I can't seem to get away from having to defend free speech, even when the speech itself is appalling.
Two weeks ago, because I support free speech, I posted the infamous 'Mohammed cartoons' despite the fact that, as I made it clear in the post, I disagreed strongly with their message; I did it to protest the fatwa levied against the cartoonists by some fundamentalist clerics. The pictures themselves were obviously being searched for on a lot of search engines, I got about 160 comments on it by the time the thread wrapped down, a record for Deep Thought.
So in today's news,
British Historian David Irving has been sentenced to three years in an Austrian prison for denying that there were gas chambers at Auschwitz.
In fact, Irving was wrong. The gas chambers still stand, and are testimony to the murder of millions-- including members of my own extended family. And, Irving was a liar. He admitted as much during his sentencing hearing;
Irving, handcuffed and wearing a navy blue suit, arrived in court carrying a copy of one of his most controversial books -- "Hitler's War," which challenges the extent of the Holocaust.
"I made a mistake when I said there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz," Irving told the court before his sentencing.
He had faced up to 10 years in prison.
Before the trial began, Irving, 67, told reporters he now acknowledges the Nazis systematically slaughtered Jews during World War II.
"History is like a constantly changing tree," he said.
However, as much as I may detest what David Irving has said in the past, that is not a reason to put him in prison for it. Ridicule him, certainly. Call him a liar and prove it, absolutely. Put his kind of historical revisionism on a shelf along with UFOlogists, flat earthers, people who still deny that smoking causes cancer, unrepentant segregationists, the people who insisted that Galileo was wrong when he said that the earth was the center of the universe, etc. Right now we see people who deny global warming being headed towards that shelf as the climate is already changing just as predicted. But don't put him in prison, because if we put him in prison, then who is safe when the views of their society change, to where perhaps their doctrine (whether it be true or false) is now 'out of line' with society? Far better to have the occasional Holocaust denier out there preaching their particular brand of venom, and dispute it with facts, than to lock them up.
And, free speech aside, an even better argument against imprisonment can be summarized in this line:
Irving's lawyer, Elmar Kresbach, said last month the controversial Third Reich historian was getting up to 300 pieces of fan mail a week from supporters around the world
The letters may taper off now that Irving has 'fessed up' (or more likely, he will now get letters full of hate for being a 'sellout,') but the fact is, that the state putting him in jail for something he wrote will in and of itself help prove that he was right to some of the extreme fringe. You could throw everyone who denied the Holocaust in prison tomorrow, and it would not end Holocaust denial. It would instead only be a victory, not for the old Nazis, but for the new ones who would love to be able to limit what we can read, write and speak about.
Instead, we must make it clear what a poisonous doctine it is. But do it in a free society where we can make it clear that even a poisonous doctrine can be expounded in public, so that we can together publically criticize the ignorance that goes with it.