Freedom of Speech Should Be Equal For All

With a title like that, I want to state up front that I’m definitely not naive enough to think freedom of speech is an unlimited right. We have libel and slander laws for example, and with very good reason. People should not be able to make defamatory comments about someone without having to answer for them, otherwise people could just say anything about another person to try and damage their reputation, regardless of whether it is true or not. Most western countries also have laws against inciting racial hatred, and I think this is with good reason as well. However, we have to be very careful that such laws do not go too far, and we also have to make sure they are applied equally.

Which brings me to the subject of this article. Australia’s own holocaust denier, Frederick Toben, was earlier this week sentenced to three month’s jail for contempt of court, for refusing a court order to take down his web site on the subject. Please note that holocaust denial is not in itself a crime in Australia, unlike in Germany for example (indeed, Germany previously attempted to extradite him to face charges over his web site, which failed). However, like any civilised country, we are all legally bound to comply with court orders, whether we feel they are justified or not. Also, before I go any further I want to state categorically that I think denying the holocaust is crazy—the evidence for it happening would appear to be overwhelming. As such, I have little doubt that the people denying it happened are racially motivated. However, does that mean the law should step in to silence them?

If somebody got up and started spouting the sort of antisemitic rhetoric Hitler did, I think the law should silence them, as that is clearly inciting hatred and violence against a particular group of people. But does denying the holocaust happened fall under that category? Hardly. However foolish it may be, and however dubious the motivation for doing so, all they are actually doing is questioning accepted history. Historians do this all the time—the holocaust isn’t the only apparently very well documented historical event that some historian somewhere has denied. Indeed, such people are often driven by exactly the same kind of racial and/or religious motives that holocaust deniers are. As a matter of fact, there are many fundamentalist Jews who deny that the Palestinians historically occupied the land now occupied by Israel. But there are no laws against that, however overwhelming the evidence to the contrary, and how potentially racially inflammatory such statements might be.

There’s just no getting around the fact that there’s a considerable double standard here. There are far greater restrictions on what we can say in relation to Jews than there is to any other religious or ethnic group—there’s just no two ways about it. And this is very bad for Jews. First of all, it makes people feel they are receiving special treatment (which, in fact, they are), and nothing fuels racism more than that. Even worse, this is compounded by the fact that simply silencing holocaust deniers actually makes it look a cover up, which fuels conspiracy theories as well. This actually appears to give holocaust deniers credibility in the eyes of many, and reinforces the impression that Jews are receiving special treatment, all of which is a sure fire recipe for antisemitism. So the silencing of holocaust deniers is a suppression of freedom of speech and a double standard, as well as indirectly inciting antisemitism, thus ironically achieving exactly the thing these laws are designed to stop!

I can understand the overreaction to the holocaust. It seems obvious that to prevent something as terrible as the holocaust from happening again, we should suppress any information that might lead to antisemitism. But that would be wrong. The Nazis thrived on the suppression of information—if they were completely open about what they were doing, do you think they would have been able to get away with doing it? There’s a reason freedom of information is a cornerstone of democracy: it is because it is the most effective way to secure truth and justice for all (and I’m sure I don’t need to explain what an important principle freedom of speech is for a healthy democracy). Besides, as I explain above, there is good reason to believe that the suppression of holocaust denial and other similar ideas is in fact leading to far more antisemitism than if these ideas were openly discussed.

Just as I believe zionism was a huge (though understandable) mistake in response to the holocaust, so too do I think is the suppression of anything that might be construed as antisemitic. By far the best way to deal with holocaust deniers and such is to debate them openly—trying to suppress them only fuels racism and conspiracy theories, and actually gives them more ammunition and credibility.

Tags: , ,

First, Australia works under the system of Parlaimentary Sovereignty, so there is no “guaranteed” freedom of speech. Instead each case is evaluated through the court system, and the judge of that case with reference to previous case law, has the freedom to judge that material and met out the result as he/she sees as appropriate.

Here is the current state of the debate around the issue of establishing a “Bill of Rights” as of 2002.
http://www.aph.gov.au/LIBRARY/Pubs/RN/2001-02/02rn42.htm

Here is probably what is an American equivalent of what Frederick Toben’s website read like. Be aware the stuff you see here is quite toxic in nature. Unfortunately, like Nietzsche in previous eras, the more articulate of the many here can actually seem founded in reality, however they are just as hateful and misguided as the rest.
http://www.stormfront.org/forum

Of course the two primary actors in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict of course act the most childish and stupidly in their own media componets:
JTA “Jewish and Israeli News”
http://jta.org/
Electric Intifada
http://electronicintifada.net/

But every so often you find voices of dissent against the monolithic lunacy of these agencies that show that maybe these problems can be actually rectified:
A Jewish American’s perspective on the “7 pillars of Jewish Denial”
http://www.rense.com/general29/seven.htm
An editorial page printed in the Palestinian publication “Electronic Intifada” by a Palestinian speaking about a way to acknowledge Israel and stop the conflict.
http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article9140.shtml

Of course outsiders try to help the situation and actually cause harm, like this weekend when the the Pope comes in and somehow causes this to happen:
“Pope visit unites Israel’s gays and far-right”
“Gays, Holocaust survivors and the far-right have all found an unlikely common cause in their opposition to Benedict XVI’s landmark visit to Israel.”
http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=31972

I’d LOL, but only because it stops me from COL (crying out loud).

As far as saying untruthful/hateful things about religious/ethnic/sexual orientation groups, I think that is changing quickly. In most situations in America at least any derogatory racial slur/stereotype, that has consequences of any import (even social environment issues i.e. workplace atmosphere) can lead to firing and jail times.
Look what has happened with the issues of the gays in America, where they were the last socially acceptable group to be denegrated/hated/punished without consequence, and now 5 states have acknowledged them as a group and they can be legally married.

The reason that other groups don’t act so publicly like the Jews, is because most of the time the other groups actually have some supporters in the community that will support their causes. In the case of the Jews, however they have had to manufacturer support in every community they have ever been in, as for some reason, they choose to separate themselves in ways that have been offensive for time immemorial and doing jobs that weren’t supported in the community. They have forever been playing the roles of the burakumin (in Japanese culture) or the untouchable class (in Indian Caste Structure), or in the parlance of conservative American culture, “The undocumented immigrants doing the jobs American’s don’t want to.”

So their only way of getting noticed/protection is to use the existing laws, to call remembrance to their past indignities, mistreatments, and holocaust events, and to fight every way they can to maintain their existence.

  
Quote
  Reply

Hi Akacra,

Your final point is an intersting one, and something I’ve often wondered about. Perhaps it’s because the Bible says they are the “chosen race”? Whatever the case, it is very likely why they’ve been so hated throughout the centuries – I think it would be in their interests to be more open and inclusive.

  
Quote
  Reply

I think that is the essence of the Jewish problem, believing they are ‘the chosen people’. They also believe they have a ‘promised land’ which they claim is Palestine, however they wandered all over the Asia/Africa area and Europe for centuries. Weren’t they happy with what Yahveh gave them? Did they want more real estate to rent to others? Do they believe the whole world is the ‘promised land’? If they have a promised land I think they found it in the USA. They seem to run most of the banking industry there and have a disproportionately large say in US (and world) politics.

Btw they also ‘hijacked’ the word ‘semitic’ for themselves too.
Semitic refers to a group of peoples of no particular religion who live in the area we call ‘The middle East’.
Many Palestinians are also Semitic.

  
Quote
  Reply

Hi Porkar,

Wow, I didn’t know that about Semitic! I always found it interesting that they even have a word for non-Jews (“Gentiles”), which very strongly implies that they have a kind of “us and them” mindset.

  
Quote
  Reply

It seems to me that Jewish holocaust deniers simply use “denial” for political or monetary gain. I seriously doubt that any deniers actually believe this particular and most documented holocaust did not occur. They are simply manipulators who use it to get instant attention or to sell books, speaking engagement tickets, etc. I can see no reason to silence them, since by their own words they doom themselves to mockery and derision. Give the charlatans enough rope and they conveniently hang themselves.

  
Quote
  Reply

The thought just occurred to me that after all the propagators and victims, and their decendents have died and faded away, maybe someone will create a religion based on holocaust denial.

  
Quote
  Reply

I absolutely agree Robert – give ‘em enough rope to hang ‘emselves. I see no reason not to do so.

Actually, your second point is another reason why I think this issue should be discussed openly – it would keep it fresh in the public memory, while the present strategy may well allow it to be forgotten.

  
Quote
  Reply

Unfortunately the Truth doesn’t really stand alone self supporting. It needs reiteration and teaching through reasoned discourse. However discourse with falsehood only leads to people, who choose to believe the falsehood, fully convinced that the falsehood is somehow the Truth!

I’ll take the wild example of The History Channel.
So from 10 AM to 1 PM, they featured this highly advanced, most modern theories of the big bang, and how, through history science has evolved to find the answers, while still acknowledging that we only know about 5-7% of what we can even perceive. Wonderful, outstanding television! It could teach a really complex subject, in context with the current astronomical minds in the world today expressing their knowledge in an accessible way.

Then at 1PM: “Are the escalating woes of plague, nuclear threat, war, pestilence, starvation the harbingers of the end of the world. Were there signs of these apocryphal events predicted by the prognosticators of the past. These prophesies revealed, next on….” “Click”.

I mean this is the sort of fools that we suffer if we attempt to engage in debate with the people whom challenge us on these issues.

There is a place for arguement of real interpretive differences between viewpoints. For example, a real difference between the historical debate of the big bang, and the Solid State universe theories, which then when the data started showing up showed that the big bang showed reality, while there were portions of the solid state universe theory that described some specific and important points of atomic elemental development in the life of the universe that refined and advanced the level of knowledge about this event and the entire universe’s existence afterward.

However, to paraphrase Monty Python’s Arguement clinic skit, you just cannot have an arguement if the the only response is a simple naysaying of the other person’s point to bring the issue into contentious standing. You must have a reasonable perspective based on actual reasoning or evidence that is not flawed from the beginning. Otherwise it isn’t a constructive arguement, it is simply a means of muddying the waters hoping that someone will be so obstructed from seeing the Truth, that the muddying naysayer gains a believer of his perspective.

These holocaust deniers have no actual information of substance and should be treated as such. The German’s propensity for preservance of their actions, was strange (I mean why keep whole buildings full of shoes), and they documented everyone systematically in their vast archives, but it also serves as the ultimate unbiased recording of genocide that has no equal record.
In a generation Pol Pot’s “Killing Fields” won’t be remembered by the living outside of the history textbooks, nor will most of the genocides that occurred in the 19th, 20th and are currently going on today. However due to the efficiency of the German bureaucrat, and the pressure of the parties involved in remembering the carnage of WWII, the tactile sensation of walking into a room full of the remains and desitrius of those who were removed from existence in the concentration camps still have a reality that is more than just a statistic in a book.

  
Quote
  Reply

Once again Akacra, I think the problem with suppressing them is that it actually appears to give them credibility. I mean, we have to debate religious nutters; I see this as much the same thing.

  
Quote
  Reply

Can you give me a citation for a discussion between a holocaust denier, and an informed observer or a survivor of a holocaust (any holocaust as unfortunately the systematic removal of life is becoming more and more rampant as we move farther away from WWII (which brought the term into common vernacular) that has resulted in:

a. The holocaust denier recanting his position.
b. The news media not making a huge deal about whatever event that the holocaust denier was involved with, thus making the person known.

When I search for “holocaust denier reversals” All I ever get are “Apology, but no recantment” stories.

here are a few:
2/26/2009
http://edition.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/europe/02/26/holocaust.bishop/index.html
5/12/2009
http://www.mis-asia.com/cio_focus/leadership__and__management/facebook-dances-around-holocaust-controversy
1998
http://books.google.com/books?id=kiBHkRtRmIIC&pg=PA217&lpg=PA217&dq=holocaust+denier+reversals

Again if the fringe idea of society were to be less focussed on (regardless if they are on the fringe for good reason or for bad reasons), these people would have no entrance to the mainstream to make their ideas center stage of debates. If the media and everyone else had left Intelligent Design where it should have stayed (out of the limelight), it would have faded away like most other minor fringe religious movements, but because we have recognized it, reported, it constantly gets revived as an “important issue of contention” even though it has no validity. These people should be monitored, but ignored until they do something that crosses the line of legal action, and then they should be properly dealt with, as fits the legal infraction.

Again I am looking for some evidence that the confrontation of these deniers/religious zealots/etc. actually leads to changes in belief and a recantment of their former behavior.
I have seen plenty of the reverse happen, where people who didn’t at first believe the fringe idea, become believers as a result of media coverage getting them interested in the idea in the first place.
However, I have not personally encountered a person who was willing to change his belief of a non-rational subject, unless that person was already beginning to question their belief in the first place because of an internal disconnect from that belief that had affected them previously. I hate to be categorical, as I cannot say I have searched everything, but I have not found any evidence that non-rationale based beliefs can be changed by rational debate because it is a “belief” normally unprovable, and as such becomes so personal that they will defend it to irrationale levels of obstinance.

Sachiko, please present some evidence for your statement that publicly debating non-rational based view points leads to the non-rational beliefs being forgotten or put aside. I have an open mind, and am willing to consider the concept, but as of yet, there is very little that suggests it works.

  
Quote
  Reply

I think you’re looking at this the wrong way around Akacra – I think trying to suppress holocaust deniers gives them more credibility, as per the statements of the President of Iran after the boycott of the conference on racism. The fact that western countries boycotted the conference on the basis of perceived antisemitism gave him enough ammunition to say it was a conspiracy. I do not expect holocaust deniers to recant, just as I don’t expect the people who preach religion to recant. I don’t expect closed-minded people to change their minds, just I don’t expect most followers of religion to change their mind. What matters are the people who are not sure – an open debate will reach them, just as the sort of debate brought about by people like Richard Dawkins is reaching those whose minds aren’t closed. But when an opinion is suppressed (let’s not forget that atheism has been until very recently), a lot of open-minded people will ask why, and perhaps lean toward the suppressed opinion. And publicity of the holocaust is not necessarily a bad thing at all, as it will keep it fresh in the public’s mind, instead of being forgotten. Do you see why I feel this way about this issue now?

  
Quote
  Reply

I once viewed a realistic, but fictional, TV story (Columbo et al, 1970s?)about holocaust deniers (among others) being summoned to appear as witnesses at a murder trial for a suspected ex-Nazi. The ending of the story came on suddenly with a shocking and chilling turn-around: it had appeared that somebody was about to be acquitted of a serious crime because the spectre of “resonable doubt” was being raised (by the deniers) about the alleged motivations and connections of the suspect and certain other witnesses. At the last hour, a known Nazi war criminal was finally called to the stand, which the deniers thought would secure their argument for sure. Instead, this known Nazi denounced and discredited the deniers in a most vile derogatory manner. The war criminal loudly maintained that the “final solution” enacted by Hitler and his cronies was the “most courageous” political act in all recorded history, and that the deniers were “beneath contempt” to try to take away the heroic thing the Nazis had endeavored to do for the future of Humanity. And so a hard-core confirmed Nazi muderer became the star witness, under oath, for the prosecution, and guaranteed justice for the crime of murder. (PS: I contribute money to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.)

  
Quote
  Reply

@Alcove6409
The Columbo episode was:
“Now You See Him…”
Airing in February 28th, 1976.
http://www.columbo-site.freeuk.com/sea5.htm

I must have seen it as a rerun, as I am too young to have possibly remembered this episode in it’s original airing, but I knew I had seen the episode you were referring to. It was so shocking to see that, even in a fictional setting, that someone would actively believe that the “final solution” was the “right” thing to do.

However, I think yesterday’s “duelling” Presidential and former Vice Presidential addresses about the Guantanamo Prison Camp, were much more shocking, because it was apparent that the former Vice-President really believed that the torture and indefinite imprisonment of these people without right to trial was helping to keep the US safe, and would do it again.

It is such a small step from:
All of the detainees were associated with known terrorist groups, and would have been a threat to the country.
to:
All of the detainees were thought to be associated with terroristic ideas, and could have been a threat to the country in the future.

That difference in phrasing is literally how close the US came to establishing a regime that could then persue actions that history shows, did lead to events of wide spread imprisonment/torture/death that happened in Germany, Armenia, Rwanda, China, Congo, Russia, the Czech republic, Bosnia, Kampuchea and other countries at various times in the last 100 years.
In fact the detainment of Japanese Americans was the last time that such thoughts in America were prominent. Fortunately our internment camps back then didn’t turn into either the Guantanamo, nor the Nazi equivalents, but they could have easily turned into them, which is why such belief in “total war” is such a pervasively harmful one.

@Sachiko
You are right, that without representation, claims go unchallenged leading some who value the speaker’s position to possibly follow that person’s lead.
In the case of the Iranian President, here you have the head of a country (with a proven track record of anti-Israeli sentiment) speaking about an Israeli conspiracy to cover up “racism” because of their “power & control” of the Northern European, North American and Australian continental population and governmental ideologies.
Since I had trouble actually typing this summarized version of the conspiracy without several facepalming moments, I could see right away that anyone who would be inclined to believe such a claim as the one made by the Iranian President would be certainly swayed by a swift and coherent rebuttal by several representatives from those “cowed and controlled” continents.
Um, no. The conspiracy believers would just say, “See the Western representative’s response confirms the Iranian President’s claims, as those Western representatives said exactly what the Iranian President said they would say!”
As to those, who are uneducated, or on the fence about those issues, and actually care enough to be swayed either way, they could probably be inclined enough to be bothered to read a newspaper or search some other information source, to find out enough about the situation to realize the claims made by the Iranian President were outrageous and unsubstantiated, unless of course the person was in one of the countries that doesn’t have a free press. In that case, the other side of the issue wouldn’t have been reported anyway, and any logical outcome would be impossible to achieve, as there is no analysis possible by interested parties who can’t get access to both sides of the issue.

Again, I am requesting some data that shows that individuals who are open minded and have access to both sides of an issue will be willing to believe a single unrefuted statement by anyone, if the spotlight isn’t given to them by the media because of their “notorious/outrageous” beliefs.

Does anyone at the funerals of soldiers believe the Westboro Baptist Church’s wild claims that gays are the reason that American soldiers are dying in Iraq or the Televangelist Jerry Falwell’s claims that hurricanes strike America because we acknowledge gay people’s right not to be killed in the street?

Do these need to be publicly disputed too, every time these people go and picket a soldier’s funeral or when Jerry Falwell goes on TV?

  
Quote
  Reply

I can certainly see your point of view Akacra, but I guess I just believe that the truth is ultimately best served by a free and open exchange of information. I believe that most people will eventually accept the reality if the information is available to them, as is just starting to happen with atheism now. And very importantly, once you start selectively suppressing information, where do you stop?

  
Quote
  Reply

I don’t remember suggesting/supporting the idea of suppressing information in any of my responses. In America, the Bill of Rights supports all speech, except:
1. Speech that creates false panic.
(Although with the news media hysteria running from panic to panic, and the baloney that was released by the W administration as “reliable information” it is questionable that this component of the 1st ammendment is still an exception.
2. Speech that is libelous/slanderous (read as untrue) that is damaging to an individual’s livelihood, reputation or ability to remain in an area of his/her choosing.
3. Speech that is hateful/inciteful of violence and again has no reasonable sense of truth.

These interpretations were determined 170 years ago, through the American Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Constitution, and have remained relatively intact since those times, while surviving many challenges throughout the centuries.

I don’t believe in the suppression of information, but selective highlighting of such forms of speech that otherwise would be considered in the light of those three instances certainly wouldn’t hurt.

If the media could stop creating media frenzies around these hatemonger’s/historical revisionist’s actions their misguided agenda would not be so freely disseminated to a new generation of the uninformed public that weren’t there and may not have access to real information.

Before, there were official releases of information, and there was individual or small groups of people that had a dissenting opinion. This created quite a problem if the small group was in the right, as the official position could be used to override the dissenting group.

The internet/24/7 media and ability to speak to the public in general directly has changed that “monopoly” on information and our society is generally “better off” because of it. However, the downside is that every interest and viewpoint has the equal ability to throw it’s viewpoint into the ring. Now instead of being able to trust 3 or 4 sources of information as being a solid component of reality, you now need to process 20 to 30 sources of dissenting information and weave together the truth of the situation while weighting each component with monetary involvement, political bias, media viewpoint, nationalistic fervor and other factors.

A good analyst searching for truth can use this information to find the truth much easier and make a much more detailed analysis of the information, but a motivated supporter/evangalist can cherrypick the data and slant the information to produce a hodgepodge of wrong information.
Thus to be an informed participant you must be much more committed to the process.

If the media would focus its attention on the best information instead of the salacious/spurious allegations of these rabblerousers, then the flow of information would become easier to navigate, while these people who write obfuscating/spurious/inciteful materials would remain isolated, as they have been in the past.

As for the law coming into “suppress” information, it would have to act judiciously with only direct violations of the established limits of speech being punished after a thorough review of the materials in a proper legal setting. The terrible thing is that the writers of this material often incite people to commit violence, and the writers claim no responsibility for the resultant actions that were called for by their logic of hate. The legal system has it’s hands tied and can only respond to existing allegations of criminal actions. This makes for a freer society, but many, many people have been harmed/killed before the response of the legal system changes the situation on what is legal, and what response against individuals can be taken by society.

  
Quote
  Reply

For a region that is widely regarded as being so progressive, Europe certainly does have some strange laws when it comes to freedom of speech. Not just with the incident in Austria but also in France. I understand that actress Brigitte Bardot was heavily fined by the French judicial system after she made some negative comments about Muslim immigrants.

The price for freedom of speech is that sometimes…yes…we actually have to listen to things we may not only disagree with but outright detest.

  
Quote
  Reply

Hello Sachiko, I often agree with many of your blog philosophies, and this one is no different. As a child I grew up in post-war northern England amid the materiel and evidence of the recent war. Gun emplacements around airfields, gas masks, an Air Raid shelter right outside my house. Also the published accounts of the horrors just past; The Camp on Blood Island, The Scourge of the Swastika etc., which I read with fascinated dread. This was also bolstered by the first-hand tales of demobbed servicemen, who were all around me as I grew up.

The idea of denying Hitler’s Final Solution is to me ridiculous and flies in the face of overwhelming evidence. Yet I also find it offensive that the very freedoms for which that gallant generation fought and died are now being suppressed and opinions silenced by those who misguidedly think we cannot make judgements of our own and must be protected from all dissent.

I do not agree with David Irving if he says that the Final Solution never happened, but surely if he was not being vilified by various bodies including the German government then no-one would ever have heard of him!

I do also think that historians have a right, indeed a duty, to question and revise history continuously. Voltaire had the right of it.

  
Quote
  Reply

Hi Davy,

I hope you can keep “de-lurking”! I think you’ve expressed my point of view on this issue very well.

  
Quote
  Reply

tensibly-exsolve