Limits on Free Speech

A recent story in the Jerusalem Post leaves me with a number of questions.

Student indicted for Auschwitz video
A 23-year-old Dutch economics student was sentenced to 40 hours of community service Wednesday for creating an online party announcement last August using Nazi slogans and imagery from Auschwitz.

The clip, which drew condemnations from the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Auschwitz Memorial in Poland, promoted a party called “Housewitz,” a play on words combining the name of the Nazi death camp and the “house” musical genre.

Showing an image of emaciated death camp inmates, the clip advises partygoers to “dress as a skinny Jew,” then promises “hot showers (free)” against a photographic backdrop of gas chambers. Opportunities for celebratory “gangbanging” are offered alongside a picture of shrunken corpses stacked in a pile.”

I am a believer in Oliver Wendell Holmes‘ theory of the marketplace of ideas which effectively states that an important part of democracy is to have the ability to choose from many different ideas. In theory one could argue that in a system such as this the best ideas would rise to the top and be selected over others.

You could also argue against this and make a strong case for why this works in theory but not in practice. I don’t want to spend a lot of time focusing on that. Rather let’s take the position that there are some areas that are so important and require so much sensitivity that you cannot joke about them because in doing so you establish a stage in which people can lose sight of just how important they are.

That position suggests that if we allow people to kid around about the Holocaust, about the Turkish slaughter of the Armenians, the massacres in Rwanda we diminish what happened there and make it easier for history to repeat itself. At least that is how it sits in my head, I have to think about this some more as I am just putting this out there for my consumption and your own. I am not sure that I totally buy into that.

But here is what I am sure of. The farther away we get from certain events the easier it becomes for people to forget just how horrific they were and that is problematic. Any way you do it I need to think about this some more.

What do you think?

P.S. If you want to see the video you can click here. It really is truly tasteless, but it is one of those things that is hard to judge without seeing.

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