Voltaire Turning in His Grave Update

I won’t be able to cover this live from the French Senate today because I’m babysitting this afternoon, but here’s the latest from the French press:

The Assembly will consider on Thursday a UMP bill to punish genocide deniers. Angry Turkish demonstrators are protesting in front of the chamber, tensions reigns … Deciphering the positions of both sides … 

“If behind every beard there was wisdom, the goats would all be prophets.” There is no doubt that the Turks must be tempted right now to discuss the Armenian proverb, substituting the word “beard” with “French law.” The National Assembly on Thursday examined a law to punish the deniers of any genocide recognized in French law with a year in prison and a fine of 45,000 euros. But the only genocide under consideration is that of the Armenians during the First World War (it has long been punishable to deny the Holocaust under international law). This has angered Turkish authorities, leading to an all-out battle with French politicians.

“I get twenty emails a day, Turkish officials or residents in France have ordered me to abandon the law. I feel violated, insulted. This interference in diplomacy by threats is completely archaic,” fumed Valérie Boyer, the UMP MP behind the text. The law, supported by a majority of MPs from both the right and the left, would be adopted later this year. So the Turks have pulled out the stops and joined forces against it. Two policy delegations (majority and opposition) and Turkey’s industrial associations have traveled to France to meet French parliamentarians.

Demonstration outside the Assembly

A thousand people were protesting early Thursday morning before the National Assembly. The protesters gathered on the place of President Edouard Herriot, waving French flags and placards and signs in Turkish saying “History should not serve politics,” “Historical debate is not political debate” and “A country’s history shouldn’t be about fishing for votes.”

The demonstrators, mostly young men whose leaflets were signed by the Coordination Committee of Franco-Turkish Associations in France, are surrounded by double fences, while riot police blocked all access to the National Assembly. 

The majority is already cracking …

Christian Jacob, president of the UMP group in the Assembly, Axel Poniatowski, president of the UMP Committee on Foreign Affairs, Michel Diefenbacher, president of the UMP group of the Franco-Turkish Assembly and even the president of the National Assembly Bernard Accoyer–these delegations knock on doors to try to convince parliament to drop this bill. “They tell us to leave history to historians, and not to confuse the law and politics. According to them, this bill could have serious social consequences in Turkey,” says a source who attended one of the meetings. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has threatened France with heavy trade sanctions. And little by little, their arguments are making headway.

The majority is already cracking. According to the Canard Enchaîné, Foreign Minister Alain Juppé has called the bill an “idiocy without a name.” On Wednesday morning, the UMP deputy of Vienna Jean-Pierre Raffarin and UMP senator of Yvelines Gérard Larcher said they were against the law on the airwaves of RTL and Europe 1. The day before, Bernard Accoyer announced his opposition. Fillon himself would not be very excited, said the Canard.

Yet the UMP continues to support the text. Christian Jacob is in favor, as is Nicolas Sarkozy, according to several sources. ”It’s all to try to recover the voices of the Frenco-Armenians” Alain Juppé reportedly said, according to the Canard. Indeed, France has 500,000 Armenian expatriates, to which must be added the tens of thousands of Turkish-Armenians. It’s an important windfall for the presidential election, but even more for the parliamentary elections, which are played out at the local level. Valerie Boyer, for example, represents Bouches-du-Rhone–where the Armenian community has no less than 80,000 expatriates in Marseille alone. 

“The electoral argument does not hold water”

“It’s party politics. Even though it probably will not pass for months, this bill is an election issue. The government put the text on the agenda last week, so that it’s on the agenda  before the election,” offers a member of the majority who is very familiar with the matter. ”But this is ridiculous. The Armenian community is divided in France, it never votes in a block. The Left has gained more from it. No one understands why everyone got carried away about this issue,” he says.  

“The electoral argument doesn’t hold water, because the Left has also spoken about the bill,” said Ara Toranian, editor of the magazine News from Armenia. ”If the majority supports the law and is now proposing it, it’s because Nicolas Sarkozy promised it to the Armenian people by the end of his term,” he says. 

The Canard suggests another possibility. According to a minister quoted by the satirical weekly, the president supports this bill for one reason above all. ”He does it to make Carla happy. Passion makes him do stupid things,” says this source. 

It’s as if, behind the beard of the law, it’s neither wisdom nor politics, nor the hidden history, but … love.

I repeat my commitment: If the bill passes, I’ll be denying the genocide tomorrow morning in France and affirming it tomorrow evening in Turkey (that is, if I haven’t been arrested and the French airport security staff aren’t on strike). Let’s see which country really has a more robust commitment to freedom of expression.

Of course, if France does succeed in criminalizing the discussion, it will in fact succeed only in giving succor to all the natural-born Turkish Jacobins who insist that every advanced democracy criminalizes political speech, it’s just the way things are done. Speaking of that, just yesterday Turkey swept up another several dozen journalists in yet another wave of mass arrests. We know what they’ll say, of course: They haven’t been arrested for journalism, they’ve been arrested for terrorism. Man, all these journalists who moonlight as terrorists, I don’t know how they do it! Terrorism is a demanding, full-time job. Combine that with motherhood, and you’ve really got an impossible superwoman ideal to live up to:

The recent detention of journalists in the ongoing Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) case stirred fury across Turkey yesterday as their colleagues, friends and media groups staged nationwide protests.

“This is a novel type of terrorism called the KCK operations. [They] are trying to silence the press that is presenting the voice of the Kurds. We will be waiting for their release for as long as they remain in custody,” according to a press statement issued yesterday by nearly 20 journalists. 

Not incidentally, I can make a reasonably persuasive case on both sides of the genocide debate, and would surely be able to make an even stronger case were I allowed to discuss it with historians of the period–which is precisely why such debate should never be illegal. 

  1. Ajax von Kaiserpenguin
    “If behind every beard there was wisdom, the goats would all be prophets.”  

    Armenians don’t get out much, do they?

  2. jonorose

    Whats your feeling on outlawing Holocaust denial? Just curious. I think there is some justification to having laws about Holocaust denial in parts of Europe since it is usually a very deliberate lie which is designed to continue the work of the Nazis. I am fairly ignorant about the Armenian Genocide, so if someone was to argue to me that it never happened they could probably convince me if they made the case strongly enough. It bothers me that Holocaust deniers could convince someone who is ignorant of the Nazi Holocaust that it never happened, or at least instill in their minds a measure of doubt. Perhaps if I was Armenian I would feel the same way about the Armenian Genocide. Although I do feel that denial of the Armenian Holocaust by modern Turks is perhaps less cynical and perhaps comes from genuine doubt. (am I making any sense here?)

  3. Del Mar Dave

    “…(it has long been punishable to deny the Holocaust under international law)…”

    Really?  I must’ve been sitting this one out.

    Crafting laws against stupidity – and trying to enforce them – must be one of the toughest jobs on the planet.  And one of the most susceptible to The Law of Unintended Consequences.

    GO for it, Claire!  We admire your courage and wish you all the best.  Meantime, babysitting remains a wonderful, cherished occupation.

  4. thelonious

     France is showing contempt for the general intelligenge of its’ citizens.  If a government doesn’t trust its’ citizens to decipher and detect idiocy and untruths than that society is on the path to tyranny.  We’re always worried about the morons who beleive this crap.  People who are gulliable and beleive idiotic things will always be with us.  If we have a free thinking society that embraces this kind of stupidity than we get the society we deserve. 

  5. Percival

    I have pledged upon the altar of God almighty eternal hostility towards all forms of tyranny over the minds of man.”

    Unlike a lot of the stuff Jefferson was supposed to have said, he really said that, and I really agree.  Using the power and the majesty of the state (even if it only France) to quash opinions (even moronic ones) is a mistake.  First of all, it doesn’t work: the very act of proscribing the idea enshrines it permanently in the law books.  Secondly, even if there isn’t really an infinite supply of morons, there might as well be, and jail space is limited.

    (Note: violating a stupid law to protest it is not moronic, it’s courageous.  In Turkey it might be a little too courageous. Take care, Claire!)

    I try not to be an absolutist on much (except the Cubs absolutely need a pitching staff — don’t just stand there, Epstein, do something), but free speech is either free, or it’s not.

  6. Claire Berlinski
    C
    jonorose: Whats your feeling on outlawing Holocaust denial? 

    I’m against it, although I was discussing just this with my father last night. He looked a bit dubious. “You really trust Europeans with democracy?” he asked.

    In any event, one could at least make a plausible argument that banning Holocaust denial is or was necessary in Germany given its fairly recent past. The idea that France is at proven risk of succumbing to the impulse to exterminate Armenians is ludicrous, to say the least.

  7. James Of England
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.

    jonorose: Whats your feeling on outlawing Holocaust denial? 

    I’m against it, although I was discussing just this with my father last night. He looked a bit dubious. “You really trust Europeans with democracy?” he asked.

    In any event, one could at least make a plausible argument that banning Holocaust denial is or was necessary in Germany given its fairly recent past. The idea that France is at proven risk of succumbing to the impulse to exterminate Armenians is ludicrous, to say the least. · Dec 22 at 5:17am

    Could you outline such an argument? It’d be interesting to see how far the site goes towards the “center” side of the “center right” divide.

  8. jonorose
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.

    jonorose: Whats your feeling on outlawing Holocaust denial? 

    I’m against it, although I was discussing just this with my father last night. He looked a bit dubious. “You really trust Europeans with democracy?” he asked.

    In any event, one could at least make a plausible argument that banning Holocaust denial is or was necessary in Germany given its fairly recent past. The idea that France is at proven risk of succumbing to the impulse to exterminate Armenians is ludicrous, to say the least. · Dec 22 at 5:17am

    Yes, but the mistake is that it wasn’t just Germany, it was basically all of Europe, and also of course France. The French (and other European nations such as Austria) have managed in many ways to whitewash their involvement in the Holocaust by claiming that they were under occupation, when in fact they were very happy collaborators. Not everyone of course, but way too many. 

  9. James Of England

    Talking to Daniel Hannan about elections in which the BNP had done famously well, he pointed out that it was an election where every pundit had noted that the dominant meme was the electorate’s dislike of politicians of all parties and desire to give them a bloody nose. All the  politicians had been screaming “whatever you do, don’t vote BNP!”, making it clear that the BNP was the answer to the average voter’s question of how to maximize their primary aim. Happily, for most voters the secondary concerns were also important, but there is nothing quite like outlawing a fringe to legitimize it. For those who say that the BNP wasn’t outlawed, since the condemnations are just speech, it’s worth noting that they do receive unbelievable amounts of police abuse.

  10. thelonious

    Claire, I was always against flag burning ammendments but I was always appalled at the people that would burn flags to protest flag burning ammendments.  Promoting a position you find appalling in protest seems like it would demean your intellect.   It might turn out to be counter-productive to engage in a form of protest where one becomes something they detest to prove a point.   Maybe you could split the difference and protest for free speech rights of genocide deniers  and not become one of them.

  11. Percival

    It still seems to me that making opinions illegal is counterproductive.  To the borderline personalities bouncing around every culture, illegal opinions must be dangerous.  People who hold dangerous opinions must be dangerous people. Being a dangerous person takes some of the sting out of living in your mom’s basement on the dole — you’re not a loser, you are a dangerous radical biding his time until the Revolution.

    And then there is the problem of the State restraining itself once it starts down this path. (WARNING: Slippery Slope Rant ahead!) Even if they start with truly odious blather, eventually they will start in on the merely unfashionable stuff, then on into whatever violates the mindset of whomever is in charge. Ask Mark Steyn about where that leads.

    With apologies to Pastor Niemöller:  First they came after the Holocaust deniers, and I didn’t speak out because I’m not a bonehead*.  Then they came after the Lady Gaga fans, and I didn’t speak out because she couldn’t carry a tune in a wheelbarrow.  Then they came after the climate change deniers and…hey…where’d everybody go?

    ——-

    *Pretend, ok?  Jeez.

  12. Aaron Miller

    Hasn’t the French government outlawed specific words for decades in an attempt to keep the French language pure? This seems like a natural legal progression.

  13. Deleted Account
    Aaron Miller: Hasn’t the French government outlawed specific words for decades in an attempt to keep the French language pure? This seems like a natural legal progression. · Dec 22 at 7:13am

    I think you are referring to the Académie française . They don’t carry any legal power, but they do carry a lot of social weight (though not as much as before).

  14. R. Craigen

    If they’re going to punish genocide deniers, I guess that means they’ll be imposing punishing sanctions on the U.S. and many other countries for denying the Armenian Genocide, and Russia for denying the Holodomor, and half the African states for denying a couple of genocidal slaughters there, and the U.N. for denying genocidal intent among several Arab and Persian states, not to mention the Palestinian leadership.  Oh yes, and themselves too!

  15. Jeff

    Soon, they will criminalize skepticism of global warming.

  16. James Gawron

    Claire, I have mentioned this before on another post.  The book “Lying About Hitler” by Dr. Richard J. Evans, chronicles the famous trial about Historical Holocaust denial.  American Historian Deborah E. Lipstadt had written a very short section in one of her books clearly stating the absurdity of some of English Historian David Irving’s claims about Hitler & the Holocaust.

    He sued her in an English Court. The libel laws in England are very different then America because of the American Constitution and Bill of Rights.  In England it is much easier to sue and win.  Irving had done this to a number of other Historians and won.  He had a major career and his books sold and made money.

    Dr. Richard Evans is one of the leading Historians in the entire world.  At Cambridge he specialized in Modern German History.  He was brought in to Deborah’s defense team to lead the defense and examine Irving’s original sources.

    I won’t reveal anymore.  Read the book, it’s great, even if you are babysitting.  As for Voltaire, he is much over-rated.  Dr. Pangloss or Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz as properly known in philosophy is much under-rated.

  17. TheRoyalFamily
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: I won’t be able to cover this live from the French Senate today because I’m babysitting this afternoon,

    That’s not something you hear every day.

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