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New Zealand, Sunday, August 8, 2004


More hits from the politically correct songbook

By Frank Haden

THE shameful attempts to silence British author David Irving, Maori Language Commission chief executive Haami Piripi and whistleblowing Lake Alice nurse Neil Pugmire are all sung from the same songbook. We pretend we have freedom of speech, but we are grotesquely inconsistent when people use it to say things that offend influential groups or lobbies. We crack down on a select few like a ton of bricks, while letting others get away with offensiveness. There should be far more offensive things said. They do us good. I write a lot of things that offend people, but I'd be astonished if anyone tried to stop me.

The government is doing its best to exclude Irving simply because the objections to his entry come from a tightly organised lobby. Nobody's saying it too loudly, but many influential Jews will be offended if Irving is allowed to accept a National Press Club invitation to speak at lunch in the Beehive.

These people will feel affronted if Helen Clark bows to arguments quoting the Bill of Rights Act to secure Irving's entry. The act says everyone has the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form. The Jewish lobby has no business pressuring the government to make an exception in Irving's case.

As for Piripi, he was speaking on behalf of his Ahipara community in Northland when he offended the government by warning its foreshore and seabed legislation could lead to civil war. He was talking a load of rubbish, but so what? Too bad if he offended people in high places. He should have exactly the same Bill of Rights protection as Irving seeks.

Pugmire was sacked in 1994 after he offended the government by going public with his concerns over the release of dangerous psychiatric patients into the community. He was tragically proved right in the end, and we're still paying the price, but that's not the point. What matters is the fact that he was punished for talking. He joined the ranks of those we silence in contempt of the right of free speech.


IN the Irving case, something peculiar is going on, with Clark unexpectedly recanting her civilised July 23 stand on the historian's right to enter New Zealand. She said then she vigorously supported his right to express repugnant views. I am not the only one wondering what pressure was put on her to make her change such a forcefully expressed opinion.

The excuse for refusing him entry doesn't hold water, anyway. Clark says we deny entry to people who have been deported from another country, but it has now been revealed that last year the Immigration Service approved visits by 34 people originally banned under the same law.

Freedom of speech means nothing if it does not give you the right to say offensive, unpopular or inconvenient things unhindered or unpunished, unless what you say is libellous or aimed at inciting violence or hatred. Simple as that. And it should apply to everyone, never mind who is offended. All the Press Club wants is to demonstrate its belief in freedom of speech by letting Irving talk freely about his controversial views on things such as the Holocaust and question him afterward.

We all know Irving is reviled internationally as a "Holocaust denier". What we also know is that the Holocaust happened, so it doesn't matter if Irving questions the evidence for it. He maintains the standards of historical research on the Holocaust do not measure up to the standards of historical research demanded of scholars in less controversial fields, but he won't win any converts to his way of thinking. He's not going to convince anyone, least of all at the Press Club.

I've seen more evidence of the Holocaust than many New Zealanders because I've taken the trouble to visit concentration camps such as Auschwitz, Majdanek and Dachau.

Dresden bookThere's not much chance of getting into bed with Holocaust deniers when you've seen mountains of human ash, smelled the traces of poison gas that still linger in the duckboards of those lethal "shower rooms", and walked through Jewish neighbourhoods where the legal title of every building is still being negotiated because the owners were obliterated 60 years ago.

But I'd still be the last to deny Irving his right to express his views on any public platform he chooses. Irving has written 30 best-selling books. He made a lot of enemies with his first, The Destruction of Dresden. The meticulously researched work left no doubt the unnecessary bombing of Dresden - a virtually undefended city and one of the triumphs of civilisation - in February 1945, when the Nazis were known to be on the brink of capitulation, was a war crime. We shouldn't give him any reason to say we commit crimes against the right to freedom of speech.



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