Friday, February 24, 2006

Why Holocaust Denial is a silly crime...

Eaten by Missionaries has written a post about David Irving and raised some questions in my and LibertyCat's comments boxes.

I think Holocaust denial should be legal in Austria. My reasoning runs as follows:
  • Making Holocaust denial a crime is bizarre because it ignores other instances of mass murder such as those carried out by Mao or Stalin. This helps perpetuate the myth that there is something uniquely bad about the far right which assists apologists for the authoritarian left
  • Given the Holocaust did happen and historians find this easy to prove, then it would be better to show Irving to be the idiot he is. If someone is paranoid enough to believe that the Jews are making up the Holocaust then throwing Irving in jail to shut him up is only going to encourage them

It Holocaust denial is viewed as merely a sub-set of incitement to racial hatred then there's still problems. Which is why I'm not in favour of legislation criminalising incitement to racial hatred. Several reasons:

  • The intent of this legislation may be to "prosecute what are seen to be 'ring leaders' in the event of any outbreak of racially motivated violent crime" but intent is different from application of legislation. Anti-terror legislation was not intended to harass ID card protestors and aged hecklers
  • Incitement to racial hatred is only indirectly linked to violence. If David Irving visits Oxford and a week later there is anti-semitic violence - is this due to David Irving or some other factor? If Nick Griffin talks to a group of BNP supporters - some of them may have committed racial violence even if they hadn't attended (you must be either negative about ethnic minorities or an undercover reporter to want to attend a private BNP meeting)
  • It's difficult to prove intent where there is no clear threat of violence. How do you prove David Irving was intending to incite racial hatred and not just to rehabilitate Nazism?
  • Once you try to criminalise some expressions of opinion then you've got to keep on plugging legislative gaps. Blair tried to criminalise incitement to religious hatred because racist groups kept using religion as a by-word for race. Why is it illegal to incite hatred against racial groups but not against, say, women? What counts as a 'race' anyway? If it were illegal to say anything that may cause someone to hate some group who are the subject of a social stigma, no one would be able to say anything. If I directed you here whilst pointing and laughing, I could be the subject of a court case. But it's illegal to swear nowadays so watch this space...

Oh, why can't we just stick with Mill...


  • At 9:26 pm , Anonymous gavin ayling said...

    Apologists for authoritarianism always start a sentence: "Everyone accepts that freedom of expression must have limits..." and then feel that this truism means that a government (which has reigned for too long) has some right to instruct its people in being nice to each other.

    Will 'Ginger' become a taboo word, or is it somehow less serious or offensive?

    As the trailer for V for Vendetta says (tabloidy source, but there you are) governments should fear the people not the people fear the government.


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