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Andrew Lilico: The New Crimethink?

Dr Andrew Lilico is Managing Director of Europe Economics, a firm providing consultancy services in economic regulation, competition policy and the application of economics to public policy and business issues.

Holocaust denial is to become a crime across the EU, provided that it incites violence or hatred against specific groups. Care has been taken to allow of space for plays and parodies (e.g. The Producers). The intention has been to target the use of denial of the genocide of the Jews during the 1940s and in Rwanda in the 1990s for inciting hatred against particular ethnic groups. The Germans have been keen to introduce this law across the EU during their current presidency.

A measure of this sort introduces many issues, including in particular the debate over whether it is appropriate to have any criminal offences set at an EU level. Without hiding my own view (I don’t believe that any crimes in the UK should be set at EU level, but I believe that the UK should be part of the EU but not the euro, and I am an advocate of having a Single European State that does not include the UK), I wish to set that procedural debate aside for now and focus on the substantial debate. For this is an important issue on which I believe the Conservative Party should offer a clear position — opposed — and I wish to explain my view as to why.

Opposition to a measure of this sort is often expressed quite abstractly — in terms such as “freedom of speech means freedom for the speech we hate” — which I would fully endorse. But on this occasion I wish to make matters a little more concrete. Holocaust deniers typically deny that the Nazis deliberately and systematically murdered millions of Jews. More subtle positions are sometimes also denounced as Holocaust denial, such as that of David Irving (who denied that as many Jews were killed as commonly alleged and that Hitler was aware of the murders until later 1943).

Both crude and subtle versions of Holocaust denial are manifestly wrong and maintained in the face of overwhelming evidence. But should denying what are obviously facts be any part of a crime? For example, some people believe that the Earth is only 6,000 years old and deny evolution. They are also wrong, and maintain their view in the face of overwhelming evidence. Furthermore, most Evolution Deniers are, often largely as a straightforward consequence of the same outlook that leads them to deny evolution, opposed to (among other things) practicing homosexuality. Should we say that Evolution Denial when used to incite hatred of homosexuals should be a crime?

In the past some other people denied that the Sun moved, taking the view that the Sun was stationary and that the Earth moved around it. Their view was maintained in the face of overwhelming evidence, and they, like those above, were wrong (the Sun is no more — or less — stationary than the Earth). They used their view to incite hatred of Jesuits. Should Sun-movement Denial have been a crime (as indeed it effectively was in some countries, for a while)?

My point is just this: believing or not believing in facts, and expressing one’s beliefs, surely cannot be the sort of thing we accept as a crime? Or are we now advocates of Orwellian crimethink? And if do start to accept it as a crime, we should not expect it to stop there. Hate crimes legislation did not stop with Jews or other races, but has graduated to homosexuals and religious groups and may yet have further to go. Once we start to restrict people’s ability to say: ”No. I don’t care how much evidence you have. I believe something else.”, we have crossed a vital line of principle that separates us from the societies of the Inquisition and the KGB — then the difference between them and us becomes one not of quality but of quantity at least for now...


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