|Not Charlie (and not Dinah either--see above)|
Not until you pry the mouse from my cold dead fingers, you silly Fascista.
The Times of Israel today printed a guest blog by one Dinah Silverstein, "a human rights activist who has worked with many of the world's leading human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights First." The piece was titled, "America Desperately Needs a Hate Speech Law."
- Ms. Silverstein falls into the common trap of contradicting herself on what hate speech is. On the one hand she claims hate speech is not free speech. But then she argues that freedom of speech must be balanced against other rights and social goods. But if hate speech is not free speech, then no "balancing" is necessary. You simply identify the hate speech--ablism, climate-change denial, etc.--and that's the end of it. And you can then be a "free speech extremist" (as Ms. Silverstein claims she is) with all the rest of it. So making both claims within a few paragraphs is contradictory and illogical. If this were a philosophy paper she would be given a "D". But more importantly, she has disparaged the memory of Leonard Nimoy. That will be €15,000 please, and a suspended two-year jail sentence. (See, "disparaging the memory of deceased persons", hate speech violation #17, paragraph 2, lines 5-6, below).
- Are we really at the point where citing the support of extreme right-wing Japanese politicians is looked upon as a good thing? (see paragraph 7, below).
- Every reasonable person who has thought about the issue has contrasted, say, the protected right of reading Thomas Jefferson (or Frantz Fanon or Adolph Hitler) with the justly prohibited crime of direct incitement to commit violence here and now against a specific person or group--"See that Tory (or colonialist or Jew) over there? Go and kill him." In turn, I think any reasonable person would have to admit that it's not obvious where precisely you should draw the line between the two sets of cases. However, in U.S. Constitutional law, Brandenburg vs. Ohio (1969) (see paragraph 2) specified where to draw that line, and as far as I know, it's regarded as settled law, being essentially unchallenged for almost fifty years. Can one quibble with the opinion? Of course (that's part of free speech after all) but it's not easy to see how the sort of philosophical seachange on the matter that Ms. Silverstein advocates--brushing aside Brandenburg completely--could be accomplished legally, without abolishing the Constitution or the Supreme Court. No doubt that irks her. How many troops does the U.N. have again?
- Serious point: I assume she is at least somewhat representative of the sorts of people that work for Amnesty International these days. I find that very sad.
- Technically, the vast majority of U.S, citizens would run afoul of Ms. Silverstein's hate speech standards. Brendon Eich (who she claims should have gone before a government tribunal and been fined or imprisoned along with Bill Maher, see paragraphs 5 and 8), for example, as far as I know, didn't actually say anything. He was fired from his job because it was discovered that a number of years before he had contributed money to a California "Defense of Marriage" initiative, which actually won a majority of votes. So do we fine or imprison the majority of California voters? And what of those (for all of the following, see paragraph 5) who oppose gun-control (most Republicans and many Democrats), oppose "progress" (arguably, many Republicans and most Democrats) and support (at least in some cases) war (pretty much everyone except Quakers)? Or is Ms. Silverstein trying to position herself as the Last Woman in America? Okay, technically she's Canadian, so maybe she's setting things up so that everyone else could attempt to settle a depopulated United States and then she could arrest them for colonialism.
- According to Ms. Silverstein, "(o)ne of the core aspects of human rights is that all rights and freedoms are gifts granted to us from the United Nations and from human rights law" (see paragraph 8). That's an error of course. We know that all such things come from the U.S. Supreme court, and that's where we get our Presidents from too, you stupid Canadian! (Apologies for lifting that line from Ann Coulter).
- I've written and approvingly reprinted a few parodies myself (see, among others, Femen Demonstration and J.K. Rowling Reveals Voldemort Modeled On Muhammad). And I've found that no matter how outrageous they are, someone always believes them. Once I got caught sort of believing one (no I won't link to that). So I'm leaving open the possibility that Ms. Silverstein's blog post is a parody or a test or a piece of performance art or whatever. If it turns out to be so, remember that I said that and don't laugh at me.
- So, as some of you might have seen, I originally had this caption on Dinah Silverstein's picture, above: "It was that time of the month for her". It was of course written in response to the author approvingly citing the prosecution of that poor Bulgarian fellow (see paragraph 8) for using menstruation as a political metaphor. The caption was meant to be offensive and funny, but upon consideration I felt it to be merely gross, especially if taken out of the Bulgaria context. But just in case people think I'm a wimp for deleting that little item of hate speech, let me publicly reaffirm that women often do get angry and irritable you-know-when. And men think with their you-know-whats. Trans-people are often confused (when they're not pretending) and Eunuchs just have those, you know, annoying voices. Also, short people got no reason to live, but everyone knows that.
Now that we're all in the mood, here's the full piece:
America Desperately Needs a Hate Speech Law
In the world today, it is universally accepted that hate speech is not free speech. International human rights law – the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), to be exact – mandates legal protections against hate speech. The United Nations, the European Union, and the Council of Europe all require member countries to institute strong laws against hate speech. Every single human rights group in existence strongly supports hate speech laws and continually works to have them expanded. All countries now have laws against hate speech.
All countries, that is, except for the United States. In the US, all manner of hateful and discriminatory expression is permitted under the guise of “freedom of speech.” Civilized, human rights-based countries not only have laws against hate speech, but also laws against things like insults, Holocaust denial, voicing approval of terrorist attacks, indecent depictions of violence, disparaging the memory of deceased persons, the dissemination of offensive ideas, and other forms of speech that violate the basic human rights and human dignity of others. America, on the other hand, does not have any of that, and the US steadfastly refuses to protect vulnerable minorities from even the most extreme forms of hate speech. In the landmark case of Brandenburg v. Ohio, the United States Supreme Court even ruled that KKK members have the right to advocate violence against minorities as “free speech.” In other cases, the United States Supreme Court has actually allowed neo-Nazis to march through a town where many Holocaust survivors lived and has even allowed homophobes to directly picket funerals with homophobic picket signs.
To say that this raises significant human rights concerns would be a massive understatement. Human rights groups have complained for decades about America’s failure to enact laws against hate speech and the UN Human Rights Council has repeatedly expressed deep concern about America’s refusal to protect vulnerable minorities from hate speech, but nothing has ever been done to remedy the problem. What many Americans don’t seem to understand is that failing to pass laws against hate speech not only violates fundamental human rights, but also explicitly violates international law. The US has signed and ratified the ICCPR and the ICERD and, as such, is required to implement sanctions on hate speech. But the US has yet to do so, thus demonstrating to the entire world that the US does not give any regard to human rights, international law, or the international community. As someone who grew up in the much more enlightened country of Canada, America’s human rights failures are absolutely shocking and disgusting to me, as they are to everyone outside of the US.
Warning: Chutzpa Alert! -ed.
Like any intelligent and sensible person, I have always been a dedicated champion of freedom of speech, especially when it’s speech that many people do not want to hear. To quote Voltaire, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” In fact, during my time in Australia working for the Human Rights Law Centre and Amnesty International Australia, I was repeatedly called a “free speech extremist” and a “free speech fundamentalist.” Freedom of speech is absolutely vital. It is the cornerstone of any democratic society, and it must be upheld to the maximum possible extent...
The Chutzpa Alert is now over. You may now leave your shelters.
...But, like all rights, it comes with many responsibilities and it must be used constructively. I’ve spent most of my life as a human rights activist, and I’ve worked with many different human rights groups in many different countries all over the world. I know human rights very well. As any human rights lawyer can tell you, the human right to freedom of speech must be balanced against other human rights, such as the human rights to dignity, respect, and non-discrimination. Your rights end where the rights of others begin.
Hate speech has consequences, and those consequences can often be fatal. In Rwanda, racist hate speech against the Tutsi minority built up over a period of several years, eventually inciting the genocide that led to around 1,000,000 deaths. In the Holocaust, racist hate speech against Jews and others led to at least 12,000,000 deaths in concentration camps (my grandparents are Holocaust survivors, so this is very personal to me). More recently, racist hate speech against Muslims inspired Anders Behring Breivik to slaughter 77 people in Norway, while hate speech from the likes of Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh incited right-wing extremist Jared Lee Loughner to go on a shooting spree in Arizona. In Chapel Hill this year, Crag Stephen Hicks shot three innocent Muslims to death as a direct result of hatemongers like Bill Maher repeatedly inciting racist hatred and violence against Muslims (in a civilized country with democracy and human rights, Bill Maher would be held legally accountable for causing the murders and given a very long prison sentence). Thousands of people are killed each year because of the gun lobby’s propaganda manipulating public opinion against sensible gun bans, and major media outlets regularly manipulate the public opinion in favor of war, even though propaganda for war is illegal under international human rights law (Article 20 of the ICCPR). Hate speech has played a crucial and pivotal role in every single genocide and mass murder throughout history. When people are allowed to manipulate the public’s opinion against the common good, terrible things can and do happen. Despite this, America steadfastly refuses to recognize the extremely obvious dangers of hate speech, even when the harm of hate speech has been clearly demonstrated so many times throughout history.
In all countries except for the US, it is simply taken for granted that hate speech is not a part of free speech, and there is not even any debate on the matter. In civilized countries, even the most dedicated free speech absolutists firmly agree that incitement to hatred should always be illegal. The ultra-libertarian, free speech absolutist position outside of the US is that offensive speech shouldn’t always be illegal, but that incitement to hatred should always be illegal. There isn’t a single person in Europe, Canada, Australia, or anywhere else outside of America who thinks that there shouldn’t be ANY laws against hate speech, vilification, or incitement to hatred. That sort of thing is just totally unfathomable in a society with basic human rights. Nobody outside of America believes that hate speech and free speech are anything other than distinct and exclusive things. Only in America do people fail to make the necessary distinction between free speech and hate speech, and only in America do people believe that you somehow can’t have free speech without hate speech, as if hate speech was somehow a legitimate exercise of freedom of speech. This could not possibly be any farther from established international human rights standards, which make it very clear that hate speech is not free speech in any way.
Just like freedom of speech doesn’t protect death threats, freedom of speech also doesn’t protect hateful, hurtful, or offensive speech. In civilized countries, all children are taught in school that hate speech is not free speech. Since freedom of speech does not protect hate speech, the American First Amendment should not be seen as an obstacle to enacting hate speech legislation in the US. Every country with hate speech laws also guarantees freedom of speech. The US is the only country that still considers hate speech to be “free speech.” However, it’s never too late to enact human rights legislation that prohibits hate speech. New Zealand passed their Human Rights Act outlawing hate speech in 1993. Australia had its Australian Human Rights Commission start prosecuting people for hate speech on a federal level in 1995. Japan has yet to pass a Human Rights Act outlawing hate speech and human rights groups have demanded hate speech laws in Japan for several years. But, right now, the pressure on Japan to outlaw hate speech is increasing tenfold and the movement to ban hate speech in Japan is really taking off. Thousands of people participated in the March on Tokyo for Freedom demanding that Japan outlaw hate speech, and numerous other large anti-hate speech demonstrations have taken place as well. Hundreds of human rights groups and thousands of human rights lawyers are participating in the campaign to get Japan to outlaw hate speech, with countless petitions, rallies, assemblies, and demonstrations demanding that hate speech be outlawed in Japan. Hate speech laws are currently in the works in Japan, and they have universal support. Even far-right-wing nationalist politicians like Toru Hashimoto agree that hate speech has no place in Japan and needs to be outlawed, since freedom of expression must be balanced against others’ human rights. Why do Japan’s far-right politicians understand the need to outlaw hate speech, but supposedly “progressive” Americans still don’t? Why does the Japanese far-right respect fundamental human rights more than American “liberals” do
Freedom of speech is not absolute, and it must always be tempered with responsibility and balanced against other rights. Just as freedom of speech does not protect the right to shout “fire!” in a crowded theater, it also should not protect the right to spout hatred and intolerance, to oppose human rights, to perpetuate toxic systems of privilege and oppression, or to argue against the common good. America’s failure to enact legislation against hate speech is outdated, unethical, and a blatant violation of international human rights law. One of the core aspects of human rights is that all rights and freedoms are gifts granted to us from the United Nations and from human rights law, and that all rights and freedoms must be balanced against other rights and freedoms. Freedoms need to be restricted or removed when they interfere with other freedoms. This is a principle that the United States completely fails to understand. In a civilized country with basic human rights, people like Donald Sterling, Brendan Eich, Phil Robertson, Paula Deen, Justine Sacco, Gavin McInnes, and so forth would not only be fired from their jobs, but they would also be taken before government Human Rights Commissions and fined or imprisoned for inciting hatred and violence against vulnerable and marginalized minorities, and for holding ideas which have no place in a modern democratic society with fundamental human rights. For example, in Bulgaria, the journalist Martin Korbowski was recently sued by human rights groups and prosecuted by a human rights court for using a sexist metaphor in one of his articles (he compared the political situation in Bulgaria to menstruation and menstrual blood). The human rights court convicted him of discrimination and harassment on the basis of sex for his sexist hate speech. Korbowski’s conviction was celebrated across the country as a major milestone for equality and basic human rights. But, in the US, a conviction like that would be impossible because the US staunchly refuses to enact any kind of human rights legislation outlawing hate speech.
Hate speech is not just speech, but is, in fact, a form of violence which can be even more harmful and damaging than physical attacks. It’s time for America’s free speech laws to be updated in order to comply with the country’s obligations under international human rights law, and in order to protect human dignity and social cohesion. America was founded on principles of freedom, equality, liberty, and civil rights. Things like racism, sexism, and homophobia – which oppose basic human rights and go against the very core values of this country – should never be permitted under any circumstances. Ideologies which oppose human rights have absolutely no place in any society that claims to value human rights. Hatred is not an exercise of freedom of speech, or of any freedom at all. Freedom of speech exists so that citizens can have a civil, polite, constructive, and respectful conversation about ideas worth discussing – NOT so that privileged bigots can spew venomous hatred at the most vulnerable and marginalized segments of society. Under the guise of “freedom of speech,” America is giving a voice to people who should never be heard in the first place. A society with human rights does not allow people to voice approval of ideologies or movements which oppose human rights. The Czech Republic, for example, has the Law Against Support and Dissemination of Movements Oppressing Human Rights and Freedoms. Other civilized countries have similar laws preventing people from identifying with anti-human rights ideologies. But America doesn’t, once again falling far behind the rest of the world when it comes to basic human rights.
Freedom of speech should never be a license to insult, offend, disrespect, oppose human rights, undermine progress, or incite hatred. Racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial, climate change denial, vaccine denial, anti-feminism, cultural appropriation, xenophobia, ableism, anti-multiculturalism, transphobia, and all other forms of bigotry are not “thoughts” or “opinions.” They are crimes, and all civilized countries already treat them as such. The United States is the one and only exception, making it look positively backwards and uncivilized to the rest of the world. The US is the only country that continues to believe that bigotry has a legitimate place in society. Do Americans have any idea how barbaric this makes the US look to people in more enlightened countries? Most people outside of the US simply assume that the US prohibits hate speech, and they react with stunned disbelief and disgust when they find out that it doesn’t. Countless times, I’ve had people from Europe, Canada, Australia, and elsewhere ask me how the US can possibly call itself a free country and a democracy when it doesn’t even take action against hate speech.
The US is required under international law to ban hate speech. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) mandates that all propaganda for war and all advocacy of national, racial, or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility, or violence be outlawed. The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) mandates that any ideas based on racial superiority or hatred be outlawed, and that membership in or funding of racist groups be made a criminal offense. The United Nations and human rights groups have stressed many times that these laws do not in any way interfere with the sacred right to freedom of speech. In civilized countries like Canada and Australia, we recognize that we are legally obligated to outlaw hate speech under international human rights conventions. Even if the public wanted hate speech laws to be repealed (which the public never would), the laws could not be repealed because all countries are required to outlaw hate speech under legally-binding international human rights conventions. In the US, this seems to be an utterly alien concept to the vast majority of the public.
The ICCPR and the ICERD are both legally-binding international human rights conventions which both REQUIRE countries to outlaw hate speech, and all UN member states are absolutely required to uphold these international human rights conventions in the fullest. By failing to outlaw hate speech, the United States is flippantly violating international law. No other country would ever be allowed to do this, so why should the US be allowed to thumb its nose at established international human rights conventions? The UN needs to give the US an ultimatum: either outlaw hate speech as required by international law, or face punishment. By failing to prosecute hate speech, America is explicitly violating international law and also sending the message that it approves of hatred and bigotry. While America obviously needs to staunchly oppose all forms of censorship, it cannot continue to allow the abuse of fundamental human rights as “free speech.”
Freedom of speech is something that always has to be balanced against other peoples’ human rights. America needs to take a human rights-based approach to freedom of speech, balancing freedom of speech against human dignity, civility, and respect, and the US needs to outlaw all ideas which have no place in a modern democracy with basic human rights. In Canada, each state has its own Human Rights Tribunal to prosecute people for hate speech and other human rights abuses. The US needs to set up similar Human Rights Tribunals in each state to prosecute people for hate speech on a state level, along with a federal American Human Rights Commission (like the federal Canadian Human Rights Commission) to prosecute people for hate speech on a federal level. If the US does indeed disapprove of hatred and bigotry, then it has absolutely no reason to allow the open expression of hatred and bigotry. Hate speech is not free speech, and it’s time for America to finally recognize this. Freedom of speech should never be something that hurts people. Freedom of speech is a right that must be used responsibly, and hate speech is a clear abuse of that right. It’s time for America to finally bring itself up to date on its international human rights obligations, and it can start doing that by finally passing a law against all forms of hate speech. This is something that human rights groups around the world have been telling America for decades.
Human rights groups in the US need to make passing hate speech legislation in America their biggest priority. In other countries, hate speech laws have been passed and expanded with significant help from human rights organizations. In Australia, Amnesty International Australia and countless other human rights groups were instrumental in passing Australia’s federal hate speech law, which makes it illegal to say things which may offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate minorities (when the Australian government recently proposed weakening that law, Amnesty International Australia, the Human Rights Law Centre, and every other human rights group in Australia played a crucial role in forcing them to back down). Human rights groups in Japan (including Amnesty International Japan and countless others) are leading the charge to enact hate speech legislation there too, with Osaka and other cities already setting up new Human Rights Commissions to prosecute hate speech. Human rights groups in America need to bring the fight for hate speech protections to the US, as America is the last advanced country in the world without any kind of legal protections against hate speech – and, by failing to protect against hate speech, the US is explicitly violating international human rights law. America will never be up to international human rights standards until it makes protecting the basic human dignity of its citizens a top priority. The time to start doing that is now.
Je suis Charlie, everyone.