Defending free speech

    An Austrian court has sentenced disgraced historian David Irving to three
    years in prison. But prosecutors say that isn’t punishment enough and that the
    67-year-old should serve the full 10 years for violating an Austrian law
    proscribing anyone who “denies, grossly plays down, approves or tries to excuse
    the National Socialist genocide or other National Socialist crimes against
    humanity …”

    Austria has reason to be sensitive to this, give its squalid embrace of the
    Third Reich and its willing participation in its crimes. But Irving should not
    be sentenced to jail for 10 or even three years, and Austria does Western values
    no favor by criminalizing his fanciful re-creation of Nazi history.

    Irving is our time’s most notorious Holocaust denier, who at various times,
    according to accounts, has claimed Anne Frank did not write her diary, that
    Hitler never ordered the destruction of European Jewry and that there was never
    a systematic, mass-scale murder of Jews in World War II. The missing Jews, he
    said, either died of disease or decamped for Palestine.

    Irving, again according to accounts, was at one time an extremely promising
    historian with great research and language skills, but his reputation and
    standing among his colleagues declined steadily as he waded ever deeper into the
    swamps of Holocaust denial.

    He was ruined professionally and financially in 2000 when he lost a libel
    case he had brought against American historian Deborah Lipstadt when a British
    court deemed him a Holocaust denier, an anti-Semite and a racist. He kept
    speaking and writing, but in the arena of free speech and debate his books and
    ideas became ever more marginalized. It is one of the reasons we have a First
    Amendment in this country.

    Irving retained a small following among anti-Semites, neo-Nazis and
    anti-Israel mullahs, but he was effectively consigned to obscurity until Austria
    arrested him last November for two speeches he had made there in 1989.

    Austria has made it difficult for the West to explain to the Arab Muslim
    world why publishing cartoons it finds offensive is a principle worthy of
    protection while Irving’s own offensive musings are worthy of prison.

    And as a matter of principle, Irving’s right to speak must be defended. He
    should not be in a position to add the honorific “free-speech martyr” to his
    shabby resume. “Crackpot” will continue to do just fine.

    (Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)