David Irving: What Christopher Hitchens has to say





It is best not to mince words. The imprisonment of David Irving by the Austrian authorities is a disgrace. It is a state punishment for a crime -- that of expression and argument and publication -- that is not a legal offense in Mr. Irving's country of birth and that could not be an offense under the First Amendment. It is to be hoped, by all those who value the right to dissent, that his appeal against both sentence and conviction will be successful.

Strictly speaking, "context" ought not to weigh in the scale when the question of unfettered expression is being decided. And obviously, the provincial police of Styria were only doing their statutory job when they detained Mr. Irving under the terms of a very broadly drawn Austrian law that criminalizes even "gross understatement" (however that might be phrased) of the Nazi campaign against European Jewry. But it is somehow unfortunate that a small European country with a very bad record from the Nazi period should be jailing an eccentric Englishman at the precise moment when a small European country with a much better record is the object of an orchestrated campaign of lies, blackmail and violence. Those who jump for joy when the embassies of European democracies are immolated in the capital cities of squalid dictatorships have decided to announce their own game of moral equivalence. What of your precious free speech, they say, when the Holocaust is immune from criticism on your own soil? Austrian bureaucracy -- never at its best with this thorny question: how embarrassing that the prison library contained several Irving hardbacks -- could almost have set out to try and prove the Islamist demagogues' "point."

I put "point" in quotes because there obviously is no such moral equivalence. Anyone should have the right to criticize or even insult and lampoon religious belief, just as anyone should have the right to try to revise or rewrite history. But the Muslim thugs are as stupid as they look, because they only assert the second right in order to obliterate the first one. They are not even trying for a trade-off (unless you think that freedom for European brownshirts would lead to the reopening of desecrated synagogues and churches in the Arab world, in which case you will lose your shirt whatever color it happens to be). But the bullies do accidentally make the point that counts to begin with: The defense of free expression is indivisible. Compared to that important principle, nothing is "sacred," or even close to it. Perhaps you notice that, of late, the word "sacred" has become an easy anagram of "scared"?

Now may I mince a word or two? I have been writing in defense of Mr. Irving for several years. When St. Martin's Press canceled its contract to print his edition of the Goebbels diaries, which it did out of fear of reprisal, I complained loudly and was rewarded by an honest statement from the relevant editor -- Thomas Mallon -- that his decision had been a "profile in prudence." I will not take refuge in the claim that I was only defending Mr. Irving's right to free speech. I was also defending his right to free inquiry. You may have to spend time on some grim and Gothic Web sites to find this out, but he is in fact not a "denier," but a revisionist, and much-hated by the full-dress "denial" faction. The pages on Goebbels, as in his books on Dresden, Churchill and Hitler, contain some highly important and damning findings from his work in the archives of the Third Reich. (The Goebbels book contains final proof that the Nazis financed Sir Oswald Mosley's blackshirts in England: a claim that Mosley's many sympathizers have long denied.)

Compared to this useful evidence, the fact that Mr. Irving was once a Mosley supporter is unimportant to me....


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