People in Europe can go to prison for expressing insulting opinions
David Irving, a denier of the holocaust, pleaded guilty of ‘holocaust denial’ and was sentenced to three years in an Austrian jail. Irving, who has expressed and opinion offensive to a great many people is being punished for it.
The problem with this is that Europe is now in the very embarrassing postion of defending the Mohammed cartoons as ‘non-negotiable free speech‘ while putting another man in jail for exercising his ‘non-negotiable free speech’.
This could not come at a worse time. In the muslim world, this is going to be seen as the ultimate hypocrisy, where in the west one is free to insult Muslims but go to prison for insulting Jews. It gets worse. Now Iran has decided to hold a competition with a prize for ‘holocaust cartoons’, and are daring European newspapers to publish them. The European papers will not, and thus the Iranians will win a propaganda victory.
The winner of a controversial Iranian contest for cartoons of the Holocaust will receive a handsome 12,000 dollars, organisers announced, AFP reported.
The competition was launched a week ago in a tit-for-tat move over caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed that have angered Muslims worldwide, with the selected cartoons posted on Irancartoons.com, a website run in association with Iran’s biggest selling newspaper Hamshahri.
“This is the biggest prize in caricature history,” the site boasted, explaining that the second best entry would get 8,000 dollars and the third best 5,000.
“Twelve other prizes are also to be given,” it added.
Organisers say they want to turn the tables on the assertion that newspapers can print offensive material in the name of freedom of expression.
The sentencing of David Irving led the Iranian foreign minister to observe that free speech in Europe is a ‘Western paradox’.
Tehran – Iran on Tuesday said the three-year jail sentence imposed by Austria on the British writer David Irving for denying the Holocaust clearly showed the ‘Western paradox’ on freedom of expression.
Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said the West on the one hand claims freedom of expression but on the other, implements the opposite in practice.
He said that during his talks in Brussels on Monday in the European Parliament ‘the deputies were not even willing to open this discussion.’
‘We do not understand why the West so desperately insists on having committed this crime and killed exactly six million (Jews),’ Mottaki said.
It is impossible to rebuff the Muslims on principle in one case, while violating those same principles in another. Amazingly, it took a Jewish writer in the Jerusalem post to point out the obvious to the Europeans.
The timing of Austria’s conviction and imprisonment of David Irving for denying the Holocaust could not have been worse. Coming after the deaths of at least 30 people in Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Libya, Nigeria and other Islamic countries during protests against cartoons ridiculing Muhammad, the Irving verdict makes a mockery of the claim that in democratic countries freedom of expression is a basic right.
We cannot consistently hold that cartoonists have a right to mock religious figures but that it should be a criminal offense to deny the Holocaust. I believe that we should stand behind freedom of speech. And that means that David Irving should be freed.
Before you accuse me of failing to understand the sensitivities of victims of the Holocaust, or the nature of Austrian anti-Semitism, I should say that I am the son of Austrian Jews. My parents escaped Austria in time, but my grandparents did not.
The article continues -
So I have no sympathy for David Irving’s absurd denial of the Holocaust – which he now claims was a mistake. I support efforts to prevent any return to Nazism in Austria or anywhere else. But how is the cause of truth served by prohibiting Holocaust denial? If there are still people crazy enough to deny that the Holocaust occurred, will they be persuaded by imprisoning people who express that view? On the contrary, they will be more likely to think that people are being imprisoned for expressing views that cannot be refuted by evidence and argument alone.
In his classic defense of freedom of speech in On Liberty, John Stuart Mill wrote that if a view is not “fully, frequently, and fearlessly discussed,” it will become “a dead dogma, not a living truth.” The existence of the Holocaust should remain a living truth, and those who are skeptical about the enormity of the Nazi atrocities should be confronted with the evidence for it.
IN THE aftermath of World War II, when the Austrian republic was struggling to establish itself as a democracy, it was reasonable, as a temporary emergency measure, for Austrian democrats to suppress Nazi ideas and propaganda. But that danger is long past. Austria is a democracy and a member of the EU. Despite the occasional resurgence of anti-immigrant and even racist views – an occurrence that is, lamentably, not limited to countries with a fascist past – there is no longer a serious threat of any return to Nazism in Austria.
By contrast, freedom of speech is essential to democratic regimes, and it must include the freedom to say what everyone else believes to be false, and even what many people find offensive. We must be free to deny the existence of God, and to criticize the teachings of Jesus, Moses, Muhammad and Buddha, as reported in texts that millions of people regard as sacred. Without that freedom, human progress will always run up against a basic roadblock.
Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.”
The article ends with this sensible observation.
Only when David Irving has been freed will it be possible for Europeans to turn to the Islamic protesters and say: “We apply the principle of freedom of expression evenhandedly, whether it offends Muslims, Christians, Jews or anyone else.”
Europe needs to get over its moral crisis, and start dealing with problems realistically. It can start by practicing what it preaches.