NY Times, Oct. 17, 2006
France in Denial
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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