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Date Posted: 12:31
Author: Hendrik - 15 Jun 2001
Subject: Free Speech issue

We spoke several times on this board about the problems of Free Speech. I just came about this article, don't know if it is of interest to anyone.

This Irving has always pissed me off; for some unknown reason he has been authorized to edit one of the two publications comprising all of Joseph Goebbels' diaries. Who the heck can take such a man serious?? He is a blunt demagogue, lecturing in right-wing pubs, nothing else.

Shermer is aware of the problems of censorship and free speech, yet he suggests to let people like Irving talk openly; it sounds a bit helpless and leaves the issue open.


Giving the Devil His Due

The Holocaust Denial Trial Tests the Limits of Free Speech

By Michael Shermer

This week (17 January 2000) begins what could be one of the most important trials ever in the ongoing debate about the limits of free speech. British author David Irving is suing American author Deborah Lipstadt for libel. Specifically, Irving is suing Lipstadt for comments about him and his work in a book she wrote on Holocaust denial. As an Englishman Irving is taking advantage of British libel law that puts the burden on authors to prove that their statements are not libelous. The stakes are made even higher because in England loser pays, including all court and legal costs for both parties.

Irving claims, among other things, that Lipstadt has damaged his reputation and thus attenuated his opportunities as an independent scholar to obtain book contracts and other income-generating activities such as lectures. Irving told me and others at a conference sponsored by the Institute for Historical Review--a group who calls themselves "Holocaust revisionists"--that Lipstadt is part of a worldwide conspiracy of censorship to silence him. The conspiracy is being orchestrated, Irving says, by "the traditional enemy"--code phrase for "the Jews."

Irving's claims that only one million Jews died in the war, that gas chambers and crematoria were not used for mass extermination, and that the Nazis never intended to exterminate European Jewry, are easily refuted. Indeed, I do so in my forthcoming book Denying History (co-authored with Alex Grobman), in which we address all of their challenges as well as demonstrate that these "revisionists" are really "deniers," because they deny these three key components that are generally accepted as defining the Holocaust. But the real controversy in this trial, for my money, is whether Irving and his ilk should be allowed to proffer their views without restraint.

In America, the First Amendment protects the right of all citizens to question the existence of anything they like, including the theory of evolution, the death of Elvis, and even the Apollo moon landing. No matter how much one may dislike someone else's opinion--even if it is something as shocking as denying that the Holocaust happened--it is protected by the First Amendment. In fact, the First Amendment was written to protect the speech of the very people we dislike the most.

In most countries of the world, however, this is not the case. In Canada there are "anti-hate" statutes and laws against spreading "false news" that have been applied to Holocaust deniers. In Austria it is a crime if a person "denies, grossly trivializes, approves or seeks to justify the national socialist genocide or other national socialist crimes against humanity." In France it is illegal to challenge the existence of the "crimes against humanity" as they were defined by the Military Tribunal at Nuremberg.

In Germany, where the legal precedence began, the Auschwitzluge, or "Auschwitz-Lie" Law, makes it a crime to "defame the memory of the dead." This was the result of a judgment by the Federal German Supreme Court on September 18, 1979, when a student whose Jewish grandfather was killed in Auschwitz sued for an injunction against an individual who had posted signs on the fence of his house proclaiming that the Holocaust was a "Zionist swindle." The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiff: "In calling the racist murders by the Nazis an invention, the statements complained of deny the Jews the inhuman fate which they have suffered on account of their origin. This means an attack on the personality of the people who have been singled out by the anti-Jewish persecutions in the Third Reich. Whoever tried to deny the truth of past events, denies to every Jew the respect to which he is entitled."

Switzerland, Belgium, Israel, Italy, New Zealand, Sweden, and Australia have similar laws and statutes on the books. These laws are all ambiguous enough to allow courts to interpret various Holocaust deniers' activities as illegal. Irving, for example, has been banned from numerous countries around the world. And while he cannot be legally prohibited from speaking in America, he can be so loudly shouted down that he is, essentially, banned. On Friday, February 3, 1995, for example, Irving was invited by the Berkeley Coalition for Free Speech to lecture at the University of California. The university allowed it but the students did not. More than 300 protesters surrounded Latimer Hall to prevent Irving, and 113 ticket holders, to enter the campus building. The police were unable to control the crowd, fistfights broke out, and Irving was forced to leave before he could speak.

There are three reasons why this reaction was practically and morally problematic:

1. The Holocaust deniers have used this event as a rallying point for their claim that the establishment is censoring the truth. The last thing they want is to be ignored or debunked.

2. Lies and falsehoods are most effectively exposed when illuminated by the light of truth. Ignore or debunk David Irving, but don't censor him.

3. Let us pretend for a moment that the majority of people deny the Holocaust and that they are in positions of power. If a mechanism or precedence for censorship exists, then the believer in the Holocaust may now be censored. Would we tolerate this? Of course not. The human mind, no matter what ideas it may generate, must never be quashed. Sir Thomas More said it best in his exchange with William Roper in Robert Bolt's play A Man for All Seasons:

Roper: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law.

More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

Roper: I'd cut down every law in England to do that.

More: Oh? And when the law was down--and the Devil turned round on you--where would you hide? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake.

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