While Terry Glavin does not count himself an adherent of the “libertarian” position that outlawing the expression of loathsome ideas is in all cases a mistake, he nonetheless opposes a recent measure before the Canadian parliament that would make it a crime to deny the Holocaust. Glavin argues that the new legislation would be redundant, given Canada’s existing hate-speech laws. But he also points to a larger problem:
The thing about anti-Semitism is that it is not only the oldest of bigotries. It’s that it’s a conspiracy theory: the Jews are sinister capitalists, but they’re Communist plotters; they’re non-conforming rabble, but they move among the Gentiles unnoticed; they have no rightful place in the Holy Land, but they have no rightful place in Europe or the Arab countries they fled to escape the pogroms and massacres of the 1930s, either.
Anti-Semitism tends to attribute a dark and occult sort of power to the Jews, and it manifests not only in what the author Ben Cohen calls “Bierkeller” anti-Semitism—the persistent 20th-century anti-Semitism of the lout and the yob—but in the “bistro” anti-Semitism of the 21st century, which is routinely incubated in the discourse of “anti-Zionism.” Anti-Semitism is sufficiently informed by its older iterations that we can be fairly sure that it will take the Trudeau government’s commitment to criminalize Holocaust denial as evidence of the hidden power of the Jews.
The point here is that anti-Semitism may be ineradicable. It’s difficult to situate it as a sociopathic feature of so many cultures without trespassing from the language of the secular. It’s hard to describe the Holocaust in any lexicon that does not contain words like “evil.”
This isn’t a case against criminalization. It’s just a recognition that if it’s the suppression of anti-Semitism we’re going for here, criminalization isn’t going to work.