Monday, February 20, 2006

Blasphemy Behind Bars

Sentencing a crackpot to three years in prison for denying the holocaust is a reamarkably stupid thing to do. Yet this just happened in Austria, where British writer (I don't think I can bring myself to call him an historian) David Irving was just sentenced. There is no doubt that Irving is full of shit. He himself admits that he changed his views on the Holocaust after reading Adolph Eichmann's personal files. Plus, Irving had entered Austria illegally (he's been banned from the country because of his views), to address right-wing group. But why was he banned because of his views in the first place?

Banning crackpots only gives them the two gifts they most desire: attention and respect. It makes them martyrs for their pet causes, and since most crackpots see themselves as the stars of their own personal heroic dramas, only reinforces their convictions. It makes no sense whatsoever as a government act, and will only spur more interest in, in this case, Holocaust denial.

I'm a free speech absolutist. I believe that there is no speech that should be banned. You heard me, no speech. Yell fire in a crowded theatre, you might be guilty of manslaughter, but you should not be prosecuted for your words alone. Want to draw a picture of Mohammed in a dress? Go ahead. What to advocate the execution of homosexuals? Fine. Until you take the knife in your greasy little hands, I don't care. I might tell you that you're an asshole, and you should shut the hell up, but I'm not going to abuse the legal system to block my precious ears from your lies.

This idea, popular on both the Authoritarian Left and the Authoritarian Right, that we should be unsullied from ideas that we might not like, is a huge obstacle to progress, on both a personal and societal scale. We must wrestle with ideas. The weak ones will break. Whether it's the P.C. censors of the European Union or the butt-clinched scolds of the American Taliban, when it comes to infringing on free speech, there is only one thing to say.

Fuck off.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm also a great believer in free speech, but I think you're a little off base on this. Germany and Austria have very specific restrictions on free speech based on their Nazi past - these laws were enacted in a post-WW II climate in which the reemergence of the Nazi movement was a real threat and there is no way these laws will be repealed until everyone alive in that era is long dead. This particular set of laws are the result of a particular set of historical circumstances. In Germany, this is sometimes discussed in terms of normalcy - Germany is not a normal country and cannot behave as a normal country in this respect until sufficient time has passed.

6:52 PM  

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