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Hate-Speech Hypocrites

1 October 2012 General 9 Comments Email This Post Email This Post

By William SaletanSlate

Jews have too much influence over U.S. foreign policy. Gay men are too promiscuous. Muslims commit too much terrorism. Blacks commit too much crime.

Each of those claims is poorly stated. Each, in its clumsy way, addresses a real problem or concern. And each violates laws against hate speech. In much of what we call the free world, for writing that paragraph, I could be jailed.

Libertarians, cultural conservatives, and racists have complained about these laws for years. But now the problem has turned global. Islamic governments, angered by an anti-Muslim video that provoked protests and riots in their countries, are demanding to know why insulting the Prophet Mohammed is free speech but vilifying Jews and denying the Holocaust isn’t. And we don’t have a good answer.

If we’re going to preach freedom of expression around the world, we have to practice it. We have to scrap our hate-speech laws.

Muslim leaders want us to extend these laws. At this week’s meeting of the U.N. General Assembly, they lobbied for tighter censorship. Egypt’s president said freedom of expression shouldn’t include speech that is “used to incite hatred” or “directed towards one specific religion.” Pakistan’s president urged the “international community” to “criminalize” acts that “endanger world security by misusing freedom of expression.” Yemen’s president called for “international legislation” to suppress speech that “blasphemes the beliefs of nations and defames their figures.” The Arab League’s secretary-general proposed a binding “international legal framework” to “criminalize psychological and spiritual harm” caused by expressions that “insult the beliefs, culture and civilization of others.”

President Obama, while condemning the video, met these proposals with a stout defense of free speech. Switzerland’s president agreed: “Freedom of opinion and of expression are core values guaranteed universally which must be protected.” And when a French magazine published cartoons poking fun at Mohammed, the country’s prime minister insisted that French laws protecting free speech extend to caricatures.

This debate between East and West, between respect and pluralism, isn’t a crisis. It’s a stage of global progress. The Arab spring has freed hundreds of millions of Muslims from the political retardation of dictatorship. They’re taking responsibility for governing themselves and their relations with other countries. They’re debating one another and challenging us. And they should, because we’re hypocrites.

From Pakistan to Iran to Saudi Arabia to Egypt to Nigeria to the United Kingdom, Muslims scoff at our rhetoric about free speech. They point to European laws against questioning the Holocaust. Monday on CNN, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad needled British interviewer Piers Morgan: “Why in Europe has it been forbidden for anyone to conduct any research about this event? Why are researchers in prison? … Do you believe in the freedom of thought and ideas, or no?” On Tuesday, Pakistan’s U.N. ambassador, speaking for the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, told the U.N. Human Rights Council:

We are all aware of the fact that laws exist in Europe and other countries which impose curbs, for instance, on anti-Semitic speech, Holocaust denial, or racial slurs. We need to acknowledge, once and for all, that Islamophobia in particular and discrimination on the basis of religion and belief are contemporary forms of racism and must be dealt with as such. Not to do so would be a clear example of double standards. Islamophobia has to be treated in law and practice equal to the treatment given to anti-Semitism.

He’s right. Laws throughout Europe forbid any expression that “minimizes,” “trivializes,” “belittles,” “plays down,” “contests,” or “puts in doubt” Nazi crimes. Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic extend this prohibition to communist atrocities. These laws carry jail sentences of up to five years. Germany adds two years for anyone who “disparages the memory of a deceased person.”

Hate speech laws go further. Germany punishes anyone found guilty of “insulting” or “defaming segments of the population.” The Netherlands bans anything that “verbally or in writing or image, deliberately offends a group of people because of their race, their religion or beliefs, their hetero- or homosexual orientation or their physical, psychological or mental handicap.” It’s illegal to “insult” such a group in France, to “defame” them in Portugal, to “degrade” them in Denmark, or to “expresses contempt” for them in Sweden. In Switzerland, it’s illegal to “demean” them even with a “gesture.” Canada punishes anyone who “willfully promotes hatred.” The United Kingdom outlaws “insulting words or behavior” that arouse “racial hatred.” Romania forbids the possession of xenophobic “symbols.”

What have these laws produced? Look at the convictions upheld or accepted by the European Court of Human Rights. Four Swedes who distributed leaflets that called homosexuality “deviant” and “morally destructive” and blamed it for AIDS. An Englishman who displayed in his window a 9/11 poster proclaiming, “Islam out of Britain.” A Turk who published two letters from readers angry at the government’s treatment of Kurds. A Frenchman who wrote an article disputing the plausibility of poison gas technology at a Nazi concentration camp.

Look at the defendants rescued by the court. A Dane “convicted of aiding and abetting the dissemination of racist remarks” for making a documentary in which three people “made abusive and derogatory remarks about immigrants and ethnic groups.” A man “convicted of openly inciting the population to hatred” in Turkey by “criticizing secular and democratic principles and openly calling for the introduction of Sharia law.” Another Turkish resident “convicted of disseminating propaganda” after he “criticized the United States’ intervention in Iraq and the solitary confinement of the leader of a terrorist organization.” Two Frenchmen who wrote a newspaper article that “portrayed Marshal Pétain in a favorable light, drawing a veil over his policy of collaboration with the Nazi regime.”

Beyond the court’s docket, you’ll find more prosecutions of dissent. A Swedish pastor convicted of violating hate-speech laws by preaching against homosexuality. A Serb convicted of discrimination for saying, “We are against every gathering where homosexuals are demonstrating in the streets of Belgrade and want to show something, which is a disease, like it is normal.” An Australian columnist convicted of violating the Racial Discrimination Act by suggesting that “there are fair-skinned people in Australia with essentially European ancestry … who, motivated by career opportunities available to Aboriginal people or by political activism, have chosen to falsely identify as Aboriginal.”

My favorite case involves a Frenchman who sought free-speech protection under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights:

Denis Leroy is a cartoonistOne of his drawings representing the attack on the World Trade Centre was published in a Basque weekly newspaper … with a caption which read: “We have all dreamt of it … Hamas did it”. Having been sentenced to payment of a fine for “condoning terrorism”, Mr Leroy argued that his freedom of expression had been infringed.

The Court considered that, through his work, the applicant had glorified the violent destruction of American imperialism, expressed moral support for the perpetrators of the attacks of 11 September, commented approvingly on the violence perpetrated against thousands of civilians and diminished the dignity of the victims. Despite the newspaper’s limited circulation, the Court observed that the drawing’s publication had provoked a certain public reaction, capable of stirring up violence and of having a demonstrable impact on public order in the Basque Country. The Court held that there had been no violation of Article 10.

How can you justify prosecuting cases like these while defending cartoonists and video makers who ridicule Mohammed? You can’t. Either you censor both, or you censor neither. Given the choice, I’ll stand with Obama. “Efforts to restrict speech,” he warned the U. N., “can quickly become a tool to silence critics and oppress minorities.”

That principle, borne out by the wretched record of hate-speech prosecutions, is worth defending. But first, we have to live up to it.

Original post: Hate-Speech Hypocrites

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9 Comments »

  1. “We need to acknowledge, once and for all, that Islamophobia in particular and discrimination on the basis of religion and belief are contemporary forms of racism and must be dealt with as such”

    Islamophobia is nothing like racism..

    And why islamophobia “in particular” – is an irrational fear of islam worse than an irrational fear of any other religion, only to islamic supremacists and given discrimination on the basis of religion and belief is state policy in Pakistan nobody should be paying any attention to what the amabassador from Pakistan has to say on the subject.

  2. “And each violates laws against hate speech. In much of what we call the free world, for writing that paragraph, I could be jailed.” well if you can’t say any of those things in europe, then europe is not part of the “free world” appearently america is the last bastion of free speech.

    “If we’re going to preach freedom of expression around the world, we have to practice it. We have to scrap our hate-speech laws.” amen. is this guy german?

    “Muslim leaders want us to extend these laws. At this week’s meeting of the U.N. General Assembly, they lobbied for tighter censorship. Egypt’s president said freedom of expression shouldn’t include speech that is “used to incite hatred” or “directed towards one specific religion.” Pakistan’s president urged the “international community” to “criminalize” acts that “endanger world security by misusing freedom of expression.” Yemen’s president called for “international legislation” to suppress speech that “blasphemes the beliefs of nations and defames their figures.” The Arab League’s secretary-general proposed a binding “international legal framework” to “criminalize psychological and spiritual harm” caused by expressions that “insult the beliefs, culture and civilization of others.”” oh my fucking allah. has the whole world gone crazy? these people are in positions of power in their countries. i may have to start praying, clearly the world is doomed. FUCK COCKSUCKING BASTSARD MUHAMMAD.

  3. “How can you justify prosecuting cases like these while defending cartoonists and video makers who ridicule Mohammed? You can’t. Either you censor both, or you censor neither. Given the choice, I’ll stand with Obama. “Efforts to restrict speech,” he warned the U. N., “can quickly become a tool to silence critics and oppress minorities.”” finally a person who understands freedom of speech on this website. thank you william saletan, the lone voice of reason on this site. and president obama, i agree with you on little but on this we are brothers.

  4. I agree with getting rid of Hate speech laws but we do not have them in the U.S. and I hope we never do. I would even like to get rid of all hate crime laws in the U.S. A crime should speak for itself.

  5. ccc,

    i agree totally. the idea of ‘hate’ crimes is rediculous. a crime is a crime. you are no less dead if someone kills you for money.

    but you do realize saying such a thing makes you a bigot.

  6. I do not care if it makes me a bigot. Then entire idea of a hate crime is just silly. It is apt to be misused as motives are not always clear.

  7. Race and religion are not comparable. Race has to do with our common humanity and we cannot change it. Religion is a choice and should be a private matter.

    However, Islam is not a private matter but uses religion as a cover to further its own political agenda. As such, non Muslims not only have a right to subject it critical analysis and ridicule like any other political/totalitarian ideology but have a duty to do so particularly where democratic freedoms and human rights are being threatened.

  8. There is battle going on between good and evil that started from the time evil entered this world and we are caught in the crossfire.some people have chosen evil as an alternatve life style under the guise of religion to ligitimaetize they agenda .they are only two forces in this world, the force of good which comes from GOD and the force of evil which comes from saton (represents all that is opposite of good).we have to make a choice and make it quickly because the battle is intensifing .in case you are not sure which side to choose ,the Holy bible gives us a guide,it says “by their fruits you shall know them”. The big que1stion is which side is more willing to acommandate peace?which ever side you choose remember that peace and Love goes togather like a horse and carriage.

  9. “evil which comes from saton”

    Doesn’t the satan you believe in also come from the god you believe in – so you believe good and evil come from the god you believe in.

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