the enormity of 12 million people being executed, or motived by pure bigotry, is not legislation. It is education.
And, just on the off chance, anyone misunderstands my words, I absolutely, implicitly, do not deny the appalling atrocities that took place during The Second World War. The Holocaust happened. It is an historical FACT. And if you deny it, you are either naive or intensely stupid.
In light of what you've read, I'd ask you to vote again, in the poll below. Have you reconsidered? Or do you think I'm wrong, and that denial of the Holocaust absolutely should be criminalised? Please, take the time to consider, carefully, before voting, and comments are most welcome.
Having read the post, do you now think Holocaust denial should be a criminal offence free polls


2015-11-13 02.08.56

For the fallen

We honour you. We thank you. We remember you.

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