Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Stupidity is not a crime

After I wrote a column in the MJS on the Danish cartoons, I began to get e-mails from a neo-Nazi group (and they were more Nazi than neo)complaining about the fact that Holocaust denial is a crime in Europe. Now David Irving, a historian of little merit, has been sentenced to three years in prison by an Austrian court for giving a speech in 1989 in which he claimed that the Nazis did not exterminate millions of Jews. He apparently admitted that he was wrong after his arrest. No matter.

Given my strong support for PM Rasmussen and the Jyllands-Posten, I should say that I think this is wrong as well. I am sympathetic that countries like Germany, in light of the horror that it wrought, would want to ensure that future generations always remembered. (The Austrian law in question was passed in 1947.)

But the truth is best served by free and open inquiry. Period. Enforced orthodoxies, even then they are true, tend to become brittle. In a fallen world, governments with the power to silence dissent can't be trusted to limit themselves to silencing only that which has no value. Free and open debate has a tendency to expose dreck for what it is.

Irving is a case in point. He was thoroughly discredited and financially ruined long before he was arrested in Austria. Now he'll have a second life as a martyr.

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