Viewing the Tehran conference about the Holocaust from Austria
Whatever the current issues between "the West" and Iran, you have to admire Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's ability to put pressure on sensitive nerves in the West, and generate a lot of publicity. The conference on the Holocaust that took place in Iran this week is a prime example, sparking outrage around the globe, but at the same time making people ask questions about the nature of free speech under Western democracies.
I've been interested as an observer here in Austria, which is one of the European countries where Holocaust denial is a criminal offence. Having come from the UK I tend to carry around with me the mental conviction that I can say and write what I please, providing I stay within the legal framework that I understand. Clearly this framework is different in the two EU countries which have hosted me for any length of time this year. Greece, for example, is a country where it is possible to silence a blogger for linking to another website, and Austria has the crime of Holocaust denial, which is not a specific offence in the UK.
I was pleased when David Irving lost his case in Austria and was sent to jail for Holocaust denial, but I can't help feeling slightly uneasier now that I live here for a while.
In my last job I could have stood up in the office and made a statement like Irving's about the extent of the Holocaust during the Second World War, and faced at worst some internal disciplinary action, and at best some rather quizzical looks - and not the round of applause that the good folks over at Biased BBC would no doubt have expected, given their view of political beliefs within the BBC. However, in my current job if I made the same statement, I could end up in jail here. I haven't quite got my head around that.
Indeed, I hadn't even considered it until the press coverage this week of the odious and ill-intentioned gathering in Tehran.