David Irving Convicted
David Irving was jailed for three years in Austria for Holocaust denying remarks made some 17 years ago. Here someone is actually being imprisoned for stating an opinion. Here we're entering the realm of conditional Freedom of Speech: it's OK to say what you want as long as it's not "that" (or "this", or "the other").
Nor does it matter the statements were made 17 years ago or that Irving has retracted them. The fact of the matter is that he is entitled to his opinion, no matter how repugnant it is to others like me. David Irving remains of course nothing more than a pseudo-historian, an extreme rightwing activist and general arsehole but that has little if anything to do with the whole affair.
The whole point is that for Freedom of Speech to function, that freedom needs to be absolute or the whole principle comes down like a house of cards. There can be no ifs or buts. Individuals may wish to refrain voluntarily from expressing certain thoughts, opinions or convictions if they so wish but we cannot make any form of censorship legal.
Some use the following arguments to justify the curtailment of opinions like David Irving's:
1. The "fire!"-in-a-packed-public-place: this argument has started a life of its own and goes as follows. Expressing certain opinions is the equivalent of a person shouting "Fire! Fire!" in an enclosed and crowded place like a theatre. Is it bugger. A person claiming there's fire when there's not, isn't expressing an opinion: he is simply, for whatever reason, trying to cause a stampede.
2. The publicity argument: Irving and his ilk shouldn't be allowed to express their views because Holocaust deniers shouldn't get any free publicity. The truth is of course that Holocaust deniers around the world have now received the best publicity injection they've enjoyed in long time. We've seen the same here in Britain when Nick Griffin went to court in the race hate trial. Suppressing the opinions of the likes of Griffin and Irving only drives them and their ilk underground. No, let them openly say what's on their minds; then we can give them a piece of our mind too.
In my view the Irving trial shows that Muslims do actually have a point when they claim Europe operates double standards when it comes to Freedom of Speech: it shows an understandable sensitivity to all things Holocaust, up to the point of suppressing dissenting views on this subject, whilst failing to acknowledge sensitivities regarding Islam. But we shouldn't give in to any demands for laws prohibiting the depiction of the prophet.
Keywords: David Irving, freedom of speech, Holocaust, Holocaust denial