Today, in Germany, Ernst Zundel was sentenced to the maximum five years imprisonment for denying the holocaust. He has served as an extreme right-wing activist and contributed a great deal of anti-Semitic rhetoric to a prominent website and published several books on the subject for a number of years all over the world. He lived in Canada, and the United States before he was deported to Germany to face this trial.
Holocaust denial is illegal in twelve countries, including notable holocaust participators such as Germany, Austria and Romania (you can check out the full list of countries and their possible sentences right here, courtesy of the fine people at Wikipedia). Which brings me to the point of this entry, are those laws fair?
Now before I go on at all, let me say one thing very clearly. I believe that there is a special place in hell for holocaust deniers (or "Revisionists" as they call themselves). It blows my mind that these people are calling of the survivors liars and all of the gruesome death camp video footage fake.
It was Voltaire who said "I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it." I can't help but wonder what he would have to say about people like Zundell. Should he have the right to spread hate and distort the truth? As you can see, morally we may be in a bit of a sticky situation (That's what she said!!! Don't tell me you've forgotten about this one already...).
I believe that he should not, but it is an interesting question. I believe that freedom of expression and speech are very important, but so is respecting others. However, one must ask how far should both of those values go? What if someone is morally enraged by seeing gay people express their feelings? Should they then have a right to legally limit their freedom of expression? I sure hope not, but how are they different? In codifying these laws are we discriminating against the discriminators? And if we are is that wrong too? Why does tolerance have to be the one universal value after all?
Another interesting thing comes up here involving this wonderful thing called the internet. If say for example, I decided to start posting Holocaust denial right here on this blog, would I be breaking German laws? At first you would think no, but the internet is universal, someone in Germany could access the page and I would be denying the Holocaust somewhere were it is illegal. That's the thing about this age of Wikipedia, Blogs and YouTube, it is wonderful since it gives everyone a voice and an opportunity to have it heard all over the world. But it is terrible for the exact same reason. It should be interesting to see how the legislation catches up to the technology here. Could we potentially have Global laws on our expression?
I realize that I don't have a lot of answers here, but I have always been a firm believer that the question is more important anyway.
If you find an answer, I'd love to find out.
Until next time,