I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.

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.”

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Centrist. Atlanticist. Dry liberal. Anti-totalitarian. Post-ideological pragmatist. Child of The Enlightenment. Toucan.

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16 comments on “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.
  1. ph says:

    I can understand why Austria and Germany had such laws immediately after WW2, but 60 years on these laws have past their sell by date.
    The man should be free to put himself up for ridicule and scorn

  2. H says:

    On Principle I could not agree more with the concept of freedom of speech. However once again I will argue my case for Austria’s right to limit it, by citing other limitations on the right to free speech.

    No-one is allowed to make up a lie about someone else and shout it publicly or air it over television or airwaves or write it in a book or newspaper – that would be slander or libel. These things are banned not only because the words themselves are seen as a form of attack and injury, but because they have the power to incite physical attack (see for historic example, the blood libels made up by christian leaders leading to the murder of Jews throughout history).

    On a slightly different note, in the US (and I am pretty sure, Britain), it is forbiden to canvas for votes outside polling stations, as it is seen as intimidatory. Even if one just shouts, “Tony Blair is responsible for the death of 100,000 Iraqi children”, that is an offence, depending on when and where one says it.

    Last example is the simplest – incitement. You can’t tell someone the infidels are pigs, it is the duty of every muslim to kill them, the koran tells us that the rocks will call out to you, here is an infidel hiding behind me come and kill him, and then expect not to get done for incitement if your listeners go and kill someone.

    The point is this – everyone is entitled to their opinion, but societies do limit the manner and the content of how one expresses one’s opinion. Austria, due to its history believes that holocaust denial is a lie, and a dangerous lie which injures a wide populace (whether dead or alive). Thus it is like slander. And in this sense they make it a criminal offence.

    I happen to think that strategically it is a mistake – for you are right, Irving and his message of hate will only become more popular and more widespread because of this, but the principled stand in defence of free speech will only go so far. No right is absolute – only obligations are absolute.

  3. Citizen Sane says:

    All valid points. But you can’t really slander or libel a noun can you? I appreciate that these views would (understandably) offend most people – they offend me – but this cannot qualify as slander.

    And of course there has to be limits to freedom of speech. A famous example is that about shouting “fire!” in a crowded theatre. Or “shark!” down at the beach. Clearly one person’s right to freedom of speech should not encroach another’s personal safety.

    But it isn’t right to prosecute somebody for their opinions no matter how vile and repugnant they might be. This even has to apply to vermin like David Irving.

  4. Jim says:

    Austria and Germany for obvious reasons are special cases where Holocaust denial is concerned – Irving has said the same things elsewhere and got away with it. It’s not so much a matter of free speech as breaking local Austrian laws. Nevertheless, I don’t think his noxious views should be prohibited by law, as being made to restate the truth simply reinforces its power, even when faced with a lie as tawdry as this. That was what happened in the 2000 libel action against Deborah Lipstadt, when Irving’s reputation was totallly destroyed. Truth needs to be tested against lies every so often to keep its strength.

  5. H says:

    Citizen,

    My point was it is possible to slander the dead (i.e, denying they ever existed, or that they were murdered). And perhaps also, the orphans and survivors are the victims of slander, if he is claiming that they are faking their orphanhood or victimhood. A friend of mine’s dad had to escape europe at the age of 7, as an orphan – he grew up in an orphanage and has no family (except for the one he founded). David Irving is calling him a liar. That could count as slander.

    AS I stated – I also don’t think Irving should be locked up – because I know that it only supports his cause – but that is on a strategic level, we are talking. Talking on a legal or ethical level, there is nothing wrong with making holocaust denial a crime.

  6. ph says:

    Should the denial of other past horrendous events also be a crime?
    I do not know where you would draw the line. Number of people involved, distance in time. If I said that the good folk of York did not herd hundreds of Jews into a tower and then set it alight in the C12th , should I be prosecuted.

  7. Citizen Sane says:

    That’s a very good point. How about denying that slavery ever existed? That Native Americans were deliberately infected with smallpox? That Romans threw Christians to the lions? That the Serbs slaughtered thousands in Srebrenica? That genocide in Sudan is happening right now?

  8. sparx says:

    As all the posts over here recently seem to be boiling down to whether we have a right to offend and who can we be offensive to, I have come across this article on Guardian Online posted last Sunday.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/Columnists/Column/0,,1713283,00.html

    This pretty much sums up my views on the whole bloody mess but as I’m not too hot on putting my thoughts into words I’m going to let you all read them from a professional.

  9. ph says:

    We have the right to offend whoever we want (not sure about race and disability though), although in doing so we may look pathetic (as many of the NBA do) and the offenders should be brave enough to admit that they really have no other abilities than to be offensive.
    On the other hand there are too many individuals, racial groups, religious groups etc etc, who are all too willing to tahe offence. In reality I doubt they often are, but realise that by feigning outrage their group’s influence over soceity at large will be increased. One could call it cultural bullying

  10. H says:

    Ph,

    I would agree that denial of classic Catholic Judeophobia would be an even more ridiculous thing to ban. I think the key point you made was “where do you draw the line?”

    I think that is why Irving got prosecuted in Austria and could have been in Germany – there the line is not ready to be drawn because the people he “offended” are still alive and walking around.

    As I have already said – I am not in favour of Irving being jailed, but I am in favour of each nation deciding for themselves what are the acceptable limits on freedom of speech within their own borders as long as that is the will of the people and those limitations are deemed necessary for the protection of other freedoms, privileges or rights or for the safety and security of society.

  11. dw says:

    h, ‘freedom of speech’ is the flip side of ‘rights of assoiation’ and both are supported with ‘property rights’ and ‘rights of assembly’ which allows for organized discrimination in favor of a common good where ever the governmentt has no business interfering.

    For now the liberal translates legal equality into idealogical equivalence and that is the only way he can get help to build his house of fascist socialism.

    By the way, do you think the intimidating Muslim free speech calls for some jail time? I mean they belong to a billion strong collective that actually threatens your way of life unless you support them, or at least not oppose their desire to convert where ever they immigrate. Their conversion methods are only checked by force, or did you not know that? Check out a little history of all the worlds ongoing conflicts and see what you think unless you are a Liberal minion. Try wikipedia to start.

    CS does his homework and is open minded and I would be careful in challenging him but you are American h, and he does not know our system well enough to judge what you are saying. We have a Constitutional right to lie, hate and slander (free speech) and others have a right to sue us if we cause them real injury. Real injury is what the courts decide. And we have laws against inciting riot but liberals use incitement for gain so those laws are reserved against conservative whites and ethnics.

    Their is a perpetual litigation over free speech here and only the liberal relys on ignorance for converts and wants to limit debate of issues by subjecting free speech to the offence of special interest and ignorant ethnics (or maybe just unassimilated). Free speech that offends or threatens Whites or Christians of whom created, and try to maintain this system of freedom inadvertantly protect hate speech against themselves. That tells em all I need to know about the Liberal concept of free speech. You are an enemy and you hate and that is why you are so afraid of free speech. More often than not you cannot win an informed debate nor will you allow one where you can. And that is sceary.

    We can lie and slander and people do canvas for votes here, just not in the open street.

  12. dw says:

    Read you comment again h and it is now twice as offensive.

  13. Citizen Sane says:

    Actually DW, I think H is English but living in Israel. Or he may well be Israeli come to think of it. For some reason I’ve always assumed he’s a Brit.

  14. dw says:

    He is very intellegent and no matter how I sound against him I would have to respect his view as he does care but if he is a mainstream International Liberal I will consider him an enemy no matter where he lives or what nationality. But my view has no real importance outside of my own country unless someone agrees.

    Hey CS I miss comming here but am so involved in the crap and a particular site here and my pea brain can’t follow much else. Hope all you guys are well.

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