Saturday, November 17, 2007

Bringing the German legal system into line with the needs of a civilised 21st Century

Apparently, from the old pre-Nazi days, the German legal system still has a provision against “Volksverhetzung” (incitement of the people) .

This was presumably designed to stop Nazi propaganda. The assumption apparently was that if you could stop Nazis "preaching" Nazism, then Germans would not become Nazis, but if you did not stop Nazis from "preaching" Nazism, then Germans were so stupid as to become Nazis.

I am astonished that Germans have not risen up in protest against this law, which is surely patronising and unsuitable for a modern democracy.

This highly offensive law is now being used to silence all points of view which are not deemed to be "correct". For example, just weeks ago, a 55-year old Lutheran pastor was sentenced to one year in jail for “Volksverhetzung” (incitement of the people) because he compared the killing of the unborn in contemporary Germany to the holocaust.

Now, I happen to disagree fundamentally with this pastor's point of view, though it is true that, without legalized abortion the number of German children would increase annually by at least 150,000 – which is apparently the number of legal abortions in Germany. But Germans clearly prefer to kill their own children and import foreigners - and Germany is a free country so it is quite possible for Germans to freely decide to commit cultural suicide and hand their country, over the long term, to foreigners.

But that is irrelevant to whether the good pastor has a right to express his opinion. Apparently, in Germany, he (and others like him) no longer have that right. And the courts have the right to decide to decide what he (or you, or I) may say and may not say, even if we interested in contributing to debate about matters of public policy.

Whatever happened to German freedom of speech, to "zivil courage"? I think it was Oscar Wilde who said: "To disagree with three-fourths of the public is one of the first requisites of sanity". Or, as Bergen Evans put it: "Freedom of speech and freedom of action are meaningless without freedom to think. And there is no freedom of thought without doubt". General Colin Powell is reputed to have said: "The right to free speech is intended to protect the controversial and even outrageous word; and not just comforting platitudes too mundane to need protection".

My own view is that the good pastor is wrong, but I would like us to fight for his right to express his opinion. We could start awarding him a prize for "Zivil Courage" or, if we are too timid to do that, by corresponding with him in prison - or, if we are too timid even for that, at least to correspond with his family (which can, I suppose, still be done in Germany without the authorities becoming aware of it?).

I have always believed that freedom of speech is fundamental. It is preferable to have Nazis given freedom of speech so that they can be properly debated and any of their idiocies mocked in public, than to have an entire nation's capacity for debate muzzled by a handful of judges who can decide at their high pleasure what is and what is not permissible to say, discuss and debate.

All the cultural gains in Germany since the Reformation seem to me in danger of being lost, if Germans do not rise up and repeal this backward-looking law and its even more assinine implementation by Germany's current Judges. Sphere: Related Content

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