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Posted
21 February 2006

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Linkpimpin' Verisimilitude

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Chomsky and Free Speech

I commend to you last Thursday's episode of Late Night Live (mp3 here), wherein two Massachusetts intellectuals are interviewed (separately) about world affairs. The first guest was Eric Reeves, discussing the continuing violence in Darfur. The second guest was Noam Chomsky, who ranged across many topics. Both very thought provoking.

One of the issues raised for comment by Pr. Chomsky was (of course) the Danish cartoon controversy. He pointed out that unlike the US, many nations in Europe simply don't have effective freedom of speech. Chomsky is often criticised for his perpetually anti-American stance, but on this he was (and has always been as far as I know) quite unequivocal.

Incidentally, Chomsky claimed that the freedoms enjoyed in the US are a relatively recent development: dating from only the early 1960s with the civil rights movement, during which the supreme court struck down various sedition laws. Unfortunately though he didn't go into this point in any detail. As far as I know the sedition laws were prettymuch overturned during the 50s with cases such as Yates v. United States, and the 60s were more about racial issues such as school segregation, etc.

Notwithstanding, the general point is well taken that the rest of the world really hasn't achieved the same level of enlightenment as the US when it comes to freedom of speech. In Australia, we seem to be going backwards.

Today's David Irving decision is confirmation that Europe has a long way to go before it learns what freedom of speech means.

[Check out the sidebar in the linked BBC article listing the "countries with laws against holocaust denial". Half of Europe!]

Needless to say this is an absolute disgrace. The fact that a so-called civilised country like Austria could imprison a man for three years for simply making an incorrect statement denying the existence of something. Not for stating an opinion, mind, but for stating what he believed to be a fact.

To the multitudes of well-meaning but misguided people lining up to disagree with Irving: you are all completely missing the point.

This is just terrible. And the timing — so soon after the Danish cartoon incident which resulted in zero convictions for the cartoonists — couldn't be worse either.

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