Feb 20, 2006

On Holocaust Historians And Legal Stupidity

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Left: David Irving, courtesy of Institute for Historical Review

(Vienna, Austria) The news that a British historian has been sentenced to three years in prison for his views on the Holocaust should send shivers down the spine of every person who cares about freedom of speech.

Irving was sentenced to three years in prison today after admitting to an Austrian court that he once denied the Holocaust - a crime in the country where Hitler was born.

The 67-year old historian heads to prison for statements he made during a lecture in Austria in 1989. At the time he said that the gas chambers of Auschwitz were a "fairy tale." In addition, Irving is also on record as declaring that the number of Jews murdered by Nazis was greatly exaggerated, that most Jews died of diseases during World War II, and that until 1943 Adolf Hitler never heard of the Holocaust.

Irving may or may not be a poor historian, but he should be free to speak and print his views on the Holocaust (he now claims that he has backed away from his earlier "denial" statements, and that some of his statements have been taken out of context). I have not personally investigated his research, not do I care to do so; the issue at hand is Irving's right to free speech.

There seems to be a double standard at play in the EU these days: it seems to be acceptable to lampoon the beliefs of one religious group - Muslims - while anyone who attacks historical tenets held by another - Jews - is branded a criminal.

The EU needs to decide just how willing it is to embrace freedom of speech, because this verdict is an embarassment; it also seems more like the type of prosecution prevalent in the Nazi regime the Austrian law purportedly condemns.
brrreeeport krugle

20 comments:

Stefan Schmidt said...

The news that a British historian has been sentenced to three years in prison for his views on the Holocaust should send shivers down the spine of every person who cares about freedom of speech.
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Thank God for common sense.

historymike said...

"Common sense" on my part or that of the Austrian court, Stefan?

Anonymous said...

How can someone deny the Holocaust?

Stefan Schmidt said...

"Common sense" on my part or that of the Austrian court, Stefan?
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What do you think Mike?

Yes, common sense on your part. : )

historymike said...

Gotcha. Thanks for the compliment, although it seems like a no-brainer.

Then again, Irving is up against a tremendous lobby and "industry" of sorts.

Don't get me wrong - I am not one who believes that the Holocaust didn't happen, nor am I one who discounts it.

I am, though, more like Dr. Norman Finkelstein, a Jew and the son of Holocaust survivors, who questions the exploitation of the Holocaust for profit.

historymike said...

And anonymous - better do some more reading. There are quite a few people who deny that the Holocaust ever happened, or who claim that it was limited to a handful of killings not authorized by the Third Reich.

I am not sure where Stefan stands (he's a white nationalist of sorts), but he might be able to direct you to some sites.

Some white nationalists deny the Holocaust, others accept it, and some say things like:"Hitler should have killed MORE Jews."

Again, I am more concerned about freedom of speech than I am the particulars of Irving's arguments (or former arguments, if he has indeed modified them).

Anonymous said...

I thought more highly of you HM until this.

Irving is a closet Nazi, and Nazis should be locked up.

historymike said...

Little did I know how explosive this issue was. I considered it to be more of an academic freedom/freedom of the press issue, more akin to my previous postings today.

anonymous: I have no clue as to Irving's politics, but I have not seen any evidence that he is a Nazi. Your ad hominem attacks are cheap and only serve to demonstrate your ignorance. Provide proof about Irving, or stick it.

And as far as Nazis: they have the right to free speech as much as any other political group (radio shows, pamphlets, speeches).

I may find them to be extreme racists, but they should not be "locked up" unless the break the law, just like any other citizens.

However, I do support the right of municipalities to place reasonable restrictions when a group like the NSM wants to march in a neighborhood hoping for a fight, like what happened in the October 15 Toledo riot at Mulberry and Cental.

That goes beyond free speech and into the realm of intentionally provoking a mob.

Stefan Schmidt said...

I am not sure where Stefan stands
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Certain aspects were exaggerated is my stance.

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but he might be able to direct you to some sites.
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Try Jew Watch (http://www.jewwatch.com/)

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it seems like a no-brainer.
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You would think everyone would believe so until you hear EB (on Nikki’s Nest).

Anonymous said...

Mike, as a daily lurker and occasional poster I truly find your view on this situation saddening. This is not merely an attack on beliefs held by a particular religious group but rather an attack on historical fact. Sometimes there is speech that is so harmful that it must be regulated e.g. yelling fire in a theatre threating to kill the President, or in this case historical revisionism. People such as Irving cloak their true beliefs by being called historical revisionists. These people are not historians in the true sense and have no desire to look critically at history and draw new conclusions, rather their ONLY goal is to deny or minimize the existence of the Holocaust e.g. Mel Gibson's father. How do they do this? They base their claims on faulty science such as, there was no blue residue from Zyklon B (prussic acid) left on the wall of so called "Gas Chambers", also they continually dismiss witnesses such as the sonderkomando. These were the prisoners that loaded the corpses into the furnaces. This situation goes completely beyond a case of free speech and into a case of Morality. Does a country have the moral obligation to determine what speech is so hateful and hurtful that it must be regulated? What about Hate Crime laws? According to the lunkheads who light i.e. burn crosses they are merely making a religious statement. Aren't their rights of free speech being abridged? Let's face it, you can't have true freedom of speech or else their would be chaos, rather there must be certain limits placed upon it for a society to function.
Mike, talk to Dr. Wilox in the history dept at UT he might be able to give you further insight into these non-historians.

historymike said...

Disney attacks "historical fact" every day, but we aren't arresting Michael Eisner. OK, it's a weak analogy, but it underscores my point.

Let the loons spout whatever idiocy they want. Let the peer-review process sort out the frauds, imposters, and poor scholars, not the courts.

I agree that there shoud be limits on free speech, but I disagree that a burning cross is the same as some writer whose book is untruthful.

One can avoid a book, critique a book, or write another book debunking the first.

One cannot necessarily critique a burning cross, or jack-booted NSM members marching on his front lawn.

Again, my problem with the conviction of David Irving is not about his writings, but his right to freedom of speech. I may find his revisionism (or cloaked racism, if you prefer) detestable, but he should have the right to print it.

Otherwise, we are descending down the slippery slope into other forms of fascist repression of ideas and speech.

historymike said...

Also, now the fact remains that Irving will become some sort of martyr for the Holocaust deniers:

"AHA! We TOLD you there is a Jewish conspiracy! Look - they are arresting everyone who dares to question the Holocaust."

You can see an example of the spin being put on this episode at Overthrow.com, the site of National Socialist Movement (NSM) spokesman Bill White:

http://www.overthrow.com/lsn/news.asp?articleID=9015

Anonymous said...

Yeah, he's a crappy historian, Mike, but I agree that we shouldn't jail him for it.

Are we going to jail every crappy writer? If so, Dean Koontz better run.

--Petrograde

M A F said...

First things first Mike, have you no shame? I caught that faint Brreeeport krugle at the end of the post.

Second, apparently in Austria being willfully ignorant is a crime punishable by prison sentence. And I have joked for years, "If ignorance were painful you'd probably be dead."

Apparently there are those getting close to making this statement happen.

Stephanie said...

Austria is in a delicate position. They're strongly anti-Nazi to make up for the fact that the Nazi regime caused so much damage and their reputation has suffered for it (or would if they let it). Perhaps this is over-kill, but I would have to wonder if he spoke out of protest against this law, or if he really just didn't care. And, what took them so long to prosecute?

Personally, I agree with anonymous #3 that freedom of speech is not an absolute. Here in America the Holocaust is not as touchy an issue as it is in Austria. A semi-equivalent would be for someone to claim the concentration camps we had during the McCarthy era never happened...which would fuel those who would wish to repeat the process with contemporary Muslims.

Granted, we don't have a law against it. However, that is partially because it didn't start (or greatly contribute) to a war that involved most of the world. We weren't the bad guys. They were, so to speak, so I can understand why they would be a bit over-zealous in protecting against a repetition of history made possible by denial of the past.

Part of the purpose of studying history is to avoid repeating it. Take that away and....

Inquisitor said...

Personally, i wouldn't take historical facts at faithvalue, holocaust or otherwise. Given that the powers of everyday are capable of mass deception and manipulation, all events, the more sacred they are, ought not to be spared the scrutiny of the sceptical mind.

That said, whilst i applaud Irving's scepticism, his application of it in this instance, as far as all available evidence we the public have come across, is far from laudatory.

Dariush said...

Anon #1: "I thought more highly of you HM until this.

"Irving is a closet Nazi, and Nazis should be locked up."


Just a hunch, but my guess is that Anon #1 and Anon #2 (maybe the same person, can't tell since no handles were used) feel very differently about the Islamophobic cartoon broohaha.

One standard for the Chosen, another for the two-legged cattle and "hewers of wood and drawers of water".

historymike said...

Mac - you are very sharp, and it must be the artist's eye that caught the nearly-hidden nonsense words!

I am also surprised how many "liberals" are piling on Irving and lauding the jail sentence.

Stefan Schmidt said...

Mac - you are very sharp, and it must be the artist's eye that caught the nearly-hidden nonsense words!
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I had to stare at the article for several minutes (after Mac brought this to my attention) before I saw the nearly invisible words.

I also noticed that you have inserted those words into several of your previous articles.

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I am also surprised how many "liberals" are piling on Irving and lauding the jail sentence.
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They are without a doubt, hypocrites.

Name withheld to protect the guilty said...

This discussion has been an illustrated version of the poll I once read that 80% or so of Americans will state that they like free speech, but if you phrase a question "should people have the right to say x," the percentage drops to 50 or below for most topics.

Any government that would pass a law to restrict the content of speech we don't like also has the power to restrict the speech we do like...and it's far too easy to imagine a law like that being used in just the wrong ways.

This is why it's not illegal to burn a cross...on your own property, whereas if you burn it on someone else's, that's trespassing and arson.

Time, manner, and place restrictions, folks. Never push the content underground; that just keeps it from being smacked down publicly and allows it to fester. Freedom of speech should be damn close to absolute; as Mike pointed out, denying the Holocaust is on a far different plane than rallying people to start a new one.