Monday, February 20, 2006

Stopping the Virus

At RFE/RL, senior correspondent Jeffrey Donovan writes about the David Irving Holocaust Denial case, which went to trial in Vienna today (Irving received a three-year prison sentence):
Amid the recent storm over the Muhammad cartoons, many Europeans have supported their publication as a free-speech right -- even though the cartoons, like Irving's opinions, are offensive to many people:

“[Irving’s] actual thoughts, and views, are actually a deep affront to those who actually survived or lost loved-ones in the Holocaust," says David Dadge, who studies freedom of expression issues at the Vienna-based International Press Institute.

Dadge says free societies must allow freedom of expression, even when it offends, such as the Muhammad cartoons. He says the free exchange of information lets the public challenge questionable ideas and facts -- and that, in turn, helps marginalize them.

“You cannot, with views and ideas, keep them from being discussed," Dadge says. "And such laws as the ones that Austria actually has, tries to prevent that. But of course, through the Internet, people are going to be able to access those types of views; you can get on a train and go to another country in Europe to hear the likes of David Irving actually give speeches on those subjects. So having laws that locally try and prevent that kind of discussions is in essence kind of pointless, because it doesn’t prevent those discussions and those views from actually getting out.”

Some in the Muslim world criticize Europe for being hypocritical on free speech. That is, while some in Europe may clamor for the right to publish the Muhammad cartoons, at the same time people like Irving face the prospect of jail for simply expressing their opinions about the Holocaust.

Dadge doesn’t agree with the Holocaust denial laws in Austria, Germany, and some other European countries. But he says they were put in place in hopes of preventing a repeat of what happened during World War II and the Holocaust.

“These laws were put there to stop the virus of Nazism from spreading," Dadge says. "You can see that from a historical point of view; there’s a kind of fear about that.”

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