Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Historical Truth

This was inspired by a reference I saw this morning, it doesn't matter where, to the tendency of certain democratic European governments to attempt to determine what may and may not be presented as truth, and what may or not be questioned. I would state unreservedly that this is a bad thing; bad for freedom, bad for truth, and bad for anybody who might at some time find themselves on the wrong side of those who are in charge. Once the idea is accepted as legitimate in democracy the possibilities for abuse are endless. And good intentions are no guarantee of anything.

I am well aware that no one reads long posts, so I shall be brief, and divide the ideas into several sections. I should make clear at this point that I do not defend the idea of free speech, and of free thought, with the purpose of defending any particular position. And I draw the line very sharply at incitement to violence, which is a different matter entirely. I would also suggest that it is not, in itself, a bad thing that a British court can detain an Australian subject and send him for trial to Germany for a crime which allegedly took place in Australia. If the idea of this is to protect people from criminals, then a bit of international co-operation is no bad thing at all. The problem is what is considered to be a crime, and who determines it. Gerald Toben (who is an example here, not the inspiration for this article, which I have been thinking about for a long time) presides an organisation whose primary purpose is to express its own hatred of Jews. This is perfectly clear from its website. Despite the very poor attempts to present it as serious historical research it is nothing more than irreflective antipathy, and deserves no real consideration. But you can here the same degree of casual 'desprecio' in any bar in England and many other countries, at any time. And this is not a remark about the prejudices of some imagined underclass- I like bars and many friends of mine express just such irreflective remarks, though about groups they would not perhaps identify so clearly.

Most of us cannot be bothered to think too much; it is hard enough to make a living and make some sense of the world, and it is too easy to condemn Gerald Toben because what we have been told of him is not pleasant. Even if we read or hear what he has actually said, rather than what others interpret him to have said, we are unlikely to be impressed. Few people care if Gerald Toben is jailed in Germany.

David Irving has in fact been jailed, in Austria, for things that he said in Austria. He is a serious historian, a man who knows how to do proper historical research, and who does it. His website is worth looking at. It is clear that he uses the results of that research to advance a particular point of view, which serious historians should not do (although they often do). The question is, 'Is the purpose of justice and freedom served by locking up these men?'

I welcome answers; I do not object to abuse, but I should prefer intelligent comment. If I am wrong in any of my assumptions I should like to know why.

I promise (really) more tomorrow- on the 'ley de memoria histórica' in Spain, on the brutal censorship which exists in Universities, and other things.

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