By Mark Weber – February 20, 2006
A court in Austria today sentenced British historian David Irving to three years in prison for a 16-year-old violation of that country’s “Holocaust denial” law.
This sentence is an outrage. Punishing someone for peacefully expressing an opinion about history is a step backwards to the legal standards of the Middle Ages.
The sentence points up a blatant double standard that prevails in Austria, France, Germany, Switzerland and some other European countries that punish anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy about the Holocaust.
While these countries defend, in the name of free speech, the right of cartoonists and writers to mock and insult the religious sensibilities of Muslims and Christians, they deny that same right to anyone who challenges the official Holocaust historiography.
Irving’s three-year sentence is particularly grotesque because it is for a “thought crime” committed 16 years ago. For most crimes committed that long ago, a statute of limitations would have prevented punishment. Irving would not have been punished if, for example, he had stolen a car 16 years ago.
Irving’s case is by no means unique. The long list of those who have been fined, imprisoned, or forced into exile for “denying the Holocaust” includes Robert Faurisson and Roger Garaudy in France, Siegfried Verbeke in Belgium, Juergen Graf and Gaston-Armand Amaudruz in Switzerland, and Guenter Deckert, Hans Schmidt and Fredrick Toben in Germany.
In Germany the trial of “Holocaust denier” Ernst Zundel is still continuing. Another German citizen, Germar Rudolf, similarly faces years of imprisonment there for “denying the Holocaust.”
“Holocaust denial” laws violate ancient and universal standards of justice. If the principle of freedom of speech means anything, it means the right to express disagreeable views, particularly about history.
“Holocaust denial” laws are inherently unjust because they are selective and one-sided. They prohibit dissent about only one chapter of history. Similar laws criminalizing dissent about other chapters of history would universally be considered outrageous.
“Holocaust denial” laws inhibit robust and unfettered discussion about an emotion-laden and highly politicized chapter of history. They underscore the quasi-religious status that the Holocaust story has attained in western Europe and the United States.
With each passing year, “Holocaust denial” laws will be regarded as ever more bizarre and embarrassing. It is difficult to imagine that they will still be in place anywhere ten years from now.