Sunday, March 05, 2006

Free Speech: David Irving vs. Denmark Cartoons

In the wake of David Irving's conviction and the ongoing issue of the Denmark cartoons, there have been all kinds of opinions expressed on the topic of free speech and it's limitations or lack thereof.

Any kind of regulation or censorship generally isn't feasible today, since it would require some sort of confidence in whomever the power and authority of censorship would rest--something unlikely in this day and age. Any argument for limited censorship or implementation of the sort of laws that tripped up Irving runs into the question of where any limitation of complete free speech would stop.

The argument for free speech seems to come down to the idea that by having a free and open marketplace of ideas, even the most objectionable expressions of opinion can be countered and exposed for what they are.

In a way, there seems to be a Darwinian "survival of the fittest" approach going on, suggesting that when the completely open expression of any and all ideas is discussed--the opinions that are based on prejudice, ignorance, hate, perversion of logic, or outright lies will not be able to stand when confronted in the light of day by the logic and good sense of the general population. The underlying assumption seems to be that there is something inherently inferior in such opinions or statements that somehow in the long-run just will not be able to stand under their own weight.

But framed in that way, I don't know that this works in practice. These opinions don't seem to go away, do they?

In discussing David Irving, an editorial in the Wall Street Journal notes:
Consider his first book, on the February 1945 Allied bombing of Dresden, in which he put the civilian death toll at between 100,000 and 250,000. That estimate--grossly exaggerated, as later scholarship would show--became widely accepted and helped spark a now popular perception that Germany was as much a victim of World War II as it was the instigator. Or take "Hitler's War," Mr. Irving's attempt to rescue the Fuehrer's reputation by casting Winston Churchill as the real warmonger. Mr. Irving's Hitler revisionism never caught on among serious scholars, but the Churchill revisionism did.

...Had Mr. Irving only restrained himself slightly, the damage he might have done to our collective historical perceptions could have been incalculably greater.
Irving has left his mark and some of his ideas still survive.

Free speech of the type that David Irving exercises attracts a certain swath of the population and just goes on--in the same way that the urban rumors that I constantly receive via email have not stopped just because of snopes.com.

And now any person wraps himself within the right of free speech against any sort of attack at all, and people from all over the spectrum rise to their defense. At The Corner, Josh Goldberg wrote:
I keep hearing, particularly from conservative emailers in the context of the Danish cartoon controversy, that there is no such thing as "inappropriate speech." This is a popular view among opponents of political correctness, especially among college kids. It is a very opportunistic position to take.

...Of course some speech is inappropriate. Even some political speech is innapropriate (you would think more conservatives who rightly despise Michael Moore would understand this). But inappropriate shouldn't mean illegal. And yet liberals -- and no shortage of conservatives -- consider criticism of inappropriate speech to be somehow an infringement of free speech rights. When Cindy Sheehan or Cynthia McKinney say something idiotic the knee-jerkers respond "they have a right to say it." Okay, but so what? [emphasis added]
Somehow, things have gone so far that there is an underlying assumption that the right to say something grants one immunity from contradiction, as if by saying that Sheehan or McKinney have no clue what they are talking about has impinged on their basic human freedom.

In the case of the Denmark cartoons, Moslems--with no understanding or interest in the fine points of free speech--are offended, with their helpful exploitatin and manipulation by their Imams, by the "blaspheming" of Mohammad. In reality, the cartoons (the 12 original, not the extra 3 phoney ones the Imams included) are an expression of basic speech, protesting a situation that has been verified many times over by the staged Muslim riots.

And now the inevitable comparison between David Irving and the Denmark cartoons is made.

Goldberg continues:
The founders considered political speech to be sacrosanct, but they certainly would have had no problem with a local government banning public displays of sexual deviance and they would not have been fooled by arguments that strippers are exercizing their first amendment rights when contorting themselves around a pole. Today, we treat such cultural expression as holy...
Making distinctions is a tricky thing, but according to Goldberg there is a difference between the expression of political speech and cultural speech. The cartoons were an expression of opinion vis-a-vis growing Islamist violence and terrorism and its political consequences to the State. Irving's opinions go contrary to established historic fact (admittedly a potentially tricky thing to define), and are a perversion of it--arguably for personal gain.

In his book Explaining Hitler, Ron Rosenbaum writes about an interview with David Irving on the company he keeps. Irving admits:

I find it odious to be in the same company as these people. There is no question that there are certain organizations that propagate these theories which are cracked anti-Semites."

He then proceeds to make another amazing assertion: He's only using these "cracked anti-Semites" cynically. He plans to jettison them as soon as he can find more respectable forums.

"What else can I do?" he said, but speak at the gatherings of these "cracked anti-Semites" for the moment. "If I've been denied a platform worldwide, where else can I make my voice heard? As soon as I get back onto regular debating platforms I shall shake off this ill-fitting shoe which I'm standing on at present. I'm not blind. I know these people have done me a lot of damage, a lot of harm, because I get associated then with those stupid actions."

Irving was not interested in protest but in the expression and spreading of a historical viewpoint that was inaccurate, corrupt, and damaging. He gave a veneer of respectability to the most venal anti-Semites--a fact he himself acknowledged. Assuming to apply limitations to free speech is not something to be taken lightly, but I don't believe Irving played by the rules of the game, and despite the problems and issues that Irving's sentence has raised, I am not bothered by the jail time that Irving will serve.

(This is actually a repost of a previous post: "Free Speech As Darwinian Construct," which--as far as I can tell--got one hit. I thought I'd try reposting with a less imposing preposterous title)

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