Sunday, February 4, 2007

Thoughts from London: Politicians and History, Genocide denial, and false analogies

One of the current topics of conversation here is the EU proposed anti-genocide denial legislation. Actually, truth be told, it is what reporters and media savvy folks are talking to me about. I don't think it is the topic about which everyone is focusing at the dinner table....

In any case, the more I hear about it the more it seems to me that it is a disaster in the offing. Serious academic are going to find their hands tied about what they can legitimately say and not say....

The bottom line is that legislators should stick to legislating and not to trying to determine what is and is not acceptable history... It is a disaster in the making.

Let me illustrate: Spent a fascinating hour this a.m. with Brendan O'Neill, editor in chief of the on-line magazine Spiked who also writes for the, New Statesman and other media outlets. We were discussing the proposed legislation.

He pointed out to me that there was serious discussion amongst trustworthy journalists and thinkers as to whether what happened in places Srebrenecia [Bosnia] in 1995. Those who raised serious quesiton about the extent of the killings were branded genocide deniers.

The Daily Telegraph article by Bruno Wakefield made the same point.

General Lewis MacKenzie, the former commander of UN peacekeepers in Bosnia, courted controversy two years ago by questioning the numbers killed at Srebrenica in 1995.

He took issue with the official definition of the massacre as genocide and highlighted "serious doubt" over the estimate of 8,000 Bosnian fatalities. "The math just doesn't support the scale of 8,000 killed," he wrote.

Balkans human rights activists have branded Gen MacKenzie an "outspoken Srebrenica genocide denier" and, if approved, the EU legislation could see similar comments investigated by the police or prosecuted in the courts after complaints from war crimes investigators or campaigners.

And on false analogies: A report on this mornings BBC noted that certain Muslim leaders in the UK want the Palestinian expulsion from then Palestine [the nakbah] included in the proposed Genocide denial.

What happened to the Palestinians -- both their going into exile and then being used for the next 60 years by their fellow Arabs as political footballs and kept in reffuge status -- was a tragedy for them. But it was not a genocide such as what was done to the Armenians, Rwandans, or Cambodians.

It is a false analogy of the first order.

Politicians should stay out of history.

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