David Irving to stand trial in Austria
A trial date has been set in Austria for Holocaust denier David Irving. His trial will commence on February 20. Although it has been reported that he is being tried for "denying the Holocaust," in fact, he will stand trial on the charge of minimizing the crimes of the Third Reich, a law passed in the early postwar period. (In practice this is a distinction without a true difference.) It also appears that he will remain in prison until his trial date.
As I've said before, I detest Irving and everything he stands for. He is a Holocaust denier (British courts have affirmed that characterization of him), and he foolishly and vindictively tried to ruin historian Deborah Lipstadt for telling the truth about him in her book by suing her for libel in the U.K, where the libel laws are far more favorable to the plaintiff. Indeed, it is nauseating to see him try to represent himself as a some sort of champion of free speech when he did everything within his power to stifle Lipstadt's free speech. Fortunately, he lost, but unfortunately he has never paid the judgment against him and still somehow manages to travel about the U.S. and elsewhere in style to give talks (and sell books) to far right wing admirers I've even admitted that I have a bit of schadenfreude over his present predicament, although he did largely bring it on himself. He knew damned well there was a warrant out for his arrest in Austria, yet he went anyway, thinking he could sneak in and out of the country undetected by authorities. In that, he showed great hubris. Either that, or he wanted to be arrested. Only David Irving knows which.
That being said, I remain strongly opposed to laws such as those in Austria that criminalize speech, no matter how odious that speech may be. There may well have been some reasonable rationale for them in the early postwar period, but the time when there was a real threat that Naziism might rise again is long past. Certainly now the threat is so small that it no longer justifies the cost of such laws with respect to free speech rights. Putting Irving on trial for his Holocaust denial will only allow him to claim the mantle of free speech martyr with some plausibility to those who do not know his history of trying to suppress speech he doesn't agree with, particularly given the potential penalties involved. True, it's probably highly unlikely that Irving will be given the maximum of 20 years if he is convicted, but the size of the potential punishment is far out of proportion to any "crime." Also, although I had speculated that Irving's recent "admission" that there were gas chambers at Auschwitz might mean that he is finished as a force in the Holocaust denial movement, given that some deniers are already wondering if he has now "betrayed" them, I'm not so sure now. I can now foresee a situation in which Irving makes such an admission, gets either a very light sentence (or even time served) and then returns to Britain, where he repudiates his previous "admission" and treats us to the nauseating spectacle of his parading around Britain and the U.S. as a free speech martyr. Prominent "revisionist" Bradley Smith, while wondering if Irving will "betray" revisionists, has even hoped for as much:
If we are to believe his lawyer, who sounds like a practical man, David Irving is going to recant his views with regard to Auschwitz, the gas chambers, and who knows what else? He may. He may not. It would not be beyond him. This is a man for whom there is nothing “beyond.” But I feel a betrayal in the works. I hesitate to say it, but betrayal is in the air. My hope? That he recants to the Austrian court, is freed, and when he is out in the world again that he stands up in public to declare:
“I lied before a corrupt court. There is no honor in telling a corrupt court the truth if you do not enjoy being punished at the hands of corrupt law. The Auschwitz story is crap. I know it, and millions of people all over the Western and Muslim worlds know it. When I said ‘Auschwitz is a sinking ship,’ I was right. I meant it then, and I mean it now.”
It is cases like this that make me grateful indeed for the First Amendment. The First Amendment may not always be successful in preventing attempts by the government to stifle free speech, particularly during wartime, but it does at least make infringements on free speech considerably more difficult. And it's not just Austria or Germany where free speech is under assault. Look at Britain, where an ill-advised proposed law against religious hatred seriously threatens free speech rights by potentially proscribing any criticism or mockery of specific religions, even radical ones, and in Denmark the UN is investigating a newspaper for running cartoons that contained caricatures of the prophet Mohammed. The problem is, such laws can easily be harnessed in service of the state or nationalistic interests under the guise of protecting the sensibilities of those who don't wish to hear offensive speech. For example, in Turkey, Orhan Pamuk is going on trial for "publicly denigrating the Turkish identity" because during an interview with a Swiss newspaper he complained that it was taboo in his native land to discuss the Armenian genocide that occurred 90 years ago.
The right to free speech means nothing if only speech that does not offend is "protected," but that seems to be where we are heading in much of the world, and, to a lesser extent, even in the U.S.. The wisdom of our Founding Fathers in crafting the First Amendment becomes more and more clear to me the older I get.
Posts on this issue:
- More schadenfreude: David Irving now admitting that there were gas chambers?
- David Irving to stand trial in Austria