Tuesday, November 22, 2005

David Irving, Holocaust Denier, Is In Jail in Austria

I remember when I first discovered that Christopher Hitchens, a former icon of mine and now a mindless right-wing pervert, stood up for British historian David Irving when there was no conceivable reason to do so. I was disappointed. Well, it looks like there may be justice for Irving yet.

Incidentally, the laws that make Holocaust denial illegal in Europe are impossible here because of the First Amendment, but I have long supported some version of them. I think incitement to racial violence is a crime and should be prosecuted as such. I'm more agnostic about Holocaust revisionism -- I think it has so little chance of regaining intellectual respectability that it's not much of a danger. But the fact that it's okay to advocate the extermination of Jews in the U.S. as long as YOU aren't the one that pulls the trigger has never made sense to me. I know words and actions are different -- trust me, I've worked this one inside and out in my head. And I still think there oughta be a law. Americans are raised to assume that this is a crazy point of view, but I'm not sure many have really sat down with themselves and figured it out. As huffy as a constitutional lawyer could get in this country about freedom of speech, all a German has to do to reply is ask whether his country's hate crime laws should be repealed. And I would say no.

Interesting sidenote about David Irving and the law: this isn't the first time he's been in trouble. The account of his libel trial (in which he was the plaintiff, believe it or not) at Salon is fascinating.
Under British libel law, all a plaintiff has to do to claim libel is to demonstrate that the words spoken or written about him are defamatory. As D.D. Guttenplan points out in "The Holocaust on Trial," one of two new books about the case, there is no need, as there is in the United States, for the claimant to show that the words were used "in reckless disregard" of the truth. Instead, it becomes the defense's burden to prove that the disputed words are true. What that meant in this case was that because David Irving contended that the gas chambers were a hoax, British law required that in order for Deborah Lipstadt and her publisher to prove that Irving was a Holocaust denier, they first had to prove that the Holocaust actually took place.


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