"Freedom consists largely in the right to talk nonsense."
~Edgar Watson Howe, American novelist
"Freedom is the right to tell people what they do not want to hear."
~ George Orwell
"Freedom is the right to be wrong; not the right to do wrong."
~ Prime Minister John Diefenbaker
Freedom is indivisible. If we want to enjoy it we must be prepared to extend it to everyone, whether they agree with us or not. This standard cannot be carried lightly, and the burden of it has fallen from many hands throughout history. Each generation must be vigilant that it not slip from its grip.
We are now in the midst of a grievous struggle against an implacable foe whose demands hearken back to the hegemony of the theocratic tyrannies of the Middle Ages. We have told these Islamist fanatics that we will not sacrifice our hard-won liberties and that we will protect at all costs the pluralism that defines our western way of life.
For the sake of the success of this world struggle for hearts and minds, as much as the justice of the cause, it is incumbent upon all free men and women to raise their voices whenever freedom's indivisibility is compromised. Particularly when it occurs in our own backyards; especially when the one compromised is egregiously distasteful; precisely when what we are defending is the right that such an individual has to be the sovereign of his own conscience regardless of the low estate to which it brings him. For this, more than anything, is the object lesson in the difference between liberty and tyranny.
Short of incitement to violence, we in the free world must be resolute in our defense of every person's right to be wrong. The prosecution and three-year conviction of holocaust-denier David Irving by the government of Austria under its hate law provisions, provides nothing but fodder for those who would argue the moral relativism of western liberalism and Islamist statism. As detestable as his words may have been, the principle is more important than the man. Thus it has always been.
Hate laws are a two-edged sword. No one questions the noble intentions of those dozen or so nations who have made it a crime to deny the Holocaust. Neither do we doubt the malignant nature of those men and women who would put in doubt the reality of the greatest crime in the history of man. However, if that orgy of blood is to have any meaning as living testimony, it is that no person shall ever again be persecuted, or prosecuted, for their beliefs, so long as those beliefs do not clearly and specifically call for violence against any person or group.
David Irving, unlike the rioting Islamists we preach at and condemn, did not incite or commit violence. He stated opinions that were easily disproved. In fact he recanted on them some years ago after losing a libel suit against American historian Deborah Lipstadt. Indeed the judgment in that case, based heavily on Ms. Lipstadt's work that demonstrated that Mr. Irving was a defender of Hitler and a denier of the premeditated murder of six million Jews, called Mr. Irving, "...a racist, an anti-Semite and an active Holocaust denier." But to make of stupidity and bigotry a criminal offence is not only to compromise free speech, it would mean having to put most of our political elites into the dock of justice as well.
To Ms. Lipstadt's great credit, and credibility, she has come to Irving's defense. Her words are important to us all at this time. "I'm against censorship, " she said. "No one stands to benefit from throwing this guy in prison." And she was supported by many both inside and outside academic circles who could not stomach the stench of statocratic mind control and have the fortitude to deal with the Irvings of this world on the battlefield of ideas. As Rabbi Jonathan Romain, director of Britain's Jewish Information and Media Service put it, "I prefer to treat him with disdain than imprisonment."
The 1947 Austrian statute under which Mr. Irving was convicted outlaws "...any utterances that deny the Nazi genocide, Nazi crimes, minimizes then, gives them approval or seeks to justify them." Freedom does not allow for the outlawing of "utterances". Criminal codes in most western democracies outlaw only "...uttering threats of death..."
If we are telling Islamist fascists that uttering opinions on, and even satires of, religions, are fully within our concept of free speech, it is axiomatic that we defend the rights of anyone to utter the same views on any matter they so choose. The west's entire argument against intolerant fundamentalism of any sort is based on the simple, but eloquent, notion that prohibitions on expression belie the concept of a free society.
In trying to imbue political correctness into our laws in order to satisfy every group, all we do is encourage the perversion of our most sacred trusts by appeasing every special interest that threatens and uses violence. We are mirroring that which we seek to destroy. And as Churchill reminded us, "An appeaser is someone who feeds the crocodile hoping he will eat him last." But eaten we will be.
For the surrender of individual rights to perceived group rights can only lead to the slow erosion of the fundamental liberties we have fought and died for. Had Germany enshrined a respect for the rights of its most vulnerable and unempowered individual citizens - and had that idea taken root - there could not have been the mass murders of Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, etc. The Soviet Union on the other hand had a constitution that protected group rights over the individual. The breadth of these so-called "rights" extended as far as granting "homelands" to many, including Jews. Yet under Stalin individual freedoms were so trampled upon that by the early 1950's one in four adult males had spent some time in prisons and gulags on trumped up charges.
The Irving verdict comes in a particularly troubling week. Britain, which does not have anti-Nazi laws and had allowed the publication of Mr. Irving's books, passed a law that bans the "glorification" of terrorism. How can lawmakers in their right mind come up with wording as all encompassing and explosive as "glorification"? To use the old adage, one man's terrorist is another man's hero. Could this law mean that legitimate biographies of people such as IRA leader Michael Collins, on whom a new book was just released, could now be "outlawed" and its authors "prosecuted" because some group - and perhaps the British government itself that labeled the IRA as terrorists - would feel that merely the telling of history is "glorification"?
There is enough self-censorship going around without the need for it to be embedded in our laws. In the United States, the search engine company Google, censored itself to keep China happy and came under media attack. The irony of course is that the very same media outlets that attacked Google censored themselves in order to keep Muslim critics happy by not reprinting the Mohammed cartoons. In one of the very few happy encounters where freedom reigned one Philadelphia editor explained his decision to run the cartoons by stating the obvious. "We're a newspaper! This is news!" What a novel concept. Actually printing the news without fear.
The low limitation to which western liberalism has sunk to was brought into stark relief during the Irving trial in the testimony of German historian Hajo Funke. He argued that, "In Germany and Austria we can't afford the luxury of the Anglo-Saxon tradition of freedom of speech. It's just not for us. Not yet. Not for a long time."
The sad truth is that the great tradition he speaks of is being compromised every moment by mindsets like his. The answer to him and those of his fellow travelers echoes down to us from the lips of Martin Luther King, Jr. He warned of ignoring the "...fierce urgency of now..."
There can be no other time than now, when we are in the midst of moral crisis, for the right decisions to be taken. For a culture of conscience to replace a culture that cowers. For if we condemn and convict someone for misguided opinions, regardless of how repugnant, what then shall we do with the tens of thousands in Europe alone who have committed assault, destroyed property and preached violence in the name of God. Can any society that prohibits non-violent expression truly call itself free?
By sentencing a foolish, but non-violent man, and appeasing foolish, but violent, mobs, we not only debase justice, but set ourselves up as being nothing more than paper tigers with a double standard of justice that we construct out of fear and pandering. The teeming millions of the Islamist street will justly see the west for the cowards we are and our laws for the duplicitous pieties many have accused them of being.