Right-wing British historian David Irving pleaded guilty Monday to charges of denying the Holocaust and was sentenced to three years in prison after conceding he was wrong to say there were no Nazi gas chambers at the Auschwitz concentration camp.
Irving, handcuffed and wearing a navy blue suit, arrived in court carrying a copy of one of his most controversial books -- "Hitler's War," which challenges the extent of the Holocaust.
"I made a mistake when I said there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz," Irving told the court before his sentencing.
He had faced up to 10 years in prison.
I completely agree with Wretchard who says:
These Holocaust Denial laws are the poorest defense of truth possible. They allow individuals like Irving, who have written bad history, to clothe themselves with the appearance of martyrdom. Galileo is supported by empirical evidence. Irving cannot even explain the photographs above. But laws establishing "official truth" create categories of the Unmentionable into which subjects like the Jihad, feminism, abortion and Global Warming -- all the assertions, half-truths and humbug of the world -- will presently seek refuge. The best defense of the truth of the holocaust is an uncompromising commitment to free speech.
I really don't want to feel sorry for pathetic people like Irving; I want to denouce his ideas and irrevocably refute them. I want to intellectually mock him and his ideas. I want to expose the truth about what he is saying and marginalize him in the realm of ideas. I might even want to mount a hostile campaign about his books or sue him for the damage that is caused by what he says. But I don't want to send him to prison for 10 years or even 10 minutes-- just for saying it.
Take a look at the mess the political correctness crowd has made for the world with its preoccupation about "hate" speech, which is just another PC euphemism for "official truth". Now we have supposedly "free" media, not publishing stupid cartoons out of so-called "sensitivity" to Islam. Well, people, where does it all stop? Let's take it to the logical conclusion as stated the other day by the outlet for "official truth" in Gaza:
"We will not accept less than severing the heads of those responsible."
No person who truly is committed to free speech can support this kind of insanity.
UPDATE: Jonah Goldberg has some thoughts on this issue-- "No Buts on Free Speech", in which he makes an important distinction between inappropriate and illegal:
Of course some speech is inappropriate. Even some political speech is innapropriate (you would think more conservatives who rightly despise Michael Moore would understand this). But inappropriate shouldn't mean illegal. And yet liberals -- and no shortage of conservatives -- consider criticism of inappropriate speech to be somehow an infringement of free speech rights
Daryl Cagle, however, misses the point in my opinion, as he attempts to create a distinction between political cartoons and ordinary cartoons in the kind of PC doublespeak contortions that are so annoying and prevalent these days.
Cagle seems to be claiming that as a political cartoonist, he is a journalist and entitled to free speech protection. But regular cartoonists, or "illustrators" (e.g., the Danish cartoonists who were--gasp!--paid money for their work), are not. Cagle seems upset that now, because of those darn illustrators, some of his rights as a journalist might be impinged on because of the brouhaha. Read his piece and see what you think.
UPDATE II: Sigmund,Carl & Alfred disagree with me and say that Irving got off lightly for denying the truth. I respect SC&A greatly, and he makes a strong case, but in the end, if we punish everyone who is in denial about truth or reality, the courts would cease to function as instruments of the law providing legal justice, and simply become courts of divine justice. Humans are not gods.
Personally, I prefer to let reality be the final court for people like Irving and anyone who believes in what he says. As SC&A say, there are consequences to denying the truth--the real world sees to that-- and some of those consequences are far more costly than a short stay in a prison cell.
It is possible that I am being too absolutist (who me?) about this issue; but it seems to me to be a fundamental one where any compromise will lead to disaster.
UPDATE III: Neo weighs in in her usual thoughtful and researched manner:
The first thing I noticed is that Holocaust Denial itself is not a crime; it's the public pronouncement of it that is penalized. The speech itself is allowed; what is not allowed is to say it publicly in front of groups--that is, to preach it. It may seem a small distinction, but it's an interesting one.
The second thing I noticed was that, with the exception of Switzerland (and of course Israel, which represents an obvious special case), the countries involved have characteristics that Great Britain, the US, and Canada do not share: their experience of Nazism or of Nazi occupation in WWII.
To Germans and Austrians the danger of public promulgation of Holocaust denial may indeed (especially when the laws were first passed) have seemed like the danger of yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater. Likewise--although to a lesser extant--to countries such as Poland, who have reason to know the Holocaust in a way that countries such as Britain and the US never can, Holocaust denial may seem a particular affront and a special danger. "He jests at scars that never felt a wound;" and so it is much easier for countries who have not experienced such a cataclysmic upheaval to be absolutist about protecting freedom of speech.
Read it all. This post and SC&A's would suggest to me that countries like Austria, Germany etc. who have these kind of laws are on a differnt kind of learning curve about this issue. DRJ, one of the commenters on this thread, put it this way:
I value free speech and I think the Austrian law is a mistake, but then I live in America where the Holocaust is generally viewed as evil genocide. It's my understanding that not all Austrians shared that view. Laws like this were and are Austria's way of dealing with lingering anti-Semitism.
I hope that Austrians will view the Irving case as a reason to rethink their laws on free speech but i'm not worried about David Irving's legal problems and I don't think this makes him a martyr.
This is all food for thought on this issue, and admittedly these comments and posts bring up issues that I had not considered in my original post, but are certainly worthy of consideration.
UPDATE IV: If you want yet another perspective, check out ShrinkWrapped, who likens David Irving to the abusive parent who denies ever abusing their child. The child abuse is heinous and the ongoing damage to the child from the denial compounds the damage.
My head hurts.