Monday, February 20, 2006

A Prison Term is only a Microphone

Today British Historian David Irving was sentenced to three years in prison for purportedly denying that there were no Nazi gas chambers at the Auschwitz death camp. Irving, a "notorious holocaust denier", is a condemnable figure, and his statements are demonstrably false. Nevertheless, I wonder at the wisdom of sentencing the man to jail. Men who shout in the public square that the holocaust never happened (or that the Earth is flat, or the moon made of cheese) are denounced as maniacs and crackpots, ultimately they are ignored by most. But imprison them and they may attain the status of martyrdom, fueling conspiracy theories.

I don't know the Austrian legal status of free speech but I contend that in Austria, as is the case anywhere, the best weapon against harmful, hateful, unconscionable speech is truth, not a muzzle. Present the truth to those that are not already aware and let men like David Irving scream into a howling wind of public indifference.


Anonymous Boyette San Diego said...

Like you, I think Irving's denial of the reality of gas chambers at Auschwitz is detestable, especially coming from a supposed historian. But also like you, I think that sentencing him to prison for his declaration is another act of hatred and fear. Let the truth be held up to shine against lies and allow its power to prevail.

Tue Feb 21, 04:14:00 AM EST  
Anonymous Inquisitor said...

"The best weapon against harmful, hateful, unconscionable speech is truth", to address the conditions that make people susceptible to the intents behind such abuses of the freedom of speech. If not, what happens is that the human propensity towards least thought prior to action serves as the foundation upon which 'harmful, hateful, unconscionable speech' is taken as truth.

Tue Feb 21, 06:57:00 AM EST  
Blogger Tim Kanwar said...


While I agree that one of the problems of "harmful, hateful, unconscionable speech" is that it can be taken as truth, I maintain that the solution is not to sentence its messengers to jail.

If your point is that in response to such insidious speech we should redouble our efforts to remove the widespread ignorance that allows the words of men like David Irving to gain a foothold in society as anything more than the rantings of lunatics, then I agree entirely.

If, on the other hand, your point is that we should attempt to do as above but, while that process is ongoing, muzzle men like Irving by incarcerating them, then I'm afraid I disagree.

Wed Feb 22, 01:27:00 AM EST  

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