Free Speech, Muhammad, and the Holocaust

The timing of Austria’s conviction and imprisonment of David Irving for denying the Holocaust could not have been worse. Coming after the deaths of at least 30 people in Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Libya, Nigeria, and other Islamic countries during protests against cartoons ridiculing Muhammad, the Irving verdict makes a mockery of the claim that in democratic countries, freedom of expression is a basic right.

We cannot consistently hold that cartoonists have a right to mock religious figures but that it should be a criminal offense to deny the existence of the Holocaust. I believe that we should stand behind freedom of speech. And that means that David Irving should be freed.

Before you accuse me of failing to understand the sensitivities of victims of the Holocaust, or the nature of Austrian anti-Semitism, I should say that I am the son of Austrian Jews. My parents escaped Austria in time, but my grandparents did not.

All four of my grandparents were deported to ghettos in Poland and Czechoslovakia. Two of them were sent to Lodz, in Poland, and then probably murdered with carbon monoxide at the extermination camp at Chelmno. One fell ill and died in the overcrowded and underfed ghetto at Theresienstadt. My maternal grandmother was the only survivor.