Opinions: freedom of speech or jail time?

Here’s what I don’t get.

Remember that douchebag who said that the Holocaust never happened? He was jailed for expressing his opinion — albeit an admittedly misguided and wrong opinion. He was jailed for disrespecting a powerful slice of the western society, for something that happened 70 years ago and doesn’t directly affect the everyday lives of their descendants today.

And then, there’s the Pope. Who went to Africa and told people to not use condoms! He also expressed his opinion that people should only have sex with their exclusive partners, and as such they don’t need condoms. Thing is, life ain’t like that, people have sex all the time — married or not. By instructing the much-struck by AIDS African people to not use condoms, he instigates a major violation of public health, given that the Pope is a person of authority and has millions of followers.

So the crazy guy who simply professed that a HISTORICAL event didn’t happen, but didn’t really hurt anyone (except possibly some feelings), gets jail time and death threats. The guy who puts the lives of millions in danger TODAY, gets to go about his business.

Sign o’ the times my friends, sign o’ the times.

Update: The Pope comes around about condoms and AIDS, 1.5 years later.


Loic wrote on April 2nd, 2009 at 12:56 AM PST:

Don’t be upset Eugenia. Catholics don’t actually die.
They go to heaven and live forever… 🙂

And besides “earth population exceeds limits”.
So the pope is actually helping people.
He’s just misunderstood, especially by the people dying from AIDS with a lot of suffering. But they’re sick so he’ll forgive them 🙂

OK that’s not funny. But the pope is protected by his swiss guards and his bulletproof car so it’s difficult to get him arrested. As far as he’s concerned he knows how to get good protection from the dangers of living on earth…

Tom Magee wrote on April 2nd, 2009 at 9:00 AM PST:

Wikipedia has a good page on laws against holocaust denial:


I agree with you 100%. Laws against Holocaust Denial are as anti-free speech as you can get, which is why you will never see them in the US. But I think it is unfair to say that these laws were made to avoid disrespecting “a powerful slice of society.” Many people, jews and non-jews alike, feel strongly that it is in the world’s best interest that the Holocaust be remembered so that it never happens again.

A graduate school I attended even offers a Masters in Holocaust Studies for this reason. And many of the people I met there claimed that they are pro-Holocaust laws because they believe it is vital that the Holocaust be remembered as historical fact. They feel it is vitally important that future generations know that this happened, that a civilized, Western country that was the home of some of the Western World’s most important philosophers and artists could have done such a thing. And they are willing to forgo some of their own (and others) free speech rights for this cause.

My argument to them has always been: If we truly do live in a free society, then we should never be afraid of a conversation. I fear we begin to tread some very dangerous ground when we begin to believe that certain things cannot and should not be said. Because, after all, who gets to make that decision? The government? God help us.

Diego A wrote on April 2nd, 2009 at 12:18 PM PST:

Let’s not forget that the pope didn’t condone the mentions of priest Williamson. He even let him stay at the holy institution. Argentina didn’t have the balls to put him in jail, so they just kick him out – Same thing than before, declaring war to the axis days before the end of the war…
Times are the same… some days better, some days worse…

Sultan Qasim Khan wrote on April 2nd, 2009 at 3:26 PM PST:

Furthermore, so called “Holocaust Denial” usually doesn’t involve “denying” the fact that the holocaust happened. Usually, it’s just doubt over the exact scale of what happened, that is IMHO reasonable, given that estimates can vary greatly – eg. estimates of the civilian death toll in the ongoing Iraq war vary from 1.2 million deaths to 30000 deaths, and they all seem credible.

The society (that indeed seems to be disproportionately influenced by a small Jewish minority) has made sure everyone knows that 6 million Jews died, but did anyone bother telling you that for example, 23 million Russians died in the same war? Certainly we should mourn the deaths of 6 million people, and make sure it never happens again, but why do 6 million Jews get so much attention and emphasis 70 years later while 23 million Russians (4 times as many) are rarely even mentioned. I remember from my high school history class the the death toll of non-jews wasn’t even mentioned when learning about WWII (of course we spent lots of time on the Holocaust, because [sarcasm] Jews are the only people that matter and deserve recognition in this world [/sarcasm].

No, I am not in any means denying the Holocaust and I agree that we ought to learn about it, mourn it, and prevent it in the future, but I believe in equality, and that a non-Jewish life is worth just as much as a Jewish one.

Tom Magee wrote on April 2nd, 2009 at 7:03 PM PST:

The difference for many is not who was killed but who perpetrated the crime. When western countries hear about holocausts in Soviet Russia, the Middle East, or Africa, they have the comment of thinking “That’s awful, but such a thing would never happen in an educated, democratic western republic like mine.” But when Germany did it, it was like finding out your next door neighbor–who you went to the same school with, saw at parties, and who you rather liked–was a serial killer. It shook many people up, and it also shook up many people’s faith in where Western society was heading.

The lesson many western thinkers learned from the Nazi Holocaust was: if it could happen there, then it could happen here. I think that is the primary distinction many draw between the Holocaust (big H) and the many other holocausts that, comparatively speaking, are largely ignored (at least by the media and academia) even though they can often point to a far greater number of victims.

dutchguy wrote on April 3rd, 2009 at 11:43 AM PST:

Wow specific laws against Holocaust denial ?

I hate history abusers at much as the next guy, but specific laws against denying specific events is just crazy and plain wrong. Specially in this case. Also i feel that this just has the opposite effect.

Luckily many of the laws named in the wikipedia page are not specifically against the WW-II holocaust. But laws against for example “denying or grossly trivialising crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes” now again the problem with this is that it:

a) goes against free speech, how wrong,painful,unmoral,etc it might be.. just claiming right or wrong that something did or did not happen is a matter of opinion. so it seems likely to be covered under free-speech. now i know at least in many europeans countries, free speech does not mean the freedom to speak anything you want. just like seperation-of-church-and-state does not mean we cannot have a christian goverment imposing christian moral values on every citizen.

b) according to me (and i confess i’m not a lawer) reading to the european law, a mass murder of athiests would not be covered under this law as you have to be “a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin.” a rational mind which does not believe in any religion is not a religion and there not part of any race, color, descent, national or ethnic group. so the mass-murder and rightfully genocide of people by the catholic church is not genocide ? or more specifically denying those deaths is not a crime while denying deaths of WW-II victims is ?

c) who decides which history book is right and which is wrong ? by this i mean, what if a something was not a real genocide, or the other way around, if it was later established that is was while people where thinking that is was not. do we have to convict all those people after the fact ? consider the Armenian genocide/holocaust which is still being denied by an entire country to this day.

so let people make fools of them-selfs if they want too, the benefit of free-speech is that we can all point out those mistakes and expose them as idiots. as soon as you start banning these kinds of speech then the justice system takes over and imo you lose your right to do the latter.

and *yes* i completely agree that we should actively prosecute the pope, the church and all other people that actively spread AIDS by misinforming people. There is no way to justify that in my mind. This is worse than denial, worse than hate speech and worse then telling people religious fairy tails. This does real damage to real people. It’s one of the worse kinds of abuse by people that really do know better.

Corey wrote on April 3rd, 2009 at 1:16 PM PST:

This might be an oversimplification, but some Jews (and maybe others) get personally offended when someone denies the Holocaust happened. Africans don’t get personally offended when the Pope suggests they not use condoms.

It apparently doesn’t matter as much how much damage is actually done as it does whose feelings get hurt. I see that all too often in my own life. People really need to grow thicker skins.

Jim wrote on April 4th, 2009 at 1:13 PM PST:

I met the real life Tove character from the Movie Escape from Sobeborg. Also my next door neighbors growing up were Holocost survivors that never talked about it. I also have a friend who was in the SS as a teenager, but went on to build cabinets for Elvis and paint beautiful pictures and teach kids how to do woodworking and paint. He doesn’t believe the holocost.
I sure in the hell believe it and am horrorfied by it.
I think it is a test of public speech and opinion for an individual, but I have no problem for schools to exclude the no holocoast opinion

Maurizio wrote on April 4th, 2009 at 1:46 PM PST:

Once I met a woman from Kenya, Rose Busingye. She works for AVSI (an international association) and helped people with AIDS. She was not supportive of condoms in general. I report here her description of a “lesson” she gave about condoms to the woman working in the cave near her hospital, because it is quite illuminating:

“You have to wash your hands before using it” – “What?? The nearest pit is 10 km from here!”.

“Please be careful in touching it with your fingers, as your nails might cut it” – “Our job is to split stones 14 hours per day – I can assure you that the skin of our hands is much harder than our nails”.

“You must keep them in a quite cold pla… oh, never mind.”

A few weeks ago Rose has wrote an article regarding condoms where she describes this very experience and tells her opinion about the Pope’s views – you can read an english translation here.

P.S. Emmanuel Exitu has directed a documentary about Rose (“Greater — Defeating AIDS”) which has won a prize at the Cannes festival last year (the jury was chaired by Spike Lee!). Part of the documentary is freely available on Babelgum), although not the part where she speaks about condoms. But It is still instructive watching it.

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