Regular readers of this blog will probably know that I have certainly no sympathies at all for negationists and Holocaust deniers. British historian David Irving has been sentenced to three years of jail in Austria for having denied the Holocaust. The facts happened in... 1989! I am of course fully aware of the fact that Austria is in a special position when dealing with its historic past, namely the role it played during the war and the Holocaust. However, I am firmly opposed to this kind of law that forces people to believe what the majority and the State decides to be right and just (I have already stated this here in French, Switzerland and France both have similar laws in force). In fact, it is not really an achievement to protect ideas that everybody shares. That freedom exists even in North Korea. The real issue is to protect ideas and their expression when everybody disagrees, even when those ideas are really disturbing. That is genuine freedom of speech. Everything else is as ridiculous as 99% rates of approval in dictatorships.
In addition, it becomes really absurd when non-freedom of thought applies to historical "facts". How should a judge become a historian and decide on the appropriate view of history? Every single event in history can potentially cause political controversy later on about what really happened and how it has to be estimated. History should therefore never be "legalized" or become "official". If denial of the Holocaust is prohibited, what hinders a "liberal democracy" then to rewrite its whole own history and to declare every divergence to be a crime? And where's the limit to it? Should it be wrong to deny that the Romans commited a "genocide" on the Helvetians at Bibracte in 58 B.C.? Is it a crime if I say that Saddam Hussein was much better than the Americans? Or that he was much worse? Should I be punished if I state for example that the Vietnam war is in fact entirely caused by a Communist aggression? Of course, the Holocaust is not just some Gulf of Tonkin-incident. But it remains a fact of history. And history should never be highjacked by politics through the legal system.
What David Irving really committed, was an Orwellian thoughtcrime.
UPDATE (21.02.2006, 13:45): Independently of this blog, both Un Swissroll and Ludovic Monnerat have been writing on this issue - in french. Lisez également les commentaires (et participez).