Plebity – a left free speech website looks at how to ‘counter hate speech with more speech’. This excellent article addresses one of the points discussed in the interview with Daniel Ben-Ami about how tolerance doesn’t mean silently allowing bad ideas or adopting a relativist outlook.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN, TO ‘COUNTER HATE SPEECH WITH MORE SPEECH’?
Hint: it doesn’t mean 5 minutes for the Jews and 5 minutes for Hitler.
In 1971, over the course of several months, historian Gitta Sereny trudged regularly into a prison in Dusseldorf, Germany to sit across a small table from Franz Stangl, former commandant of the extermination camp Treblinka. Between April and June of that year, Sereny collected over 70 hours of interviews with Stangl who died on June 28–within hours of her last visit. For the following 18 months Sereny continued researching details of the stories Stangl had told her and to speak to people who had known him when he was in charge of killing operations at Treblinka.
As a result of her research, Sereny published Into That Darkness: An Examination of Conscience which recounts in unsparing detail the daily routines at Treblinka where some 700,000 men, women and children were delivered by train and then herded to their deaths.
Sereny’s work is just one bit of important research on the holocaust among a wealth of scholarship and eyewitness accounts from both victims and perpetrators.
Nonetheless, just a few years after Sereny sat listening to Kurt Stangl describe the industrial killing process under his direct command, along came Robert Faurisson. Faurisson was a french literature professor whose obsessive hobby was writing numerous texts denying the holocaust and one book in particular which gained considerable attention. That book, Mémoire en défense caused a stir, as much for its holocaust denialism as for the fact that it included a preface written by the internationally known and respected intellectual, Noam Chomsky.
The Faurisson Affair
The story of Faurisson’s book, Chomsky’s preface and the ensuing controversy eventually came to be termed the Faurisson Affair.
Chomsky, it turned out, had written the preface as a general essay on freedom of expression and it had been added to the book at least initially without his knowledge. Under attack from numerous critics, he repeatedly made the point that he had never read Faurisson’s book, and that, in any case, his essay had nothing to do with supporting the actual content of the book or Faurisson’s ideas.
For Chomsky supporting free speech always meant supporting the principle specifically for the most detestable views. What’s more, he would repeatedly insist ‘that’s the only time when the issue arises’.
Criticism of his preface meant to Chomsky that his critics were confusing his support for Faurisson’s right to free expression with a supposed agreement with him on what he actually said.
Because they were unable, in his mind, to make that clear distinction, he advised them to ‘go back to the middle ages and start all over again.’ Read the full article here