Thursday, December 29, 2005

Freedom of thought: it's most dangerous to the state

I'm surprised (or am I really?) to find conservative blogs silent about Orhan Pamuk, Turkey's most famous novelist. The latest development is that prosectors announced they will not file additional charges, but Pamuk still faces, this AP article simplifies it, "charges that he insulted 'Turkishness'":
Nationalist lawyers had petitioned prosecutors to file criminal charges against Orhan Pamuk for reportedly telling German newspaper Die Welt in October that the military threatened democratization in Turkey....

Prosecutors decided there were no grounds to try Pamuk for insulting the military, said nationalist lawyer Kemal Kerincsiz.
The novelist still faces charges for telling a Swiss newspaper in February that "30,000 Kurds and 1 million Armenians were killed in these lands, and nobody but me dares to talk about it."

The remarks highlighted two of the most painful episodes in Turkish history: the massacre of Armenians during World War I which Turkey insists was not a planned genocide and recent guerrilla fighting in Turkey's overwhelmingly Kurdish southeast.

On Wednesday, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul acknowledged that charges brought against Pamuk had tarnished the country's image abroad and said laws that limit freedom of expression may be changed. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan also said laws could be changed if there were serious flaws.

It was the first time the government indicated it could amend laws making it a crime to insult Turkey. But officials said the government would likely wait for the outcome of the trial against Pamuk and dozens of others before moving to amend the laws.

"This is a new law, let's see how it works, what the outcomes are," Erdogan said. "If there are serious problems, then of course the legislature will sit down, make a new assessment and take a new decision."
Nationalism at its finest. Sadly, this proves that a nation does not have to be as hard-lined as Iran to stifle freedom of speech and thought. Turkey is, in fact, regarded as very secular compared to other predominantly Muslim nations. Religion, however, is hardly a requisite for government to mold people into its desired image (whereas it should be the other way around).

Most curious is how Pamuk perceives freedom of speech and thought in the EU:
In an interview published Thursday, Pamuk said the government must expand freedom of expression if it wants to win EU membership.

"For a country to enter the EU, there has to be full respect of minority rights, freedom of thought and expression," Pamuk told Aksam newspaper. "If you drag your feet and make cosmetic changes ... then this won't do. To believe that, you would need to be a child."
Curious indeed, because Germany and France have made "Holocaust denial" a crime. Therefore they do not have the "full respect of...freedom of thought and expression" that Pamuk thinks is a condition of EU membership.

I have no doubt whatsoever that the Holocaust occurred, and that six million Jews (and others, but principally Jews) were brutally murdered. But if I believe in true liberty, I must accept what Evelyn Hall of the Friends of Voltaire said: "I may disagree with what you said, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." Note that he did not say "defend what you say," which is key. I must accept that my freedom to speak truth is the same freedom allowing someone to speak non-truth, especially when I am aware the other person is incorrect.

If we are to have true freedom of speech and thought, we must accept that those freedoms allow others to say things which are ignorantly untrue, if not outright lies. Only until such statements cause us injury do we have legal remedies. If someone lies to me in a business transaction, he can be punished for fraud. If someone tells me that the sky is chartreuse, that does not harm me. Similarly, someone can swear by whatever he'd like that the Holocaust never occurred, and I may think him a damn fool, but he has not affected my rights to life, liberty and property. Recall the Jefferson quote I used a few nights ago: "The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."

If someone sprays paint on my car or along my house wall, declaring the Holocaust a myth, then that is damage to my property: it can and should be punished. However, that does not mean government can then pass laws against "Holocaust denial," because there is the chance someone can spray graffiti in support of Holocaust denial. Arrest and punish the person for what he did to my property, regardless of any messages he left. Someone might start a volatile gathering of Holocaust deniers that turns into violent riots, but arrest and punish the people for the damage they do while rioting. Have so few of us read Orwell's 1984, do so few of us remember the several millennia of recorded human history, that we do not see the slippery slope of government outlawing one thought, then another, then another, under the pretense of saving ourselves from "wrong thinking"?

But how do we combat untruth, then, if we do not avail ourselves of government's power to forbid and subsequently punish? Is it not a disservice to society that people remain ignorant? Thomas Jefferson put it so well:
It is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself. Subject opinion to coercion: whom will you make your inquisitors? Fallible men; men governed by bad passions, by private as well as public reasons. And why subject it to coercion? To produce uniformity. But is uniformity of opinion desireable? No more than of face and stature. Introduce the bed of Procrustes then, and as there is danger that the large men may beat the small, make us all of a size, by lopping the former and stretching the latter. Difference of opinion is advantageous in religion. The several sects perform the office of a Censor morum over each other. Is uniformity attainable? Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth. Let us reflect that it is inhabited by a thousand millions of people. That these profess probably a thousand different systems of religion. That ours is but one of that thousand. That if there be but one right, and ours that one, we should wish to see the 999 wandering sects gathered into the fold of truth. But against such a majority we cannot effect this by force. Reason and persuasion are the only practicable instruments.
Many Christians would take great personal offense and begin questioning the man's greatness if they were well acquainted with Jefferson's criticisms of Christianity. They extended to religion in general: he was a critic of the organization, the methods, and the perpetuated ignorance.

Are Holocaust deniers' arguments so strong, and the truth of the Holocaust so flimsy, that government must support the latter by physical force? By Jefferson's wise standard, does that not reduce it to the status of error? Jefferson said elsewhere, "Error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it." It reminds me of the complaint that Wikipedia is filled with erroneous information because anyone can edit it. That is true, but the counter is, why do the people not use their equal powers to edit, to remove the bad?

Are we all doing our part, instead of crying out for government, to combat error? Orham Pamuk certainly is. I wonder if he's familiar with Edmund Burke, especially his famous admonishment, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." Pamuk has found a very sensitive nerve in his native Turkey, and it hurts people to hear the truth, but they must face it. As Jesus Christ told us, "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Eidelbus:

Apparently the Turkish/totalitarian disease is spreading, since I ran across this report of France doing the same thing: Rapper may be jailed for calling France a slut [Link from Reason Online's Brickbats column this week or last].

Sadly, the answer to your (rhetorical?) question: "Have so few of us read Orwell's 1984, do so few of us remembered the several millennia of recorded human history, that we do not see the slippery slope of government outlawing one thought, then another, then another, under the pretense of saving ourselves from 'wrong thinking'?" appears to be yes.

Thursday, December 29, 2005 11:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Have so few of us read Orwell's 1984, do so few of us remembered the several millennia of recorded human history, that we do not see the slippery slope of government outlawing one thought, then another, then another, under the pretense of saving ourselves from 'wrong thinking'?"

Unfortunately, "outlawing" the way one thinks is already present in the US. So called "hate crimes" legislation already does so for its purpose is not to punish one's deed but the utterance of some thought that has become politically incorrect. I am not arguing that using racial slurs or misogynistic language is acceptable in public. But I do want to point out the shear hypocrisy of the legislation and how someone might wind up with 15-20 extra years of imprisonment for their "thoughts". Voltaire would surely shudder at this Orwellian twist.

Sunday, January 01, 2006 1:08:00 PM  

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