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Combatting Holocaust denial: Ur doing it wrong when u smash free speech

I detest Holocaust denial.

Relative newbies who haven’t been reading this blog that long may be wondering why I, a physician, booster of science-based medicine, and scourge of the anti-vaccine movement (well, at least in my mind, anyway) would blog about Holocaust denial, but in actuality my interest in combatting Holocaust denial predates my interest in combatting quackery by at least two years. Indeed, one of my earliest long-form posts for this blog, written more than a year before I joined ScienceBlogs and reposted after I joined relates how I discovered Holocaust denial, my confusion and revulsion upon that discovery, and how I became involved in refuting it. Although these days I don’t write about it as often as I used to, I’ve never lost my interest in it and have still on occasion done rather lengthy posts on it. And it can’t be said often enough: Holocaust denial derives from either anti-Semitism, Hitler admiration or apologia, or both. Always. After all, as I’ve echoed a Usenet regular named Allan Matthews, whoonce asked so brilliantly:

See, you’d think that after many months of posting this at least one revisionist who isn’t a neo-Nazi or anti-Semite would have come forward and said “Here I am!”
But, no. It appears that there just aren’t any such revisionists around.

Based on their past posting history, the few bozos who have bothered to claim that they aren’t neo-Nazis or anti-Semites were, upon examination of their claims, found to be clearly lying. Of course, given the general behavior of revisionists, this lack of honesty isn’t surprising in the least.

However, just in case some revisionist ‘scholars’ have missed my question to date, here it is again:

Where are the revisionists who aren’t neo-Nazis or anti-Semites?

It’s a fair question. After all, how can revisionists hope to be taken seriously if they all have such apparent biases, agendas and axes to grind?

So, then, if Holocaust revisionism is an intellectually honest endeavor, where are the revisionists who aren’t neo-Nazis or anti-Semites?

I have never found such a Holocaust “revisionist.”

So, make no mistake, I get it. I get that Holocaust denial is a vile, racist, and bigoted conspiracy theory that denigrates the murder of approximately six million people. I agree that it should be opposed wherever possible. Why else would I have spent so much effort combatting Holocaust denial online over the last decade? It also fits right into my skeptical activism as an example of pseudohistory, paranoid conspiracy theories, and outright abuses of science and methods of historical investigation, making it a classic example to use to teach critical thinking skills. However, as much as I despise Holocaust denial, I value free speech, because it is the wellspring from which all of our other political freedoms flow. Democracy is meaningless without a high degree of freedom of speech, and enshrining freedom of speech in the Bill or Rights, where transient legislators can’t easily mess with it and it requires a Constitutional Amendment to change, was arguably one of the most brilliant strokes of genius by our Founding Fathers. Yes, no freedom is absolute, but the ideal is to place as few limits on freedom of speech as possible.

Even vile speech like that of Holocaust deniers.

That’s why I really, really hate to read about stories like this:

British Holocaust-denying bishop Richard Williamson faces trial in Germany for an outspoken TV interview in which he denied that the wartime extermination of the Jews took place.

The ultra-conservative Catholic cleric was hit with a fine of nearly £12,000 today by a court for his comments made to a Swedish television interviewer – but he refused to pay it.

Because Holocaust denial is a crime in Germany – and because he gave the interview while on German soil – he was prosecuted in Regensburg, near to the birthplace of Pope Benedict XVI, where he gave the interview.

Under the German legal system, he was served with an ‘order of punishment’ informing him of the penalty.

Such orders are intended to cut down on bureaucracy and costs if both sides agree with the fine, which also would mean a criminal conviction.

But Williamson did not agree. He is to appeal, paving the way for a full hearing which could prove highly embarrassing for the church once more – even though Williamson can absent himself from proceedings to be represented just by his lawyer.

We’ve met Bishop Williamson before. Early this year, he gave an interview with Swiss television filled with the most blatant Holocaust denial I’ve heard in a long time, spewing a number of denier canards so mind-bogglingly easy to refute that I wondered if Williamson had even learned Holocaust denial 101. The reason Williamson came into such prominence because of his interview was that, in an EPIC FAIL of unbelievably bad timing, Pope Benedict XVI had opened the way to the reinstatement of Williamson and other bishops who had been excommunicated by Pope John Paul II for rejecting Vatican II, among other things. Shortly after the announcement, Williamson’s Holocaust-denying interview aired. Ultimately, in an equally EPIC FAIL of closing the barn door after the horses have left, the Vatican demanded that Williamson recant his Holocaust denial. Ultimately, Williamson gave a classic “non-apology” apology, which was rejected by the Vatican. Meanwhile, Argentina, embarrassed by the whole affair, kicked Williamson out the country, and he was forced to return to England. There, he was met by met by Michele Renouf, a former model known for her Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism, with whom he had been put in touch by fellow holocaust denier David Irving. Worse, Williamson had apparently been in contact with David Irving for advice on how to “present” his views, which is akin to asking the an anti-vaccinationist to how to “present” vaccine science. As an excuse, Bishop Williamson’s was one of the weakest I’ve heard:

Williamson said through his lawyer that he was assured his offending remarks would not be broadcast in Germany but only in Sweden, where there is no law against Holocaust denial.

Prosecutors had received a letter from the Swedish television producers in which they denied offering any assurance to Williamson that the interview, conducted in English, would be broadcast in Sweden only.

Even I know that you have to get promises like that in writing. I mean, come on!

My reaction to the prosecution of Bishop Williamson is pretty much the same as my reaction was when David Irving was put on trial for Holocaust denial nearly four years ago, when I described Austria’s prosecution as “stomping free speech flat.” From my perspective, it looks as as though Germany wants to stomp it even flatter still, perhaps seeing if it can reduce its thinness to subatomic dimensions.

What prosecutors in Germany appear not to realize is that not only are laws against Holocaust denial an offense against free speech, but they just don’t work. They suppress nothing. As I pointed out nearly four years ago, David Irving got far more publicity in Austria over the few months after his arrest and during his trial than he had gotten in the prior six years. Before, having been utterly discredited as a “historian” after having lost his libel action against Holocaust scholar Professor Deobrah Lipstadt, Irving had been fading into well-deserved obscurity–exactly where he belonged. During the trial he became a martyr for the far right, all wrapped in the mantle of “free speech.”

The argument of apologists for such laws notwithstanding, criminalizing Holocaust denial serves no purpose other than to “stomp free speech flat” and to confirm the claims of the Holocaust deniers that the government is “afraid” of their message. It is true that Germany’s and Austria’s shared histories of the last 76 years lead them to understand far more than we in the United States do just what can happen when fascist ideology takes hold of the reins of power. I’ll even concede that laws banning Nazi-ism, the symbols of Nazi-ism, and Holocaust denial were not at all unreasonable in the immediate aftermath of Germany’s defeat in World War II. West Germany and Austria were fledgling democracies, and there were a lot of former Nazi Party members left living there. There was also a real fear that fascism might rise again, given that the nation was still shattered. Unfortunately, what should have been a temporary measure to help stabilize a defeated nation with most of its major cities reduced to rubble and twelve million homeless and hunger running rampant has become permanent. More than 64 years after Germany’s defeat, these laws still stand, and hapless and vile idiots are still prosecuted under them. Why do these nations still need these laws, which have produced on occasion produced miscarriages of justice that would be hilarious if they weren’t so tragic? After nearly three generations, isn’t it time for these affronts to free speech to be eliminated?

After all, free speech does not mean freedom of speech just for people whose views are within the “mainstream,” whatever that is. That is not freedom of speech. Rather, freedom of speech means protection for those who espouse views that are very unpopular. That includes even disgusting views that are quite rightly unpopular because they are so vile.

Views like those of Holocaust deniers. The way to fight Holocaust denial is not to criminalize Holocaust denial but to fight it with facts and to marginalize Holocaust deniers in society by not giving them any respect.

Bishop Williamson was treated appropriately when the Church demanded his recantation, and Argentina forced him to retreat back to England and, even more importantly, into well-deserved obscurity. He has been paid little mind by the world over the last nine months, and that is entirely appropriate. Even the Catholic Church appears to have more or less ignored him since last February or March. By prosecuting Williamson for Holocaust denial, Germany will not deter Holocaust deniers or limit Holocaust denial. In fact, if I were a Holocaust denier, I wouldn’t be able to envision a more effective way of promoting it than by outlawing it. Not only does it bestow on an odious belief set the appeal of being “so dangerous the government is afraid of it,” but it allows the even more odious little men and women who hold such views to don the mantle of free speech martyr.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

335 replies on “Combatting Holocaust denial: Ur doing it wrong when u smash free speech”

It’s tempting to simply say, like Orac, that free speech should include even Holocaust deniers, but there’s another view.

To put it by way of analogy: two robbers walk into a jeweller’s. One has a gun and points it at the jeweller. The other man says, ‘Shoot him.’

That’s not free speech, that’s incitement to murder.

In a Europe where Jewish graves are continually vandalised, Swastikas frequently spray-painted on synagogues (this happens in my part of London, for example) a Holocaust denier could by analogy be said to be the second man above, in effect saying ‘Shoot him’ to the thugs who come in the night.

Free speech or criminal incitement? Not as simple as you might think.

What I’ve never understood with this: If he’s saying that it didn’t happen, where’d those people go? Did they not exist? I’m left wondering if the families of the deceased could bring a libel suit against someone like this, since claiming someone doesn’t exist seems like defamation of character to me.

“Shoot him” directs an action and can clearly be considered incitement.

“The Holocaust never happened” directs no action and is clearly either an opinion or a statement of a perceived fact.

You are wrong, they are not the same.

Even the first would not be legal in the US because there are narrowly defined exceptions to freedom of speech. There are no exceptions for opinion and dumb-ass statements fortunately.

Not even vaguely close, UK Visitor. The difference between the risks of a Holocaust denier and “Shoot him” is so gargantuan as to make the argument ludicrous.

Speech that somebody somewhere might possibly interpret in such a way as to make them feel more willing to commit a crime? If you’re going to call that “criminal incitement”, then “Hello” is also criminal incitement. The link between the speech and the criminal behavior has to be many, many, many, orders of magnitude stronger.

Apparently it’s a catching disease lately to try to suppress the free speech of people with difficult views and pasts. I’m thinking of the kerfuffle in Chicago with Teh Communist! And here in MA there’s been a big deal about a former ‘domestic terrorist’ who was supposed to speak at UMASS Amherst. He was ultimately denied the right to travel to the state since he’s still on parole. But the amount of outrage, up to the level of the Governor, is disgusting. Convicted criminal or not he has the right to free speech.
I want to start printing cards to send to people with the statement: Free Speech is not just for people with whom your opinions agree. Free Speech is specifically designed to protect people with whom your opinions Disagree. The more revolting to your sensibilities an opinion is (unless a specific incitement to riot or violence) the more vociferously we should defend that person’s right to state it. This is the essence of true Free Speech.
Or something…

Joshua White –

I’m aware the two statements, ‘Shoot him’ and ‘the Holocaust never happened,’ are not the same.

But to the racist perceiver – the intended audience for Holocaust denial – they are much closer and in some circumstances (not all) the distinction you make could be dangerously naive.

Even the UN Declaration on Human Rights accepts that the right to freedom of expression does not include the right to racist speech, exactly for this reason: it has consequences.

When a BNP (British National Party) councillor was elected in Millwall, East London (on a minority of the total vote, I should add) racist attacks in the area went up 300%.

Incitement to racial hatred is not an academic question; in certain places, at certain times, it has very real consequences.

Germany simply has a very weird law for dealing with a particular type of racist. To be honest I can’t blame them even though i don’t agree with it.

Personally I like the idea of free speech against these people because they are so spectacularly wrong that having them mouth off in public shows everyone what hateful stupidity looks like.
Absolute and total derision however should be meted out at all opportunities.

I agree with you, but the net result of ignoring holocaust deniers in the US has been to allow them to grow and become more bold in their actions without the restraint of social opprobrium.

The median between the two would be to report on them regularly, but without giving them anything to matyr themselves on, so people can see their vile underbelly (they’re all vile underbelly, no dorsal organs at all, as far as I can tell). It’s difficult, however, to do this, and it’s easier to say “ignore them and they’ll go away”, but, like bullies, without censure, they simply escalate when no-one’s looking.

Also, in Europe, the concept of “free speech” is substantially more limited. This is one of the reasons I like the US, despite its warts (I emigrated from the UK 20+ years ago). While the US might look at this and (correctly) see free speech being stomped on, the aerage German isn’t necessarily going to look at it the same way. Of course these days, events such as this take place on the world stage, so you have a lot more people than just the members of the nation involved.

However, despite all that, like you, I don’t think the answer is to try and stomp on free speech, as that simply allows this kind of slime to pretend they’re “noble” martyrs for their cause. >:(

The practical effect of extending free speech to even hateful ideologies is that they are far more likely to advocate out in the open and be influenced externally than radicalizing in secret compounds plotting violence.

UK Visitor, there is a big difference between plain racism and incitement to racial hatred.
Are you certain that the UN declaration on Human Rights bans racist speech? I tried to find mention of it in the declaration but didn’t see it (I could be mistaken, but I simply don’t find what you claim.)
As an example the marriage registrar in the US who recently refused to marry a mixed race couple undoubtedly said racist explanations as his reasoning. At the same time I don’t think we could describe it as incitement to racial attack (more likely its incitement to point at him and laugh).

Liz – my favourite denier answer to that question is that lots of Jewish people were in unhappy marriages, ran away when they had the chance to start over again and were absorbed into the larger population. No, seriously.

I can’t remember where exactly I saw that one, but it is apparently a real denier “theory”.

As for the larger issue:

The argument of apologists for such laws notwithstanding, criminalizing Holocaust denial serves no purpose other than to “stomp free speech flat” and to confirm the claims of the Holocaust deniers that the government is “afraid” of their message.

Yeah, you’re probably right. As much as it pains me to say it. I appreciate the point that UK Visitor is making, but making martyrs out of denialists is probably counter-productive.

Maybe we need a historian version of Clowns Against the Klan.

Sigmund, you hit on a good point regarding interpretation of the UN Declaration.

The UK outlaws material likely to be seen by someone in whom it’s likely to cause racial hatred. This is the UK’s interpretation of a sub-clause in the UN Declaration, fitting in with the aim of a state having to avoid racial discrimination.

Not everyone agrees with this interpretation but it applies to the real world (well, the real world of Europe’s big cities) with more relevance than the simple ‘free speech’ interpretation.

I don’t say that all racist views can classified as incitement, merely some.

-As an example the marriage registrar in the US who recently refused to marry a mixed race couple undoubtedly said racist explanations as his reasoning. At the same time I don’t think we could describe it as incitement to racial attack (more likely its incitement to point at him and laugh).-

But, he did let his “piles of black friends” use his bathroom.

Even the UN Declaration on Human Rights accepts that the right to freedom of expression does not include the right to racist speech, exactly for this reason: it has consequences.

Personally, that’s one reason why I think the U.N.’s position on free speech is completely muddled. Another is that it has in the past seriously considered a resolution that would say that disparagement of religion is not considered protected free speech. If I recall correctly, it was a resolution promoted by mainly Muslim countries to short circuit criticisms of Sharia law and the anti-Semitism routinely espoused under the rubric of religion. Unfortunately the same declaration was also supported by the Catholic Church and other mainline religions.

So, no, citing the U.N. position on free speech is not likely to persuade me, as the U.N. does not appear to be particularly concerned with championing free speech.

They are not analogous is what I am getting at.

For something to give incitement it has to suggest action. An opinion might inflame, but just about any opinion can inflame for any reason. People can be inflamed from perceived religious insult to sports team insult. The potential for inflaming a situation is no reason to ban such speech because banning statements that might inflame would lead to a world that would be intolerable to live in. This is also not academic because there are elements within the UN trying to move on to religious insult. My opinion? If it says what you say, fuck the UN declaration on human rights. Like much of what the UN does it does not work as intended and needs to be replaced if possible, and ignored if necessary (those parts of it anyway).

I would rather racists get to say what ever they want because that lets me know who the idiots are. The “racist perceiver” already has problems upstairs and I refuse to punish society because of the problems of racists. Justice is punishing the racists for real incitement and behavior.

If a BNP councilor was elected that makes me think that you have bigger problems. That means most of the constituency in his area was already racist, and therefore more prone to such actions. I am of the opinion that racist individuals are more capable of justifying violence against individuals of other races because they do not seem them as “human” as they are. It is not surprising that they found it easier to do violence if they thought they had more government support. The proper response is not to ban racist speech however. That just drives it underground where it festers and will not go away. The proper response is to not be a coward and confront racism publicly, and often. I would rather the next generation see that they need to develop the intellectual tools to fight such problems instead of thinking if they hide it, it will go away. Seriously the whole strategy is childish. It makes me think of a child screaming for to just go away instead of confronting it in a more mature fashion.

It’s like the people who have problems with violent video games. It’s not the video games or the normal people who use them that is the problem. It’s the people who are already fucked up in the head that are going to react to something that will push them over the edge. Such people could snap at lots of things that stimulate them in the right way and video games are just the scape goat.

Orac, that’s unfair. You’re mixing up a proposal from some countries (to protect religious delusions) with an agreed UN Declaration on fundamental freedoms supported by all free countries.

It’s like saying because some kooks in the Oklahama legislature tried to ban Richard Dawkins, other, perfectly sensible laws from the same place should be derided.

Tsk tsk. I expect that sort of technique from anti-vaxxers, not you.

If you go to the YouTube page for your constant commenter, “Brian” (http://www.youtube.com/user/jalusbrian), you can read all sorts of antisemitic ramblings about “Zionists” this, and “Zionists” that. Even in his constant commenting on my videos about Desiree Jennings, he blames Jews for a vaccine conspiracy. Same can be said of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan (http://tinyurl.com/yfswen7), who is convinced that vaccines are a plot to depopulate the Earth by the “Zionists”. Yes, words, like actions, have consequences… Ideas do too.

Attack_laurel, can you provide some evidence that “…ignoring holocaust deniers in the US has [allowed] them to grow and become more bold in their actions without the restraint of social opprobrium.”?

My experience has been that people don’t ignore racists so much as they either agree with them or openly ridicule them. Personally, it seems more likely to me that, if US racists and anti-semites have actually become more bold, the causes lie elsewhere.

You’re mixing up a proposal from some countries (to protect religious delusions) with an agreed UN Declaration on fundamental freedoms supported by all free countries.

Ah but the devil is in the details isn’t it. Just like everyone in this board agrees with free speech. Oh except for that free speech over there that you don’t like. That speech isn’t really free speech. The situation is clearly more complicated than you let on.

I have a comment that is being held up. Would you mind telling me why Orac? Just so I can avoid what ever it is in the future.

Ahh. Thanks. I did not think my F-bomb was gratuitous so maybe I will try again if Orac does not like it.

Stick to the subject Orac. No one trusts your medicine anymore because of it’s long history of incompetence and money grubbing.

“European scientists and health authorities are facing angry questions about why H1N1 flu has not caused death and destruction on the scale first feared, and they need to respond deftly to ensure public support.

Accusations are flying in British and French media that the pandemic has been “hyped” by medical researchers to further their own cause, boost research grants and line the pockets of drug companies.

Britain’s Independent newspaper this week asked “Pandemic? What Pandemic?.”

-Ah but the devil is in the details isn’t it. Just like everyone in this board agrees with free speech. Oh except for that free speech over there that you don’t like.-

Everyone? Funny, i don’t see anyone saying that free speech isn’t open to all. One person wanted to explore where incitement ends and free speech (without punishment) starts.

Quote: Even the UN Declaration on Human Rights accepts that the right to freedom of expression does not include the right to racist speech, exactly for this reason: it has consequences.

The UN Decleration of Human Rights does not say this. It says that everyone has the right to freedom of expression. It does however say that limitations of these human rights may be imposed *by law*, under certain conditions. If freedom of expression excludes a right to racist speech, then this has to be determined by law in that perticular country, and only for the purposes listed in Art. 29-2 of the declaration. How the lawmakers in each country balances these objectives, falls within the sovereignty of that particular country.

-Accusations are flying in British and French media that the pandemic has been “hyped” –

and your proof is what exactly? and excuse me but this thread is about holocaust denial. You are the one whining on the wrong thread.

How terrible, the H1N1 didn’t kill millions so we shouldn’t have prepared for it. In fact let’s blame them for putting anything in place.

Dumbass.

Yes, words, like actions, have consequences… Ideas do too.

No one disputes this. Everything has consequences. The question is where do we place restrictions? How much do we restrain people for the sake of someone’s opinion on proper public behavior?

I prefer to only punish the things that most directly lead to actions that cause real tangible harm to people. I do not consider hurt feelings tangible harm.

Saying “I wish that something horrible happened to cause the death of any leader in Washington that threatened my constitutional freedoms” is not incitement. Standing up in front of a group of politically like minded individuals and saying to them “I want you to go to Washington and kill any senator whose actions impact on my first amendment freedoms”, now that’s incitement.

The second should be illegal, never the former.

Stick to the subject Orac. I don’t trust your medicine anymore because I’d rather believe dumb conspiracy theorists than real experts.

Fixed that for ya!

British libel laws are rather a joke, because they place the onus on the speaker to prove negative impact — that NO harm was done based on his words. Whereas in the U.S. the burden of proof of actual harm or damage is placed, in my view corectly, upon the offended listener who claims injury.

Europeans (and regrettably the British are ranked among them on this quality) have never had a strong tradition of free speaking or dissent in the face of public (let alone governmental) disapproval. Groupthink that promotes “social harmony” is still very much in vogue in Europe, but that does not mean that one should endorse it, any more than one endorses Chinese, Russian or Iranian suppression of free speech.

“Moreover, laws banning Nazi-ism and Holocaust denial were quite understandable in the immediate postwar years. West Germany and Austria were fledgling democracies, and there were a lot of former Nazi Party members left living there. There was a real fear that fascism might rise again, and the nation was still shattered.”

You’re muddling up two separate things here.

1.) Many European countries and of course Israel have laws that ban Holocaust denial. All these laws were introduced fairly recently, within the last 20-25 years to be precise.
In Germany, Holocaust denial is part of the § 130 Public Incitement law. (Introduced 1985, Revised 1992, 2002, 2005) The special provisions for holocaust denial were added in the 1990s and speech justifying or glorifying the Nazi government 1933-1945 were added only recently.

2.) The banning of Nazi symbols was part of the post war denazification, “an Allied initiative to rid German and Austrian society, culture, press, economy, judiciary, and politics of any remnants of the Nazi regime. It was carried out specifically by removing those involved from positions of influence and by disbanding or rendering impotent the organizations associated with it. The program of denazification was launched after the end of the Second World War and was solidified by the Potsdam Agreement.” (Wikipedia)

In the older post you linked to, you said that “After four years of occupation, when West Germany became a state, bans on Holocaust denial, the Nazi Party, speech glorifying Nazi-ism, and Nazi symbols were included in the Grundgesetz, or Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany.”

This is also not quite true. Holocaust denial was banned following a decision by the Federal Constitutional Court court in 1994. It isn’t part of our constitution, though, but of the above mentioned Public Incitement law.

Stick to the subject Orac. No one trusts your medicine anymore because of it’s long history of incompetence and money grubbing.

Well done, Happ*h. It took me at least 60 seconds to figure out it was you this time.

How terrible, the H1N1 didn’t kill millions so we shouldn’t have prepared for it. In fact let’s blame them for putting anything in place.

It’s sort of the reverse of the tiger-repelling rock. Awesome.

Joshua White, your example is not one to argue over. The real world unfortunately provides worse. They are the examples of racial incitement where I would argue free speech should not apply.

A Jewish schoolchild boards a bus in London, and is subjected to a torrent of racial abuse. His attacker is then banned by English law (using a so-called ‘ASBO’ or anti-social behaviour order) from using any racist words (or actions) in the future.

Yes, this goes against the racist’s free speech, but it protects the innocent and the only person to suffer is the racist.

Sorry, no contest.

Eis – “and your proof is what exactly? and excuse me but this thread is about holocaust denial. You are the one whining on the wrong thread.”

Oh. You want to talk about WWII? OK.

Orac – “Why else would I have spent so much effort combatting Holocaust denial online over the last decade”

Because you are jewish or you work for jewish people? Same reason all the other outraged people here want to talk about WWII.

Orac – “Meanwhile, Argentina, embarrassed by the whole affair, kicked Williamson out the country”

Baloney. Argentina kicked out Williamson for the same reason all countries take actions beneficial to Israeli interests. Israeli threats or Israeli control of the country. Nobody in Argentina gives a damn what Williamson said or who he is.

Orac – “He has been paid little mind by the world over the last nine months, and that is entirely appropriate”

Translation. “The Israeli controlled media of the western countries stopped talking about Williamson over the last nine months, and it is a great thing that the Israeli controlled media determines what people in the western countries think.”

Orac, that’s unfair. You’re mixing up a proposal from some countries (to protect religious delusions) with an agreed on fundamental freedoms supported by all free countries.

Unfair? Please, give me a break. You’re the one who brought up the UN Declaration, not I. In response to your using the U.N. Declaration, I simply pointed out why I don’t think much of the U.N.’s declarations when it comes to free speech. You can agree or disagree if you want, but to say it’s unfair of me is ridiculous. It was perfectly fair game.

re: Orac as “scourge of the anti-vaccine movement”-it’s *not* only in your own mind- while perusing Whale.to,I found that Orac is listed *twice* in the “‘Experts'” section (i.e. experts they don’t like), as “Orac” and his “friend”.Even Barrett and Goldacre only get one listing each.I suggest “scourge of the anti-vaccine movement” *and* “bane of the woo-meisters” (or “bane of all woo”).

How many times has tyranny begun with “we’re doing this for your own good.” It’s unfortunate but as long as vile speech is safe, we can be pretty sure that meaningful conversations are safe as well.

Holocaust denialism (while idiotic) is not inherently racist. When used by racists (as is the case in all examples I’ve seen) there is clear hate-speech and vindictive language that makes it absolutely clear that the denialism is not a reasoned argument. So, why not focus on the hate speech and racist rhetoric? That is the purpose of these laws, right?

It is ironic that portions of the world get up in arms when Islamic countries and organizations become incensed at the publication of a cartoon Mohammed, yet accept other free speech restrictions readily.

The laws are counterproductive at this point anyway. Those that would believe the denialist claims are most certainly racist anyway. Outlawing the *ahem* “discussion” simply makes it more difficult to claim the moral high ground on free speech issues.

Poor analogy, UK visitor. A better one would be: In light of its anti-Dawkins resolution, should we treat other Oklahoma legislation involving atheism or evolutionary biology with suspicion?

I think most of us here understand your point and the logic behind it, friend. We just disagree. Cultural differences, I imagine, though that doesn’t change my opinion that the link you draw is too thin. I don’t think the “cost-benefit” analysis would come out in your favor.

I disagree with the idea that free speech “exposes the underbelly of hate” and so society wises up and sees how ridiculous Holocaust denial, or the anti-vaccine movement, or racism really is.

UK Visitor raises a real point- Holocaust denial is hateful speech, and in an environment where hateful speech is more common, those individuals who would like to engage in hateful acts will feel emboldened to do so.

That said, free speech is crucial for democracy and a peaceful, just, and livable society because the power to say “you can’t speak” is so immense that it should not be trusted to anyone (and, no, I am not a libertarian and I have no problem with government regulation in most areas of life).

Free speech must be unregulated to the greatest degree possible, even when this leaves speakers free to cause some harm (like anti-vaxers) because the alternative is such a huge step down the road to authoritarianism and fascism.

Orac, you mix up a) something that does exist with b) something that doesn’t.

That allows you to say that because b) is rubbish, therefore a) is rubbish.

It’s a rubbish argument, but I was being charitable and called it unfair instead. My mistake.

-Because you are jewish or you work for jewish people? Same reason all the other outraged people here want to talk about WWII.-

HAHAHAHAHAH. Don’t go to Germany boy, they know how to deal with your sort. Why do I get the impression you also have “piles of black friends” too.

“Because you are jewish or you work for jewish people? Same reason all the other outraged people here want to talk about WWII.”

“So, then, if Holocaust revisionism is an intellectually honest endeavor, where are the revisionists who aren’t neo-Nazis or anti-Semites?”

Point goes to Orac (or Orac’s quote of some other guy). Also worth pointing out that I am neither Jewish nor do I work for Jewish people. Not that there’s anything wrong with that :p

Oh look! More evidence that allopathic medicine is about money and killing people!

“Up to 150,000 people with dementia are being prescribed anti-psychotic drugs unnecessarily, a Government-ordered review disclosed

Only around 36,000 of the 180,000 people on the drugs in the UK derive any benefit from them, it said.

Overprescribing of the drugs is linked to an extra 1,800 deaths a year among elderly people.”

Anti “hate speech” laws will ruin us.

Hate alone is not a bad thing. It’s part of our capacity to love. For when you love something you hate that which might threaten it.

Hating bad ideas isn’t the same as wanting to hurt fellow human beings.

There are ideologies worthy of hate. One day supporters of those ideologies will hold power and they’ll jail us for “hate speech” against them.

Everyone? Funny, i don’t see anyone saying that free speech isn’t open to all. One person wanted to explore where incitement ends and free speech (without punishment) starts.

I have no problem with that exploration.

I was responding to UK Visitor thinking that Orac is being unfair when he compares the attempts of some Muslim countries to limit religious criticism, to limitation on opinions related to the existence of the Holocaust. To me it is the same kind of encroachment on freedom of speech. Make certain speech illegal because someone might get pissed off or excited and get violent. The answer to the racist/religious fanatic problem does not include caving in to murderers and thugs, or being paranoid about what you let them say. All you do is create a new mechanism to suppress speech. Next you could see denial of the benefits of animal experimentation becoming illegal because of the violence of animal rights activists.

-Oh look! More evidence that allopathic medicine is about money and killing people!-

Well, someone is definitely “over medicated”. Orac, cleanup on isle 4.

My grandfather was a holocaust denier, but I think it was because he just didn’t want to believe his former country had done such a thing. And his brother died during that time, outside Leningrad.

A Jewish schoolchild boards a bus in London, and is subjected to a torrent of racial abuse.

That’s harassment. We already have laws against that.

The difference between harassment and hate speech: one is a visible behavior that can be objectively verified; the other is a thought crime.

Bad idea to give governments the authority to regulate feelings and thoughts.

Probably a comment better suited to a different thread but, will H1N1 be held up alongside the Y2K bug? Will the huge effort that went in to preventing a pandemic be compared to the huge effort that went in to reprogramming all those computers and ridiculed because in the end people were rather disappointed that planes didn’t fall out of the sky and all the nuclear power plants didn’t actually explode.

Joshua White, I don’t understand why you (and especially Orac) suddenly decide to opt out of basic distinctions when it comes to this discussion, but if it was a thread about e.g. the proper use of a drug, rigour would be expected.

There is no comparison between limitation on free speech between a racist and someone criticising religion (which is only a proposal in the UN, by the way).

The former refers back to other fundamental human rights, such as being free from racial discrimination; the latter has no such substance, just the fact that some opinions may offend the religiously deluded. One exists in the UN Declaration; the other has no basis in it.

Why is it so difficult to grasp this?

Since you seem to have missed a practical example of where free speech should come second, I’ll give it again:

A Jewish schoolchild boards a bus in London, and is subjected to a torrent of racial abuse. His attacker is then banned by English law (using a so-called ‘ASBO’ or anti-social behaviour order) from using any racist words (or actions) in the future.

Yes, this goes against the racist’s free speech, but it protects the innocent and the only person to suffer is the racist.

Oh look! More evidence that allopathic medicine is about money and killing people!

Those two goals are at odds with one another, idiot. You can’t sell evil allopathic drugs to a corpse.

The recent resolution aimed at protecting religion from mockery is gaining momentum outside the Islamic world. It was recently put into law in the Irish republic where it is now illegal to publish anything that offends substantial numbers of any religion. There is no prison sentence for the crime but there is a substantial fine – something like 30,000 dollars per offense.
In the case of Ireland it was not Islamic individuals but the ruling conservative Fianna Fáil party and its coalition partners, the environmentalist green party, that pushed for this restriction on free speech.

There is no comparison between limitation on free speech between a racist and someone criticising religion…

A Jewish schoolchild boards a bus in London…

Uh… “Jewish” is a religion.

The recent resolution aimed at protecting religion from mockery is gaining momentum outside the Islamic world. It was recently put into law in the Irish republic where it is now illegal to publish anything that offends substantial numbers of any religion.

That’s great news for Scientology, Sigmund. Finally we can get those mask-wearing clowns behind bars where they belong.

Logically and ethically, if preventing offense is a sufficient cause to restrict free speech, one should also make sure to prevent offense to, say, politicians. For example, what if someone were so insensitive as to criticize government policy? That might hurt Congress’ feelings! Gotta ban that!

An extreme example, and overstated (it is a slippery slope argument) but I think it serves to illustrate the underlying problem.

Simply causing offense, or inflaming emotion, cannot be considered grounds to restrict free speech. Either you have to decide that offending some people is OK but others can’t be (morally repugnant on its face) or you have to ban all speech.

Fundamentally, free speech must protect offensive speech, or it protects nothing – because if speech offends nobody, there’s no reason for anyone to suppress it.

titmouse –

Yes, I’m sure the person banned for speaking their views on the bus restricted their insults solely to the Jewish religion, and their comments were nothing to do with race.

(Irony meter set on high).

A Jewish schoolchild boards a bus in London, and is subjected to a torrent of racial abuse. His attacker is then banned by English law (using a so-called ‘ASBO’ or anti-social behaviour order) from using any racist words (or actions) in the future.

Your example sucks, it needs more context. Is it one incident of “a torrent of racial abuse” or is it a pattern of this happening everyday, causing a big disruption? Did the bus driver kick the guy(s) off the bus for causing a disturbance? Did the kids parents respond to his torrent? Harassment laws can come into play for repeated, threatening behavior. If the words are followed by actions those can be punished. Did the community that hears about what happened to the kid rise up and denounce and socially ostracize the offender?

No, as it sits I do not think that your example is of something that should be illegal. The kid can learn to respond to racist speech (if he is old enough to explain why his parents were not present). The laws can respond to violent acts. The community can muster up the courage to publicly oppose such behavior and opinions without banning them. When the KKK marches in the US there are more protesters than members. That is the appropriate response. Social ostracization, learning how to respond, not government banning. The kid will grow up a better person if he learns that some people can act like monsters, and learns how to verbally make them look like idiots in public. If “enlightened” Europe really wants to stamp out racism and religiously inspired insanity, it will not remove the emotional sting of seeing such. That is part of what encourages people to learn how to respond.

Joshua White, my example was a real one.

I think it’s awfully easy to say

The kid can learn to respond to racist speech

Or

The kid will grow up a better person if he learns that some people can act like monsters, and learns how to verbally make them look like idiots in public.

from the safety of suburbia (I’m not getting at you, I live in suburbia).

My view is that the law should be there to protect the innocent.

My view is that the law should be there to protect the innocent.

Unfortunately, it’s just not this easy. When you allow governments to ban viewpoints that you disagree with, you swing the door wide open for them to ban viewpoints that you cherish. Yes, governments should protect citizens from harassment, but they have no place in regulating thought.

My view is that the law should be there to protect the innocent.

But protect them from what? Mere offense or hurt feelings? Is that REALLY a good enough reason to outweigh crucially important basic human rights?

NO.

And I think it is unfair to act as though the people who are disagreeing with you are not there to protect the innocent as well. However, as Joseph and Scott have said, it is more complicated than just that principal.

Please, ‘hurt feelings’ is a canard.

When a BNP (British National Party) councillor was elected in Millwall, East London (on a minority of the total vote, I should add) racist attacks in the area went up 300%.

I know such events do not occur everywhere, but where they do, talk of ‘hurt feelings’ is rather glib.

So, then, if Holocaust revisionism is an intellectually honest endeavor, where are the revisionists who aren’t neo-Nazis or anti-Semites?

Tangential to the main point of the post, but: I’ve never seen anything anti-semitic or pro-Nazi from James P. Hogan. OTOH, I’ve never seen any explicit Holocaust-denial from him, either, so maybe he’s not really one. On that front, Hogan limits himself to defending the known deniers like Irving, using rhetoric that is a combination of appeals to free-speech and free inquiry. As far as I can tell, his sympathy for them arises from his general uncritical contrarianism (he’s also into AIDS-denial, evolution-denial and Velikovskianism), rather than anything explicitly connected with the issue.

It’s hard to imagine the kind of confusion that’d lead someone to think ‘the holocaust didn’t happen’ is even roughly the same sort of speech act as ‘shoot him’

When a BNP (British National Party) councillor was elected in Millwall, East London (on a minority of the total vote, I should add) racist attacks in the area went up 300%.

This is exactly what I’m talking about. Do you think that racist politicians will pass restrictions on expression that you approve of?

“So, then, if Holocaust revisionism is an intellectually honest endeavor, where are the revisionists who aren’t neo-Nazis or anti-Semites?”

Pretty stupid question, what do you expect? Only neo-nazis would open their mouths after hearing:

“I get that Holocaust denial is a vile, racist, and bigoted conspiracy theory that denigrates the murder of approximately six million people. I agree that it should be opposed wherever possible….pseudohistory, paranoid conspiracy theories, and outright abuses of science and methods of historical investigation” etc etc

Joshua White, I don’t understand why you (and especially Orac) suddenly decide to opt out of basic distinctions when it comes to this discussion, but if it was a thread about e.g. the proper use of a drug, rigour would be expected.

I get the distinction fine thank you. I just think that the distinction is meaningless. I don’t care about it. I totally understand that one is speech perceived to be naughty because it is based on race and that some believe is banned by a UN piece of paper, and the other is speech perceived to be naughty because it get the feelings of the religious all worked up. I will be clear. I do not care. I do not think the distinction warrants a government ban in either case. The idea of banning such speech offends me and I have nothing but scorn for the proposal. It is a thought crime and too easily spread to other forms of speech.

There is no comparison between limitation on free speech between a racist and someone criticising religion (which is only a proposal in the UN, by the way).

The comparison is that they are attempts to punish opinion or perceived statements of fact in order to prevent violence or bruised feelings. I still say its garbage.

The former refers back to other fundamental human rights, such as being free from racial discrimination; the latter has no such substance, just the fact that some opinions may offend the religiously deluded. One exists in the UN Declaration; the other has no basis in it.
Why is it so difficult to grasp this?

Discriminatory actions, fine. Discriminatory speech, Screw the UN. There is no fundamental human right against getting your feelings hurt and I do not accept that banning racist speech is the proper way to prevent hurt feelings or prevent violent actions.

I grasp it fine. I just would prefer to wad up the concept, and throw it in the waste bin. It is too dangerous for my liking and I will argue against it will all due disrespect because I consider it a potential threat to my speech.

I know such events do not occur everywhere, but where they do, talk of ‘hurt feelings’ is rather glib.

Not at all. Existing laws cover such things; there is no need to suppress tangentially related speech. You also don’t seem to notice that the logical conclusion of this argument would be that the BNP should be banned! And, for that matter, that Islam should be outlawed, as should Christianity. After all, people have used them as justifications for violence too.

When free speech protects liers, and especially liers misinforming the public about the holocaust and medical facts, we’re morally obligated to speak up and push back. Sanjay Gupta is telling the public that brain death is actually just vegetative state, and patients rise up from brain death. Brain death denial, popular among prolife activists and Big Foot trackers, is just as much a lie as anything from an anti-vaccine nut. The lack of criticism has encouraged Gupta to continue.

Joseph C., luckily they are in a minority and will remain so. The real danger lies at street level.

Throughout this discussion I’m conscious that anti-semitism and racism in general is being discussed in a vacuum. It’s surely about links between Holocaust denial and what occurs in the real world.

For most of those backing free speech as the supreme principle, the real world with its racist thugs and night-time graffitting, its packs of racists chanting in pubs (okay, this is UK) or at football grounds does not appear to exist.

The free speechers treat the subject as if it’s about two academics at a university debate. It’s not.

For most of those backing free speech as the supreme principle, the real world with its racist thugs and night-time graffitting, its packs of racists chanting in pubs (okay, this is UK) or at football grounds does not appear to exist.

I would appreciate it if you didn’t claim to know what I think. Particularly when you have zero grounds to do so, and in fact couldn’t be more wrong.

Speaking for myself, I fully recognize that such things exist. The disagreement is that I believe that packs of racists MUST be allowed to chant in pubs if they want to!

Particularly ironic, though, is this:

Throughout this discussion I’m conscious that anti-semitism and racism in general is being discussed in a vacuum. It’s surely about links between Holocaust denial and what occurs in the real world.

Coming from the person who’s arguing that no causal link needs to exist in order to restrict speech, just a nebulous generalized indirect similarity.

Speech that is actually, directly, and causally linked to violence may be restricted; nobody here has argued otherwise. The question is whether it’s OK to restrict speech that is NOT so linked.

Because Holocaust denial is a crime in Germany

I don’t know about Germany (though see comment 30), but in Austria, what’s forbidden is to make National Socialism appear less harmful. This is important because…

… homeschooling is not allowed in Austria (or Germany). This means that, if you deny the Holocaust or any other halfway well-known Nazi atrocity, you must be lying. The law we’re talking about thus considers it proven that you are lying for an ulterior motive: seizing power and abolishing the very free speech you want to claim for yourself. Ignorance is simply not a reasonable assumption.

Why isn’t it illegal to make Stalinism appear less harmful?* Because the occupation by (the USA, the UK, France, and) the Soviet Union still wasn’t over when the law was passed on Allied pressure, and because there have never been enough Stalinists (or even communists in general**) in Austria to pose any real danger. There have been enough Nazis in Austria to pose a real danger, and the extreme right continues to be a lot more popular than the extreme left, what with xenophobic parties regularly reaching 1/3 of the vote (mostly by protest voters who are fed up with the two biggest parties, but it’s still telling that they consider those morons electable at all).

Homeschooling exists in the USA, and the public schools are horribly underfunded, so the assumption that “making National Socialism appear less harmful” is automatically a malicious lie wouldn’t be defensible over there. It is where I come from.

* It isn’t in Austria. I don’t actually know about Germany.
** The Communist Party tried to launch a general strike in 1950, with full support from the occupying Soviet army. Didn’t work. They’ve continually been losing votes ever since, and have been below 1 % for decades.

Uh… “Jewish” is a religion.

Not if you’re a racist.

Come on. Did you really not know that the Nazis defined “Jew” by ancestry, by “blood”, and not by religion or lack thereof?!? If you had converted to Christianity (or anything else), or were a child or grandchild of converts, they gassed you anyway.

Please, ‘hurt feelings’ is a canard

When that is all there is it is not a canard. If there is an action then we can talk.

Get off your ass, relentlessly pester your neighbors/friends/family, and all of you get involved in the relevant social groups that work to oppose racism, and go out on the streets of the areas full of racists and talk to people. Argue against it. Change minds. Don’t threaten my freedom of speech through your misguided thought control.

It’s just laziness and foolishness to try to just leave it to the guys with guns (government) and risk those guns getting pointed at you. If you already do all of the above I apologize and direct the comment to anyone else supporting your position that does not. You might just have to be satisfied that change might take time, and may have to be in the following generations.

Also, what Joseph C and Scott said

Scott,

Speaking for myself, I fully recognize that such things exist. The disagreement is that I believe that packs of racists MUST be allowed to chant in pubs if they want to!

Then this is our disagreement, and perhaps the difference between the USA and the UK. At least in theory, the UK can ban this and prosecute those who chant racist slogans.

You will say, ‘but this goes against freedom of speech’.

Whereas I would say, it protects anyone Jewish/Asian/black who also wants to use the pub without fear – fear not from direct violence but through racist speech.

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