In the Western – post-Breivik – world, there appears to be an increasing support for anti-hate speech / “crimethink” legislation. The idea that you can – and should – control people’s minds – and thus behavior – through prohibitive measures, in combination with proper re-education, is taking hold.
Meanwhile, all over the non-Westernized world, in China, in Russia, as well as the entire Muslim world, thousands of dissidents are fighting for their right to Freedom of Expression, – or, in Orwellian terms: “crimethink…
“If you’re in favor of freedom of speech, that means you’re in favor of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise”. Noam Chomsky
Jacob Mchangama, lecturer in international human-rights law at the University of Copenhagen, traces the origin of hate speech laws to the Soviet Union and allies.
A fierce debate preceded the adoption of the (unbinding) 1948 Universal Declaration of Human rights (UDHR), with the Soviets pleading for the inclusion of “hate speech” laws, and the majority of Western nations giving priority to the protection of free speech. At this occasion, the Soviets lost their case, as no explicit duty to prohibit hate speech was included in the UDHR, and article 19 simply secures “freedom of opinion and expression.”
Then, in 1966, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) was adopted as a legally binding human rights convention, and is currently ratified by some 167 states, – (including the U.S., where, however, it does not form part of the domestic law).
In addition to article 19 of the UDHR, article 20 of the ICCPR states: “Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.”
Voting in favour of this article were “primarily the communist states of Eastern Europe, as well as non-Western countries with very questionable human rights records such as Saudi Arabia, Haiti, Sudan, and Thailand.”
Thus, – the voting record “reveals the startling fact that the internationalization of hate-speech prohibitions in human rights law owes its existence to a number of states where both criticisms of the prevalent totalitarian ideology as well as advocacy for democracy were strictly prohibited”.
The role as dubious defenders of right minds and behaviours has now been taken over by the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC).
Religion instead of Communism...
The 1990 OIC / Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam, Article 21, states that “everyone shall have the right to express his opinion freely in such manner as would not be contrary to the principles of the Shari’ah.”
That is bad enough as it is, but the problem for us is, that Islamic countries perceive “in Islam” as including (Western) infidels, which became blatantly clear during the 2005 Mo-toon crisis.
As a result of said crisis, the 5.5 million Danes became bitterly divided into the indignant, apologetic, dialogue-seeking I-am-better-than-you-you-are-a-racist club, whose mantra became “we should not criticize /offend unnecessarily”, – the “freedom of expression, yes, but”.. adherents, and the uncompromising and proud free speech fundamentalists, the “crimethinkers”, – each grouping firmly believing the others to be the bad guys..
I am not quite sure who is winning this ongoing battle in the local duckpond, but in an international perspective, the constant shaming of “crimethinkers” appear to be shifting sentiments in favour of further limitations on free speech, even in the U.S., – and even within.. progressivism.. , and, dare I say.., Transhumanism...
This apparent.. neo-puritanism perhaps.. in the Western world appears to have gained momentum from a number of hate-crimes, exemplified in the U.S. by the shooting of Congress-woman Gabrielle Giffords, although in this case, after 300 exhaustive interviews, the feds “remain stumped” about the lunatic’s motives.
Anyway, a number of proposals have been put forward. In Arizona, for instance, bill 2549 is awaiting Governor Jan Brewer’s signature. It states:
“It is unlawful for any person, with intent to terrify, intimidate, threaten, harass, annoy or offend, to use any electronic or digital device and use any obscene, lewd or profane language or suggest any lewd or lascivious act, or threaten to inflict physical harm to the person or property of any person“.
Oh yes /no.. – then – seemingly out of the blue – came the Breivik mass murders, – a national – and international at that I guess.. tragedy, that has led to a veritable witchhunt and inquisition of each and every even slightly “Islamophobic” crimethinker in all of Scandinavia, as well as abroad. Above all, these cold-blooded killings have been directly linked to the writings of one blogger and commentator in particular: "Fjordman", who is quoted frequently in Breivik’s Manifesto.
If you care to read Fjordman’s own report of the first week of the ongoing Breivik trial, you may do so Here. (I highly recommend it)
A month ago, in Sweden , – a country Julian Assange has called the “Saudi Arabia of feminism” – the Swedish LO, – (umbrella trade union organization), - initiated an ambitious project that aims to train 150,000 of its members in monitoring suspected racists at work. According to “Agenda” – weekly program on Swedish State TV, – anyone reported for criticism of immigration policies risks being excluded from a number of LO-affiliated trade unions. This giant.. committee for the promotion of virtue.., with its 150,000 informants employees, will be significantly larger than the Stasi, who had 100 000 informers all over East Germany. Its aim is to keep track of people’s frustration over immigration policy and to ensure ordinary people know they are under surveillance and therefore afraid to exchange views with their colleagues and friends.
Anyone “caught” questioning immigration and saying racist things, must face intervention, and according to “Agenda”, workers may not even say that there are “too many immigrants” in Sweden without risking expulsion from the union.
In Saudi Arabia, of course, they have the “Committee for the promotion of virtue and the prevention of vice”, or, simply, the Religious Police…
So can you avoid extremism and atrocities through prohibitive /coercive measures ? – Let’s look at some examples:
In the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, anyone “inciting national, racial, or religious hatred or discord between peoples and nationalities”, faced imprisonment of up to ten years. Clearly, these prohibitive measures did nothing to promote a culture of tolerance, – nor did they prevent the latest European genocide…
The same can be said about the Weimar Republic (1919-1933) , where leading Nazis were convicted under blasphemy laws. The Nazis themselves, of course, when they came to power in 1933, abolished freedom of expression, save for the official “truth”.
No need to mention following events...
In 1965, as part of its Race Relations Act, Britain prohibited incitement to racial hatred. According to Indian-born English writer, lecturer and defender of free speech, Kenan Malik, the following decade was “probably the most racist in British history”.
In the US, where the First Amendment protects even hate speech, except for cases where it can be established that there is “imminant danger”, this has not led to more racism, rather the opposite, and according to FBI statistics, the number of hate crimes in the US actually decreased by 33.84 percent from 1996-2009.
According to a report from the “Speech, Power, Violence Seminar” convened by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in February 2009, “There is no direct, incontrovertible evidence linking hate speech or propaganda to violence”.
The simple truth, which should be apparent to all rational minds, is that it is impossible to reduce or eliminate bigotry simply by banning it. All it does is letting the sentiments fester underground, and any psychologist will tell you how potentially dangerous that is. As Kenan Malik puts it:
“Hate speech restriction is a means not of tackling bigotry but of rebranding certain, often obnoxious, ideas or arguments as immoral. It is a way of making certain ideas illegitimate without bothering politically to challenge them”.
And that is dangerous.
Is it fair to say then, that proponents of hate speech laws are reacting rather irrationally, i.e. sentence first, validation later, or, as in the good old days west of the river Pecos: Shoot first, ask questions later.. , – and is it going too far to suggest their constant shaming of their opponents amounts even to old-fashioned populism…
(Not sure if populism is old-fashioned..)
The head of the Social Democratic party in Germany, Sigmar Gabriel, has stated, for instance, that the attacks in Norway were fostered by “xenophobia and nationalism” in the region, and that “the center of society has to make clear that there is no room for this with us, even for sanitized versions”.
Thorbjørn Jagland, former prime minister of Norway and current chairman of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, warns us “to be very careful how we are discussing these issues, what words are used . . . the words we are using are very important because it can lead to much more…”
Whilst not hesitating to point to an – in his view – obvious connection between Breivik and “far-right rhetoric”, Jagland begs us to stop using terminology such as “Islamic terrorism”, lest we get the idea that terrorism is about Islam…
Jagland’s Newspeak also requires us to use diversity instead of multi-culturalism, which would, of course, make it harder for Chancellor Merkel, President Sarkozy or Prime Minister Cameron to express their “hate-filled”, right-wing rhetoric accurately, e.g. "Multi-culturalismDiversity has failed..." ?...
Now that I have talked about Norway and Sweden, let me tell you about Denmark.
Although we too have an actively enforced hate-speech prohibition, debates are freer than in the rest of Scandinavia, in particular Sweden. Debates are often fierce, and we have a reputation of being rather rude.
Maybe that is why we supposedly are the world’s least gelotophobic (fear of being laughed at) nation, – (and the Islamic world, interestingly, the most gelotophobic). Also, we experience far less shaming than especially Swedes, although we do have our share...
In the last 20 years, Sweden has experienced a number of violent crimes committed by right-wing extremists, while Denmark has remained rather more peaceful.
So.. – if “crimethink” laws are to no avail, – and may even be counter-productive, – if politically correct newspeak only confuses and prevents us from calling a spade a spade, – if “re-education” is an “offer” you can’t refuse, or else.., and if, indeed, the freer a society, – ie. the higher degree of freedom of speech, – the less extremism, – and the less hate-speech /crimethink, – then what does work ?
Well, – I said it, didn’t I: It’s the Freedom(s) , stupid ! – That, plus equal opportunities for all, and some of the worst roots-of-hatred will wither all by themselves.
Finally, I’d like to say this: If you feel you are one of whom I have called “the freedom of expression, yes, but.. adherents”, please do not take offense because of me drawing attention to totalitarian crimethink-law proponents of either communist, nazi, or religious observation. I am well aware that most, if not all of you are decent, (liberal..) folks with the best of intentions, so.. no guilt by association !
Joern Pallensen studied psychology at University of Copenhagen and has had a lifelong interest in philosophy of mind, in particular ontology of self. He blogs at Transhumanisten.com He was introduced to IEET when he was interviewed for the 2011 article, "Happiness, Freedom, Equality, Rudeness - welcome to Denmark!"
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