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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Memory police - down the memory hole with YOU!

In "The freedom of historical debate is under attack by the memory police" (Guardian, October 16, 2008), British historian Timothy Garton Ash skewers the European Union's new "memory police," noting that "Well-intentioned laws that prescribe how we remember terrible events are foolish, unworkable and counter-productive." Unless you are a bureaucrat with a taste for bending minds, right? In which case, you will think God sent it express from heaven just for you. For example,
More and more countries have laws saying you must remember and describe this or that historical event in a certain way, sometimes on pain of criminal prosecution if you give the wrong answer. What the wrong answer is depends on where you are. In Switzerland, you get prosecuted for saying that the terrible thing that happened to the Armenians in the last years of the Ottoman empire was not a genocide. In Turkey, you get prosecuted for saying it was. What is state-ordained truth in the Alps is state-ordained falsehood in Anatolia.
Fortunately, a group of non-barking mad European historians is starting to push back against the memory police. No surprise that this "Kafka is supposed to be fiction, guys!" group is spearheaded in France:
A further law, passed in 2001, says the French Republic recognises slavery as a crime against humanity, and this must be given its "consequential place" in teaching and research. A group representing some overseas French citizens subsequently brought a case against the author of a study of the African slave trade, Olivier Pétré-Grenouilleau, on the charge of "denial of a crime against humanity". Meanwhile, yet another law was passed, from a very different point of view, prescribing that school curricula should recognise the "positive role" played by the French presence overseas, "especially in North Africa".
Where's comedian Guy Earle (charged under B.C.'s human rights tribunal) when you need him, anyway? A funny man has got to be pretty good to improve on the memory laws farce.

Speaking of "the French presence overseas," imagine applying memory laws to Canada: It would be illegal to say in Quebec that French President Charles de Gaulle was way, way out of bounds when he shouted "Vive le Quebec libre" during some speech he gave - and it would be illegal to say in Ontario that he was within bounds. Heck, a historian could spend her life shuttling from courthouse to courthouse, and from one jail to the next ...

Just when I think that I spend too much time worrying about the growth of the nanny state, another nanny appears with another dose of something awful that's Good For Us.

Fire. Them. All.

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