France in Denial


New York Times
Oct 17 2006


We’ve argued many times that Turkey must come to grips with the crimes
of its past and stop prosecuting writers who mention the Armenian
genocide of the early 20th century.

But we found it as absurd and as cynical when the French National
Assembly voted overwhelmingly last week to make it illegal – on pain of
a fine and imprisonment – to deny that there was an Armenian genocide.

France’s Senate still has a chance to throw out this outrageous bill,
and we hope it does. We hope, too, that the Turks do not retaliate
with something similarly nutty, like making it a crime to deny French
colonial atrocities in Algeria, as some legislators have suggested.

Enough damage has already been done.

There is no doubt that the sooner Turks confront their past the
better. They are beginning to, in large part because of the lure of
membership in the European Union. That does not excuse the way French
politicians are trying to exploit anti-Turkish feelings while playing
up to the large Armenian-French constituency.

There are a lot of reasons why this is wrong. It could further fan
anti-Muslim feelings in France, and we’ve already seen the potential
for a violent backlash. It is also a blow to freedom of _expression –
not exactly the standard that E.U. members want to set while they
lecture the Turks about being more respectful of human rights and
democratic norms.

Yes, France is one of a dozen European countries that have laws
against denying the Holocaust. There is an argument that they, too,
violate freedom of _expression. But those laws at least are based
on the threat posed by die-hard anti-Semites who still subscribe to
Hitler’s racist theories.

The Armenian question poses no dangers in France. Playing politics with
it trivializes not only the Holocaust, but also the Armenian genocide.

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