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Denying The Holocaust: Free Speech Under Scrutiny

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We are all aware that British historian David Irving has been jailed in Austria for denying the Holocaust. His imprisonment (which aptly incorporates a Kosher menu) for exercising the right to denial and free speech has sparked a debate in Austria about the country’s Holocaust denial law, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment.

My thoughts on this issue are very similar to that of the cartoon affair, in that freedom of speech is an important right that must be exercised appropriately. On one hand, I think that it is the job of a historian to argue such points based upon the evidence, which Irving said did not exist. On the other hand, since denial of the Holocaust is offensive to Jewish sentiments, it should be restrained, particularly in a country which has laws to this effect. However, I do not read any ‘freedom of speech’ arguments by the Austrian government in Irving’s favour, and I do not hear many ‘freedom of expression’ justifications, as with the cartoons dispute. It appears that Austria did not have a problem with its newspapers publishing the anti-Islamic cartoons, therefore constituting a clear double standard. Due to this existence of this evident hypocrisy and grey areas regarding ‘freedom of speech’, it is necessary that Muslims be given the same legal safeguards as Jews against offence. If combating anti-Semitism is the intention behind the conviction, then is it not fair to say that Islamophobia should receive equal attention? In the EU both anti-Semitism and xenophobia are considered dangerous phenomenon’s that must be observed and combated, but it is clear that such attention is not extended to address offensivities towards Muslims. Will Austria now support Muslims in pursuing prosecutions of the publishers of the notorious Danish cartoons in many European countries, including Austria? I think not.

Maybe it is the case in Europe that only the sentiments of Jews (and in part, Christians and Atheists) are protected. Previously, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was denounced by Europe for calling the Holocaust a myth, which was deemed unacceptable in terms of freedom of speech. Then Europe considered the Jyllands-Posten cartoons as ‘freedom of expression’, but denounced Iran for its Holocaust cartoon competition. Racist Nick Griffin was allowed to transgress ‘freedom of speech’, while extremist Abu Hamza was convicted for doing the same. Now David Irving’s been unnecessarily convicted for challenging the conventional wisdom on the Holocaust, which evidences stupidity but is still in fact the historian’s task in investigating this piece of history. Taking into account the pros and cons of these issues, Europe can no longer be considered to be the home of free speech.

The fact is that while Irving is branded a racist and anti-Semite, he is guilty in this particular instance only of denying truth. His Holocaust denial has been compared to be similar to a man shouting fire in a crowded theatre, but the fact is that he did not even do this. To imply this issue is about public safety would be merely to side-step calling the Austrian government hypocrites, due to it ignoring Irving’s right to free speech in light of the cartoon affair. If the Austrians were worried about public safety then they should have banned those blasphemous cartoons and made apologies at the first opportunity. Irvings comments were many years old and in all this time I have not heard them to be the cause of any incidents affecting public safety. Nevertheless, I suspect the Austrian government would rather be considered hypocritical if imprisoning Irving allows a further distancing from the “achievements” of its most notorious son, Adolf Hitler.

The truth that Irving weakly denied is that the Holocaust occurred. That’s if what I learnt in history, reading the Diary of Anne Frank and watching Schindler’s List is correct. Irving’s denial may be offensive, but is in an entirely different vein to blasphemy, slander and abuse. If he had denied the existence of Santa or the Devil, denied that Islam exists as a religion of peace, or denied the existence of dossiers stating there was no need to invade Iraq, would he be considered as transgressing ‘freedom of speech’ or not? It is correct to condemn a person for transgressing the bounds of free speech to attack and offend others, but such an argument cannot be used against one that denies something occurred. If Irving had preached his works to me regarding this taboo subject I would have simply asked him to prove it. Apparently this has already been done as during the trial he retracted his statements that the Holocaust did not occur.

Following on from the David Irving case which has been considered too lenient, an Israeli lawyer is seeking a German prosecution of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for denying the Holocaust. Although Ahmadinejad did not deny the Holocaust in German, a law passed in 2005 permits the filing of international cases of this nature in German courts. This is further evidence of the European condition that the slandering of Muslims is permitted under the precept of ‘freedom of speech’ while offending Jews is considered a criminal act that transcends international boundaries and transgresses ‘freedom of speech’. As I have said, Europe can no longer be considered to be the home of free speech.

More provocative opinions at my blog, Opinionated Voice.

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  • Scrunity?

  • gonzo marx

    ko..i’m amused and confused at the same time…

    now, follow along…as far as i’m Aware…Austria has no Law guaranteeing Freedom of Speech

    but, as a Country which had Camps in it, and folks walking around who had first hand Knowledge, they DO have a Law concerning Holocaust Denial

    nuff said?


  • lumpy

    did I actually see you suggest that at one time europe was considered the ‘home of free speech’? when was that, during the stone age? starting with the exile of demosthenes and carrying on with the christian era free speech has never been a european ‘value’. ask cicero, galileo, thomas more, and rousseau how well their attempts at free speech went over.

  • troll

    gotta go with the point of this absurd post…

    any law that tells me what not to believe and what not to say about said non beliefs is for the birds

    (despite historical context)


    ps David Irving takes himself far too seriously…something of a martyr syndrome going on there – ?

  • Europe can no longer be considered to be the home of free speech.

    I have NEVER heard of Europe being considered the Home of Free Speech. There’s been no other place on Earth as wildly inconsistent about Free Speech.

    For that matter, why are we talking about Europe as though it were one single community? It isn’t. There are 48 separate states in Europe, for God’s sake. And surprisingly enough, they have different sets of laws and policies. To say “Europe said this” or “Europe did that” is laughable.

  • I think many of you yanks fail to realise what ‘free speech’ is in Europe. ‘Free speech’ legislation under the Human Rights act is referred to in many instances when ‘free speech’ is in question.

    With the cartoons controversy, many countries (including Austria) chose “to anger millions of Muslims in the name of ‘freedom of speech'”. Many advocated the publishing and republishing of the cartoons to show that ‘freedom of speech’ is a protected right that must not be restrained. Therefore, contrary to the tone of some comments above, ‘free speech’ can and should be applied to a collective Europe. However, although Muslims can be slandered under ‘freedom of speech’, apparantly this doesnt stretch to Holocaust denial which is outlawed in Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Israel, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Switzerland. Are these countries right to pick and choose to curtail freedom of speech when it comes to denying the Holocaust?

    In this instance, David Irving has been imprisoned for what could be argued to be a similar action. Why is it that Austria and many other countries can offend, slander and blaspheme against millions of Muslims and excuse it as ‘freedom of speech’, but when ONE man denies the Holocaust it is not considered ‘freedom of speech’.

    In 1991 sociologist Jean Baudrillard claimed the Gulf War did not occur and there was not talk of any prosecution for doing so. Are we to understand that if similar comments had been made against the Holocaust then a prison cell should have been made available?

  • It’s my understanding after spending a couple of months in Germany last year that every student in a German school is required to visit at least one concentration camp during their school years. Doesn’t sound like denial to me…

  • Andy, I’ve lost you there. The law is that they can prosecute PEOPLE that deny the Holocaust. I am unsure how they define denial in this context. The point is that a week ago many of these countries were advocating unbridled free speech.

  • I don’t believe that denying the holocoust should get you locked up…maybe it should get you an ass whipping for being an idiot…

    I don’t know anything about Austrian law…the only european law I’m familiar with since my visit to Germany last August through October is that you can’t bring more than 2 cartons of cigarettes with you into the country…and I learned that one the hard way.

  • Exactly my point. Irving definatly deserved an ass whipping, and his already destroyed his career as a historian for his comments. No doubt his conviction will bring him a wealth of supporters and increase his book sales which I suspect is now in great demand.

    In this instance, he should have been allowed the freedom of speech to make a fool of himself. However, he was not!

  • I am not surprised by this double standard.

    I wonder how laws in Europe treat different religions. I know there is prejudice against Muslims, Arabs and Persians and in some cases this carries over to legal standards.

    I was aware that the laws in England did not extend the same rights to Muslims or Hindus as it did to Anglicans and Catholics and that the Scotland and Northern Ireland were more liberal in this respect.

    If you look at the rioting as simply a matter of free speech you are missing the point.

  • Purple tigress, you are correct in that Muslims in Europe receive much prejudice and these issues evidence it by way of the clear double standards.

  • Far be it from me to give life to the issue which apparantly wasnt worthy of further debate.

    However, London mayor Ken Livingstone recieved a four-week suspension for comparing a Jewish journalist to a Nazi concentration camp guard. Although Ken Livingstone didn’t actually call him a Nazi concentration camp guard or express support for Nazi’s, the Adjudication Panel for England ruled he was “unnecessarily insensitive and offensive”, “and did damage to the reputation of his office”. If Tony Blair’s 45 minute WMD attack claim wasn’t considered bringing his office into disrepute, then neither was Red Ken’s.

    With every incident it becomes clearer that freedom of speech and expression is permissible as long at doesn’t offend Jews. In Britain it is permissible for the BNP to call Islam a “wicked, vicious faith” and to use offensive cartoons as part of its campaign strategy. Throughout Europe it is permissible for Newspapers to publish cartoons that slander Islam and offend millions of Muslims. This is what is known in Europe as ‘Freedom of Speech and Expression’.

    What is not permissible in Europe under the regulations of ‘Freedom of Speech and Expression’ is anything that remotely offends Jewish people. Denial of the Holocaust will get you imprisoned and reference to the Holocaust in earshot of a Jew will get you suspended from office. I for one am sick of this pandering to Jewish sentiments and this evident double standard when it comes to the use of free speech.

  • i don’t think europe has double standards…they’ve established themselves as being pro-jewish and anti-muslim…they’ve not deviated from that…yes, in many ways they’re one way, and for better or worse, they’re consistent about it…
    to have the idea that “free speech” and europe ever went hand in hand is to have an americanized view of the rest of the world…
    applying american standards outside of america is just dumb…it’s never been that way and will probably never be that way…americanized views of the world just add to the gross miscommunications around the world by way of unreasonable expectations…anyone who actually expected the muslim world to react differently to the cartoons, or thought europeans wouldn’t jump at the chance to publish the cartoons, had their historical and academic heads in the sand…violent, hypocritical, whatever — both were more than a wee bit predictable…the only “surprise” was how many were surprised…what did we think they were going to do? act like americans about it? why? they’re not americans…
    those who wish the rest of the world were more americanized would sooner get their wish by not expecting the rest of the world to act like they’re all from san diego, detroit, or virginia beach…they’re not, it’s that simple…
    austrians are from austria — that’s why they act like austrians…same for germans, afghans, nigerians, etc…

    this trend of “everyone’s experiences are my experiences” is bizarre in that the internet alone has made millions and millions of people privy to other cultures and customs — and yet as many still act like it’s weird that some people carry their household goods on their heads and that others live above the tree line…

  • Jamal,

    This may sound unjust to you. But in this unjust world, there is such a thing as “paying dues.”

    It may not seem fair that Jews get preferential treatment when they are insulted in Europe, but Europe is a Jewish graveyard. Jewish history is something that Jews often desire to forget because it is largely about the humiliations and suffering that our people suffered at the hands of Europeans. The pinnacle of this was the murder of one third of us in Poland and Eastern Europe by the Nazis.

    So Jews are “benefitting” by the “dues” paid. Believe me, I would rather we were not benefitted – but that we hadn’t had to “pay” the dues either.

    And more to the point, I wish our people would stop viewing themselves as victims and vote with their feet and come home.

    Ken Livingston richly deserved his little suspension from office – but I’d rather that Jews not be in London to even have to give a damn what the anti-Semitic bastard says.

  • roger brandt

    Imprisoning a man for holocoust denial is a joke.You can deny God exists.You can deny any group of people were murdered–In Stalins Soviet Union,Red China,Cambodie Etc-If you get fools to believe you wonderful!No one says anything. But the Holocaust!Why are Jews a sacred cow?They just murdered thousands of inocent civilians in Barut.They had every right to bomb the area where rocket attacks were coming from as well as roads to bring up more rockets.But those inocents in Barut are just as dead as any Jew that was murdered in
    the (Death Camps)Will the Israeli Leadershp be tried for war crimes?Of course not.
    Millions of jews were murdered in the death camps.Maybe it is time to do some research on the Holacaust.Find out exactly how many were murdered,and why.Also we could find out how many ethnic Germans and Slavs were murdered by communist governments in Eastern Europe after the war.And war prisoners murdered or starved by the Russians and even Americans and French after the war in their prisoner of war camps.Did these things happen,and why werent the guilty punished?
    Lets find out!This isnt Holacaust denial,its a search for the truth.Maybe the Man in Iran has some good thoughts there.