When denial is used against those who question the evidence of conventional wisdom it acts as a secular Inquisition creating a free-floating metaphor for post-modern blasphemy. "This targeting of denial has little to do with the specifics of the highly charged emotional issues involved in discussions of the Holocaust or AIDS or pollution," writes sociologist Frank Furedi in Spiked Online. "Rather it is driven by a wider mood of intolerance towards free thinking." It becomes an informal but dangerous form of collective censorship, limiting free speech and demanding social or civil punishment, or both. (Free speech defenders have no problem defending their own dearly held beliefs, but often when called on to defend something they consider dangerous find all manner of exceptions.)
For all of the creepiness of "Holocaust denial," making it against the law not only restricts free speech, perniciously wrong-headed as that is, but forces those who perpetuate it to go underground. When President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran held his Holocaust denial conference in Tehran, he exposed his irrational hatred to the rest of the world, making his threat to "wipe Israel off the map" and his determination to develop nuclear weapons suddenly visible as a genuine threat to everyone.
His hyperventilated rhetoric, as outrageous as it is, requires counter arguments of reason and cannot be dismissed as the ravings of a madman, a mistake many critics of Hitler made. The Tehran conference drew wide rebuke, inspiring hundreds of articles refuting speaker after speaker. Such refutations won't dissuade the anti-Semites who ply their trade in the Middle East, but will establish a contemporary historical record and heighten the alert for those in the Western democracies who understand that words can be deadly weapons of mass destruction.
No word has been so trivialized as "Holocaust." It's attached to issues that bear no relation to the crimes of the Nazis of the Third Reich. The triumph of bad taste and perversion of moral meaning is exhibited by animal rights protesters who compare the slaughter of animals to the slaughter of Jews. In one of their campaigns, called "Holocaust on Your Plate," images of animals locked in pens are superimposed on photographs of emaciated prisoners behind the barbed wire of a concentration camp.
The human talent for devising destruction is boundless, and humans of goodwill must demand the careful use of words to make reasonable distinctions.
If we don't, we are truly in denial.