Phil Mirzoev's blog

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Prosecution of genocide denial: repressive use of criminal law by state

All those laws against genocide denial (be it Holocaust denial in Germany or the newly introduced legal nonsense in France about Armenian denial) are just a glaring example of repressive use of criminal law, which is neither compatible with the legal logic or ethics of criminal law, nor with the norms of a modern civil free society. And I am telling this despite the fact that I myself neither deny those mass those massacres that took place in Armenia, Germany etc, nor consider the present history education in school enough and proper for future generations to draw all the due lessons from those terrible historical events and state crimes.
The more the misuse of criminal law is escalated and promoted by Western states and governments, the farther the freedom and the rights-based democratic foundations are eroded - be it the prosecution of 'genocide denial' or the ban of face veils or prosecution of Wikileaks. This is a crystal clear measure, a litmus test, showing what the real trajectory of Western semi-democracy is: states seem to take to repressive use of the criminal law club. What's next?
The very formulation of those anti-denial laws is absurd, cos you cannot make a state of disbelief or denial of anything a crime (at least if you don't live in a place like Ottoman Turkey of the 1900s or Germany of the 1930s). Even more to the point, the very (and the only) UN-chosen definition of 'genocide' is an artificial construct, a deeply ideological conception, which may not reflect the reality properly or even may be immoral in itself in the eyes of many. The very definition of genocide, at least in the highly arguably and dubious form it is now, could be a subject of disbelief and rejection. That means for example, that if I don't recognize the validity, essentiality and even moral relevance of the term 'genocide' (in the legal sense in which one should apply and consider now this notion), I can be technically considered as being in denial of Genocide. To put it more simply, I for example recognize the terrible mass killings of Jews, Poles, Gypsies by the Nazi butchers, and I reckon those terrible acts as one of the most terrible crimes in human history, but I consider them so NOT because I believe in the notion of genocide in the form it's now formulated, but because for me the main point is the CRIME of a STATE against human and people LIFE. For me - I took myself here just as an example - the crimes of Hitler wouldn't have been less heavy, atrocious and punishable even in the least bit, if his government had killed not only Jews but Germans too (like Stalin did to Russians) and if OFFICIALLY Hitler's government hadn't declared Jews as a kind of genetically inferior people. Yet, in the eyes of the present definition of the term 'genocide' those crimes should be considered qualitatively lighter if the above conditions had existed in reality. I don't fully believe in the term 'genocide' in the form it's now, I reckon it itself to be racist based in a way. So, I suppose, I myself could be in future prosecuted for 'genocide denial'
The genocide now just blurs the line between the responsibility of any state for mass killings and torture of its people, and the crime of technically discriminating against ethnicity/nation as such. So in my opinion the notion of genocide is still very much cynical (putting the value of human lives much lower than the value of formal ethnicity, which in itself is not a proved essential notion and can be reasonably put into doubt as such by some scholars and ordinary people) and ethically dubious to say the least.
There's a different aspect to this problem of 'genocide denial', concerning responsibility - an aspect of possible insult to a group of people, whose relatives died in the genocide etc - but that is absolutely another story: those questions can, should and MUST be resolved within the framework of the CIVIL law. There must be established sufficiently thought-out civil law mechanisms that should allow those, who consider themselves victims of some kind of ethnic or 'historic insult', to initiate civil proceedings against those, say, 'deniers' and claim a good compensation in the form of money, apologies etc etc. But they must PROVE it in a civil court in the first place.
To add one more point about the genocide definition: now as such, the UN formulation is not only ethically ambivalent and confusing, in my opinion, but damaging in practical terms, because it provokes and gives all the grounds and possibilities to the most fundamentalist's radical nationalistic core of people withing different nations to most cynically CAPITALIZE on the DEATH of thousands of, in essence, people (whom they, without asking them, include in the same imaginable ethnic body to which they relate themselves), who had time ago fallen victims of mass killings and tortures conducted by one state or another for a set of reasons not always fully known and even able to be known and cognizable at all (but, de facto, accompanied by the state impunity and the self-proclaimed right of those butcher-states to dispose of people's lives at will). Good thing for those radical nationalistic beneficiaries, is that those killed are SILENT and UNRESPONSIVE, we cannot resurrect those Jews, or Armenians and ask their opinion or judgement. This thing is quite devilishly exploited by the very right nationalists.
For example, in my opinion, those among Armenians who feel that they can capitalize on the notion of collective responsibility in direct or any indirect way, will be for as much of the world's attention to the issue of genocide as possible (of course, there are also millions of other Armenians, and, like me, non-Armenians who very deeply sympathize with the victims of Turkish butchery and want to make the history as true and clear, as possible, but for whom the tragedy is not an element of a potentially successful PR campaign and a tool to extract moral debts and exclusive position - something, what I call 'racism inside out').     
All in all it's beneficial to engrave in the stone of the world history the position of your ethnicity as an uncompensated victim, cos in this case the descenders (and also self-proclaimed 'quasi-descenders') of those who actually lived in the times of the actual genocide, can reckon on indirect compensation (but 'never-ending' at the same time, cos those killed can never be resurrected, nor can they be asked their opinion on whether their death has been redeemed) and sometimes on direct compensation.
The idea is that some nations can put themselves in a position of always having a positive moral account balance with the rest of the world and morals as such (not to be confused with justice) have always been used by human creatures to derive benefits and compensations.
Many Jews CAPITALIZED politically economically etc on Holocaust - the same story (don't get me wrong, it in no way reduces the terror and absolute hell on earth of Holocaust and the necessity to prevent and remember such apocalypses) That's the point of radical nationalistic stance and the 'beauty' of it, because one cannot ask those killed - neither Jews nor Armenians - about their opinion in the discussion, nor can one return the compensation to THEM. So in practice one group of people at one time is KILLED ruthlessly and another group of people, publicly stating their belonging to one metaphysical 'nation-body' with those killed, tries get the actual compensation and benefits, assessable material part of which sometimes is no trifling at all...
It's not meant to say, that among those who call themselves Armenians or Jews, there are not those who, as their first priority, want historical truth, memory and recognition of the facts of genocide, but such groups are not those who influence the decisions made in France about laws against Armenian genocide denial. Besides you don't need to be Armenian to be in favor of historical truth. I am not Armenian, but I am for good history text books and good memory of this tragedy, and better and more fair historical education in schools.
Just to amplify a bit on what I said in the beginning, one of the most unpleasant problems, about which few people like to talk about, is that the very UN-confirmed and used notion of GENOCIDE is itself racism based in a way - it puts the value of national belonging HIGHER that the value of human life, it puts the crime against nationality as such HIGHER than crime of a state-sanctioned mass killing of human beings. In other words, if Hitler or Ottoman rulers would give purely technical reasons for their crime (not specifically racist) then according to today's laws and legal views, the crimes were much less substantial. Excellent example of this is Russia, which in Stalin's times exiled, imprisoned and killed a huge number of different ethnic minorities (and not only minorities in the case of so called golodomor), but the main justification used by Russia - used quite successfully, mind you - is that 1. They also killed many Russians in the process 2. The primary cause was the state security, not specific racism-based or ethnic-inequality-based theories and philosophies.

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