Thursday, January 05, 2006

Lipstadt on Irving

In November, Holocaust denier David Irving was arrested in Austria on charges of denying the Holocaust. He goes on trial in February and could face up to ten years in prison. Now Deborah Lipstadt, who famously defended a libel case against Irving, has spoken out in his defence. Not because she agrees with his views, but because she believes in freedom of speech. She also argues strongly that laws banning Holocaust denial are simply counterproductive, turning it into "forbidden fruit" and thereby granting it completely undeserved prominence and legitimacy, as well as turning people who are best described as cranks into martyrs. As for Irving, she thinks he should simply be ignored:

"I am not interested in debating with Holocaust deniers," she says. "You wouldn't ask a scientist to debate with someone who thinks the Earth is flat. They are not historians, they are liars. Debating them would be nonsensical.

"But we also should not allow them to become martyrs. Nothing is served by having David Irving in a jail cell, except that he has become an international news issue.

"Let him go home and let him continue talking to six people in a basement.

"Let him fade into obscurity where he belongs."

As I've said before, Irving is a jerk, a fraud, and an anti-semite - but he shouldn't be going to jail for it. The answer to poisonous speech like Irving's is more speech, not less. And given the extensive documentation in his libel case that he had "deliberately misrepresented and manipulated historical evidence", disproving his lies should be particularly easy to do.


If Lipstadt feels that way, then sure. However, again, I feel uneasy that some uncritical Irving supporters don't nuance their
arguments with the fact that he lost a defamation case against Lipstadt in the first place.

It's a little perverse to view him as some sort of martyr to free speech when he abused defamation law to try to attack and silence a
respected Holocaust scholar like

That said, I don't want the anti-
Semitic, racist pond scum martyred
either, after reading her views on the issue.

Craig Y.

Posted by Anonymous : 1/07/2006 01:04:00 PM

"...abused defamation law..."? I think your argument is with the UK Parliament, not David Irving - his use of UK defamation law was entirely legitimate. If you don't like the law, blame the govt.

Lipstadt's a pretty ugly character herself, so her views on the issue don't interest me. But if we're to consider who makes the better poster boy for free speech, Lipstadt stood to have to apologise and donate some money to charity if she couldn't prove Irving was a dodgy historian - and seeing as he is, that part wasn't too difficult. Contrast that with Irving, who's sitting in a jail cell for holding a particular opinion on some historical events. Hmmm, whose laws are worse, the UK's or Austria's? Gee, it's a tough one, it's made my brain hurt but after long consideration I think it's Austria...

Posted by Psycho Milt : 1/08/2006 06:11:00 PM


I can't have been paying attention - I hadn't even heard that he'd been arrested. Not that I care, on an emotional level, what happens to him.

If anyone's not buying the generic moral argument, there are two practical points here:

First, having laws that you can't say stuff like this drives the bulk of these guys underground, which means i) you have no way of knowing what they're thinking or are up to, and ii) they turn in on themselves and stop getting influence from what we would generally call common sense.

Second, deniers claim that their position hasn't been accepted because it's being suppressed. So, to actually suppress their position is kind of playing into their hands, no?

I don't want that dickhead to be a poster boy for free speech.

Remembering of course, we are not obliged to listen or promote the views in question.

Posted by Lyndon : 1/08/2006 06:15:00 PM

There are far better poster boys - the authors being prosecuted in Turkey for talking about the Armenian genocide, for example - but if you believe in free speech it means defending it even for scumbags like Irving.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 1/08/2006 06:41:00 PM

As long as one takes due cognisance of the fact that Irving is a lying ratbag who has attended fascist rallies in Germany and fronted Holocaust denial websites elsewhere, yep.

Free speech shouldn't be chilled by vexatious defamation cases. Irving tried to silence Lipstadt.

That said, banning discussion or debate provides more space for his junk pseudohistory to circulate. Irving should not be silenced. By the same token, he shouldn't try to silence those who expose the Holocaust denial/neofascist agenda.

Craig Y.

Posted by Anonymous : 1/10/2006 02:53:00 PM

Craig: I don't think anyone is claiming that Irving is a consistent defender of free speech; he simply demands it for himself, but not for his enemies. But surely the point is that we are better than that?

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 1/10/2006 03:02:00 PM