Freedom of Expression

David Irving, a UK historian, is accused of being a Holocaust denier. He is about to be sentenced by a Vienna court. In my continued attempt to fight what’s wrong in my own backyard, I want to point out that David Irving is a despicable idiot, but being a despicable idiot does not a criminal make. (If it did, I can think of a few other people who deserve to go to jail.)

I’m Jewish, originally European, specifically from France, the country where Yahoo was sued for selling Nazi artifacts. I’ve had strong disagreements with others, including my father, about why I believe free speech trumps the revulsion of Nazi history. Of course, having not lived through WWII and its immediate aftermath, it’s much easier for me to believe such a thing than it is for my father. But in general, laws should be made without emotion, for if laws were made by those most harmed by the crime, our society’s punishments would all be cruel and unusual (an episode of the West Wing comes to mind).

The David Irving case seems even more obvious to me than the Nazi artifacts issue. I believe in the power of intellectual discourse. I believe that administrations shouldn’t hand decisions down to their scientific advisory boards. I believe good ideas and correct depictions of history will rise to the surface when debate is allowed. When the law or some other didactic process decides what can and cannot be discussed, we all lose. Because if I were less informed about the Holocaust, I might wonder why the government simply says “there will be no debate.”

There should be debate. There should be opportunities to skewer David Irving using purely intellectual reasoning. Throwing him in jail is a disservice to intellectual discourse. The truth is stronger than that.