Wednesday, March 01, 2006

When in Austria...

British historian David Irving was sentenced to prison by an Austrian court for denying the holocaust. He insisted Hitler did not know about the plan to exterminate the Jews, there were no gas chambers, and that the number of Jews executed were relatively small. During the trial he admitted he was wrong to deny the gas chambers existed but was that merely an appeasement for a lighter sentence?

He said:

"Given the ruthless efficiency of the Germans, if there was an extermination program to kill all the Jews, how come so many survived?"

What an assinine remark. One has nothing to do with the other!

Irving also said:

Freedom of speech means freedom to say things to other people that they don’t want to hear. And if that causes offence to them then that’s partly their problem and partially mine. Freedom of speech is the right to be wrong, basically. Sometimes I’m wrong,”

Yep, he was wrong, very wrong.

According to Article 13 & 14 of the Austrian Constitution states:

Article 13 [Expression, Censorship]

1) Everyone has the right, within the limits of the law, to freely express his opinion by word of mouth and in writing, print, or pictorial representation.

(2) The Press may be neither subjected to censorship nor restricted by the licensing system. Administrative postal distribution vetoes do not apply to inland publication.

The thing here is that Irving did break the law when he violated the "National Socialist Ideology Prohibition Act" which bans reorganization of the neo-Nazi movement and prohibits incitement or glorification of their ideology. It might sound like a stretch but by denying the Holocaust and questioning Hitler's knowledge of the alleged events, Irving was in fact inciting neo-nazi ideology.

As it appears that Irving doesn't have much of a case. Austrian law expressly prohibits neo-nazi ideology and in fact that supercedes the Article 13 in which does state "Everyone has the right within the limit of the law" and it's clear the limit of the law was violated. Maybe Irving wanted to be jailed to prove a point or change the law. Who knows? But honestly he doesn't have much of a leg to stand on.

Do I agree with being punished for denying the Holocaust? No. I think even idiots should be able to have their say but alas I don't live in Austria and so really "how we do it in America" just doesn't cut it in this case.

I am certainly glad that for the most part, our first amendment doesn't have restrictions as it does in Austria. Frankly I can't understand the concept of freedom of speech in a Constitution if there's a caveat because it just seems to me that it really isn't freedom if there's a clause attached. If you're going to have a freedom of speech, then it must apply to all speech, even hate speech, even unpopular speech.

Regardless of what you and I think, Austria has this law in place for a reason. They were obviously so concerned in postwar times that the atrocities of the war era might happen again, they wanted to stop them before they started. Doesn't mean I agree with it but the law is the law and if you want it changed, there's a process to deal with that. People have to take some responsibility for their actions at some point in their lives. Irving broke the law, now he's bitching. I'm not sympathetic to him. He knew the law, he violated it, now he pays the price. It's called taking responsibility for one's actions, something that journalists, of all people, should be familiar with.

1 comment:

  1. Fantasmo3/08/2006

    First of all: I am from Austria. You're right: There is no freedom of speech if you are not allowed to say what you think, but these exceptions (like the anti-Nazi paragraph in Austria) exist in every country. If you watch US-TV, you are always confronted with this "beep" if someone says f*** or similar things. Well, you don't get sent to prison for it, but it's a cut of your freedom of speech.If you preach islamistic idiology and someone listens to your words and bombs himself and some others to heaven, you can also get some serious problems with law, without having "done" something. The problem is: speaking can't be strictly seperated from action, because it's some kind of action.
    I have a question: If you insult someone seriously you can get accused to pay money to the insulted in Austria. Is this the same in US?