14 October 2006

Laws, Memory, History

Dear readers,

As so often before, French lawmakers have made themselves fools. Overkill in lawmaking is always a huge mistake. Unfortunately, it is a common one in Europe and especially in France. So what happened. Well, as the newspapers and TV have put it, the French lower House of the Parliament (the Assemblée Nationale) has voted, despite massive abstention, a law which makes it a criminal offense to express publicly the negation of the Armenian genocide by Turkey in 1915. This has obvioulsy provoked the usual outcry from Turkish politicians and people, both in France and in Turkey. Armenian reaction has been measured in France and slightly astonished in Armenia.

To quote a famous Armenian author, the law is very wrong. It (again) breaches the freedom of expression, in favor of one specific reading of History. It also directly attacks Turkish Memory (admittedly a wrong one, but that is not the point here). France is unfortunately used to this kind of laws. There is an old one punishing the negation of the genocide of Jewish people by the nazis during Second World War, and there was another questionable one about the "benefits of colonization". Right and left wing parties in the three cases argued that it is the "honor" of the French lawmakers to make an exception to the freedom of expression for these historical points.

Obviously, Historians and other political parties have denounced the totalitarism which imposes the obligation to think in one way rather than another, or at least to avoid expressing such thoughts. In my view, these laws are actually unconstitutional. As long as no one publicly express an incitation to discrimination or violence everyone should be allowed to express his or her own view on History, Memory and anything in general. The French constitution stipulates in the article 11 of the declaration of rights, included in its preamble, that anyone is entitled to express, print and share his own opinion. I believe and ask that lawmakers who refuse these unjust laws should appeal to the Constitutional Council and ask the scrapping of these laws all together.

No racism is ever succesfully fought by such laws. They only enforce the idea, in the sick minds who believe that, for instance, nazis never committed genocide against Jews, that they are the ones being right and persecuted. That if it is forbidden to express oneself one these topics, it is because the case of the majority of historians on them is weak, that something has been hidden that politicians don't want us to find. And it gives these ideas the savour of the "forbidden".

Another piece of information in the last week showed us exactly the right path to follow. The same day that this stupid law was voted, the literature Nobel Prize was given to Orhan Pamuk, a Turkish author persecuted because he spoke publicly about the Armenian genocide and dared to write about it. This made the very same Turkish people, who denounce even the idea that a genocide took place, so proud that they praised Pamuk in the media. This in turn will probably help Pamuk to actually express himself and make Turkish people accept the fault of their grand-parents. Just like modern Germans accept that their parents committed a crime and deal to live with it.

Interestingly enough, the law that allowed Pamuk to be prosecuted in Turkey (law 301 which forbids any public expression "of a nature insulting Turkishness") is of the same type of the ones voted in France... Who said: "One easily sees the straw in the eye of the neighbor, but not the beam which is in its eye"?


Anonymous said...

As far as I'm concerned Pamuk didn't write anything on the Armenian Genocide.
One thing that concerns me much is that a highly esteemed prize in literature results more in political discussions rather than literary. In my opinion Pamuk should be discussed and praised for his literary achievements. Not that his performance in free speech be neglected, but that the prize is granted to him because of his artistic skill.
Also in my opinion the decision of Nobel committee this year was of the least political taking into account the laureates in previous years. Pamuk is not that politically active as Harold Pinter or Elfriede Jelinek. He is an artist and wishes to be remembered mostly for his works of art. Congratulations Mr. Pamuk!

Jean-Baptiste Perrin said...

I should have been more clear. Pamuk wrote about a character which express himself about the Armenian genocide. This is what lead to the trial against him. But indeed, the Nobel Prize in this case was obviously given for the quality of his work, not so much his political positions. And that is the way it should be.