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Old 02-20-2006, 06:53 AM   #1
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Holocaust Denier Gets Some Unlikely Allies

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Historian's trial widens Europe's divide over acceptable limits to free expression

by DOUG SAUNDERS
The Globe and Mail (Canada)
Feb. 20, 2006


LONDON -- When the world's best-known Holocaust denier goes on trial in Vienna today, he will have some surprising defenders: his most outspoken opponents.

Six years ago, British historian David Irving launched a libel suit in London against a historian whose books accused him of being one of the world's leading defenders of Hitler's regime. Deborah Lipstadt's works showed that Mr. Irving, a biographer of Hitler and a renowned scholar of the Nazi era, was a defender of the Nazi dictator and a denier of the mechanized killing of six million Jews under Hitler's orders.

The result was devastating for him: The judge ruled that Ms. Lipstadt, a U.S. historian, was right, and that Mr. Irving is "a racist, an anti-Semite and an active Holocaust denier." Mr. Irving was also forced to pay the cost of the trial, estimated at $6 million. It reduced the historian, who had been the author of bestselling works about the Third Reich in the 1960s and 1970s, to a fringe figure in the world of scholarship. From that point on, he issued only self-published books, and spoke only to groups on the extreme neo-Nazi right in Europe.

It was on such a speaking tour in November, when he travelled to Austria to visit young Hitler sympathizers, that Mr. Irving was arrested under a 1947 law that outlaws any utterances that "deny the National Socialist [Nazi] genocide or other National Socialist crimes, minimizes them, gives them approvals or seeks to justify them."

Mr. Irving, who has argued that the Holocaust is a lie and part of a Jewish plot, was warned in the 1980s by Austrian officials that he would be arrested if he entered the country. The threat was often questioned, since Austria failed to bring charges against major Nazi figures from within its own borders (Hitler was Austrian-born, as were several high-ranking Nazis). But Mr. Irving, who has recently described the pleasure of speaking to crowds of Nazi sympathizers, was arrested and jailed without bail.

During the past three months, he has become a minor celebrity in prison, writing his memoirs and entertaining interviews from the European media. Today's trial is likely to be closely watched across Europe, a fact that horrifies many of his outspoken opponents.

But even more offensive, for many, is the law that is likely to land him a 10-year prison sentence. Laws that ban ideas, no matter how vile the ideas, are distasteful to academics, and even those academics who ended Mr. Irving's mainstream career have come out to defend him today. "If you had told me, a few months ago, that I would be demanding David Irving's release one day, I would have called you insane," Ms. Lipstadt told the German magazine Der Spiegel this week. But she is defending him. "I'm against censorship -- no one stands to benefit from the throwing of this guy into prison."

The trial occurs at a moment when Europe is concerned with fundamental questions of freedom of speech. The attack by fundamentalist Muslims on Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed has raised a question that has long dogged the German and Austrian anti-Nazi laws: If you prohibit certain topics of speech, can you really say you have a free society?

For English-speaking scholars, the question became even more pointed last week when Britain, which does not have an anti-Nazi law and had allowed the publication of Mr. Irving's books, passed a law that bans the "glorification" of terrorism. Many scholars fear that this law, aimed at the backers of terrorism, could end up silencing legitimate scholarship.


Mr. Irving is unlikely to make this argument easy. He has long relished any statement that offends or provokes people, and he has proven ready to make such statements in court. He once argued that "more people were killed in the back seat of Edward Kennedy's car in Chappaquiddick than in the gas chambers at Auschwitz." He regularly draws huge crowds of young Hitler sympathizers at his speeches.

This has led many observers to defend the Austrian laws. They note that Mr. Irving was in Austria only a few years after an extreme right-wing party held power in the country, and conclude that Mr. Irving himself is proof of the laws' necessity.

"In Germany and Austria, there is a moral obligation to fight the kind of propaganda peddled by Irving. We can't afford the luxury of the Anglo-Saxon freedom-of-speech argument in this regard," Hajo Funke, a German historian who testified against Mr. Irving in his libel trials, told the BBC yesterday. "It's not that I don't understand it, it's just not for us. Not yet. Not for a long time."
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Old 02-20-2006, 07:00 AM   #2
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Well as a matter of free speech I am opposed to any and all hate speech legislation (as opposed to inciting violence) of which Irvings trial clearly falls under.

The man is a vile anti-semite and he dug his own grave using the courts to protect his reputation. Of course the arguments about freedom of speech not going that far put Europe in a compromising and hypocritical position on matters of free speech. I agree with Muslims that there is a double standard, but I would answer that by evening the playing field in the marketplace of ideasthat argument is nullified. Silencing dissent (however hateful, stupid and verfiably false) is an uneasy thing.
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Old 02-20-2006, 07:24 AM   #3
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It's a hard question to respond to, when you're from a country like mine where professing "Holocaust denial" is a legal expression of speech.

At the same time, I'm sure if someone started openly creating rallies in support of Al-Qaeda in America--using nothing but speech (no money, no arms)--that person would be rounded up quite quickly. Maybe when you're dealing with the former front lines of Nazism in Germany and Austria, you might see why such laws are still needed.

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Old 02-20-2006, 12:12 PM   #4
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Yes, they'd watch a guy who was singing the praises of Al-Qaeda. That's not considered freedom here, so Austria has its reasons for not allowing Nazism.
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Old 02-20-2006, 12:29 PM   #5
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Watching the guy and subjecting him to a criminal prosecution for the speech are two very different things. The "watching" may have a chilling effect on speech, but no where near the same as spending time in jail
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Old 02-20-2006, 12:48 PM   #6
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Extreme measures for extreme circumstances.

You could argue there was a time for legal censorship on Holocaust denial in Austria...I wonder if most people in Austria agree that time has past.
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Old 02-20-2006, 01:07 PM   #7
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Originally posted by AliEnvy
Extreme measures for extreme circumstances.

You could argue there was a time for legal censorship on Holocaust denial in Austria...I wonder if most people in Austria agree that time has past.
No, actually most Austrians support the anti-Nazi laws, according to our resident Austrian, hiphop.
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Old 02-20-2006, 01:15 PM   #8
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Originally posted by verte76


No, actually most Austrians support the anti-Nazi laws, according to our resident Austrian, hiphop.
I think AliEnvy's question was whether such laws are still needed today, not if a particular groups still wants them.
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Old 02-20-2006, 01:15 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally posted by nbcrusader
Watching the guy and subjecting him to a criminal prosecution for the speech are two very different things. The "watching" may have a chilling effect on speech, but no where near the same as spending time in jail
yeah. Watching meaning monitoring someone who has given reason to suggest they're a real threat to security. Not charging them for the speech itself. (that being said I don't know how much faith I have that our authorities would keep to that standard at the moment.) Anyway, I'd imagine people would have a hard time getting a permit to rally in support of Al Queda so they could get picked up for that. There are actually a ton of people that suggest we had it coming or speak sympathetically about the motives of the suicide bombers or suggest Israel was behind it, even on TV. So I don't know if it's a valid comparison.

I have been thinking about this ever since the cartoon fiasco started though...It's funny how people proclaim that the whole incident is ludicrus and purport to support free speech, yet have no problem with what seems to be a blatant double standard.

And then the legislation in the UK about "glorifying terrorism," whatever that means. I guess if I were to celebrate the 4th of July while in London I'd better watch out.
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Old 02-20-2006, 01:17 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally posted by verte76

No, actually most Austrians support the anti-Nazi laws, according to our resident Austrian, hiphop.
Well, except the Hitler sympathizers who, if Irving goes to prison, won't get to go to his speech rallies and get all hyped up on organized hatred. Too bad so sad boo hoo kitty.
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Old 02-20-2006, 01:22 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally posted by VertigoGal
yeah. Watching meaning monitoring someone who has given reason to suggest they're a real threat to security. Not charging them for the speech itself. (that being said I don't know how much faith I have that our authorities would keep to that standard at the moment.) Anyway, I'd imagine people would have a hard time getting a permit to rally in support of Al Queda so they could get picked up for that. There are actually a ton of people that suggest we had it coming or speak sympathetically about the motives of the suicide bombers or suggest Israel was behind it, even on TV. So I don't know if it's a valid comparison.
I think Al Queda supporters, to the extent they would want a public rally, could get the necessary permits just as the KKK can get its permits.

Al Queda's MO, however, is a little different in that they are not arguing in the court of public opinion nor trying to incite those they hate through rallies. Planning a bombing in secret seems to be their style.
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Old 02-20-2006, 03:01 PM   #12
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http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4733820.stm

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Old 02-20-2006, 03:14 PM   #13
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"I made a mistake when I said there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz," he told the court in the Austrian capital.
A strict liability crime - jail time even if he regrets the statement?
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Old 02-20-2006, 03:23 PM   #14
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"I said that then based on my knowledge at the time, but by 1991 when I came across the Eichmann papers, I wasn't saying that anymore and I wouldn't say that now," Irving told the court.

Asked how many Jews were killed by Nazis, he replied: "I don't know the figures. I'm not an expert on the Holocaust."
Eh? After writing all those books denying said figures?

A bit hard to take his "by 1991" contrition seriously when he was arrested en route "to visit young Hitler sympathizers."

Strange.

That little sidebar listing the countries with laws against Holocaust denial is interesting--I could've predicted all the Central and East European ones, but I was a bit surprised to see France and Belgium on there.
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Old 02-20-2006, 03:31 PM   #15
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He's obviously not being sincere when he says that in 1991 he suddenly realized he was wrong and never doubted it afterward. Just something to say to the court I guess...

The list of countries surprised me as well. I wonder if the actual laws vary.
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