The Gift That Keeps On Giving

Here's another thing I wouldn't have known if not for the cartoon war:

David Irving, the historian, controversialist, and Holocaust

who was praised by Christopher Hitchens as "a great historian of Fascism" and clobbered by Deborah Lipstadt in his highly publicized libel trial, is now in prison in Austria, awaiting trial on a charge of denying the Holocaust. Here's an interview with the bloodied but unbowed Irving.

I have to admit I don't spend a lot of time keeping tabs on Irving, nor do I know enough to choose between Hitchens' praise and Listadt's condemnation. (Like the rest of the unwashed masses, I assume that since he had his reputation demolished in a libel case that he brought himself, he must be malodorous enough that I don't need to smell any further.) But the last I heard of Irving was when a colleague of mine had a brush with greatness while they were both working deep in the archives of a university library (on completely unrelated subjects). This was sometime last year, which led me to believe he had moved on from his bruising encounter in the courts and was still plugging away at whatever it is he plugs away at. Turns out there's been a warrant out for his arrest in Austria since 1989, and when Irving in November traveled to the land of Mozart, Hitler, and Wolfgang Puck to address what the Guardian calls a "right-wing Viennese student fraternity," he got tossed in the klink.

Needless to say the defenders of the dignity of Islam are having a field day with the hypocrisy of it all. This is not the only reason to spring Irving. That Guardian interview makes Irving sound like a sociopath, and I realize Austria and Germany are special cases, but the idea that somebody can be looking at 10 years in prison for expressing a point of view is hateful.

My hope last week was that the intoonfada might force European countries to reassess the many petty laws they have limiting free expression. So far there hasn't been a lot of evidence for that: EU Justice and Security Commissioner Franco Frattini (who is such an intellectual that he nibbles on the earpiece of his glasses just to let you know how thoughtful he is) is calling for a (mercifully) voluntary code of ethics for journalists, that "will give the Muslim world the message: We are aware of the consequences of exercising the right of free expression. We can and we are ready to self-regulate that right." Cops in Nuremberg are getting ready to throw British soccer hooligans in jail if they walk like Basil Fawlty or give Hitler salutes.

The idea that there's any expression that goes beyond the bounds of permissibility comes from the same foul logic that produces the arguments from Bush Administration shills for temporarily suspending civil liberties in wartime: You have all your rights until you actually need them.

Deborah Lipstadt says let Irving slink off into obscurity.

Send Irving mail in his jail cell.

Irving analyzes the Osama bin Laden dinner tape.

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