Saturday, February 3, 2007

German Overkill

I have to give the Germans credit for the way they've tried to address their nazi past. But, I also wonder if they don't sometimes go too far.

The Germans currently hold the rotating presidency at the European Union. Recently, they tried, and failed, to ban the swastika. Hindu organizations, among others, objected, noting the swastika was a symbol of peace until Hitler's regime co-opted it to represent their sinister and murderous beliefs.

Now, Germany is preparing a new piece of legislation to outlaw "racism and xenophobia", including outlawing of Holocaust denial.

There are two significant problems with this intended legislation. One is that it encroaches, and rather heavy-handedly, on free speech. The best way to deal with racism and Holocaust denial is to expose and denounce it, not to remove it from public view. It's like ignoring a cancerous growth. Leaving it to a lengthy legal process to determine a person's "guilt" or "innocence" on such an issue is ridiculous; better that we call them morons, make sure everyone knows it and move on.

The second problem is in defining racism and xenophobia and, for that matter, a Holocaust, which will automatically be interpreted to mean genocide, which will automatically raise numerous true and supposed examples. There would be much quibbling over what those terms mean and who was guilty of promoting them.

Germany is not the only European country that has tried to legislate away racism in a somewhat dubious manner. France, for instance, banned headscarves but that didn't stop a month of well-publicized rioting about 18 months ago and the continued nightly burning of cars in its neighbourhoods that we rarely hear about.

It's admirable that Germany wants to come to terms with the failings that led its citizens to follow a maniac to create a Hell on Earth 65 years ago. The public education programs, memorials, compensation, commitment to protecting the memories of the murdered make for a valuable historical record and lesson on perhaps the darkest chapter in the history of civilized mankind.

It's unlikely the legislation is going to pass. If it does, it will probably be used, if at all, ridiculously, as many other such initiatives have been. Trust me, within a week, every islamist organization would be hiring lawyers to drag European politicians into the courts.

We really don't need to legislate against free speech. We just need to use our own right to freedom of speech and not accept what we know to be false.

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