Friday, December 30, 2005

Free Speech and Laws vs. Holocaust Denial [3]

An recent article in the Christian Science Monitor regarding the failure of European intellectuals to support David Irving's right to freedom of speech argued that people were being wrongly "picky" about those they were willing to defend and those they were not. It contrasted the reaction to Irving's situation with that of Orhan Pamuk, a Turkish novelist, who is on trial for having written about the Armenian genocide.

There has been a hew and a cry about Pamuk but not about Irving, who the author acknowledges has views that are quite sleazy.

Yesterday I was interviewed by the author of the article, Brendan O'Neill, who is deputy editor of spiked ( He wanted to know my response to Irving's arrest and to the abrogation of his rights of freedom of speech.

Though my friend and solicitor, Anthony Julius, has responded to all requests about Irving with the comment: "About David Irving I have nothing to say," I did not feel I had that luxury.

I made the following points:
1. I am against laws criminalizing Holocaust denial.

2. I dislike being in favor of censorship and also don't believe that these laws work. Instead they make Holocaust denial "forbidden fruit," and consequently, all the more tempting.

3. None the less, I think that Germany and Austria are in a different situation than other countries. Their history is so terrible and this is all so recent that I fully understand why they would have such laws.

4. I pointed out that Austria's law was against minimization of the crimes of the Third Reich and had been instituted in the late 1940s. It was not, specifically a law against Holocaust denial.

5. I also observed that Austria is a democracy and if its people were opposed to such a law they could vote it out. Is it not a bit conceited on the part of Western intellectuals to impose their views on Austria's voters.

6. While I don't believe you can defeat deniers with these laws, I also don't believe there is any sense in debating with them [something O'Neill seemed to think was the solution].

7. I also pointed out that Irving
a)knew there was a warrant for his arrest
b) went to Austria anyway
c) apparently announced the fact that he was coming to Austria [or at the least made no secret about it]. It's hard to sympathize with him.

What he did can be compared, to my mind, to pissing in the face of the Austrian authorities. They essentially had two choices: either ignore him and acknowledge that their laws are meaningless or enforce the law and arrest him.

This was not a great principled battle about freedom of speech. This was someone testing the system and when he gets caught he crys, "freedom of speech."

I will let you know once his article appears.

1 comment:

Neil Craig said...

I testing the system & testing free speech are synonymous.

The problem with criminalising holocaust denial is that you have to define absolutely what is allowable.

Should it be criminal to say that only 4.5 million Jews died, How about 6 million (figure of up to 11 million have been made)? Or 2 million? Or 150,000 (the figure given by Tudjman NATO's Croatian ally? Or to say that the jewish Holocaust is minor comared to Hitler's Soviet Holocaust (24 million)? Or to deny the significance of the Soviet genocide? Or to say the it is only half the genocide of the Amerindians? Or less than that of Croatian & Moslem genocide in Yugoslavia, Our ally Turkey's Armenian massacres & Biafra in total? Or that it was no more than the number killed by America in Indochina?

Once you start start treating genocide as matter of how many are killed not just on whose side you find a lot worse than Irving working for the good guys.