The imprisoning in Austria of Holocaust-denier David Irving – while his Australian equivalent is just as delusional – poses some fundamental questions about free speech. Perhaps surprisingly, the Australian media has offered any number of opinions today about the verdict (here, here and here.)
I have always felt distinctly uncomfortable about Irving’s association with neo-Nazis, white supremists and Holocaust denial. As a Jew – and anti-Zionist – I believe Irving’s “cause” has been frequently misunderstood by the mainstream Jewish community here. Banning him from entry into Australia seems counter-productive and hypocritical. It is perfectly acceptable to discuss the Jewish Holocaust, suggest that perhaps closer to five million rather than six million Jews were murdered (and not forgetting the untold homosexuals, gypsies and mentally disabled) and even debate what Hitler himself knew about the slaughter, but censoring Irving’s views seems troublesome. What views, therefore, are unacceptable in Western societies?
Conservative US commentator Andrew Sullivan nails it today:
I cannot express enough my contempt for the sniveling neo-Nazi, David Irving. That he has such an obviously first-rate mind makes his bigotry all the more repulsive. But imprisoning someone for their beliefs, however vile, is a violation of basic Western freedoms. We cannot lecture the Muslim world on freedom of speech, while criminalizing it in the West. I know there’s a historical reason for the Austrian law. That doesn’t make it any less objectionable in principle. And what has just happened will only deepen the sense that the West has double-standards among many Muslims.
Does anybody truly believe that this sentence will stop other Holocaust deniers spreading their hateful message?