BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN
During the last month, the Los Angeles Times first through an editorial and on Thursday via an op-piece authored by Timothy Garton Ash argues that a bill criminalizing the denial of the Armenian Genocide, which will be taken up by the French Senate on Monday, violates basic rights of free speech and expression.
In both instances, the LA Times states that the massacre of 1.5 million Armenians in 1915 is undeniably Genocide. And, in both cases the authors cite international declarations and myriad other examples to illustrate their point of view that the French bill is counterproductive, at best.
What both fail to do, however, is address a historical fact that the bill in question is not precedent-setting at all in France, since that fellow democracy adheres to a 1990 law known as the Gayssot Law, which, in short, criminalizes the denial of the Holocaust. In fact, there are several European countries that have very strict anti-Holocaust denial laws—a concept that may be foreign to American socio-political norms.
But is it? Here in the United States there are quite a few laws that characterize hate speech and while late in the making, they are currently being used as basis for punishment of those that carry out racist or discriminatory acts. The French law simply calls the denial of the Genocide an act of discrimination and sets punitive damages for individuals violating it. Does the LA Times mind the laws that punish those who use the “N” word when referring to African-Americans? I highly doubt it!
Immediately after the law was passed in the France’s Lower House, the LA Times, in a December 21 editorial went as far as to call the law censorship.
“Some would say that it’s presumptuous for Americans to lecture the people of a fellow democracy about the rights they accord their citizens. But robust freedom of expression isn’t some American fetish. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says: ‘Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers,’” illustrated the editorial.
The irony—absurdity—of the LA Times editorial in invoking the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is that Turkey’s daily attempts (and the US’s aggressive and assertive complicity) in denying the Genocide is a violation of every single article of that very declaration.
In his op-ed piece, Timothy Garton Ash cites what he calls the “pathbreaking 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen (‘The free communication of ideas and opinions is one of the most precious rights.…’)” as a reason for the French Senate to reject the law and says while the events of 1915 were “terrible” they should be subject to “free historical debate.”
Furthermore, in Thursday’s op-ed, the author suggests that the law is being debated now as a cheap political trick by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is counting on French-Armenian votes in upcoming elections. Can anyone say Barack Obama?
Our venerable president also made promises that the US would stop violating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (the active denial of the Genocide) and, once and for all, will recognize the Armenian Genocide. Or, was it not House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who in 2000, despite his own opposition to the Congressional Genocide bill, vowed to bring the measure to a vote at a press conference in Glendale alongside his Republican ally Rep. Jim Rogan who was fighting for his seat in Congress and aimed to appease Armenian voters by making the memory of 1.5 million victims an electioneering tool? Where was the author’s outrage then?
The LA Times decision to highlight—and vociferously oppose—a piece of legislation in France is a double standard because based on the arguments presented in both instances, the Gayssot Law should have been fervently opposed. The LA Times should apply the same standards, if it chooses to take a position on the way things are done in France, or else its stated commitment to the truth becomes stained.