Tuesday, February 21, 2006

David Irving Stinks. Now Cut Him Loose.

The Globe and Mail gets it right. David Irving is "a Holocaust-denier, an anti-Semite and a racist," whose grotesque ravings include the claims that "Anne Frank could not have written her famous diary, that Hitler never gave an order to exterminate the Jews and that 'Auschwitz is a legend, just like the Turin Shroud.' " Although they don't say it, Irving is by any civilized standard a creep, a jerk and a buffoon.

But he doesn't belong in prison.

It does not take a genius to see that the German and Austrian laws against Holocaust denial are powerful symbols of the damage that Nazism did to, and through, those nations. They are a powerful sign of the commitment those nations made to acknowledge the crimes of their own citizens and governments, and to brook no neo-fascist foolishness.

But the laws are wrong.

Freedom of speech is not an option for a free society. It is a requirement. It cannot be dispensed with simply because the person speaking, or the things he says, are wicked. Irving's madness has made him a contemptible laughginstock among historians. But -- even if he has incidentally given comfort to the most wretched remainders of a justly defeated ideology -- he has not incited violence or given away national security information. (The question of whether he has slandered anybody is a bit dicier, but can surely be dealth with by a nation's usual laws).

If we are going to be repelled by Islamofascist fatwas against offensive Danish cartooning, we have little choice but to be equally repelled by Austrian imprisonment of a man for the presentation of offensive (and patently false) historical claims. And it is no contradiction to find Irving no less repellant than the laws which have convicted him.

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