EDITORIAL: David Irving and the Price of Free Speech

British historian David Irving has been sentenced to three years incarceration at Josefstadt Prison in central Vienna, Austria, on charges of Holocaust Denial. The right-wing author has defended Adolf Hitler, the Third Reich, and the Nazi cause for more than three decades through his extensive writings and lectures. His 1977 book, Hitler’s War, portrayed the Third Reich Chancellor as a rational and intelligent politician whose main goal was to improve the economic status of Germany. He has consistently denied many atrocities of the Holocaust, including millions of gas chamber deaths at Auschwitz Extermination Camp, as well as The Final Solution. His controversial work has earned him great criticism; since the mid-seventies, when his reputation began to spread, Irving has been called a racist, an anti-Semite, a bigot, a distorter of reality, a supporter of neo-Nazism, and a blatant liar. He has been banned from several countries, including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Austria.

While the inaccuracy and ignorance of Irving’s claims can not be denied, his sentence is a blatant injustice. Since when should people be sentenced to prison for their personal beliefs? The 1992 Austrian law banning Holocaust denial or justification is a callous decree which defiles personal freedoms held so dear by those in the so-called Free World.

Austria is not alone in its government-issued suppression of free speech. Last year, three members of the British National Party (BNP), Nick Griffin, John Tyndall, and Mark Collett, were charged with “use of words or behavior intended or likely to start racial hatred” in relation to a BBC documentary which aired in July of 2004. All charges came under Britain’s anti-race incitement laws. In a society where the right to free speech is held so dear, how can the government impose such censorship? When will we live in a society where all individuals are held accountable for their actions? Where the words of one person can not be blamed for the actions of others?

Visit the Speaker’s Corner section of Hyde Park in London, United Kingdom on any given Sunday and be astounded by the abundance of defamatory remarks: claims of ethnic superiority, unfounded justification of religious intolerance, degradation of minorities and their cultures, blatant racism and sexism and yes, even Holocaust denial. Does the government of the United Kingdom issue warrants for the arrest of these speakers? Certainly not! Why? Because the denial of free speech for these extremists would set a precedent against free speech for the plethora of intelligent speakers who commune at the park each Sunday for the civil exchange of ideas. Just as officials in the United States are bound to protect the rights of white supremacists who deny or justify the evils of slavery and segregation, the governments of the world must be held to the absolute highest standards for the protection of the individual freedoms of all people.

The recent publication in a Danish newspaper of cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad as a terrorist with bombs on his turban has been the cause of great controversy; while millions of Muslims the world over find the cartoons greatly offensive, proponents of the cartoons argue that the publications are simply exercising the artist's right to free speech. If anything were to "incite hatred," it would be these cartoons, which stereotype and degrade the prophet founder of the world's second largest religion, a religion which encompasses nearly 20% of the world's population. With the "witch hunt" for terrorists wildly on the loose, these cartoons are simply fuel to the fire for the ever-growing religious intolerance toward Muslims in the West. Yet the media sources which ran these cartoons have been allowed to do so without any legal repercussions, while a man in Austria is sent to prison for three years for denying a historical event. Where is the common denominator?

The eradication of free speech and the suppression of free thought were two of Hitler’s greatest crimes in silencing the German people as the atrocities of the Third Reich infiltrated their society. Yet one extreme does not justify the exact opposite extreme. The alleged censorship of free thought has recently been the source of great criticism for countries such as Cuba, Iraq, and North Korea. The denial of the right to free thought is a crime, no matter where it takes place or what the issue. The West condemns Iran for its censorship and denial of free speech, yet we condone the sentence the Austrian government has imposed upon David Irving. Why? The nature of the censorship is the same; the West’s opposing reactions to this conspiracy of silence is hypocritical. Why should we continue on this disastrous path? As long as government bodies attempt to dictate the minds of the people, the welfare of all humanity will remain at stake.

Jill Bolstridge
Sub-Editor, riceNpeas.com

1st March 2006

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