David Irving: Tests Europe's free speech

Historians in the News

The reputation of David Irving, the Holocaust-denying historian, was shattered at a libel trial six years ago, to the delight of those disgusted by his revisionism.

But as Europe proudly flexes its freedom of speech credentials in the ongoing row over cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, even some of his enemies are uneasy that he now faces up to 10 years in an Austrian jail for his unpalatable historical views.

The British academic will go on trial in Vienna next week over two speeches he made in Austria in 1989, in which he disputed the existence of gas chambers at Auschwitz.

While a number of European countries have laws against Holocaust denial, nowhere has the ban been more sacred than in Germany and Austria, whose very identities have been forged from the rejection of what was perpetrated in the middle of the 20th Century.

And yet among Vienna's chattering classes, there are the first rumblings of debate.

At the heart of the matter is whether the distortion of such a fundamental period of history is a greater problem than the suppression of the right to express contrary interpretations - however unpleasant, and indeed inaccurate, they may be.

Read entire article at BBC News

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Kiera Melody - 11/30/2007

The problem with David Irving isn't necessarily his politics (though personally I don't agree with them). Free speech is a right (at least in America). However, Irving goes a bit beyond just representing his own views. He represents several things (such as statistics- 34,000 killed at Dresden instead of 100,000) as fact, claiming that they are based on documentary evidence when in fact that evidence does not exist. (Please read about the case he brought against Lipshadt in Britain in 2000 for a very extensive breakdown of all the places where he made the evidence conform to his views.) Irving claims himself to be a historian and yet he consistently and deliberately manipulated evidence to fit his own views. Perhaps we can still view him as a historian, but not a very good one. Is everything that Irving wrote wrong? No. However, he misquoted and misrepresented so many statistics, quotations, and other evidence that I don't possibly see how one could take anything that he says at face value. At this point in time, there is no denying that the Holocaust existed. Is it still wrong to deny it? I can't answer that, as I'm torn between believing it to be such a horrendous act and can't comprehend how or why some one would deny it and the belief that free speech is also an important right. However, I can say that I believe that it is wrong to intentionally lie and that is what Irving has done. He has not only done it, but on an international scale and later admitted it- before more than one court of law, where he was under oath. We shape our views of the past around what we know to be true. When that foundation turns out to be based on falsehoods, what does that say about the conclusions?

linda schaitberger - 2/23/2006

"First they came for David Irving and I did nothing." Well,well.Aren't the Austrians and Germans good little boys now!For their sqeaky clean modern image,they have been sacrificing age old cherished tenets of liberty and freedom by rounding up "deniers".They tell us it's because they have a "special history".Huh?
Only a handfull of people seem to be cheering the jailing of Irving.Firstly,he actually frightens nobody.It is even a stretch to say he incites anybody.He is not a terrorist or gang member.He isn't plotting a coup.He has never embraced violence.He just makes people mad.So mad they want to shut him away in a dungeon.The media savages him in a pack frenzy.It's easy! Overlooked is the fact he is a good author,and an awful lot of his information was factual and informative,just at times overshadowed by some that is not quite accurate. But mostly,it is personal revulsion of his opinions that folks want him drawn and quartered for.But,fiend or jester, he makes us think,and talk,and debate,and question,and even think some more...like we might about any other historical event in history,of which none others are off limits.We do not insist people cannot discover new information about the Trojan war.
We need David Irving.He is not one iota as frightening as those who would stiffle dissent and lock away the minority opinionists and the politically incorrect,or shut off a major part of history from debate,reevaluation and reassessment.That should outrage any historian.It is utterly disingenuous to claim he is a "danger".The bible would be more of a danger in the wrong hands than his books.And it has been. Listen to the arguments about the "discredited" Irving :"Oh,sputter,sputter,only 34,000 people died in Dresden,not 100,000". Gee,only 34,000 civilians perished in a gruesome manner in a man made firestorm planned and calculated to incinerate women,children and refugees. Where is the controversy? Mortality numbers? Irving might actually be closer than even he thinks.How will we know if we cannot really dig?Or maube Irving was a "kook" because he didn't write about Dresden from a perspective of "They" had it coming, even if "they" were six years old? Irving had the guts to be the first to not rationalize German civilian suffering and the first to mutter that dirty word "atocity".Irving took some chrome off of the heroic fly boy image,and rightly so.So who is the kook,Irving or the comfy conforming authors who justify such barbarity?!
All that aside,These denial laws are intimidating,insulting to the intelligence,and more appropriate under a tyranny,where such things have traditionally existed to keep a subjugated population in check.They say,"We of Germanic blood are collectively guilty and genetically prone to murder,therefore we cannot be trusted with as much liberty as others".They sadly,really believe it and we helped them to with our blatant refusal to acknowlege our own human faults and sins even when the evidence cries otherwise.But why should we all pay for their self loathing sackcloths? Why should Irving?

Tim Matthewson - 2/22/2006

David Irving's decision to deny the Holocaust does indeed test the boundries of free speech and permissible dissent. As a first amendment absolutist, I am pulled in one direction, but as a human being, I am deeply offended by Irving and his obvious anti-semitism and racism.

I have no eacy way of resolving these contraditions, but I would suggest that the test of how the contradition should be resolved is on the basis of geography and context. What is considered legal in one context should perhaps be considered a violation of the law in other contexts, the question being the preservation of order and the necessity of placing a check on dangerous political activity.

Only those on the scene would be able to make such decisions and attempts to resolve the dilemma could only be temporary and expedient.