Monday, May 08, 2006

Turkey and France Prepare for Battle

Earlier today I wrote about how the Turkish ambassador to Canada was recalled to Ankara after Stephen Harper refered to the Armenian genocide in a recent statement.

Mt. Ararat, sacred to Armenians but located just over the border of modern Turkey, is an evocative symbol of the genocide debate

Murat over at Amerikan Turk noted that similar rumblings can be heard over in France. In fact, as Erkan points out on his blog, things in France are set to get a whole lot worse.

It turns out that the Turkish government has also recalled Osman Koruturk, their ambassador to France. This over proposed legislation in France that would outlaw denial of the Armenian genocide on pain of one year in prison and a €45,000 fine. Holocaust denial is already against the law in France (and much of the rest of western Europe). The bill is scheduled to be voted upon on May 18, and anti-French boycotts and economic punative measures are already in the works.

Seen against the backdrop of Turkey's EU accession talks—and because virtually no one actually denies the Armenian genocide other than the Turks—this legislative action in France is rightly being seen as an obstacle designed to keep Turkey out of the European Union.

Why do such champions of European freedom think that imposing a fine for genocide-denial is a good thing? A few short months ago, France was at the forefront of the Muhammad cartoon debate, arguing forcefully in favor of free speech. Now they're considering passing a law that plainly violates that principle (all to stick it to the Muslims again, a cynical person might say).

To add to the hypocrisy, many in France and elsewhere in Europe have been justifiably horrified at Article 301 of Turkey's criminal code, which outlaws insulting Turkishness amongst other things (and has been used against Turks who talk openly about the Armenian genocide). The problem with Article 301 is that it stops people from expressing certain forbidden opinions. The law now under consideration in France does the same thing. The only difference is in which opinion is forbidden.

I'm against Armenian genocide denial laws for the same reason I'm against Holocaust denial laws: they trample on free speech. Don't believe for a second that this means I deny either the Holocaust or the Armenain genocide. I don't. Both events occurred.

Forcing someone to agree with me as a matter of law, however, is a bad idea for two reasons: 1) it is contrary to freedom of expression and, 2) it implies that arguments for the legally protected assertion are weak and require help from the judiciary. Nothing could be further than the truth. Expose these deniers and their work to the light of day and they disintegrate. Hide them away and they fester.

France has a golden opportunity to back up their rhetoric on the freedom of expression. I'll be genuinely surprised if they take it.
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