Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Two issues of the day deserve comment, perhaps, except that others have said what I'd like to say better than I could.
On the subject of David Irving, who was just sentenced to a three-year prison term in Austria for Holocaust denial -- specifically, claiming that there were no gas chambers in Auschwitz -- I'll admit that I'm conflicted. Freedom of speech is very important to me indeed, and I strongly believe that the proper answer to poisonous ideas is opposing ideas.
On the other hand, Austria -- and Germany, and France, and Israel, and the many other countries that have made public proclamations of Holocaust denial illegal -- have good reasons for doing so. The Holocaust was one of the worst crimes ever deliberately perpetrated by human beings against other human beings, period -- and it happened in living memory! Whole countries were perverted to the cause of finding Jews, numbering them so that not a single one could escape, and then systematically slaughtering them. I have a hard time faulting these countries for trying to prevent themselves from doing it again.
(Israel is the exception here, of course, as it is for many other issues. Israel outlawed public denial of the Holocaust for much the same reason that she outlawed proselytization. Even if the world catches fire again, Israel has seen to it that there will be at least one place where Jews need not fear forced conversions, as European Jews have feared for over a thousand years. And similarly, when all over the world, Holocaust survivors are sickened by idiots claiming it never happened (often, in the very next breath, also claiming that it should have happened), Israel is one place where one can be safe from this.)
Is it morally questionable to convict a man, in 2006, for actions performed in 1989, under a law passed in 1992? Yes, it is. Am I uncomfortable with a man going to jail because of what he chooses to say and write? Yes, I am.
But no freedom is absolute. Even if a child is old enough to use matches, that child might start a fire that threatens to burn the house down... and her parents would be perfectly justified in revoking her freedom to use matches for a while. Germany and Austria once deliberately lit a fire that raged all over the world for six years, leaving destruction almost everywhere it touched. I don't blame Europeans for watching their sparks very carefully indeed.
But neo-neocon has said it much better than I could:
To Germans and Austrians the danger of public promulgation of Holocaust denial may indeed (especially when the laws were first passed) have seemed like the danger of yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater. Likewise--although to a lesser extant--to countries such as Poland, who have reason to know the Holocaust in a way that countries such as Britain and the US never can, Holocaust denial may seem a particular affront and a special danger. "He jests at scars that never felt a wound;" and so it is much easier for countries who have not experienced such a cataclysmic upheaval to be absolutist about protecting freedom of speech.There's more, a lot more. Please go have a look.
On the subject of American ports coming, even partially, under the control of a United Arab Emirates company -- well, my knee-jerk reaction is the same as everyone else's: how could an American President, post-9/11, possibly suggest such a thing?
But this issue isn't as simple as it appears. For one thing, security at the ports will not be affected: what will change is the management of stevedores, the people who load and offload cargo (who will continue to be American union workers). The company in question was, until recently, a British company; the company has been acquired by another in UAE.
Another important point is that, no, not all Arabs are alike... nor are all Arab countries alike. The UAE has stood by us in ways that few in the Arab world even dreamed of doing. An editorial in today's Wall Street Journal has a lot to say about that.
Naturally, the Instapundit has an excellent summary of all this... and I have little to add, except to say that I'm reluctant to make up my mind when it's quite clear that some vital details aren't in yet.
(My friend the Sandmonkey seems to be similarly conflicted.)
It may well turn out that this was a shrewd move by the President, in terms of international diplomacy... but in the short term, it looks like a public-relations disaster at home. It is also, as the WSJ pointed out, a rare opportunity for Democrats to move to the right of the Administration on matters of homeland security (or appear to do so, anyway).
I'm not sure whether to admire the President's audacity, or to censure his stupidity, for trying to push this through... in an election year, no less! Reminds me a bit of Truman's decision to integrate the armed forces during an election year -- an action for which he took a tremendous amount of criticism, as you might expect. (Truman's action was, if anything, even gutsier, given that Truman himself was up for re-election that year, as President Bush is not.)
We're in for interesting times, that's for sure. Stay tuned.
UPDATE: Occasionally unprofessional Varifrank is on a roll. Start here and just keep on scrolling downward.