The Crime Of Denial

Apparently, in Austria, publicly denying reality in the face of overwhelming evidence is a criminal offense. As has been widely reported, British historian David Irving was recently sentenced in a Viennese courtroom to three years in prison for having refuted the occurrence of the Holocaust. Regardless of how one feels about Irving or the crime, such as it is, for which he has been punished, the whole matter sets an interesting precedent. Were it similarly illegal in this country to deny the existence of a major global calamity, then President Bush would be under indictment for denying the reality of global warming. (Given the President’s many offenses during his tenure in the White House, not the least of which is misleading the country into war, charging him with a crime for failing to give credence to global warming is admittedly akin to charging Al Capone with tax evasion. But, hey, whatever gets the job done.) As anyone who has even mildly been paying attention the last 5 years knows, Mr. Bush is about as much a devotee of science as Mr. Irving is of the Torah. In an article published in the Miami Herald last year, entitled “Under President Bush, Science Takes Back Seat,� Fred Grimm reflected on the Bush administration’s troubling aversion to science:

Good science hasn’t exactly been a presidential priority. Federal research budgets have been cut. Scientific findings at odds with political ideology have been altered or killed by political hacks. Politicos have overruled scientists at the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Marine Fisheries.

Some 6,000 American scientists, including 48 Nobel laureates, 62 National Medal of Science recipients, and 135 members of the National Academy of Sciences, have signed a petition complaining about the Bush administration’s dismissive view of science. The administration’s political appointees have denied findings by the government’s own scientists on industrial mercury pollution, arsenic levels in drinking water, emergency birth control, AIDS prevention, endangered species, abstinence-only education and, most famously, global warming.

It is also worth noting that the President appears to seriously question the theory of evolution, given his suggestion last year that intelligent design be given equal footing in America’s science classrooms. (I half expect him to deny the laws of gravity next.) On the surface, Mr. Bush’s views, like those of Mr. Irving, appear laughable and ludicrous. But, unlike the Nazi apologist’s, the President’s views are truly dangerous, for they shape public policy—one that ignores, distorts, or suppresses the scientific facts to the detriment of us all. And that, in my mind, is criminal.

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3 responses

  1. My opinion is that people should have their say. However, there must be consistency and imprisoning Irving after allowing the cartoons sends a clear messege of prejudice to muslims. I assume the Irving case is possibly fuel for further riots and disdain over the cartoons.

    Austria allowed the cartoons but disallowed the holocaust denial. A clear double standard and selective use of “freedom of speech” arguements which is evidently prejudiced in Europe.

  2. Jamal,

    Thanks for your comments. Perhaps David, who is more up on “free speech” can also respond. I believe you are right about a double standard, but are we measuring the same thing with the cartoon versus someone who is trying to pass off as a credible researcher telling us the history of a critical period of mass murder? One is farce, the other is supposed to be fact. This is why prosecution of Irving does not really compare with the muslim cartoon free speech in my mind.

  3. The issue of the Holocaust is a very sensitive and important one, but I do know of Jews that would rather educate and inform than imprision and compromise free speech. We have sadly seen how genocide, intense hatred, is still very much a reality in our very recent history, and I can understand why states take up such laws to prevent ideas based on hatred become mainstream. However, imprisionment might ignite further resentments, and shows a lack of consistency in the values that are attempted to be instilled…

    What I am truly glad about, though, is to see how more and more debate is taking place about free speech, showcasing a model to the world that there is no necessity for violence, and that change can take place without it.

    Furthermore, on a slightly different topic, I am very glad to see how we have begun pressuring the Bush Administration to become more accountable to the people and the International Community. After the peaceful years culminating in the Clinton administration, to this warring Presidency, I now perceive a “correction” taking place, so to speak. I hope to be right.

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