Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

I'm All for Free Speech but This Holocaust Denier's Works Should Be Censored

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

I'm All for Free Speech but This Holocaust Denier's Works Should Be Censored

Article excerpt

Byline: Sam Leith

ON THE face of it, the question of where Manchester University chooses to shelve the books in its library might not seem to command national interest. But, hold up. Manchester's librarians have been criticised for resisting pressure to remove the works of the "revisionist historian" David Irving to closed shelves, or adding disclaimers to them warning that they are works of Holocaust denial.

A campaign for universities to do so has been led by Dr Irene Lancaster, a scholar of Jewish history, and Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury and now Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge. I'd like with the very greatest of respect for Drs Lancaster and Williams to disagree with their position and back Manchester's librarians.

There's perhaps a case that, in an airport bookshop context, works by David Irving ought to come with disclaimers, or ought not to be stocked at all. I'm not persuaded this should be a matter for the law of the land; rather, the intellectual integrity of publishers and the moral decency of the people who run airport bookshops.

But an academic library is a different thing altogether. Every book in the ideal library of Alexandria is connected to every other by myriad invisible filaments of argument, rebuttal, endorsement, citation in footnotes and entries in bibliographies. David Irving's books do not sit on open shelves in isolation, for any student to chance on and have his or her mind poisoned. You pay them an unwarranted compliment to imagine they do.

What's the likelihood that any undergraduate in any history course in the land will alight on an Irving book and present it, unchallenged, as a primary source in a discussion of the Holocaust? And if they did, what would the likely reaction to this unlikely event be? That undergraduate would learn or more likely be history, and sharpish.

What I mean is that Irving's books already come with disclaimers. …

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