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Posted Friday, September 17, 2004

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  Manawatu Standard



Manawatu, New Zealand, September 16, 2004

We shouldn't be scared of this man

NEW Zealand democracy and one of its most fundamental components -- freedom of speech -- will be the loser if, as seems likely now, historian David Irving is barred from entering New Zealand, comments the Manawatu Standard in an editorial.

AS repellent and discredited as Mr Irving's views on the Holocaust are, and they are views which have been rejected and comprehensively demolished by almost all historians worthy of the name, they certainly should not see him banned from New Zealand on some bureaucratic pretext. His views -- such as Hitler knowing little about the Holocaust because no piece of paper bearing an order from him to carry out such mass murder has ever been found, for example, and the six million slain figure being a ridiculous exaggeration -- are well enough known.

Is New Zealand democracy so fragile that it won't survive hearing them espoused by the man himself?

There are plenty of historians in this country who no doubt would enjoy taking Mr Irving apart should he be so foolish as to want to debate his views, although the same probably couldn't be said with confidence of most of our so-called current affairs TV and radio commentators, with one or two notable exceptions. Mr Irving was invited here to speak to the National Press Club in Wellington in a move which some people will see as needlessly provocative -- but these same people probably don't fully understand the role of the media in a free society, and that is to be a forum for all opinions, from whatever quarter. A mature democracy will see such views for what they are. Simply asking Mr Irving here to talk about his opinions is in no way akin to stopping the man shouting fire in a crowded theatre -- the classic reason usually given for shutting down free speech for the supposedly wider good of society.

That is not to say there is no such thing as hate speech. There has been something like it in recent election campaigns, words uttered by political candidates which have been followed by street attacks on members of ethnic minorities, for instance. There has been a cause-and-effect between the words and the deed, little doubt about that, but no one has seriously suggested taking the would-be politician to court. That too is as it should be, for again it is surely better that we hear this rubbish in the open and know who is peddling it in order to better deal with it.

Another reason for Mr Irving wanting to come here is said to be to aid research for a biography he is writing on Winston Churchill. CullenGiven what he has had to say about Churchill in the past, one can imagine what kind of work he will produce on the great man. But that is surely at the risk of Mr Irving's publisher, if he can find one, and the tattered remnants of his reputation as a serious historian. It would be interesting to hear directly from him what he has in mind. Would Churchill have banned Mr Irving? Deputy prime minister Michael Cullen, (right) also an historian in a previous life, might care to answer that one.


Dossier: attempts by New Zealand Jews to stop David Irving's 2004 visit
  FAQ: Answers to frequently asked questions about Mr Irving's visit
  NZ Parliament's stance on Irving, anti-Semitism eases strains with Israel
  Prof Christopher Browning interviewed by The Atlantic Monthly, Feb 2004: he now seems to say that there was no Hitler order to kill the Jews, no document exists, there were no plans. The so-called "final solution" just sort of happened. (He is probably right.)
  Dossier: The Books of David Irving: Free downloads

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