Friday, January 27, 2012

For a few votes more

This week the French Senate approved a bill that would make it a crime to deny that the Turks committed genocide against Armenians during World War I. Anyone denying it was genocide could face jail and a fine of up to $58,000.

The rise of the Thought Police in the United States is troubling enough - but to make it a crime to disagree with what someone else says goes beyond anything we could imagine on this side of the pond.

Maybe it was genocide. Maybe it wasn't. That, ultimately, is a question for the historians to answer. But to criminalize a point of view makes a mockery of scholarship. It also makes a mockery of the French justice system.

According to the BBC, there are half-a-million French citizens of Armenian descent. Did the party of President Sarkozy pass the bill in order to curry favor with those voters? Was the criminalization of thought the price to pay for a few more votes? What does that say about the state of politics in France?

Maybe the politicians in France have forgotten the words of the Declaration of the Rights of Men written during the heyday of the French Revolution.

Article 4 states:
Liberty consists in the power to do anything that does not injure others; accordingly, the exercise of the rights of each man has no limits except those that secure the enjoyment of these same rights to the other members of society. These limits can be determined only by law.
Article 5 states:
The law has only the rights to forbid such actions as are injurious to society. Nothing can be forbidden that is not interdicted by the law, and no one can be constrained to do that which it does not order.
Can someone explain to me how the exercise of speech can "injure" another. Sure, you might disagree with what I say, but my words are just that - words. They have no more power than you allow them to have. It is quite a stretch to conclude that denying the Turks committed genocide against Armenians a century ago is injurious.

Likewise, disagreeing with a statement is not injurious to society. It is through the exchange of different, and sometimes contradictory, ideas that our knowledge of the world increases. To criminalize such a disagreement will serve only to chill speech and scholarship.

How ironic that the French gave us the Statute of Liberty.

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