Affirmation is not Denial, and Vice Versa

And then, more straightforwardly, there’s more of the confusion about free speech, in which people compare unlike things and then stand back triumphantly and say ‘See?’ No, we don’t see, because the two cases are different, not the same, so there’s nothing to see.

In the past few months, Europe has been flexing its muscles as a guarantor of freedom of expression – both in the Danish cartoons of Muhammad, and before that in its criticism of the trial of the Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk for raising the subject of the Turkish genocide of the Armenians in the early 20th century. What a delicious irony that a Europe so sniffy about Turkish justice when it came to Pamuk should end up jailing another writer for three years for delivering his opinion on a different act of genocide.

No, that’s not a delicious irony, or even a nasty one that tastes like burnt okra, because the Pamuk and Irving cases are different. Different. Can you say different? I knew you could. Pamuk was on trial for saying a genocide that did happen, did happen; Irving was sentenced for saying a genocide that did happen, did not happen. There are two differences there. One, Pamuk was telling the truth, and Irving was lying, and two, denying a genocide that did happen is a kind of threat to the survivors, whereas asserting a genocide that did happen is not. Which is not, repeat not, to endorse either the Austrian law against Holocaust denial, or the sentence; it is simply to say that the two cases are not only not parallel, they are on the most crucial issues, opposites. So it seems very silly to try to treat them as parallel.

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