While Holocaust denial is both ignorant and repellent (and it’s easy to understand why Germany and Austria have laws against it), believers in freedom of speech ought to be left uneasy about the sentence, however much they will be appalled by what the disgraced historian had said. As a Danish journalist recently wrote in Jyllands-Posten in the wake of the cartoon wars, “Free speech is free speech is free speech. There are no buts.” With the usual caveats (direct incitement to violence, and so on) that ought to be true.In Denmark. In Austria. Everywhere.
What’s more, while the philosophical basis for jailing Irving may be troubling, its timing is even worse. This decision is bound to be used by those on the Islamic extreme clearly now so intent on limiting freedom of expression in Europe and, doubtless, it will give useful cover to those European politicians clearly so set on appeasing them.