Free Speech, Blasphemy, and Holocaust Denial

Democracy is often ugly and cacophonous, but it is always preferable to systematic dictatorship. The fact that questioning the Holocaust is tantamount to a criminal-offence in some European countries is testament to the fact that a lot of us are still confused about the concept of free-speech. Only directly threatening speech (not hateful) should be illegal.


I would like to open this article with a series of my arbitrary definitions for elucidation: “religion” is an organised system of beliefs (that does not necessarily include a veneration of a deity); and “belief” is the conviction that something is true, frequently without evidence. Conversely, “Holocaust-denial” is an umbrella term that pertains to any refutation of the established historical narrative of the holocaust; scepticism can be expressed regarding the methodologies employed by the Nazis, or the number of casualties.


Additionally, I would also like to take this opportunity to convey a straightforward rebuttal to the ‘thought-police’ mentality that is ubiquitous on social-media, and is seemingly also prevalent among our political-class: enough with the constant pontificating over the supposed “responsibility” that accompanies free-speech. Despite being religious myself, I have always fervently argued that, like all ideologies, religions are simply belief-systems that must be allowed to be subjected to scrutiny, criticism and examination. This necessarily includes satirical defamation and gratuitous insult, for those of you who argue that freedom-of-speech cannot, does not and must not include freedom-to-offend. The answer to this ridiculous proposition is that it can, it does, and it must.


Demanding that a particular belief-system should not be insulted is as ludicrous as demanding that insulting a particular football team should be illegal. Manchester City is as sacrosanct to some people as Jesus Christ is to others. Beliefs are therefore universally subjective. Moreover, organised religion is undoubtedly a public institution that affects the lives of many people, irrespective of whether they subscribe to that particular faith, or not at all. People should therefore be free to comment on it as they please. Whenever free-speech is encumbered regarding a controversial subject, constructive open debates are rendered impossible and this can create very ugly situations indeed.  


The atrocities in France have generated an incendiary debate across continental Europe pertaining to the parameters of free-speech. After the Charlie-Hebdo massacre, European leaders joined hands in an act of apparent solidarity with the victims and vehemently affirmed the inalienable right to free-speech without unnecessary restriction or hindrance. The tolerance, as opposed to the suppression, of offensive expressions is thus generally perceived to be symptomatic of healthy, well-functioning, democratic surroundings. Furthermore, Europe is typically perceived as the vanguard of liberal-democracy in the contemporary world, and because of this: it really needs to assert the moral high-ground with regards to freedom-of-expression.


Unfortunately, at the present time, Europe has not managed to fully realise this noble aspiration. The predicament of free-speech across Europe is disappointing, and somewhat disconcerting. Europe, with its self-proclaimed democratic status, has not managed to assert the moral high-ground in a world where some form of “blasphemy” legislation that prevents open discussion regarding a particular topic, is prevalent among almost every country. People are arrested for inflammatory tweets, or for displaying certain symbols, or writing books on certain subjects. We have our taboos, and the establishment is resolved not to break them – even when confronted with the details of their flagrant hypocrisy.


Holocaust-Denial is considered to be essentially sacrilegious, and its criminalisation is something that ultimately undermines Europe’s international reputation. Correspondingly, the injunctions pertaining to Holocaust-Denial are counterproductive because they actually empower its proponents (who are predominantly, but not exclusively, of an anti-Semitic or national-socialist political persuasion) as the persecuted martyrs of “freedom-of-expression”. Why are we allowing potentially fascistic individuals, including anti-Semites, to assume these roles?


Why?  I don’t get it. None of this makes any sense.


Europe needs to acknowledge that the best way to dismiss unpalatable conspiracy-theories is through discourse, debate and intellectual refutation – not through the heavy-handed application of decidedly undemocratic legislation Revisionist commentary is otherwise then able to present the interdictions imposed onto Holocaust-Denial as evidence that the “establishment” is a hypocritical, politically-correct entity that has something to hide.


However, those who advocate the legal restrictions imposed on Holocaust-Denial maintain that its enforcement is principally necessitated by circumstantial factors, such as the increasing popularity of far-right populist movements. Incidentally, constitutions that proscribe Holocaust-Denial are primarily situated in countries whose populations were historically affected by the Holocaust. If this is the case, then surely the memory of the Holocaust should serve as a greater motivation to eschew this draconian tyranny that the Nazis themselves exercised to subjugate and repress?


It is fundamentally preposterous that someone should be convicted and potentially incarcerated for simply expressing a particular opinion, in Europe of all places. The criminalisation of Holocaust-Denial is incontestably more reprehensible than the overwhelmingly victimless nature of the “crime” itself, even if it constitutes calling a profoundly sensitive topic into question. Ultimately, locking someone up for articulating their scepticism regarding the Holocaust has persistently compromised Europe’s constitutional avowals towards free-expression.


The self-defeating nature of these stringent regulations inadvertently empowers our opponents and tarnishes our own character. However unsavoury their arguments may be, people should be permitted to question the Holocaust without being fined, or chucked in prison for it.

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