Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Irving's views: "straight from the Munich beer halls of 1923"

William Rubenstein, professor of modern history at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, argues - in a posting to the U.K.'s Social Affairs Unit blog - that:
Irving holds absurd views about the Holocaust and his dislike of Jews comes straight from the Munich beer halls of 1923 - but he should not have been imprisoned.


As everyone knows, David Irving was recently jailed for three years in Austria for propagating the denial of the Holocaust. His conviction raises many very serious questions about both Irving himself and the nature of free speech, and deserves a close discussion. The issues here are, I think, much more complicated than is apparent at first glance.

First, as to Holocaust denial, there is no doubt that it is one of the most offensive and shocking of all aspects of modern anti-semitism. It is also absurd.[...]

It has also entered, even more dangerously, into the rhetoric of Islamic anti-semitism, most recently in the statements of the appalling President of Iran. I state these self-evident propositions here purely to show that I fully understand the evil nature of Holocaust denial.

Secondly, there is David Irving. Irving is such a complex character that writing about him in a brief space is very difficult. As an historian - and entirely apart from any question of his views on the Holocaust - he has been a highly energetic and arguably important researcher of primary evidence about the Nazi period whose judgments are often reasonable.

Nevertheless, he is also evidently full of deficiencies. Like most non-academic historians, he fails to place his narratives in a wider contextualized framework.


It seems clear, however, that Irving has a chronic, deep-seated, ideological problem (to put it no more strongly) about Jews, whom he often refers to on his website as the "traditional enemies". Irving dislikes the Jews - although not necessarily individual Jews - and his attitude towards them seems to come straight from a Munich beer hall in 1923 - they are all Marxist revolutionaries, international financial swindlers, white slavers, and so on - to which he has added a particularly venomous hostility towards Israel and its policies more commonly associated in the Western world today with the extreme left. [...]


One can understand why Austria, Hitler's homeland, should make Holocaust denial illegal. [...] Obviously, I fully understand (and understand from a personal perspective) the anguish of Holocaust survivors and their relatives who encounter such propaganda, but there is no rational reason to punish the exposition of Holocaust denial while leaving other perhaps equally offensive forms of expression untouched. Criminalising Holocaust denial simply invites all other groups to lobby for enacting similar legal penalties against their pet hates [...]

The Austrian government acted unwisely in prosecuting him, although I might have a different view if he could be shown to be working with Austrian neo-Nazis. It will also be interesting to see what would happen if the odious President of Iran ever visits Vienna - not a lone wolf autodidact, but the head of state of a country of 70 million people which is developing nuclear weapons and wants the State of Israel destroyed - he is also a Holocaust denier. Let us then see if the Austrian government has the courage of its convictions over this question.

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