Sixteen years ago, David Irving -- who called himself an historian and who denied that the Holocaust actually happened -- accused Deborah Lipstadt of libel. She had attacked his version of World War II. He lost the case and was found by the judge to be a "pro-Nazi polemicist." At the time, Jonathan Freedland wrote:
“If we start to doubt corroborated facts, how can we prevent ourselves being swallowed up in doubt, unable to trust anything we see? It might all be a conspiracy, a legend, a hoax. This is the bizarre, never-never world inhabited by David Irving. Now the court has to decide: is this our world too?”
Today, after the election of Donald Trump, Freedland asks the same question:
As Aleppo endured its final agonies, the simple act of circulating any account – a video, a photograph, a news report – would trigger an unnerving response. Someone, somewhere would reply that the photograph was doctored, the source was a stooge, the rescued child was not really a child or not really rescued.
Of course, we’re used to people taking different sides on conflicts far away, arguing bitterly over who is to blame. At its most extreme, it results in a newspaper like the Morning Star sinking so low that it hails the human devastation of Aleppo – where every hospital was bombed and where the slaughter of civilians became routine – not as a crime, but as a “liberation”.
But this is about more than assigning blame for this death or that bombing. This is about refusing to accept that the death or bombing occurred at all. This is about defenders of Bashar al-Assad, and his Russian and Iranian enablers, coming on television to say that what is happening on the ground is not happening, that it is all an illusion. The late US senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan used to say: “You’re entitled to your own opinion, but you’re not entitled to your own facts.” But that distinction seems to have broken down. Now people regard facts as very much like opinions: you can discard the ones you don’t like.
When everyone disbelieves everything, we have entered a brave new world.
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