Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Holocause Celebre

David Irving has been dragged ignominiously off to jail for his crime of publicly denying the holocaust in Austria.  He was given a three-year sentence, which seems to me to be somewhat strict, but Austria has the right to make such laws as she sees fit.  In a country which saw the building of the most feared concentration camp ever to exist (Mauthausen) the citizens want no minimalization of the horror that national socialism brought to the world and themselves.  Austria wants to deal firmly with those who would deny the truth.  Challenging accepted truth is one thing--pathological repudiation of accepted truth is quite another.  What is the aim of such an assertion anyway?  To outrage and annoy others.  While such speech is fully protected in the United States, we don't share the awful history of Austria.  It is ironic however, that Austria has made denying the holocaust a crime, but to say that the holocaust didn't go far enough is apparently legal.  This is the kind of capricious censorship that I find troubling. 

Holocaust denial is a somewhat antiquated tactic on the part of the far right neo-nazi movement.  They've moved on.  Rather than deny the fact, they now celebrate it.  As we see from the leadership in Iran.  While I shed no tears for David Irving, I appreciate what he has done to publicize yet another free speech issue.  If Austria wants to criminalize this brand of speech, so be it.  It's their business.  Nobody forced Irving to travel to Austria 15 years after his "crime" and risk arrest.  But they ought to be intellectually fair.  If denying the holocaust is a crime, celebrating it and lamenting its premature conclusion ought to be, too.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Cartoonish Islam

The Islamic world has been ignited into high dudgeon by some Danish cartoonists.  I did not know what to think about this matter.  After reading about it for a week and not seeing the cartoons published in the American press, I had to go searching for them in the one place where freedom of expression still exists: the Internet. 

There I found them.  The Wikipedia site is a good place to start, though the cartoons are so reduced one cannot see them very clearly.   One can see them clearly enough, however, to come to the rational conclusion that they are NOT objectively offensive.  They are not hate speech, but rather a sardonic expression of the cartoonists' reaction to Islamic fundamentalism. 

That the Muslim world has now vindicated the cartoonists' original point, that the Western press is prevented by cowardice or political correctness from criticizing Islam, seems to have been lost on everyone.  This cowardice or political correctness has the effect of granting special status to Islam.  Though everyone else who wants a place at the world banquet has to endure criticism and sometimes ridicule in a civilized way, Islam apparently, feels it has a special status and can just skip that little hazing ritual. 

The Vatican has weighed in: taking this opportunity to offer a self-serving diktat that freedom of expression should not extend to challenging others' religious beliefs.  That would make it a perfect world for priests and mullahs alike, wouldn't it?

I however, come from a proud tradition of challenging religious tyranny: Lutheranism.

An objectively offensive, vile and hateful expression, such as superimposing the prophet's face on a urinal, (which Andres Serrano essentially did in 1987 by immersing a crucifix into a beaker of his own piss and taking a photograph of it) should spark outrage.  Nobody ever said that free speech should be free of consequences: we merely ask that we be free from prior restraint by the government, and the government's agency, Religion.

However, the world is shrinking.  The Internet, our 20th Century equivalent to moveable type will permit the most egregious freedom of thought, and the priests and mullahs will not be able to control it.  Their efforts to impose restraint will fail.