Laws, but for whom?

As I read the news article in UK’s BBC News Online edition, I couldn’t help thinking how similar to some extent, this case and the current situation in Denmark were, as far as the legal premise is concerned.  David Irving, a British historian, has been sentenced to three years in jail by an Austrian court, for denying the Holocaust.  The claim is that the historian made some ‘illegal’ remarks in a 1989 speech where he said that there were no gas chambers used to kill Jews in Auschwitz.  He had also claimed in his writings that six million Jews did not die. In Austria, to deny the Holocaust is illegal and punishible by law. 

David Irving arrived at court carrying a copy of one of his books

There are many other European countries with laws against Holocaust denial:


Czech Republic










Interestingly, while Europe is touting it’s right to free speech and opinion, such a sentence and such a law which essentially prohibits the expression of opinion found to be anti-Semetic and racist in this case, exists to punish those who express it!  The law seems antediluvian, but exists nonetheless – selectively. How is it that this insensitivity to the Jewish people, to deny that millions suffered at the hands of Hitler and the Nazis, has legal consequences and proceedings, and the same religious insensitivity towards Muslims does not elicit any action, legal or otherwise?  Why are not the publishers of the anti-Islamic cartoons, depicting the Prophet Muhammad in a degrading and blasphemous manner, being sentenced to jail time in this same Europe?  Why is their right to freedom of opinion somehow more valued in comparison to Irving?  Would sentencing the journalists/cartoonists even be appropriate?  On another note, in the event the publishers were somehow given jail sentences, would the Muslim world even take notice or applaud the governments who carried out such legal action? 

It seems that Mr. Irving hoped to either eliminate or cut down a prison sentence by revising his remarks at the current trial.  He said he had no choice but to plead guilty and was reduced to make revisions to his earlier opinions:

“I’m not a Holocaust denier. Obviously, I’ve changed my views. History is a constantly growing tree – the more you know, the more documents become available, the more you learn, and I have learned a lot since 1989.”

He did continue to say however, that it was “ridiculous” that he was being tried for expressing his opinions. 

While I believe it is wrong for people to be tried and sentenced for expressing their right to free and open expression of their opinions, it may be wise for Europe to try to work towards reducing their double standards or at least appear to be doing so.  The fact that if laws to punish people like David Irving still exist in modern Europe, then similar laws protecting religious sensitivities should perhaps be applied more equitably and thus diffuse these kinds of double standards, instead of providing platforms for fueling them.  These actions beg the question to the protesting Muslims around the world; that if they were savvy and were able to come together in a constructive manner to make their appeals, would the Muslim world be held in better regard and in a position to take such cases to say, the courts as well?  Had they appealed in some productive capacity or sought the intellectuals of their communities (!) to carry out verbal protests, perhaps it may have taken a less violent turn.  Perhaps it is just some form of justice which is being sought and it is not forthcoming.  Sadly, there are so many other times where it would have mattered a lot more, had Muslims protested as violently as they have in response to the offensive cartoons.  The genocide and annihilation of the Bosnian Muslims would have been one such moment for the Muslim world to go ‘berserk’ in protest. Perhaps then the world may have listened more attentively and made it the content of daily news headlines.  

A few quotes of the day on this issue….

Professor Theo Ohlinger, an expert in constitutional law at Vienna University, says th[is] law is a sensitive issue.

“It is so clear that the Holocaust existed that everybody who denies it is considered a fool. But abolishing this law could signal that Austria may not be really active in fighting against any National Socialist activities, and that is a problem.”


What about freedom of expression when anti-Semitism is involved? Then it is not freedom of expression. Then it is a crime. Yet when Islam is insulted, certain powers raise the issue of freedom of expression.                                                  

Amr Mousa
Arab League Secretary General



1 Comment »

  1. exactly!

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