18 November 2005

In Denial

David Irving, a British "revisionist historian" is currently sitting in an Austrian prison for publicly denying the holocaust while in that country. How is it possible that 10 countries, including Austria, can have such harsh laws against advocating such beliefs? The maximum punishment he could face is 20 years in prison!

Irving seems to have taken an "Intelligent Design" style approach to the Holocaust; he avoids the oft-mocked hardline claims such as complete denial of the Holocaust and instead focuses on supposedly rigorous "research" claiming things like: the death toll was much lower than is currently supposed, Hitler had no knowledge of the ongoing extermination of Jews, there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz, etc. His works have become much-touted by neo-Nazi and neo-fascist groups, further tarnishing his once impressive academic reputation.

But surely his decision to say stupid things shouldn't be punishable by imprisonment? People deny history and reality every day, but we don't expect them to go to jail for it. Partially this illustrates one of the differences between American jurisprudence and that of European democracies. The founding fathers of the United States considered freedom of speech to be so paramount that it is featured in the very first amendment to the Constitution. I'm certainly not saying that European governments are rampantly censoring their citizens, just that such a law (banning belief or non-belief of anything) could never be passed in the US, where the right for any nutcase to say what he pleases is considered to be the ultimate safeguard against tyrrany.

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