The historian David Irving was, this week, sentanced by an Austrian judge to three years in prison for two speeches he made 16 years ago denying that millions died in gas chambers during World War II. Holocaust denial is illegial in Austria.
I oppose the criminal law on principle, but I've got no sympathy for Irving. He could've stayed clear of Austria, but chose to return to the country knowing the consequences.
I also can't escape parrallels between Irving's career and the anti-Islamic cartoons cooked up as a provocation by some conservative newspapers in Europe.
Though I don't doubt that Irving is an anti-Semitic, Nazi-sympathizer, it can't be denied that his tugging from the opposite, less popular and, dare I say it, non-PC direction has deepened our understanding of World War II and the Holocaust. For all his many faults, he shook up the establishment and forced historians to reconsider old and comfortable ideas.
In much the same way, the cartoonists have forced some Muslims (not the mobs in the streets; I mean the many Muslims who aren't barbarians) to confront and to perhaps re-evaluate their ideas about Islam and the significance of images.
Though neither Irving nor the cartoonists should be regarded as free speech martyrs, both have scored cheap points for free expression.