- 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
- "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.
- Mark Weber is director of the Institute
for Historical Review. In March 1988 he testified for five days in Toronto
District Court as a recognized expert witness on Germany's wartime Jewish
policy and the Holocaust issue.
- The Institute for Historical Review, founded
in 1978, is dedicated to promoting greater public awareness of the past,
and especially socially-politically relevant aspects of contemporary history.
It is recognized by the IRS as a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit educational enterprise.
- © 2005 Institute for Historical