Monday, March 06, 2006

David Irving Re-Recants

Deborah Lipstadt, who in 2000 won the famous libel case that Holocaust denier David Irving brought against her, marvels at how now serving a 3 year jail term in Austria Irving seems to be consciously undermining his own case while in prison:
According to the Deutsche Presse-Agentur, the German press service, Irving has been using his meetings with various journalists to recant his recanting [which the court did not accept as genuine] of Holocaust denial, i.e. he is using his time to deny the Holocaust.

The proves that the court, from the perspective of Austrian law, got it "right," i.e. his recantations were not genuine.

What is so striking about this -- even to me who has seen him in action -- is how he can be saying these things when his lawyer is trying to get a reduced sentence and the prosecutor is trying to get a stiffer one.
Lipstadt also deals with the free speech issue and explains that she is not the least bit happy with the Austrian court verdict. Besides the issue of the apparent double-standard in the wake of the Denmark cartoons, Lipstadt finds history more potent than the force of law:
More importantly, there is a far better way to fight Holocaust denial than to rely on the transitory force of law. When Irving forced me to go to court to defend my freedom of expression, my most important weapon was the historical truth. We have truth and history on our side. From both an ideological and strategic perspective, those are far more powerful weapons than laws, especially laws that seem to counter the ideal of freedom of expression.

The best way to counter Holocaust deniers is to teach as many people as possible this history. That is why courses on Holocaust history have proven so popular and important. Students who take those courses will never fall prey to the David Irving-like distortions.
In an article in the Jewish Week, Lipstadt writes that laws outlawing Holocaust denial prevent the possibility of countering and rebutting those claims:
My victory in court was based on history and truth, not censorship. In fact, had denial laws existed in the UK, we might never have discovered the lies riddling Irving’s work, which brings us back to censorship, of which Jews in particular should be wary.
The irony is that it was the legal mechanism of the lawsuit in England that made Irving's defeat possible. More than that, according to Wikipedia the research that was done in the preparation for the case covered ground that had not been previously touched by historians:
Evans spent more than two years examining Irving's work, and amassed evidence of Irving's misrepresentations, including evidence that Irving had knowingly used forged documents as sources. Prior to Evans, no one had performed a lengthy, in-depth examination of Irving.
Another advantage of using legal means against a Holocaust denier is the increased coverage and media exposure that books, articles, and the halls of academia do not provide. By the same token though--if the Austrian trial is any indication, such trials do not delve into the issues. It was the libel suit that was unique in putting Irving and the topic of Holocaust denial at center stage and encouraged the media attention to Irving's defeat.

However, the issue is not closed. In her article in the Jewish Week, Lipstadt notes that Irving has in the past sued or threatened to sue others for their comments and has been successful in preventing or toning down criticism of himself. Lipstadt was unable to find a British publisher for her book, History on Trial, about the Irving libel suit against her--possibly because of fears of a law suit from David Irving.

On Lipstadt's web site that gives in-depth coverage of the libel trial it says:
While Lipstadt's decisive victory was an important legal milestone, the threat of libel continues against publishers of books that expose deniers. Many people are concerned that with the passing away of the generation of witnesses-the survivors, liberators, and contemporaries of the Holocaust—deniers will continue to distort history. But the trial demonstrates both the abundant documentation on the Holocaust and how historians can, through careful and meticulous research, teach us what happened during this terrible period in world history. "As academicians," Lipstadt says, "we must use our scholarship to support historical truth. It is our responsibility."
The victory of Truth over lies is no easy matter, but according to Lipstadt it is the only consistent and reliable weapon available--even more so than recourse to the courts.

See also Free Speech: David Irving vs. the Denmark Cartoons

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