It's easy to deal with annoying emails: they get deleted or put into spam. When a troubling message from someone I know arrives, as it did this week--a message of bias and bigotry, I am nonplussed.
After I delete it, I am still affected by its contents.
The message was about David Irving, the once respectable British historian who was found guilty of denying the Holocaust in a libel case in 2000. He is known as a Holocaust denier, racist, and anti-Semite. Now he has re-surfaced, giving talks to fellow travelers at carefully selected and secure locations where the press and opponents can be denied access.
A local historian, teacher, and friend, a man with a Ph.D., was excited about the prospect of hearing Irving speak somewhere in Florida and so sent me an email invitation. The topic of the talk was Rudolf Hess, whose case interests me. And it's possible that Irving might say interesting things about Hess that I don't know. But he would probably use the occasion to spread his own biased version of modern events.
I don't know how reliable Irving would be on any topic when he has been discredited as an objective historian, who calls mainstream writers and biographers "conformist historians" since he sees himself as a crusader for "truth," writing (he said) "what I call history." I would call it hate.
I can't imagine paying money to hear David Irving. And what is especially troubling is that the man I know and thought I respected believes that, because of "free speech," Irving should be heard; that my friend wants to hear his twisted version of events is very disturbing. I begin to wonder what my friend's students have been hearing about modern history, about minorities in general and Jews in particular.
Irving, you see, is quoted in the British press as perpetuating the old stereotypes of fear and hatred of "Jewish power." He says that the Jews in America control all the media and banks. He seems indifferent to what happened in Germany in 1933 when Jews were blamed for the economic woes of the time, as if unaware of the consequences: 6 million perished.
Does he admit this? Begrudgingly now, after years of questioning the gas chambers--but adds: The Jews were advised by a PR firm to give what happened to them a name--the Holocaust--and the result is a billion-dollar enterprise. Auschwitz is "hugely inflated and hyped up. It's like Disney. It has no part in history." (This from an August 13 article by Simon Usborne).
My historian friend is eager to hear such a man? Can I still call him a friend? I am horrified.
I spent several years teaching a course The Faces of Evil, all about hatred and racism. I included a section about Holocaust denial, using David Irving and his trial as evidence that anti-Semitism is alive and well, even among articulate, educated and widely published authors.
As I read about Irving today, at the age of 75, I can see a man to be pitied and shunned: he has become paranoid about the press and criticism (for good reason), and his own narcissism and prejudices have made him blind to facts, logic, and objective reality. He is deluded, and somehow I have to tell my friend that I for one want nothing to do with David Irving and people like him. Free speech does not allow a forum for disseminating bias and hatred.