David Irving, as no doubt we all know, is beginning his new career as a jailbird, in the great grey walls of the Josefstadt prison next to the even greater and greyer Landesgericht between Vienna’s city hall and its university. Now, there are plenty of facile things to say about this: freedom of expression is vital, dammit!/Nazis must be suppressed!/What if he was a Muslim? But I hope to raise some others.
Total disclosure: I participated tangentially in Irving’s lawsuit against Deborah Lipstadt. At the time I was a student of the world Holocaust authority, Professor Peter Longerich, who was one of the team of historians who acted as expert witnesses under the direction of Professor Richard J. Evans. Whilst Longerich was known to be preparing for one of his court appearances, he asked me to borrow various works of reference from the Bedford Library at Royal Holloway for him. I was not pleased, some time later, when the librarians demanded I pay fines on the books, although Irving’s defeat was some relief.
Irving is a liar who deserves nothing but contempt. (Richard Evans’s book on the case is strongly recommended for detail.) It cannot go unremarked that he has always chosen to “challenge conventional wisdom”, in the charitable way people put it, in front of audiences who are both already converted to his point of view and willing to pay well for confirmation of theirs. His lecture circuit – mad US militias, western European fascists, apartheid South Africa – speaks for itself, as do those who admit to financing him.
And there’s the rub. In Britain, his nonsense might just be tolerable. But this is in a sense a luxury afforded by a lack of fascists. I can think of many countries where this is so: