Friday, November 18, 2005

And while we're at it

Fatih Tas is a Turkish publisher who specialises in publishing books critical of the Turkish government. Recently, he published a translation of John Tirman's Spoils of War: The Human Cost of America's Arms Trade. The book included a map which labelled part of Turkey as "the traditional Kurdish region", alleged that the Turkish military engaged in human rights abuses in their suppression of the Kurds in the 80's and 90's, and (in passing) criticised the founder of the modern Turkish state, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Tas is now on trial in Turkey, charged with insulting the Turkish state and its founder. If convicted, he could be jailed for six years.

This is a perfect parallel to the case of David Irving. It matters not that one is accused for telling truths and the other for telling lies; the problem is that in each case the government is trying to enforce (it's preferred version of) truth through the use of criminal law. And that is something it simply should not be doing. As John Stuart Mill pointed out,

the particular evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth; if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.

To which I'll add that if the truth can stand for itself, it does not need the protection of the law; if it can't, it does not deserve it.

Both the Austrian and Turkish governments are violating freedom of speech with their actions. If they don't like what Irving and Tas are saying, they should fight speech with more speech - not by throwing people in jail.