Should we suppress Holocaust deniers – or expose them to scorn? –

Posted: February 23, 2020 at 12:48 pm

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Last Monday night, BBC2 aired of one of the weirdest and most horribly gripping documentariesI've ever watched.

ComedianDavid Baddiel presented Confronting Holocaust Denial and even before the programme went out, people were complaining that he was "giving a platform" to Holocaust deniers.

The controversy went back and forth in the English papers and everyone took a side.

That the Holocaust happened is, of course, not up for debate. But Holocaust denial is something that should be debated wherever it is confronted.

As I've repeatedly argued in this column, the best way to destroy a stupid argument is not to suppress it, as some believe, but to debate it in the open and expose its flaws for all the world to see.

Baddiel, the son of Jews who fled Nazi Germany, was determined to explore the motivations behind this most pernicious of lies, while others argued that giving these odious people a stage would simply encourage people to follow the deniers.

As he travelled through eastern Europe, it became clear that denial remains strong in some formerly occupied countries because they simply don't want to confront their own role in the single greatest crime in human history.

In a weird way, the motivations of some of those people made a degree of horrible sense - if you think your grandfather was a hero of the partisans and fought against the Nazis, would you really want to know that he was actually a collaborator who forced Jews on to cattle trucks?

That's not to excuse this position, but at least it comes from a place of very human frailty - the reluctance to condemn your grandparents.

But the other form of Holocaust denial, the ideological one, is far more dangerous.

Baddiel met Deborah Lipstadt, who beat the Holocaust denying historian David Irving in a famous libel trial. Her lawyer argued that giving any denier airtime was simply giving them publicity and urged the comedian to refrain from doing so.

Baddiel refused, so who was he going to meet? An unreconstructed neo-Nazi? Irving, or one of his supporters?

Um, no. In fact - and this is where the weird bit kicks in - he travelled to Ennis in Clare, of all places, to meet Dermot Mulqueen, the man arrested in 2015 for putting an axe through a TV to protest against Holocaust Memorial Day - as you do.

The decision to interview Mulqueen was an inspired one. Rather than giving oxygen to hatred, he gave Mulqueen enough rope to hang his ideas. And what batty ideas they were.

He claimed that Auschwitz was a holiday camp with swimming pools and bakeries. He asserted that it was impossible to burn that many bodies (it wasn't). He even repeated the old blood libel that Jews eat Christian babies. He also said one of the reasons why the Holocaust never happened was because Jewish people drive German cars.

Funny enough, Sarah Silverman - when she was still funny - used to have a song called 'Jewish People Driving German Cars.'

Not that our hero would know that. I doubt he spends much time listening to potty-mouthed Jewish comedians.

Rather than being confronted by some sinister but strangely convincing Revisionist, Baddiel met someone who came across as deeply sad and truly pathetic.

Rather than being intrigued by his ideas, anyone watching would have been forced into laughter.

Rather than taking on 'the Jew' and winning, Mulqueen was exposed as complete buffoon.

While there's nothing funny about his ideas, he came across as laughably weak and frightened, happy to spend his days immersed in conspiracy theories - the perfect way for an idiot to think he's an intellectual.

I've interviewed Holocaust survivors in Ireland, and I've dined with many of them in Israel. You just sit there in stunned silence and hope that you don't break down as they talk about what happened to them. Even listening to them is a difficult experience, and the scale of the horrors they endured is just too incomprehensible for the rest of us to process.

But here's the thing - did Mulqueen make me ashamed to be Irish? That was the response from many Irish people who had watched, jaws agape, as he spoke about the 'Holohoax'.

People were quick to express their 'shame' and 'embarrassment'. Numerous messages were sent to Baddiel from Irish people apologising and expressing their revulsion.

That's an undoubtedly sincere reaction but it's the wrong one.

Mulqueen represents nobody but himself. He doesn't speak for the rest of us because the rest of us look at him with scorn and contempt.

In fact, expressions of collective shame feed into the idea of collective responsibility - and we all know how that ends up.

But Baddiel proved his point - by dragging these people away from their chat rooms and exposing them to facts, they always make fools of themselves.

Remember - you should never make a martyr out of a moron.


Should we suppress Holocaust deniers - or expose them to scorn? -

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February 23rd, 2020 at 12:48 pm

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