10 April 2006
By Gerard Alexander
On February 20, an Austrian court sentenced the notorious British writer David Irving to three years in prison for denying in a 1989 speech that Auschwitz contained gas chambers. Many American observers had mixed reactions. They saw Irving as a loathsome anti-Semite but were uncomfortable with the thought of a person serving time behind bars for something he wrote or said, no matter how noxious.
Journalist Michael Barone probably spoke for more than a few when he said that he “shuddered” at the news of Irving’s imprisonment, “yet I can understand why Austria, like Germany, has laws that criminalize Holocaust denial and glorification of Nazism. History has its claims--heavy ones, in the cases of Germany and Austria.” In other words, criminalizing speech might not be the American way of doing business, but it’s understandably Austria and Germany’s way of dealing with their unique Nazi past. More