Well, well, well...
Despite my general dislike of hate speech laws and laws in some European countries against denying the Holocaust and incitement to racial hatred, it's still rather hard for me not to feel a wee bit of schadenfreude upon learning of this story yesterday:
VIENNA, Austria (AP) - Right-wing British historian David Irving, who once famously said that Adolf Hitler knew nothing about the systematic slaughter of 6 million Jews, has been arrested in Austria on a warrant accusing him of denying the Holocaust.
Irving, 67, was detained Nov. 11 in the southern province of Styria on a warrant issued in 1989 under Austrian laws making Holocaust denial a crime, police Maj. Rudolf Gollia, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said Thursday.
Austrian media said the charges stemmed from speeches Irving delivered that year in Vienna and in the southern town of Leoben.
In a statement posted on his Web site, Irving's supporters said he was arrested while on a one-day visit to Vienna, where they said he had been invited ``by courageous students to address an ancient university association.''
Despite precautions taken by Irving, he was arrested by police who allegedly learned of his visit ``by wiretaps or intercepting e-mails,'' the statement alleged. It said that en route to Austria, Irving had privately visited German playwright Rolf Hochhuth, a friend he had not seen in 20 years.
The Britain-based Holocaust Educational Trust congratulated Austrian authorities on the arrest. Trust chairman Lord Greville Janner, noting that Britain has no such laws that make denying the Holocaust a crime, praised the Austrians ``for doing what our law should but does not permit.''
``I hope this will lead to a successful prosecution,'' Janner said.
Even so, in a way, it's hard for me to feel too much sympathy for David Irving, who has spoken in front of far right wing groups like the National Alliance. (Indeed, regarding his associations with extremists, Irving has made the excuse that he is simply speaking the "truth" as he knows it, and cannot help it if those whom he attracts are old Nazis, neo-Nazis, antisemites and white supremacists; yet he does nothing to discourage these associations, suggesting he does not find them that troubling. I suspect that he likes the attention and especially the financial support.) He seemed almost to be asking to get busted. He must have known that there was an open warrant on him in Austria; yet he went there anyway, leading me to wonder how many times he may have sneaked into Austria before. Perhaps it was the hubris that had developed over his years of being able to travel in style to address adoring audiences of far right wingers and Holocaust deniers, even though he had a judgment against him from his loss in his lawsuit in 2000 against Deborah Lipstadt. On the other hand, perhaps he has developed a martyr complex. In the days before he went, he worried on his own website whether the students to whom he was going to speak had been blabbing about his trip:
On previous trips to the United States at least, Irving seemed to have been a bit more clever just to avoid protests or the appearance of people (some of whom I know) at his talks who might challenge him and ask him very uncomfortable questions about his Holocaust denial. He would generally be very careful about not announcing where he would appear until the last possible moment and circulating the information through difficult-to-penetrate means. It is odd that he would seemingly not be as careful when the stakes were so much higher, and arrest, rather than annoyance by protesters, would be the penalty for mistakes. Was he getting careless? Who knows? The student group that invited him, the Burschenshaft Olympia, is known for inviting far right wing speakers, but they seem to have had more notice than is typical for an Irving appearance. It seems rather likely that communications among the students were what tipped the authorities off.TYING up loose ends. . . I am becoming apprehensive about the [...] event; so much can go wrong, especially if it is a trap. How much have the students talked about my coming?
All in all, it's been a bad few months for Holocaust deniers. Just this week, the U.S. deported Holocaust denier Germar Rudolf to Germany, where he is serving a sentence previously passed and may face new charges. Before that, Ernst Zundel was deported from Canada to Germany, after having previously been deported from the U.S. to Canada and is standing trial. In the case of Zundel and Rudolf, I have little problem with their being deported for breaking our immigration laws, and, while here, they did consort with some far right wing groups whose purpose was not always lawful. Indeed, it terms of being prosecuted under laws against Holocaust denial, it is pretty uncommon for that to be the sole reason an individual Holocaust denier is tried. When Holocaust deniers are tried for violating laws against Holocaust denial, it is usually not so much their espousing of Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism that gets them into hot water but their associations with violent far right and neo-Nazi groups, and that is likely true. Hopefully, these associations will come out at their trials.
Nonetheless, I am uncomfortable about deporting these Holocaust deniers, no matter how much I despise them and their views, to nations that will prosecute them primarily for their speech, no matter how despicable. (Irving is a different case, however; no one forced him to go to Austria.) No, I don't want them here in the U.S. and would prefer them gone back to their native countries, but I don't want them in jail, either, unless they committed other crimes. When Holocaust deniers consort with violent right wing extremist groups and break the law, they of course should be prosecuted and locked up, but prosecuting them for their Holocaust denial alone may in fact be counterproductive. What will likely come out in most news reports about their incarceration is not their associations with violent far right extremists, but rather that they are being prosecuted and jailed for denying the Holocaust, allowing the most odious and despicable anti-Semites to claim the mantle of persecuted free speech martyrs with some credibility, at least to people who know little about the Holocaust or Holocaust denial. Making someone like Irving into a free speech martyr is particularly laughable, given his attempts to stifle Professor Lipstadt's free speech by suing her in England, which has libel laws slanted highly in favor of plaintiffs.
Posts on this issue:
- More schadenfreude: David Irving now admitting that there were gas chambers?
- David Irving to stand trial in Austria
ADDENDUM: Andrew Mathis has taken on the issue. Like me, he has a problem with anti-Holocaust denial laws. He also comes up with the best quote about Holocaust deniers I've seen in while:
Now I have a big problem with such laws. All laws against Holocaust denial do is make the deniers, who would have to hang around with pedophiles to do social climbing, seem like martyrs. Let them spew their rot and them let them be refuted by truth.