Monday, December 05, 2005

Freedom Means Tolerating Contrary Opinion

The US Founders wisely decided that the best antidote to false information was public contradiction, not suppression, so the US has the First Amendment. By contrast, Europeans are increasingly criminalizing objectionable opinions as they slide towards their Orwellian future.

David Irving is a historian who wrote the definitive history of the German WW2 V-weapons program, and subsequently wrote a number of books which viewed WW2 from the German perspective. He's in jail in Austria awaiting trial for "holocaust denial".

David Irving, the British historian, has embarrassed Austria's judicial authorities by finding his own books in a prison library while in custody on charges of Holocaust denial.

Irving, 67, who will spend Christmas and the New Year behind bars pending trial, found two of his most contentious books in the Graz prison library after asking for something to read.

He said in an interview he signed both, German translations of Hitler's War and The Destruction of Convoy PQ-17, before returning them to guards.

Josef Adam, the head of the prison, said it was "not possible" to know how the books had ended up in the 6,400-volume library, the contents of which he "could not know exactly".

"Now we will dispose of the books," he said.

I guess, unaware of the irony, they'll burn the books.

Locking people up and burning books to suppress objectionable views is just the tip of the iceberg. The real censorship is hidden - European publishers are under pressure not to put out books that assail the prevailing orthodoxy. Here's the historian Robert Conquest criticizing a pro-Stalin book in today's WSJ (subscription, my emphasis):

A "distinguished" professor of classical philology at Bari University, Luciano Canfora, has produced a book in something like the worst of the neo-pro-Stalinist vein. "La Democrazia: Storia Di Un'Ideologia" is part of the series "The Making of Europe," put out by publishers in five countries under the direction of French Medievalist historian Jacques LeGoff.

It somehow sneaked through publishers' offices into print in Italy, France, Spain and (note title change) as "Democracy in Europe: A History" in England last week, America next month.

Conquest believes that books he disagrees with should not be allowed to "sneak into print".

Censorship is really bad for Europeans, because it suppresses the dissent that has triggered every great move forward in their societies. The above authors, whatever their motives, may help us better understand how Hitler and Stalin became monsters. That's surely worth the risk of tolerating opinions we find unpleasant.

But, absent a First Amendment, Europe's suppression of dissent grinds forward, even in the UK. Tony Blair is battling to pass a law that criminalizes the expression of negative opinions about Brit Muslims:

Peers voted by a majority of 149 in favour of an opposition amendment that would drastically change the contents of the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill.

The Home Office said afterwards that it would not accept the Tory and Liberal Democrat proposals, which were also backed by some Labour peers, because they could make it virtually impossible for the courts to secure convictions.

Ministers are under particular pressure from Muslims to legislate on this issue because they believe it is unfair that they do not enjoy the same protection as Sikhs and Jews, who are covered by the laws banning racial hatred.

Of course, the proper response to Brit criticism of their Muslim immigrants is for the Muslims to cease fomenting mass murder. I wonder how much longer I'll be able to say that without ending up in jail?