Respectful Insolence

David Irving to be released

It’s about time:

An Austrian appeals court has ruled that UK historian David Irving – jailed for denying the Holocaust – should be released on probation.
Irving is now being held in police detention and will be deported to the UK on Thursday, officials said.

Irving was convicted in February in a case that sparked international debate about the limits of freedom of speech.

In 1989 he spoke in Austria denying the existence of gas chambers at Auschwitz, though he later said he was “mistaken”.

The appeals court in Vienna had heard calls for both a reduction and increase in his sentence.

Irving on Wednesday welcomed his release and said he was “fit and well”.

The 68-year-old said he would urge an academic boycott of historians from Germany and Austria until the nations stopped jailing historians.

“I was put in prison for three years for expressing an opinion 17 years ago,” he said.

Intense debate

The BBC’s Kerry Skyring in Vienna said the presiding judge converted the remaining two years of Irving’s jail term to a provisional sentence, upholding his appeal.

I’ve made it clear how much I loathe Holocaust deniers like David Irving (not to mention the Holocaust deniers now infesting the comments of my blog), but I’ve also made it clear that I consider laws criminalizing Holocaust denial, although understandable in immediate postwar Germany and Austria, to be misguided and no longer necessary now. All they do now is to squelch free speech and provide an excuse for hateful anti-Semites to try to claim the mantle of free speech martyrs.

Sadly, too many people just don’t get it:

Irving’s release on probation has dismayed Jewish groups.

Lord Janner, vice-president of the World Jewish Congress and president of the Commonwealth Jewish Council, said: “I am sorry that he did not serve out his full term, and I hope he will remain in Austria and not return to the United Kingdom, where he will not be welcome.”

As odious as he is, Irving has the right to advocate Holocaust denial. He shouldn’t have been locked up for it. Even so, I do not forget that he intentionally went to Austria knowing that there was a warrant for his arrest. Either he was arrogant enough to think that he could get away with it without being arrested, or he was trying to be arrested intentionally to make a point. If the former, his hubris was truly beyond belief. If the latter, his whining over his sentence shows that he got more than he bargained for.

In any case, what worries me is that he’ll soon be making his way to the U.S. to refresh his coffers by giving speeches to far right wing groups about his “martyrdom.” 2007 will likely start with Irving showing up to “tell his tale” to sympathetic audiences (although some may not look to kindly on the fact that Irving has stated that he no longer doubts that there were homicidal gas chambers at Auschwitz).

What a depressing thought.

Comments

  1. #1 Mondo
    December 21, 2006

    “As odious as he is, Irving has the right to advocate Holocaust denial.”
    Couldn’t agree more. Normally expressing that opinion seems to get you burned at the stake though. At least in some circles.

  2. #2 mah9
    December 21, 2006

    I think when he Irving tried to sue a publisher in court for libel, and lost effectively bankrupting him, was the best way to deal with him ( http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/1448417.stm ). Putting him in prison just makes him a martyr.

  3. #3 Anonymous
    December 21, 2006

    “As odious as he is, Irving has the right to advocate Holocaust denial.”

    As the father of two beautiful jewish boys, I completely agree with this statement. Legality should not be confused with morality.

  4. #4 ThomasHobbes
    December 21, 2006

    I haven’t yet made up my mind as to whether Irving’s trip to Austria was born of arrogance or the desire to be a martyr. One choice captures how deviant he can be (consider his history of scholarship as an example) but doesn’t give credit to his hubris; the other gives credit to his hubris but not his deviance. Regardless, I wonder how much this has contributed to the martyr thing, especially given his change of mind over the existence of gas chambers at Auschwitz. So let me put it out there to those who watch these things more closely than I do: has this whole episode made a handy martyr out of Irving, or has he been repudiated by Holocaust deniers as he has by everyone else?

  5. #5 Nat
    December 21, 2006

    “As odious as he is, Irving has the right to advocate Holocaust denial”

    I think the point of the entire exercise is that he does not have that right in particular countries. Whilst I support the American concept of free speech it’s annoying to see that American’s think this right is universal. It has very clear downsides and is not practiced in most first world nations.

  6. #6 ThomasHobbes
    December 21, 2006

    Nat–

    Inherent in the concept of a natural right is the idea that it applies to everyone, no matter their nationality. The government may extend other non-fundamental protections to its citizens–like a minimum wage, tax relief, etc.–but the reason for the existence of the government in the first place is the protection of the rights of its citizens. This relationship is not negotiable, and in particular these rights must be protected regardless of their “downsides.” That the fundamental right to free speech is not protected in many first world nations is not a sign of their progressiveness, at all.

  7. #7 Lucas McCarty
    December 21, 2006

    Yes, it should always be pointed out that rights and laws are not the same thing.

    Human rights are not human rights laws, there have been recent cases here in Britain where human rights legislation has been used to breach human rights, against it’s intended purpose.

    The right to free speech is also not the same as a law protecting it, thusly a law restricting it in no way refutes the concept of the right to free speech any more than a supporting law justifies it.

    David Irving like anyone else has the right to be wrong. Austrian laws do not change this. Laws don’t decide who is right and who is wrong, only the winners and losers. The free-speech laws in some European countries violate the European Convention on Human Rights, I’m sure but I’ll check.

  8. #8 James
    December 22, 2006

    The trouble with European human rights legislation is that it tends to be very slanted in its application. The suppression of views that are unpopular in the name of “tolerance” and diversity” is all too common. There was a recent case in the UK where the leader of the British National Party was arrested for “inciting religious hatred” after saying Muslims are a threat to Britain. Now it was pretty odious stuff, and what you’d expect from a far-right nativist party like the BNP, but it was still legitmate political speech.

    Worse still when the jury let him off Gordon Brown (Chancellor of the Exchequer and probably Tony Blair’s successor) complained about how unreliable juries are. And don’t even get me started on the EU’s response to the Danish cartoons.

    Too often in Europe do civil rights take a back seat to popular sentiment or “tolerance”. None of that justifies David Irving beaing a noxious gasbag of course and while locking him up isn’t the right course I wonder why the institution that gave him his doctorate hasn’t stripped him of it due to his atrocious scholarship.

  9. #9 Orac
    December 22, 2006

    Another problem, I would argue, is that most European countries don’t have free speech enshrined in their Constitution in the same way that the U.S. does. There is no First Amendment in the U.K., and free speech is basically only guaranteed by law, which can be changed fairly easily compared to a Constitution. Witness the attempt about a year or two ago to pass an “anti-incitement” law that would in essence outlaw mocking religion, leading Rowan Atkinson and other famous comics to come out against it.

  10. #10 doctorgoo
    December 22, 2006

    Wow. If Mr. Bean comes out against it, it must be bad! lol Who’s next… Carrot Top?

    (disclaimer: I agree with you entirely on this issue. I just couldn’t resist making fun of the fact that you used Mr. Bean in your appeal to authority.)

  11. #11 Nick Terry
    December 22, 2006

    “None of that justifies David Irving beaing a noxious gasbag of course and while locking him up isn’t the right course I wonder why the institution that gave him his doctorate hasn’t stripped him of it due to his atrocious scholarship.”

    David Irving doesn’t have any kind of university degree.

  12. #12 Lucas McCarty
    December 22, 2006

    So, the ‘Dr’ I’ve seen before his name in some places and the ‘pHD’ I’ve seen after in others were given to him….by himself?

    Checking Wiki…

  13. #13 James
    December 22, 2006

    Actually Orac its worse than you think. There is no separation of powers in the Westminster system (except for the judiciary) so Tony Blair is the head of both the executive and legislative brances (OK technically the Queen is the head of the executive branch but she doesn’t exercise her powers).

    The party system is much stronger in the Westminster system as well and for Memebers of Parliament protracted dissent agaisnt your party leader is not tolerated. Any Prime Minister worty of the name can pass through pretty much anything. The same’s true here in New Zealand, except that here there’s not even an equivalent of the House of Lords to slow the PM down. Normally everthing works fine but sometimes it can get a little worrying.

  14. #14 Coin
    December 23, 2006

    Another problem, I would argue, is that most European countries don’t have free speech enshrined in their Constitution in the same way that the U.S. does. There is no First Amendment in the U.K., and free speech is basically only guaranteed by law, which can be changed fairly easily compared to a Constitution.

    There is this European Court of Human Rights thing, but durned if I can figure out what it does.

  15. #15 Kiwiwriter
    December 26, 2006

    I think Irving went to Austria for three reasons:

    1. Arrogance. He enjoys flipping off the world.
    2. Martyrdom. He enjoys being one.
    3. Attention. Since the Lipstadt trial, he’s been out of the news. Pulling a stunt like this gets him back in the papers and generates checks and cash from like-minded Fascists.

    No, he should not have gone to jail. But he went there intending to break the law. Don’t write checks your body can’t cash.

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