21 02 2006

David Heidelberg and Shaun Cronin (as well as just about every other blogger around, probably) have beaten me to the punch on David Irving’s conviction for Holocaust denial, but for what it’s worth . . .

I think we can identify here some pretty neat parallels between Holocaust denial and evolution denial (yes, that old chestnut). First, the advocacy of either tends to go hand-in-iron-glove with even broader and nastier agendas: Christian theocracy and American radical conservatism in the case of the latter; neo-Nazism and Muslim theocracy in the case of the former.

Second, and far more importantly, the evidence for both evolution and the Holocaust is overwhelming. To the point that denying either is–aside from being offensive–just plain ridiculous. Obviously, then, I think Holocaust-denial has no place in the history classroom (except, perhaps, as an object-lesson in how not to do history) in the same way that I think evolution-denial has no place in the science classroom. I don’t so much fear the possibility of kids morphing into wingnuts or Nazis if they’re exposed to this stuff, as I fear that giving an air of credibility to ideas that are unsupported by the facts would do students a grave pedagogical disservice.

But as much as we strive to keep ridiculous ideas out of science and history classrooms, we don’t throw people into prison for holding ridiculous opinions. That should apply as much in David Irving’s case as it does in the case of intelligent-design-creationists. His punishment is disproportionate to his “crime” (inasmuch as stupidity is criminal) and it misses the point entirely. The Austrian decision basically translates as: “David Irving’s opinions on the Holocaust anger me. Clap him in irons!” Its message should have been, rather: “David Irving’s opinions on the Holocaust are ill-founded and idiotic. Let me explain why. (And then we can all laugh at him).”

David Heidelberg wonders

if the same people who defended and published the Mohammed cartoons on the basis that doing so represented free speech, will similarly defend David Irving’s right to free speech?

Well, they should. As do I. Acknowledging the Danish newspaper’s right to publish the cartoons in no way implies that one approves of their publication. Acknowledging David Irving’s right to the free expression of his stupidity in no way implies that one shares his opinions.




One response

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