I find myself wanting to comment here on something that I have just come across recently which I find disturbing, as part of a general trend towards authoritarianism in the UK - indeed, now approaching outright police-state status, with the Home Secretary within the past week outlining "a plan to monitor all our electronic communication and retain the records on a government database" (letter to The (Glasgow) Herald by Dr Geraint Bevan, of NO2ID Scotland, published 17 October last).
I feel I can best start addressing the specific matter by inserting here a copy of a letter which I have just sent to Shami Chakrabarti, Director, Liberty:
22 October 2008
Subject: free speech and the UK anti-racism laws
Dear Ms Chakrabarti,
First of all, just to say how good it was to see the House of Lords reject the Government's 42-day pre-charge detention proposal, and to see the ad in the Guardian letting Liberty's position on that matter be prominently known. A good fight. Well done.
But I am concerned abut another example of the erosion of our civil liberties in this country. This has to do, apparently, with either provisions in our 'anti-racism laws' or the Government's interpretation thereof, on a matter of free speech.
In The (Glasgow) Herald of 18 October it was reported that one Dr Fredrick Toben, an Australian historian, was arrested at Heathrow Airport whilst transiting from the US to Dubai, because of "an EU warrant" issued by a court in Germany, for running afoul of that country's draconian 'Holocaust denial' laws because of posting "information" online that allegedly "denied, approved of or played down the mass murder of six million Jews by the Nazis".
From his point of view, according to the person representing him in court - a Mr Ben Watson - his work is "to establish the precise facts around the Holocaust and other academic events that are taboo"; and further, according to the article, "Mr Watson questioned the validity of the EU warrant, telling the court that Mr Toben should only be extradited if he committed the offence while 'standing in Cologne market place or had posted the claims on a German website'".
Which sounds reasonable enough. However, "Melanie Cumberland, prosecuting, said that although the offence of Holocaust denial was not specifically against the law in the UK, offenders would still be prosecuted under anti-racism laws".
Excuse me? This country, having basic, fundamental, and under excruciating and unprecedented threat, liberal attitudes towards civil liberties and so forth, and not having such an impactful feeling on and connection to this particular matter as the German nation obviously has, nevertheless is arguing that it can bang up a transiting person on its soil for such a 'crime', even though such a 'crime' has not explicitly been accepted by its parliament and judiciary?
Would you ask the government to 'please explain'? And delve into this matter?
[etc, including my Liberty membership no.]
P.S. I am reminded, in this regard, of a) the continued publication of proposals by the Home Office to track everyone, everywhere - including 'New powers for state snoopers on the net' (Guardian, October 16, National, p 13), etc etc - and b) the column by Timothy Garton Ash in the same edition of the Guardian (p 27), headed 'The freedom of historical debate is under attack by the memory police'. Apparently in this country, too.
It's time, obviously, for a counterattack.
Two things. First, to say that this is not the first time that I have heard of Dr Toben, and his interests. Some ten years ago I was for awhile, whilst living in Australia, a board member of a free speech group called (I think) the Free Speech Committee, which monitored such matters in that country, made submissions to various parliamentary bodies from a free speech perspective, etc. At one of our board meetings, while we were discussing other such issues, various pieces of correspondence to the FSC were being passed around by our chairman for our perusal & information. One of those pieces was a letter from this gentleman - who was, as I recall, at that time an active member of the faculty at some university or other in South Australia, I believe it was - explaining briefly that he was going to be appearing before some federal governmental body under new 'hate speech' laws, and wanted to know if the FSC would help him to some extent with his expenses accrued thereby, and perhaps to support him in some other way. It wasn't an agenda item at our meeting - was kind of peripheral to our specific business (we were based in Sydney, with a New South Wales main, though not exclusive, focus of our activity) - and so we never dealt with it; but I must have made a mental note of his name, because I remember following up by looking at his website, to see what this was all about.
What it was about was what this current bit of news is all about. Dr Toben, from whatever influences, had begun an academic's investigation into the historical subject of The Holocaust, and had become concerned about the accuracy of the accepted story on it. This had even led him to visit some of the concentration camp sites involved, and check out various aspects of the story. Long story short: he felt there was something wrong with that story, and published his findings on his website. This was what caused him to run afoul of the (fairly newly minted) Australian law. When I dug further into his story - specifically, reading transcripts of the various hearings he had been subjected to - I found that the government refused to let him argue his case on the basis of fact and truth: at one point the woman holding the hearing said words to the effect: 'Truth is not an issue here; it's the law that counts.'
I kid you not.
So that got my dander up, and I went to some other websites, looking into this matter further. What I found was points of information like:
(1) Even some Jews reject the story as it has been given us to believe (on pain now of incarceration if we don't, would you believe); and
(2) The figure 'six million Jews' had actually been used years prior to WWII, when the Zionists were trying to stir up political support for a homeland in the historical motherland for the Diaspora Jews, and were making a case for approximately how many people they were talking about, for reasons - to make a judgment call here - of sentiment. (On one of these sites I saw a copy of a newspaper printed in 1918 or thereabouts to this effect.)
I won't go into all this in any more detail here; this is just to give some background as to this issue, and why someone like Dr Fredrick Toben is being given a raw deal. In short: there are 'Holocaust deniers' and then there are 'Holocaust deniers', and they shouldn't all be lumped together. Well; there shouldn't be laws denying people the right of self expression on such a matter in the first place - especially if they are sincerely looking for the truth of matters. But then, as Colin Powell said recently about criticisms of Barack Obama that he was 'a Muslim': No he wasn't; and, so what if he were?
Point two. The article by Timothy Garton Ash was/is an excellent one. (The Guardian, Comment & Debate, October 16, p 27; www.timothygartonash.com) Hallelujah for the French: they are pioneering a movement, under the name Liberty for History (firstname.lastname@example.org), to strike down so-called 'memory laws'. As Ash - who is a member of the group - says, first in quoting a public statement they made as published in Le Monde:
"(W)e maintain that in a free country 'it is not the business of any political authority to define historical truth and to restrict the liberty of the historian by penal sanctions'." And later he remarks:
"It's this process of historical research and debate that requires complete freedom - subject only to tightly drawn laws of libel and slander, designed to protect living persons but not governments, states or national pride (as in the notorious article 301 of the Turkish penal code). The historian's equivalent of a natural scientist's experiment is to test the evidence against all possible hypotheses, however extreme, and then submit what seems to him or her the most convincing interpretation for criticism by professional colleagues and for public debate. This is how we get as near as one ever can to truth about the past."
Hear, hear. Literally.
It's time for the nanny state to butt out of such a matter. And especially in the current climate; when Big Nanny is making way, step by incremental step, for her Big Brother.