Holocaust denier David Irving may be odious but this decision is welcome:
Thirteen months after being jailed in Austria for statements denying the Holocaust, the British historian David Irving was freed Wednesday by a court in Vienna, which ruled that he could serve the remainder of his prison sentence at home on probation.
Noting that he made the statements “a long time ago, 17 years,” the appeals court said it did not expect Irving, 68, to repeat the offense, and was confident he would leave Austria immediately. His lawyer, Herbert Schaller, said Irving hoped to fly to Britain on Thursday.
Denying the existence of the Holocaust is a crime in Austria, which was part of the Third Reich from 1938 to 1945. But the appeals court turned down a request by prosecutors to extend Irving’s three-year sentence, instead reducing it to two years and, in effect, setting him free.
The decision drew criticism inside and outside Austria. Some Austrian commentators noted that the court’s presiding judge, Ernest Maurer, has close ties to the Freedom Party, a rightist organization with a history of appealing to anti-foreign and anti-Jewish sentiment.
Aside from Maurer’s apparently suspect past, his decision is sound. Irving would have been a star attraction at the recent Iranian Holocaust conference, no doubt giving the event even less credibility than generated. The main issue, however, is one of freedom of speech. Irving is an undoubted anti-Semite who associates with neo-Nazis. Many of his talks and essays are simply rehashed conspiracy theories. If we in the West truly believe in open debate, then surely a person like Irving shouldn’t be in jail (and I expressed such views in February.)
Irving’s imprisonment has hardly served as a deterrent to other Holocaust deniers. If anything, he’s become more of a martyr. Likewise, as offensive as the Iranian Holocaust conference was, should such views not be allowed in the public domain? The West is hopelessly confused when it comes to “acceptable” and “unacceptable” viewpoints.