Dueling Censorships

ANKARA: The Turkish court system acquitted a Turkish author (who lives and teaches in America) of the crime of  “denigrating Turkish national identity,” a charge supported by some remarks about mass murder of Armenians.  The remarks were made by a fictional character in one of her novels.  The acquittal was hailed in Europe as a victory for free speech.

PARIS: The French parliament has passed a bill imposing criminal penalties of up to one year in jail and 45,000 euros on anyone who denies that genocide against the Armenians took place.

The most intelligent thing anyone had to say was uttered by Turkey’s chief negotiator in EU membership talks, Ali Babacan, who suggested, “Leave history to historians.”

In one country it is a crime to affirm a statement.  In another it is a crime to deny it.  In both it is a crime to discuss it, because to discuss it one has to entertain the possibility that either the affirmation or the denial might be true.

Legislators need regularly to be reminded of John Milton’s dictum from his defense of a free press, Areopagitica; a Speech for the liberty of unlicensed Printing, to the Parliament of England, published in 1664:

[H]ere the great art lies, to discern in what the law is to bid restraint and punishment, and in what things persuasion only is to work.