If David Irving is an authority on freedom of speech then I’m an authority on childbirth

I thought Julian Baggini had made a rare slip recently. He’s asked whether or not he should debate David Irving on the sub­ject of free speech. The notori­ously liti­gi­ous Irving, who was described by a judge at a libel trial as “an act­ive Holocaust den­ier” who “for his own ideo­lo­gical reas­ons per­sist­ently and delib­er­ately mis­rep­res­en­ted and manip­u­lated his­tor­ical evid­ence” has become a bizarre poster child for free speech fol­low­ing his arrest for holo­caust denial in Austria. I can’t see how logic­ally you get from one state to the other.

As an example I was born. Because I’ve gone through this pro­cess, does that con­fer some spe­cial under­stand­ing which now makes me an expert on child­birth? What about a 14 year-old kid caught by the rozzers after spray­ing graf­fiti in a rail­way sid­ing? Is he an expert on the social con­di­tions of the inner cit­ies? If not, then why does being jailed auto­mat­ic­ally con­fer expert­ise on free speech to David Irving? Especially when his actions after this have been to try and intim­id­ate those who dis­agree with polit­ics into silence. In October Irving was threat­en­ing the Jewish Chronicle with libel action. In December he was rum­bling on about start­ing pro­ceed­ings against Deborah Lipstadt again. David Irving is to free speech what McDonald’s is to Cordon Bleu cuisine.

Irving isn’t really demand­ing free speech. He’s demand­ing to be taken ser­i­ously. That’s very dif­fer­ent. He can have his own opin­ions but he has no right to dic­tate to oth­ers what their opin­ion of him should be. My opin­ion is that David Irving is no more cred­ible than David Icke on the sub­ject of free­dom of speech. If you’re not famil­iar with his work, Icke believes human­ity is being manip­u­lated by a race of rep­tilian ali­ens from the lower fourth dimen­sion, like George Bush Sr. He gets into legal trouble for what he says, yet strangely David Icke is never invited to places like the Oxford Union to debate free­dom of speech.

As for Baggini, rather than tak­ing a glib pos­i­tion he was think­ing his response through. The com­ments on his archived post are help­ful in examin­ing the dif­fer­ence between free­dom of speech and giv­ing cre­dence to someone’s ideas.

See also: On reas­ons for not debat­ing at Normblog.


When he's not tired, fixing his car or caught in train delays, Alun Salt works part-time for the Annals of Botany weblog. His PhD was in ancient science at the University of Leicester, but he doesn't know Richard III.

1 Response

  1. Alun says:

    Oops. I missed out links to the two posts on B&W which intro­duced me to this:
    Don’t encour­age it.
    A qual­it­at­ive difference.