Grumpy points out an article in the Times about David Irving, the rogue historian who has been jailed by an Austrian court for denying the Holocaust.
Because this relates to free speech – itself one of the pillars of writing – a few words on this blog would not go amiss. It is apparent now, and was apparent when I first heard of David Irving’s ridiculous claims, that laws intend to curb the expression of matters distasteful to a government represent an abuse of that government’s power.
We have no laws banning the publication of extremist political views in Britain, as far as I’m aware. Ah, you might say, but those laws exist in Germany and Austria for a reason; they are safeguards against the spread of extremism. Well, I would challenge you to examine some of the anti-semitism that existed, and still exists, in this great country of ours. I am sure that, if we had such a law, there would be no great difficulty in identifying the first people to smite with it. Such laws are unnecessary, difficult to enforce, and fundamentally counter to the freedom of expression that our constitutions embody (codified in writing in the USA, codified by precedent in the UK).
If somebody wants to deny the Holocaust, let them make a twat of themselves in public. Engage with them. Open the argument and expose its flaws. Having studied experimental psychology for ten years, I’m cynical about the degree to which humans can engage rationally on matters that seem so connected to their fear (cf. ‘reds under the beds’, or ‘Jews control the international monetary system’), but the notion that ideas can be squashed by the government is, to use a word often employed in experimental psychology, bollocks.
Don’t let the ideas flourish in a fenced-off plot; let the ideas interact wildly, and the ideas that are absurd will wither.
Which pillar of representative government were we shinning up just a few days ago, when the Muslim world reacted angrily to defacements of their religion’s figurehead? Hello? The German and Austrian constitutions need revert to their core principles; the Allied modification of their constitutions was a dyke against a flood that never came.
This from Hans Raucher, writing in Austria’s Der Standard:
Holocaust deniers like David Irving want to trivialise these inconceivable crimes and make them politically acceptable. That is the decisive point. Whoever wants to render National Socialism harmless wants to revive it as a political option. It’s just too much to ask of democracy to tolerate this. And it is deplorable treatment of the victims.
Wrong. It is not too much to ask of a democracy to tolerate this. The democracy is strong enough. The democracy should give voice to all its citizens (said the blog-writer). My experience relates only to Germany, not Austria, but my consistent impression is one of an anti-militaristic society (they don’t even like children to wear school uniforms), still very much aware of the past, and it is the last place I’d expect to need anti-extremist legislation. Anti-extremist legislation is the mark of an extraordinary situation, like the one facing Germany and Austria following the Second World War. It’s time for these constitutions to accept free speech.
Two words: Pot? Kettle? Tell me about it. Wir sind auch crazy – ich weiss das.