1153) Editorial: French faux pas - Law could strain Europe-Turkey ties

Relations between Turkey and Europe were testy enough even before the French National Assembly voted last week to make it a crime to deny that the massacre of Armenians by Ottoman Turkish troops during World War I was genocide. Aside from whether French lawmakers are qualified to make that judgment, such a law could fuel tensions between Europe and Islam and further weaken Turkey's flagging bid to join the European Union . .

The vote in Paris took place just as Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk was named winner of the Nobel Prize for literature. Pamuk had been charged with "insulting Turkishness" for saying Turks had killed a million Armenians during World War I. The prosecution was dropped, but similar charges have been brought against others despite the Turkish government's objections and despite the risk to Turkey's EU bid because they violate free speech rights. So would the proposed French law.

Both EU officials and the Turkish author oppose the French law, which could reinforce European second thoughts about making a Muslim country of 70 million part of the EU. Those feelings have been fueled by the murders by Muslim immigrants of two Dutch public figures who had criticized Islam, and by other incidents that provoked fury among many Muslims.

The Armenian controversy will not be resolved with gratuitous laws. Turkish officials say they are willing to allow historians with diverse views to search the archives and reach their own conclusion. That hasn't happened, and growing Turkish-European tensions don't help. Many Turks now feel their future does not lie with a Europe they see as hostile to them.

Speech can be truly odious, especially denial of the Holocaust, which is a crime in France and other European countries. But criminalizing speech that offends undermines the principles of a free society. And a new French law on the Armenian issue invites retaliation: Some Turkish lawmakers have called for a law to brand as genocide French atrocities in colonial Algeria.

Turkey's location, its democracy and its status as a Muslim society living under secular law make it an optimum bridge between Europe and the Middle East. Enacting gratuitous laws meant to compel people to take sides is wrongheaded. An EU spokeswoman criticized the proposed law by saying it "would prevent the dialogue and debate that are necessary for reconciliation." Exactly.

October 19, 2006
Story appeared in EDITORIALS section, Page B8
Copyright © The Sacramento Bee


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