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April 11, 2003

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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 groups."[1]

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 lies."[2]

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."[3]

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 of."[4]

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.[5]

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).

4. John Milton, Areopagitica (1644) (Wheeling, Ill.: Harlan Davidson, Inc., 1951), pp. 46-47; available at http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~rbear/areopagitica.html (visited March 29, 2003).

5. The story is told by Zündel's wife at http://zundelsite.org. ------------------------------------------------------------------------

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.

Write to Canada's Immigration Minister and complain over the unfair treatment Ernst Zündel has received.

Immigration Minister Denis Coderre
House of Commons 
Parliament Buildings 
Ottawa, Ontario 
K1A 0A6

Telephone: (613) 995-6108

Fax: (613) 995-9755

Email: Coderre.D@parl.gc.ca


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Table of Contents for additional articles

Revisionism 101: Basic Revisionism

Revisionism 201 for Holocaust Skeptics

"David against Goliath": Ernst Zündel, fighting the New World Order

"Lebensraum!": Ingrid Rimland, pioneering a True World Order

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