Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Free Speech and Holocaust Denial

Should you go to jail because you say things that are obviously loathsome, odious and a denial of historical facts?
David Irving [see profile here] a Holocaust-denier, an anti-Semite and a racist was sentenced to 3 years in jail in
Austria this week. Now, saying that “A democratic society must allow people to voice even the vilest opinions if it wants to protect freedom of expression” [in the Globe and Mail] looks like something I might agree with - except that Irving’s views are NOT a matter of ‘opinion’ but a denial of historical facts. Using the word ‘opinion’ is a way to turn factual reality into relativism.

I still think, however, that it should Irving’s right to deny historical facts and reality itself. It is precisely all about history – and all the countries [Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Israel, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Switzerland] which have specific laws against the denial of the Holocaust have plenty of good historical reasons for them. It is no surprise that, in their sometimes extreme traditions of free speech, neither Britain nor the US have those laws.

But it might be time for those (mostly) European countries to question the need for such laws and acknowledge that this is not a post-WWII world any longer. If what happened in the 30s and 40s can always happen again, it will probably take a different shape anyway. Surely there are other ways to fight anti-Semitism than putting such a pathetic guy to jail.

Besides, in addition to the questionable moral constraints on “freedom of expression”, those laws have a more practical downside: sending him to jail may turn him into some sort of martyr, it gives him and his views more media coverage and, last but not least, none of those laws have way reduced anti-Semitism in Europe and in the world. We need to take those facts into account in today’s more global world. For me, if it ain’t working, change it!

As a side note, the most ridicule part of the Irving’s story is that he:

told the court that he had revised his opinion after seeing the personal files of Adolf Eichmann. Speaking in German, he told the court he now accepted that the Nazis had killed millions of Jews.
Some sort of epiphany…?
"I made a mistake when I said there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz," he said. "History is a constantly growing tree - the more you know, the more documents become available, the more you learn. And I have learned a lot since 1989.
"Yes, there were gas chambers. Millions of Jews died. There is no question. I don't know the figures. I'm not an expert on the Holocaust.".

A mistake? That guy, who is 'not an expert on the Holocaust' is just beyond belief, isn't he? I think the idiocy and inconsistency of his words speak for themselves.


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