Europe and its Minorities

I am currently reading Elie Wiesel’s horrifying account of the holocaust, Night, which he wrote about fifty years ago in the aftermath of experiencing the holocaust firsthand. Reading it, one is left with little doubts that holocaust did take place and that an “immense and terrifying madness erupted in history and in the conscious of mankind” that led to the systematic extermination of vast numbers of European jewry. In fact, reading the novel one almost begins to identify with the author’s doubting the existence of a God that chooses to stay on the sidelines.
Denying the holocaust, a relatively recent and well-documented historical event, would at worst be a factual error, no more than that. One would think that no country in the world with a rule of law and respect for basic human liberties criminalizes erroneous historical claims, or jails people for committing factual errors and expressing personal opinions about historical events. Especially countries that purport to upholding freedom of expression, and excercising and defending it to the point of insulting hundreds of millions of people would be expected to defend the freedom to express controversial -or outright wrong and stupid- opinions. However, expressing doubts about holocaust is a crime in 10 European countries, and the jailing of historian David Irving is a case in point.
The timing of Mr. Irving’s demise could not be any more ironic, or embarassing: it comes at a time when many European governments and numerous non-governmental and civil society organizations have gone to lenghts to defend the publications of a series of caricatures of Prophet Muhammad first published in a Danish paper. This blog joined a call to uphold and defend freedom of expression, including the freedom to question sacred matters and religious matters. By the same standard, it finds the Austrian courts decision to imprision Mr. Irving for denying the holocaust preposterous and mystifying.
Up until here, my agnostic views on freedom of expression, the holocaust, and Prophet Muhammad.
But how can one understand the glaring contradiction that has eruped in the mind of the European man between denying freedom of expression on one occasion and upholding it on another?
A cynical person would say that Europe has lately had a lot of trouble coming to terms with its increasing Muslim minority. From the hypocritical headscarf ban, to the Parisian riots of last year, to the publication of caricatures of Prophet Muhammad, and now to upholding statutes that criminalize the denial of holocaust, there is no doubt that many European countries are employing double-standards, and actively discriminating against their Muslim minorities. We are witnessing remnants of a colonial attitude towards Muslims, one that is condescending, patronizing, and full of contempt. One that sees Muslims as unenlightened, and given to the forces of religion, myth, and magic, like Europe itself during its own bad old days (the Dark Ages.) Europe, of all places on Earth, should pay more attention to its relations with its religious minorities.
Now to a person who is not so cynical: well, a person who is not cynical would be dumbfounded and confused about the whole thing, and would soon have to buy into the cynical perspective. This is what just happened to me.


5 Responses to Europe and its Minorities

  1. Anonymous says:

    how do you compare the caricatures of prophet Muhammad with the Killings of Jewish?

  2. hatif says:

    with all my clumsiness, i translated your piece into persian and put it on my blog.
    Good luck,

  3. Anonymous says:

    I’ve relly been enjoying your blogg in the last few weeks. It’s been very helpfull too see things from different perspectives, considering the last month’s events. In regards to the Irving trial: This has been discussed in European contries for many years and like the case of the cartoons you are as likely to find as many opinions on this subject as there are europeans! I personally don’t think it should be illegal to question the holocost, it is as you write a well documented fact, but I think the reason why this is illegal in some contries is to curb extreme-rigt parties, some of whict sympathises with the Nazis.
    These groups are no friendlier to muslim minorities than to jews.Personally I think it is better if these people bring there opinions out in the public. That way they face public scrutany, rather than becoming “martyrs” for their supporters, like Irving now is.
    As for the ban on wearing religious symbols in french schools, this is something which is equal to all religions and comes from the “laicité”, which has been a ruling principle in France for over a 100 year, and was originally implemented to protect religious minorities form the dominance of the Catholic Church. France has had a significant muslim minorities for generations, but the “laicité” wasn’t challenged until the late 90’ies, and a majority of the french muslims support this principle, along with the majority of the general population. Turky also practices a similar principle.
    Sorry for the long comment:)
    Best wishes for the future!

  4. Anonymous says:

    where are you my friend to tell us about the minorities in Afghanistan. have you heard of Abdul Rahman?

  5. Janey says:

    Interesting post. I’ve written a lot about Elie Weisel concerning his.. er.. credibility.

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