Few people will shed any tears for the “historian” David Irving, jailed in Austria for three years yesterday, having been found guilty of Holocaust denial – a criminal offence under Austrian law. I certainly won’t.
But is it right that someone should be imprisoned for their opinion, regardless of how vile and abhorrent we might find it? Isn’t this the price of freedom of speech: that we have to tolerate the views of extremist, lying, Nazi-sympathising scum like Irving?
If freedom of speech means the right to publish cartoons that upset Muslims, it is also the right of idiots like Irving to publish his “research” arguing that the gas chambers of Auschwitz were a fallacy. (Although he has since revised his opinion of this, apparently. In the light of “new evidence”, he now accepts that they did exist after all. What a formidable researcher.)
Whilst I can understand why a country like Austria would be sensitive about its own part in the Nazi atrocities, it seems counter-productive to me to enforce this law. I hadn’t heard a thing about Irving since he lost a court case in 2000 to Deborah Lipstadt, who first accused him of Holocaust denial. Today he’s on the front page of virtually every newspaper in Britain, possibly Europe. Now he can claim martyrdom and will become a cause célèbre to every dunderhead on the far right.
I think Ms Lipstadt summed it up best: “He should have been met by the sound of one hand clapping. The one thing he deserves, he really deserves, is obscurity.”