The sheer folly of criminalising stupidity and hatred

Having visited Israel recently, I returned with one question that has troubled me for a long time unresolved - the criminalising of people for not believing that millions of Jews were murdered in the Holocaust.

Having visited Israel recently, I returned with one question that has troubled me for a long time unresolved - the criminalising of people for not believing that millions of Jews were murdered in the Holocaust.

Hard as I try, I can't understand why denying that the genocide happened is a crime in some countries, such as Germany. People should not go to jail for choosing to believe that there was no Holocaust.

Those who are pro-criminalising, usually respond to this argument by saying that those who believe the murder of six million mostly Jewish people by the Nazis is a figment of the imagination, are likely to call for the extermination of Jews.

I cannot buy this argument. It is possible to believe that the Holocaust didn't happen without you wanting to exterminate the Jews. It is also possible to believe that the Jesus story is a myth without it following that you want to persecute Christians.

On the other hand, one can believe that the Holocaust happened but be anti-semitic.So the belief or non-belief in the Holocaust is not a helpful predictor of whether one would take the next step.

Let me state categorically that I believe the Holocaust happened. And that, along with the cross-Atlantic slave trade, the Rwanda genocide and a few others, was one of humanity's greatest blights.

Having said that, you are still entitled to believe that black people merrily rowed their own boats to what was to be known as the Americas. You are entitled to the view that the story about them being abducted and enslaved is a nasty rumour perpetrated by people who don't like whites.

Of course, you will be wrong. Even worse, you will also be an idiot. As with the Holocaust, the evidence is incontrovertible.

But if we start jailing people for being stupid, where would we start or end?

What would be the difference between modern society and those societies that burnt people at the stake for not believing in the dominant faith of the day?

Pushed to its (il)logical end, we might end up passing laws to criminalise any theory which goes against scientific findings.

For example, those who reject the theory that life evolved over millions of years and believe God created the world and all on it in six days about 3000 years ago would have to be jailed.

We need to be tolerant, even of intolerance.

Jewish people in whose name the jailing of holocaust denialists happens should know better, as they are sometimes victims of Christian and Islamic extremists who think their faith is an abomination.

There are people who are anti-semitic because Jews don't believe Jesus was the Messiah. In the same way, there are Islamist extremists who believe that wiping out the state of Israel is a way of expediting the coming of their Redeemer.

This is not the same as saying that they should not be responsible for the consequences of what they preach.

You can believe whatever you want; but if you preach hate you should go to jail for a long time. If you act on the basis of that hate, you should go for even longer.

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