Padraig Reidy, who is news editor of Index on Censorship, has a piece on "Comment is Free" about the EU's debates concerning Holocaust denial. He states: "Even if the majority of nations in the EU do not sign up to this [making it a criminal offence to trivilise the Holocaust] (and they have every right not to), damage has been done to the EU's self-image as protector of human rights and free speech, and it is unsurprising who was among the first to point this out."
This is unfortunately true. I am a near-absolutist on freedom of speech, and strongly oppose laws regulating or forbidding Holocaust denial. I oppose them in the UK, where extraordinarily Tony Blair, when Leader of the Opposition, supported such a proposal. I oppose them in Germany, a nation whose political culture I otherwise greatly admire. And I count disgraceful the gaoling of the Holocaust denier David Irving in Austria last year (Irving has since been released).
Reidy goes on to identify the figure who pointed out the incongruity in the EU's position - the messianic crank President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran:
Of course, Mr Ahmadinejad has form on this: he is the man who responded to the Mohammed cartoons controversy by sanctioning an exhibition of viciously anti-semitic Holocaust denial cartoons, with the expressed attempt at exposing the west's "hypocrisy" on the portrayal of taboos.
We can agree or disagree on whether he had a point at the time. Personally, I don't think he did: In terms of taste and offence there's a difference, not least of historical distance, between mocking a centuries-dead religious leader and an abysmal event from which many still literally bear the scars.
This is where Reidy goes disastrously wrong. His argument is so misconceived, while the publication he works on is so vital, that it's worth repeating a point I've made several times here before (and state also in an article in the forthcoming edition of Reidy's own magazine). The proper objection to Ahmadinejad's promotion of Holocaust denial is not that it is tasteless and offensive, for there is nothing intrinsically wrong in promoting and publishing ideas that are offensive. What is objectionable about Holocaust denial is that it's false. Holocaust denial is a thesis about history that can be consistently maintained only by ignoring or fabricating the historical sources. It's a demonstrable lie, and those who promote it, such as David Irving and Robert Faurisson, have been found in courts of law to misrepresent deliberately the historical sources.
The moment Reidy starts evaluating Holocaust denial alongside mockery of the Prophet, both being "offensive" but one - owing to the passage of time - being more offensive than the other, he's sold the pass. He is, in effect, accepting the premise of someone such as Inayat Bunglawala, of the Muslim Council of Britain, who said in my hearing (I was also on the platform, and responded with some vehemence) at an absurd conference held in January under the auspices of the Mayor of London, that there had been "no need" for the Iranian congress of Holocaust deniers even in the context of the Danish cartoons affair.
Of course there was "no need" for malevolent fraud: there never is, and Bunglawala's insouciance was not the proper response to it. Don't get into a debate about the gradations of offensiveness, Mr Reidy: just defend freedom of offensive speech.