Zundel's Crimes of Opinion
by Pierre Lemieux
On February 5, Ernst Zündel was arrested at the Tennessee
home he shared with his American wife. His crime: allegedly overstaying
his visitor's visa, according to immigration cops. He was handcuffed,
whisked away, and detained by U.S. authorities for two weeks. He is now
barred from the U.S. for twenty years. On February 19, after two weeks of
detention in the U.S., he was deported to Canada, and has been detained in
an Ontario jail since then. It is very difficult to defend Zündel,
despite the fact that the only crimes he has ever been charged with are
crimes of opinion. To defend Zündel's freedom of speech, I submitted a
piece to the Globe and Mail (Toronto) op-ed editor, asking if he was
interested; he very politely replied with only one word: "No."
Zündel, 63, is a German citizen who lived legally in
Canada from 1958 to 2001. During that period, the federal government
turned down Zündel's requests for Canadian citizenship. The feds now want
to deport him to his country of origin, because "he financially and
ideologically supports militant white supremacist/neo-Nazi
Zündel is a "revisionist" who claims (if I
understand correctly) that the number of Jews murdered by the Nazis is
much lower than usually claimed, and that there was no official Nazi
Holocaust strategy. In the late '80s, Zündel was convicted of the old
Criminal Code offense of "[publishing] a statement, tale or news that
[one] knows is false and that causes or is likely to cause injury or
mischief to a public interest." Since Zündel did not think that his
opinions were false, he was actually prosecuted for crimes of opinion.
Indeed, the Supreme Court overturned his conviction.
Zündel has never been charged with hate propaganda per
se, i.e., "communicating statements, other than in a private
conversation, [that] wilfully promotes hatred against any identifiable
group," a crime that appeared in the Canadian Criminal Code in 1979.
But this is obviously what the state thinks he is guilty of.
The right to defend unpopular, offensive, and even false
opinions has been very much part of the Western liberal tradition. On the
contrary, the Nazi barbarians were not exactly great defenders of freedom
of speech: for instance, article 23 of the 1920 program of the Nazi party
called for a "legal assault against conscious political
The standard arguments for free speech are - or perhaps
were - well known. We cannot know the truth value of a hypothesis if its
opponents are forbidden to challenge it, or if its proponents are not
allowed to defend it. Most of an individual's beliefs, including his
scientific beliefs, are justified by his perception that they have emerged
unscathed from the free confrontation of ideas and the unrestrained search
for truth. In On Liberty, John Stuart Mill wrote: "Strange it is that
men think that some particular principle or doctrine should be forbidden
to be questioned because it is so certain, that is, because they are
certain that it is certain. To call any proposition certain, while there
is any one who would deny its certainty if permitted, is to assume that we
ourselves, and those who agree with us, are the judges of certainty, and
judges without hearing the other side."
Around the Great Hall of Hart House at the University of
Toronto, the famous words of John Milton are inscribed: "When a City
shall be as it were besieged and blocked about, her navigable river
infested, inroads and incursions round, defiance and battle oft rumoured
to be marching up even to her walls and suburb trenches � then the
people, or the greater part, more than at other times, wholly taken up
with the study of highest and most important matters to be reformed,
should be disputing, reasoning, reading, inventing, discoursing, even to a
rarity and admiration, things not before discoursed or written
There are many cases where expressions of opinion are, or
can be considered to be, hate propaganda. Libraries and bookstores are
full of statements by famous authors that fall foul of hate laws. Just
think about Baudelaire calling the Belgians "animals," "molluscs,"
and "civilized monkeys." Would Nietzsche, Marx, or the
Surrealists pass the test of hate literature? What about Franz Fanon, a
Marxist prophet of decolonization, who preached violence against the
"race" of the colonizers in North Africa?
If history is any guide, it would be na�ve to assume that
hate legislation will only be enforced against unpopular lunatics. Indeed,
Canadians have heard calls to use hate laws in linguistic or ethnic
politics. The range of political opinions that can be construed as
inciting hatred is almost indefinitely extensible.
Hate laws, we are told, are meant to protect social peace.
But history shows that freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and
individual liberty in general, are the most efficient social mechanism
ever discovered to promote tolerance and peace. Censorship is one of the
surest ways to frustration, victimization, political confrontation,
intolerance, and violence.
Another argument for hate laws is that na�ve citizens may
fall prey to false information or propaganda, and that the state must
protect them against their own gullibility. This is a very disturbing
argument, which considers citizens as infants, and wards of wise
politicians and bureaucrats.
Many so-called hate propagandists are stupid people whose
political ideas I would not want to be associated with. But then, so what?
Is it a crime to be stupid? And who decides who is?
Zündel's website rails against "extreme
individualism," and the "international trade cartels that
shutter American industries and shatter family lives and entire
communities". It promotes populism against "unconscionable
plutocrats whose only loyalty is to their pocketbook." But there is
something for everybody on the "Zundelsite." And, like the
Fuehrer himself, Zündel and his friends are not the most consistent of
ideologues - except in their attacks on the Jewish scapegoat.
Perhaps Zündel's neo-Nazi sympathies show up most clearly
when he talks about smoking. Today's tobacco industry spokesmen, he
writes, "should have consulted the Fuehrer." He explains,
approvingly, that "Hitler youth had anti-smoking patrols all over
Germany, outside movie houses and in entertainment areas, sports fields,
etc., and smoking was strictly forbidden to these millions of German youth
growing up under Hitler."
I am not necessarily suggesting that Zündel would make a
good consultant for Health Canada or the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency, but that, however repulsive his opinions are, he should not be
persecuted for expressing them.
published in the Laissez Faire Electronic Times, April 7, 2003
References 1. See also my "In Defense of Hate
Literature (Sort of)" (London: Libertarian Alliance, Political Notes
No. 137, 1997); reproduced at http://www.pierrelemieux.org/artspe.html.
2. Maurice Torrelli and Ren�e Baudouin, Les droits de
l'homme et les libert�s publiques par les textes (Montr�al: Presses de
l'Universit� du Qu�bec, 1972), p. 63. My translation from the French
version; underlines in the original.
3. John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (1859) (Indianapolis:
Hackett, 1977), p. 20-21; available at http://www.bartleby.com/130/
(visited March 29, 2003).
Pierre Lemieux is co-director of the Economics and Liberty
Research Group at the Universit� du Qu�bec in Outaouais, and a Research
Fellow at the Independent Institute (California). E-mail: PL@pierrelemieux.org.