Bil Browning

Does racism trump free speech?

Filed By Bil Browning | February 20, 2006 11:07 PM | comments

Filed in: Media

What do you think of this? There's this slimy guy, David Irving, in England who calls himself a historian. He's a holocaust denier. Now we all know that these people are slimy mofos who for some reason just can't accept that the Nazis weren't peace-loving beatniks. That's not the discussion at hand...

What's got my feathers ruffled is this news story. It seems that a court in Austria has found Mr. Irving guilty of "denying the holocaust" which is a crime there. (They were once a Nazi controlled country themselves - perhaps the subject is a tad touchy there...) However, his offensive "offense" took place during a speech in 1989. It's now 2006.

Are they a little late in prosecuting this crime? I mean, really. You have the text or recording of the speech. You see if they qualify as abiding the law. If they do, you leave the poor bastard alone - if not, you pull out the cuffs and lock him up. Seventeen years later? That's just revenge for something...

While Mr. Irving's philosophy is full of shit (a la Fred Phelps' loving, caring website about the dangers of homosexuality), I also have a problem with putting someone in prison for 3 years for being stupid. Because that's what it amounts to - he's a racist, he's an idiot, and he's not politically correct. But is that worth taking three years of his life in prison? Remember, his "crime" is denying the holocaust took place.

And what's up with the guy saying he'd changed his mind during his trial and now admitted the holocaust did exist? I mean, he's written books and made speeches for years, true. But, so what? Why not let the man keep trying to prove to the rest of the world's population how big of an idiot he is? Is it because people will listen to him?

Could that be it? Is the answer to "Why do we have to prosecute this guy for his speech?" be "Because people will listen to him?" Obviously, we don't want a ton of folks going around denying the holocaust and not learning from the mistakes of history. But is the lesson important enough to put someone in prison for it? For years? For a speech?

I find this one a sticky situation. What do the rest of you think?

Irving's trial was held amid new -- and fierce -- debate over freedom of expression in Europe, where the printing and reprinting of unflattering cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad has triggered violent protests worldwide.

"Of course it's a question of freedom of speech," Irving said. "The law is an ass."

The court convicted Irving after his guilty plea under the 1992 law, which applies to "whoever denies, grossly plays down, approves or tries to excuse the National Socialist genocide or other National Socialist crimes against humanity in a print publication, in broadcast or other media."

Austria was Hitler's birthplace and once was run by the Nazis.

Leave a comment

We want to know your opinion on this issue! While arguing about an opinion or idea is encouraged, personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please be respectful of others.

The editorial team will delete a comment that is off-topic, abusive, exceptionally incoherent, includes a slur or is soliciting and/or advertising. Repeated violations of the policy will result in revocation of your user account. Please keep in mind that this is our online home; ill-mannered house guests will be shown the door.

Sheila Kennedy | February 21, 2006 8:36 AM

You are either for freedom of expression or you aren't. The only difference between wingnuts on the right and those on the left is the particular content they are penalizing. If there isn't--in Holmes' famous phrase--"freedom for the idea we hate," then there isn't freedom, period. I'm Jewish, but I know I'm not safe in a society where the majority can decide which ideas are acceptable. The antidote to stupid ideas, or wrong ideas, is better ideas--not suppression.

I agree. If we ban speech we mystify the hate words. I read an article which noted in Germany, teens have had a difficult time rebelling from the 60s era permissive parents, so the neo-nazi or right wing movement is gaining in popularity because it has a certain cachet. This is no doubt because the EU has made codified what is acceptable speech and what is not.

In this particular case, David Irving's words and hateful denials of the holocaust have gained a much wider audience because of this trial. I think it would have been better to leave him alone and keep him marginalized rather than to make him a martyr.

Of course, many of my European friends see it differently. They feel our notion of free speech is antiquated. They say we don't have a full understanding of what the holocaust did to the respective European mind. On the other hand, I think I do. I think a lot of is German guilt or even European guilt over their complicity in the holocaust. I understand the thought behind this and it is almost an admirable attempt to redress wrong. On the other hand it is flawed places too much trust in the government to determine what is right, so that's why I cannot agree.

(sorry for the long post)

Count me in. I'd rather stand for freedom of speech, no matter how distasteful, than squelch it and risk a group's getting mileage from being the oppressed "underdog."