Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Ragıp Zarakolu writes from the prison: On the boundaries of free speech

In a long opinion piece he wrote for the Turkish daily Radikal from the prison, Ragıp Zarakolu addressed the Turkish hysteria around the French parliamentary proposal about declaring genocide denial a crime (the proposal passed the National Assembly; it has to pass the Senate as well in order to become law; read more on BBC).

Zarakolu starts by reminding his readers of the European experience during the Second World War, which included not only the Holocaust, a genocide, but also the death of 50 million people. That is why racism and xenophobia are regarded as a threat to democracy in Europe; that is why there are classes in schools about genocide.

According to Zarakolu, there are certain differences between the American and European approaches to freedom of speech. Freedom of speech in the US, in principle, is not limited. That is why one could publish Hitler’s Mein Kampf in the US – but not in Europe. Zarakolu explains this difference by the fact that the US has not witnessed destruction in any of the world wars.

Despite all the education and sensitivity about genocide and hate speech in European classrooms, racism and xenophobia are on the rise in Europe, partially because of economic crises and the loss of certain acquired social rights. According to Zarakolu, this is the larger context within which the criminalization of genocide denial has to be understood.

The rising tide of racism, which is evident in European elections, the systematic murders perpetrated by Neo-Nazis in Germany, the recent racist massacre in Norway, led to the recognition in Europe that such things as genocide denial are not just matters of opinion but they may include a dimension of “action.” All of this, Zarakolu states, came to require a legal regulation about genocide denial in Europe; hence, the French proposal.

As far as Zarakolu could follow from the prison, the full text of the parliamentary proposal about genocide denial in France was only published by the daily Milliyet. Those who have good heads on their shoulders could read that the text did not include the word “Armenian,” he adds.


“In 2006, Hrant Dink persuaded me –together with Etyen Mahçupyan– to sign a declaration with three names opposing the passage of this law,” Zarakolu states, referring to the bill penalizing the denial of Armenian genocide that passed the French parliament in 2006 but was later dropped by the French senate. “I will break this law in France,” said Hrant Dink while he started using the term “genocide” more often in Turkey.

“And Hrant is no longer with us. And after we lost him, our glorious justice sentenced him for defining 1915 as “genocide.” … In the conferences I participated after Hrant’s death, I stated that I came to understand how [genocide] denial is a material threat.”

In summary, Zarakolu asserts that freedom of speech does not cover praising or propagating crimes against humanity. And genocide is one of them. Its denial may have dire consequences, especially if it leads to hate speech, as Turkey witnessed in the days and months leading to the assassination of Hrant Dink.

For the full text of this piece in Turkish, which was published on Saturday, January 7, 2012, see Radikal.