Deborah Lipstadt on holocaust denial
When an editor at the Washington Post heard that I oppose laws criminalising Holocaust and, by extension, genocide denial, he observed: `Now that's a "man bites dog" story.' His surprise is shared by many people who hear my view. These folks expect that, given the six-year legal battle to which British historian David Irving subjected me for calling him a Holocaust denier, I would be a strong proponent for such laws. The legal battle was exceptionally costly and it seriously disrupted my life.
Irving and his fellow deniers are liars and falsifiers of truth when it comes to the Holocaust and even to other aspects of history - for example, the bombing of Dresden. This alone makes some people think his outrageous claims should be outlawed.
Regarding Irving, who seems to me to love to say the outrageous, and his version of so-called history, the judge who presided over our legal battle - Judge Charles Gray - was unambiguous. In his judgment he used the following terms: `perverts', `distorts', `misleading', `unjustified', `travesty', and `unreal', and said his `falsification of the historical record was deliberate'.
So why not silence Irving and his compatriots? First of all, I believe in free speech. In the United States, the First Amendment guarantees people a right to make total fools of themselves. Sometimes it is painful to hear, but I would rather they had the freedom to say what they wished than the government had the power to control them.
Furthermore, I do not believe that laws against denial are strategically wise. They tend to make martyrs of the accused, arousing sympathy for them. They also render the item which has been outlawed `forbidden fruit'. Thus it becomes more enticing and appealing to certain segments of society - disaffected youth, for example.
Most importantly, however, genocide denial laws suggest that we do not have the facts and the documentation to prove that these people are liars. We defeated David Irving in court not with law but with facts. We followed his footnotes and demonstrated that, in the words of Professor Richard Evans, Irving's work on the Holocaust was a `tissue of lies'.
Our defeat of Irving is a far more powerful commentary on his work because it is rooted in the facts and did not occur under the cover of a general law outlawing Holocaust denial. I was, of course, quite lucky in that I had a magnificent legal team and group of historical experts. The effort was long and quite costly. (Though certainly not as costly as David Irving likes to claim it was. I recently spotted an estimate of six million dollars on his webpage. Notice, of course, his choice of number. This is complete fiction and his form of ridicule.) I was able to mount a vigorous defence. Irving's reputation as a person with something of value to say about the Holocaust was left in tatters. Ironically, none of this would have happened had the UK had laws outlawing Holocaust denial.
I shudder at the thought that politicians might be given the power to legislate history. They can hardly fix the potholes in our streets. How can we expect them to decide what is the proper version of history?
Let me add two caveats. I believe quite strongly that those who engage in incitement - which is often the object of denial - and lead others to engage in acts of violence should not be granted a shield of protection by the law. Some people throw stones. Others use words to encourage people to throw stones. Both are equally guilty.
Secondly, I fully understand why countries such as Germany and Austria, the countries which spawned the Holocaust, would have laws against Holocaust denial. The geographic context in which something is said is of crucial importance. The swastika or denial of the Holocaust has a different resonance in Atlanta than it does in Berlin or Vienna.
I know this may be inconsistent, but I am reminded of what the American essayist and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote many years ago: `A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.'
I write this from Sarajevo. Today, a professor, who happens to be a Serb, told me that she believes laws against genocide denial are necessary in this region: denying the horrors that took place here in the mid-1990s should be illegal, at least for the near future. She argued that this is a region in which the `rule of law' has never been imposed justly, fairly, and democratically. A law outlawing denial of the genocide and crimes against humanity which occurred in this region would give people that faith and prevent them from trying to find other ways of seeking justice.
I don't agree with these positions; however, I recognise that I say these things in the luxury of my American university or, as I will on Monday evening, in the confines of London's Institute of Contemporary Arts. It can be different when one has an `up close and personal' perspective on these outrages. Ultimately, our objective should be to create a society where denial of genocide is seen as so outrageous and so despicable that anyone who engages in it would be rendered a pariah.
'You don't fight a tactic'
Dr. Yaron Brook, 46, speaks and carries himself like a Rand hero. His facial features are angular, his demeanor self-confident. His language is principled, logical, certain, fired by moral passion, replete with absolute terms: good and evil, right and wrong, defeat and victory. He has a slight lisp, which is easily overshadowed by the controversial and harsh words that roll off his tongue.....
After serving in the army and receiving his BA from the Technion, he took off for the US. "Israel is small, but with its socialist policy, ridiculous political system, constant external threats, I didn't think it was the place I could make the most of my life," Brook said. He went on to receive a PhD in finance and taught finance for seven years at Santa Clara University while running his own consulting firm and a company that organized objectivist conferences. He became head of the Ayn Rand Institute in 2001.
September 11 marked a turning point for ARI, which saw itself in a unique position to defend America morally and intellectually. Brook's Israeli background, along with Israel's struggles with terror, made the Jewish state an even more popular topic on the institute's agenda. Brook has lectured at numerous US college campuses, often under tight security, appeared numerous times on Fox and CNBC, and is emerging as one of the most outspoken voices when it comes to the "War on Terror," a title, Brook says, that already dooms the West to failure.
"You don't fight a tactic," he said in his talk. "Terrorism is a tactic, and I believe we have to look at the ideological source of terrorism in order to identify the true enemy." He defines this source as Islamic totalitarianism, which he describes as an expansionist philosophy that seeks to spread Islam by the sword, but he thinks that the enemy's identity has been blurred or ignored by government leaders and the intelligentsia.
"We don't have the guts, the courage, the self-esteem to even identify who the enemy is. We couch it in terms of terrorists who happen to be Muslims who are 'hijacking a great religion.' We're afraid to say 'Islamic anything': Islamic fascism, totalitarianism, whatever you want to call it." The fear stems, he said, from the academic trend of multiculturalism, in which all cultures are morally equal, and moral relativism, in which "anything goes" in human behavior.
But, he said, the most damaging idea to the cause of the West is the opposite of Rand's virtue of selfishness: altruism, which Rand didn't define as good-hearted kindness and generosity, but as the idea that one must sacrifice his own interests for the sake of others. Altruism, said Brook, leads to pacifism because "self-defense is a very selfish act. It's a very self-interested act to defend one's own life, especially in war."
Brook argues that this form of altruism goads both America and Israel to wage "compassionate wars": for the American army to build sewers instead of ruthlessly bombing terrorist targets, and for the IDF to send food into Gaza instead of troops and tanks. With such an altruistic approach, Brook says, Israel is setting itself up for defeat.
"There's a whole generation of post-Zionist professors who've been writing for the past 20, 30 years, here in Israel, how this country was founded on original sin," Brook said in his talk. "[They say] there's no basis for this country; there's no moral reason why this country should exist. We've exploited; we've stolen; we've taken from peaceful people. It's our fault for all these problems. When that's the center of your focus, when you're filled with self-doubt, when you don't believe that your values are better than anyone else's, you cannot fight. You cannot win.
"I believe victory is possible, it just takes something we're not willing to do." That "something," he said confidently, is to wage war with little restraint and without apology against Islamic totalitarianism. "Israel should plan and execute a systematic invasion of Gaza in which its goal is to wipe out the political and military leadership and infrastructure of Hamas, and to do so systematically and brutally. It needs to send a message to the world, to the Muslim population of the world, to Palestinians in the West Bank, that Israel will not tolerate a terrorist state at its border and would not tolerate the existence of an organization like Hamas."
What about international opinion? "The issue of Israel's survival is at stake, so the choice, I believe, is between the world loving us and we're dead or the world hating us for a while but we survive and thrive and we live. You cannot make life-or-death choices based on other people's opinions of you. You have to make choices on what you believe is necessary for your survival, your success." "If you want to win, innocents will die. There is no way to get around it. There was no war in which innocents didn't die, and there won't be. At the end of the day, the question is whose 'innocents.' Ours or theirs? If we have pride, self-respect, we have to protect our own innocents."
HE CONCEDES the validity of Jews banding together in the face of the collective threat of anti-Semitism, but in his essay "The Rise and Decline of Israel" he argued that the Jewish state's collectivist and religious basis, socialist Zionism, has sown the seeds for its own downfall. "Zionism fused a valid concern - self-preservation amid a storm of hostility - with a toxic premise - ethnically based collectivism and religion," he wrote. Socialist Zionism, he said, also led to the Oslo Accords, through which Israel agreed to set up another ethnically and religiously based state along its border, despite it being headed by a proven terrorist. "Here was a man [Yasser Arafat] who represents a suffering people, an ethnic group that sought to make its claim for statehood a reality. How could Israel say no? Wasn't it similar to - and so just as legitimate as - the claim of the Jews?"
Given objectivism's capitalistic ideal of private property, he opposes government confiscation of private Arab land for Jewish settlement as much as he opposes the notion of "public land" - Arab or Jewish. Yet he regards the settlements as security - and moral - buffers; they are a test of the Palestinian's true intentions. "If the [Palestinians] really want peace why do they want settlements dismantled?" Brook said. "Why wouldn't they say we want a Palestinian state and we want these Jews to stay here and live as full citizens of the Palestinian state? They're productive individuals, they create jobs, they bring a wealth of knowledge. If Palestinians are about ethnic cleansing, getting rid of Jews so that the Palestinian state is pure, then they're not ready for peace, and Israel should not make peace with them."
Given his strong opposition to evacuating settlements, one might guess that the right-wing settlers are natural allies for objectivists. Editorials of the Ayn Rand Institute have been published in such right-wing outlets as Arutz 7.
But Brook disagrees. "I think their whole basis for agreeing with me is corrupt and wrong. Most settlers agree with me for religious reasons. They believe it's some kind of Holy Land that God promised them. The rest of their analysis is derived from that premise, not from a true, rational observation of reality. I think the logic of 'God promised this and gave me this' is one that can only lead to bloodshed and war. I don't think people who have that approach can come up with solutions to deal with the threat."
MAN OF SCIENCE, MAN OF FAITH
By Jeff Jacoby
Have you heard about the religious fundamentalist who wanted to teach physics at Cambridge? This would-be instructor wasn't simply a Christian; he was so preoccupied with biblical prophecy that he wrote a book titled Observations on the Prophecies of Daniel and the Apocalypse of St. John. Based on his reading of Daniel, in fact, he forecast the date of the Apocalypse: no earlier than 2060. He also calculated the year the world was created. When Genesis 1:1 says "In the beginning," he determined, it means 3988 BC.
Not many modern universities are prepared to employ a science professor who espouses not merely "intelligent design" but out-and-out divine creation. This applicant's writings on astronomy, for example, include these thoughts on the solar system: "This most beautiful system of sun, planets, and comets could only proceed from the counsel and domination of an intelligent and powerful Being . . . He governs all things, and knows all things that are or can be done."
Hire somebody with such views to teach physics? At a Baptist junior college deep in the Bible Belt, maybe, but the faculty would erupt if you tried it just about anywhere else. Many of them would echo Oxford's Richard Dawkins, the prominent evolutionary biologist, who writes in The God Delusion that he is "hostile to fundamentalist religion because it actively debauches the scientific enterprise. . . . It subverts science and saps the intellect."
Equally blunt is Sam Harris, a PhD candidate in neuroscience and another unsparing foe of religion. "The conflict between religion and science is inherent and (very nearly) zero-sum," he writes in an essay whose title -- "Science Must Destroy Religion" -- makes clear the antipathy with which many modern scientists regard religious faith. "The success of science often comes at the expense of religious dogma; the maintenance of religious dogma always comes at the expense of science."
Less elegant but more influential, the National Science Education Standards issued by the National Academy of Sciences in 1995 classified religion with "myths," "mystical inspiration," and "superstition" -- all of them quite incompatible with scientific study. Michael Dini, a biologist at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, made headlines in 2003 over his policy of denying letters of recommendation for any graduate student who could not "truthfully and forthrightly affirm a scientific answer" to the question of mankind's origin. Science and religion, he said in an interview at the time, "shouldn't overlap."
But such considerations didn't keep Cambridge from hiring the theology- and Bible-drenched individual described above. Indeed, it named him to the prestigious Lucasian Chair of Mathematics -- in 1668. And a good thing too, since Isaac Newton -- notwithstanding his religious fervor and intense interest in Biblical interpretation -- went on to become the most renowned scientist of his age, and arguably the most influential in history.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when blogger.com is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.