IN RECENT years, it has become almost something of a biennial stunt, inviting David Irving over to some university or other so that adolescent mountebanks may publicly preen their anti-Nazi credentials.
Indeed there is much to enjoy in such spectacles, not least the presence of Sinn FÈin in the ranks of those posturing virtuously against Naziism. Nazism didn't have many public allies in western Europe when it was a force to be reckoned with, but among those gallant few chums Hitler could call on freely, the IRA was foremost, diligently assisting the Nazis at every turn.But bless my soul, to judge from the current Sinn FÈin opposition to David Irving and Nazism, that glorious chapter has been airbrushed out of history. Excellent. And my name is Albert Einstein, and thank you, I will have another brandy. Large, if you please.
"No Free Speech for Nazis," declared the banners outside the meeting of the Philosophical Society at UCC last Monday as David Irving was about speak about myths of the second World War. And once again, the proto-fascists who gathered to deprive him of his right to free speech, and his potential audience of the right to hear his opinions, were victorious. The meeting was cancelled because of the threat of violence and the adolescents went home happy. Excellent; maybe next time, they might have a bit of book-burning as well?
Thursday, November 18, 1999
Now: is it just a question of David Irving's right to speak? It surely comes as no surprise to him that once again he has been prevented from addressing an audience of consenting adults. And truthfully, I barely worry about his rights. Much of what he does and says is intended to provoke anyway. But more vitally, is it not the right of other people to choose whatever rubbish they might want to hear? Or is it perfectly acceptable for mobs of teenage thought-police to impose their censorship to protect politically correct dogma, so that we may never hear dissent, never hear contradiction, never hear doubt?
I doubt if any of those posturing anti-Nazis have ever read a word of David Irving. "Nobody can now watch Leni Riefenstahl's chilling film. . .Triumph of Will without shuddering at the sight of the SS troops breaking into the parade-step as they stomped into the sight of Hitler." Who wrote those words? David Irving did. Who reported Himmler's statement: "The Führer wishes the old Reich territory and the Protectorate [Bohemia-Moravia] to be cleansed of Jews from east to west as soon as possible"? David Irving did.
And this: who wrote it? "The Russian Jews had few champions. There was almost no German opposition to their liquidation - it was regarded even by Manstein [a Wehrmacht general] as a salutary measure, wiping out the reservoirs of partisan activity before they became active." David Irving did. And Reichenau, commanding the Sixth Army, is quoted by one historian as follows: "This is why the soldier must understand why we have to exact a harsh but just retribution from the Jewish sub-humans."
Who was the historian? David Irving was, adding that Hitler regarded Reichenau's proclamation as excellent. And finally, who said: "Hitler's tours of these battlefields were his first real contact with 'the east'. They reinforced his unhealthy fantasies about the 'sub-humans' and the Jews"?
Who? Oh by this time, I think by this time you'll have gathered my drift. There is no such thing as denying freedom of speech to "Nazis" without becoming a cultural Nazi yourself, not merely because you silence one man on grounds purely of your own choosing, but because you impose your ideological orthodoxies on others - the audience - preventing thought and debate and even logical refutation simply by using or threatening violence. Moreover, Nazi-intolerance of other people's opinions is normally profoundly ignorant of those opinions, preferring caricature to fact, lazy falsehood to laborious truth.
Freedom of speech is no freedom at all if it is to be conferred solely on those you agree with: that is a freedom which Goebbels himself would have heartily applauded. It is a fascist freedom to which the callow adolescents of UCC would probably give their assent also. And having won this signal victory, who else will they silence? Who else will they reduce to Nazi caricature in order that they may silence by muscle and threat? Perhaps they will by mob law muzzle even those who merely defend the right of apologists of evil to speak their mind before a group of consenting adults?
There is no absolute freedom of speech at all places in all times. But when adults gather to exchange ideas, provided they are not conspiring to break the law, they should be able to do so without fear of intrusion or of violence. The role of universities in public life is often exaggerated, and their importance bloated by excessive academic self-esteem. But their service in permitting the mad, the sublime, the cranky, the wise, the bad, the clever or the ill-informed to gather in private forums and be mad, sublime, cranky, wise, bad, clever or ill-informed together is not not just a defence of freedom. It is the very soul of education itself.