Freedom of Speech


In his fascinating book Why People Believe Weird Things, Michael Shermer discusses the communication of science and the pitfalls of pseudoscience. Among the curiosities that come under Shermer’s telling microscope are haunted British castles, the Chinese obsession with potent elephant tusk powder, papal infallibility, and the European ‘witch crazes’ of the 17th Century.

Pseudoscience, Shermer suggests, can be regarded as the thin end of a wedge which also includes pseudohistory, and particularly Holocaust deniers such as David Irving.  Shermer will no doubt be pleased to see the news that Irving has been found guilty in Vienna of denying the Holocaust of European Jewry and sentenced to three years in prison.  Among other things, Irving had previously suggested that Adolf Hitler knew little, if anything, about the Holocaust, and that the gas chambers were a hoax.

So, it appears, European laws on the freedom of speech do have limits after all.    One could be forgiven for believing during the recent sabre-rattling over the right to publish 12 caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad that there were no such limits.

Perhaps there was, after all, an element of truth in the suggestion that the drawings and the manner of their publication betray European arrogance and Islamophia, and that one could liken them to anti-Semitic images published in Europe in the 1920s and 30s, with all Muslims being demonised as violent, backward and fanatical.

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