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)SHNS.com)

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