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February 22, 2006
Turning Idiots Into Martyrs

In the United States, we trust that the exercise of free speech allows for a natural corrective to idiocy, where informed criticism allows effective rebuttal against ugly and ignorant rantings. In other words, we act on the assumption that the populace consists of rational adults until proven otherwise. In Europe, however, the culture demands more control over speech, in a manner that resembles American campus "speech codes" enacted into law. With the background of the cartoon protests as stark relief, an Austrian court sentenced Holocaust denier David Irving to three years in prison for openly stating that the massive genocide never occurred:

David Irving, the controversial historian, has confirmed he is to appeal against his three-year sentence for denying the Holocaust. ...

Irving was arrested last November in Austria in connection with two speeches he gave in the country in 1989, in which it was alleged he denied the existence of the gas chambers.

He pleaded guilty on Monday to denying the Holocaust, a crime in Austria punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

This is ridiculous on many levels. First, the "offenses" occurred seventeen years ago, far past the time that most crimes would be dropped. Second, Irving recanted under oath during his trial, acknowledging that the Holocaust did indeed happen and resulted in the deaths of millions of Jews.

Most importantly, the notion of sending someone to prison for uttering an opinion amounts to tyranny, no matter where it occurs. At a time when the European press has taken a courageous stand for freedom of speech and open criticism regarding the Prophet cartoons, Austria provides an embarrassing reminder of European hypocrisy on speech rights. These laws banning all critical debate on the Holocaust only serve to transform historical illiterate and latent anti-Semites like Irving into folk heroes and martyrs for the twisted causes they serve. It also allows nutcases like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to sound rational when he argues for a ban on criticism of Islam and Mohammed.

Free speech means having to listen to repugnant and idiotic drivel on occasion. The antidote is not government censorship but more speech in rebuttal to the ignorance that arises. David Irving would be nothing more than an obscure ranter had it not been for the Austrian court and the European instinct for top-down censorship that wound up with him sentenced to a three-year stretch in prison for nothing more than being an idiot. We beg our European counterparts to reconsider their political-correctness speech laws and resist turning more idiots like Irving into free-speech "heroes".

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at February 22, 2006 6:45 AM

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