Another attack on freedom of speech

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In praise of Vallaud-Belkacem, or why not to tolerate hate speech on Twitter

The US has made a fetish of first amendment rights. We should follow France’s example in restricting bigotry’s free expression

Minister for women’s rights Najat Vallaud-Belkacem leans to listen to France’s prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, last month in the National Assembly in Paris. Photograph: Francois Guillot/AFP/Getty Images

By Jason Farago | Wednesday 2 January 2013 08.00 EST

If you’re looking to diminish your faith in the future of humanity, a good place to start is always the left rail of Twitter’s website, whose list of “trending topics” details the most popular inanities of the day. But in France, this December, the Justin Bieber hashtags dropped down the hit parade and a much more sinister one topped the charts. If you clicked #SiMonFilsEstGay (“If my son is gay”), which trended for days, you could see thousands upon thousands of violently homophobic messages – suggesting that young people who come out should be imprisoned, castrated, murdered … you name it.

And that was not the only hateful hashtag of the month. There was also #SiMaFilleRamèneUnNoir (“If my daughter brings a black man home”), which brought together juvenile humor and appalling racism. Earlier in the month came #UnBonJuif (“A good Jew”), whose violent antisemitism seemed to revolve around cooking jokes; and if that was too subtle for you, there was also #UnJuifMort (“A dead Jew”).

This whole vile outpouring may just be par for the course in the wilds of social media. But in France, hateful statements like this are more than contemptible. They’re illegal – and the government noticed.

“These statements are prohibited by law,” wrote Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, the women’s rights minister, in an op-ed this weekend. “And those who make them are not less punishable and less likely to appear in court because they appear online.”

To an American ear that may sound chilling, but it sounds quite different on the other side of the Atlantic. Like every other country in the European Union, France has a law that criminalizes incitement to hatred based on race or religion. (Think of John Galliano, the fashion designer, who was convicted of “public insults based on origin, religious affiliation, race or ethnicity” after drunkenly ranting about his love for Hitler.)

More at the link.

France’s Minister for Women’s Rights — an office that, to an American, is laughable on its face — Najat Vallaud-Belkacem wants to do more than just prosecute Tweeters who hurt other people’s precious feelings; she wants to have the law imposed on Twitter to make it responsible for censoring speech.

At a moment when the government is putting in place an action plan against violence and discrimination committed for reasons of sexual orientation or gender identity, I want … to call upon Twitter’s sense of responsibility, so that it can contribute to the prevention and the avoidance of misbehavior like this. I want us to be able to work together, along with the most important associated agencies, to put in place alerts and security measures that will ensure that the unfortunate events that we have witnessed in recent weeks will not occur again

Mr Farago is right: to an American, that does sound chilling. When the government has the authority1 to censor speech, it means that whatever people happen to be in charge of the government at a particular time have the authority to censor speech. In Alberta, Canada, the Human Rights Commission has tried to censor and fine a Christian minister for his statements concerning what the Bible says about homosexual activity. Canada’s federal Human Rights Commission investigated Fr. Alphonse de Valk, a Catholic priest for upholding Catholic teaching during debates over proposed same-sex “marriage” laws in our neighbor to the North; given governmental authority, the speech censors can be used to attack legitimate public political debate if the bureaucrat in charge doesn’t agree with the debater’s position.

When I matriculated at the University of Kentucky, it was the liberals who were most adamant about freedom of speech. It was the liberals who were protesting against President Nixon’s policies — as they had President Johnson’s before him — and the killings at Kent State University were still fresh in people’s minds.

But today? It is our friends on the left, from the ridiculous French Ministress for Women’s Right to our own American liberals who want to restrict freedom of speech, who want to use the power of government to prevent opinions that they do not like from being published, to prevent organizations they do not like from expressing their opinions. Our friends on the left claim to be very much anti-fascist, but they are the most thoroughly Fascisti people I have ever known.
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  1. I had originally used the word “right” here, but that’s incorrect: no government has the right to censor speech, though some do claim the authority.

16 Comments

  1. Our friends on the left claim to be very much anti-fascist, but they are the most thoroughly Fascisti people I have ever known.

    If they are “Fascist”, then why do you persist in calling them “Our friends on the Left”?

  2. I’d say that supporting the torture of prisoners, including torturing them to death, was more fascistic. But you keep fucking that chicken, wingnut/

  3. Translation: the Phoenician does support limiting the freedom of speech.

    Of course, he does come from a country in which freedom of speech is limited:

    Hate expression

    New Zealand, like many other countries, has legislated to give effect to Article 20 of ICCPR, which requires State parties to ban ‘advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence’. The United Nations Human Rights Committee has expressed the view that the prohibitions required by Article 20 are ‘fully compatible with the right of freedom of expression as contained in Article 19’ (CCPR General Comment 11, 1983), but Article 20 does not relieve the State parties of the obligation to protect freedom of expression to the fullest extent possible.

    Rishworth (forthcoming) discusses a number of reasons for racial disharmony laws that limit freedom of expression. These include avoiding harm. He states:

    It is possible to trace genocide and acts of violence against racial and ethnic groups back to the development of attitudes in the community. And if the development of attitudes is targeted as a ‘harm’ to be avoided because it makes people more susceptible to incitements to violence, or more tolerant of violence being perpetrated by the state on racial groups, then the harm avoidance rationale can be invoked to justify some speech restrictions.

    A second reason is that of discouraging discrimination. This rationale in favour of regulating race-related expression suggests that speech that vilifies promotes negative stereotypes and attitudes, so that people view those vilified as loathsome and unworthy and deserving of discrimination.

    The psychic injury rationale suggests people should be spared the psychological harm and alienation that might follow racist remarks. The harm is not so much in the attitudes engendered in others, as in the erosion of self-worth in the victims, their withdrawal from society and resultant inequality. Regulation that limits speech about race is also symbolic, sending positive messages of inclusion and concern to ethnic minorities and demonstrating a legislative commitment to eradicating racism.
    Legislative provision

    There are two provisions in the Human Rights Act 1993 (HRA) that limit freedom of expression about race. Section 61 prohibits expression that is threatening, abusive, or insulting, and considered likely to excite hostility against or bring into contempt a person or group of persons on the ground of their colour, race or ethnic or national origins. It is the effect of what was said that counts, not whether the person did or did not intend to excite hostility. Although intention is irrelevant, the views of the ‘very sensitive’ are not considered to be the appropriate yardstick to decide whether something is insulting (Skelton v Sunday Star Times ).[6] There is an exception for the media. It is not unlawful to publish a report that accurately conveys the intention of the person who used the words.

    Section 131 establishes a criminal offence similar to section 61 but with the additional words ‘with intent to excite hostility or ill will against, or bring into contempt or ridicule’. Incitement to racial disharmony has been a criminal offence since the enactment of the Race Relations Act 1971.

    The provisions permit punishment of a person for statements they have made because of what other people might be led, as a result, to think about still another group of people, or racial or ethnic group.

    Were THE FIRST STREET JOURNAL a New Zealand blog, there are all sorts of discussions we could not have had here. We could not have discussed welfare, because of the stereotype that blacks are more heavily dependent upon welfare than whites, and such discussions might be thought to fall under “regulating race-related expression suggests that speech that vilifies promotes negative stereotypes and attitudes, so that people view those vilified as loathsome and unworthy and deserving of discrimination.” I would note here that Wagonwheel frequently claimed that any criticism of President Obama’s policies must be racist in their inspiration, and since President Obama is the head of our government, it would be his minions responsible for enforcing such laws, were they part of our system.

    How about discussions concerning same-sex “marriage?” Clearly, some people could see them as promoting “negative stereotypes and attitudes, so that people view those vilified as loathsome and unworthy and deserving of discrimination,” but also inflicting “psychic injury,” and “people should be spared the psychological harm and alienation that might follow racist remarks. The harm is not so much in the attitudes engendered in others, as in the erosion of self-worth in the victims, their withdrawal from society and resultant inequality.”

    Of course, in New Zealand, some subjects must simply not be discussed: “Regulation that limits speech about race is also symbolic, sending positive messages of inclusion and concern to ethnic minorities and demonstrating a legislative commitment to eradicating racism.” Simply put, “positive messages of inclusion” are the policy of the state, and things which might be contrary to that can be banned. One wonders how the Catholic Church, or any Christian Church, which actually believes what the Bible states about homosexual activity, could be allowed to exist in Christchurch.

    And, of course, it isn’t the actual intention of the speaker which is important, but how those who listen or read what he said feel: “It is the effect of what was said that counts, not whether the person did or did not intend to excite hostility.”

    It is no wonder that New Zealand is a more politically liberal country than the United States: the law is such there that conservative positions may not be discussed in full because the left has made such discussions legally punishable, and the easily offended liberals would use such offense to instigate such punishments.

    Of course, I would note here: even if our Phoenician friend didn’t mean anything which actually supported rape in the kerfuffle on Pandagon, his statements were interpreted by another person as being an apology for rape. Since it is the opinion of the listener which controls, rather than the intent of the speaker, it seems to me that the Phoenician was in violation of his country’s laws on permissible speech. Clearly, he should have been locked up!

  4. Eric asks, and not for the first time:

    If they are “Fascist”, then why do you persist in calling them “Our friends on the Left”?

    It is simple the choice of verbiage I have chosen to use. Perhaps one might infer some sarcasm in my formulation, though such an inference might not be an accurate reflection of what I meant to imply.

  5. A second reason is that of discouraging discrimination. This rationale in favour of regulating race-related expression suggests that speech that vilifies promotes negative stereotypes and attitudes, so that people view those vilified as loathsome and unworthy and deserving of discrimination.

    This whole rationale assumes that people are stupid, and that free speech can’t be countered with more free speech.

    After all, if one person says “I hate the Jews”, another person can respond with “You’re an idiot, and should be ridiculed”.

  6. Eric wrote:

    This whole rationale assumes that people are stupid, and that free speech can’t be countered with more free speech.

    That, in the end, is exactly what our good-hearted friends on the left think: that everybody else is stupid. To them, only they are smart, only they can be trusted with their opinions, only they should be allowed to try to influence society and government.

  7. That, in the end, is exactly what our good-hearted friends on the left think: that everybody else is stupid.

    “Good-hearted”, Dana? These people are black hearted devils.

    We read Orwell’s 1984 and say “What a nightmare!” They read 1984 and think “We could totally make this happen!’

  8. “Eric says:
    Wednesday, 2 January 2013 at 21:59

    Our friends on the left claim to be very much anti-fascist, but they are the most thoroughly Fascisti people I have ever known.

    If they are “Fascist”, then why do you persist in calling them “Our friends on the Left”?”

    That will probably not survive this administration and the dropping of the human veil by so many leftists.

  9. Editor says:
    Thursday, 3 January 2013 at 07:32

    Eric asks, and not for the first time:

    If they are “Fascist”, then why do you persist in calling them “Our friends on the Left”?

    It is simple the choice of verbiage I have chosen to use. Perhaps one might infer some sarcasm in my formulation, though such an inference might not be an accurate reflection of what I meant to imply.

    Apropos …

  10. Editor says:
    Thursday, 3 January 2013 at 07:27

    Translation: the Phoenician does support limiting the freedom of speech.

    Of course, he does come from a country in which freedom of speech is limited …

    So is it’s ability to protect itself. that is, more like nonexistent in practical terms.

    If you recall we had a discussion in depth regarding the so-called New Zealand constitution, in all of its uncertain and dubious glory.

    Are the so-called constitutional conventions part of the NZ constitution? Apparently they were not a couple of years ago. Is the treaty of Wango-Tango (or was it Cat Scratch Fever?) part of the NZ constitution? Some uncertainty there. Maybe it’s on it’s way to being so, we’ll see eventually, probably. Freedom of political speech protected? You bet, just as long as Parliament which is supreme in it’s power to make any law allowing or disallowing or commanding or prohibiting anything at all, allows it to be.

    So, you know, what’s the big deal? The Hobbits like it that way.

  11. From DNW’s cite:

    These are the most foreboding times in my 59 years. The reelection of Barack Obama has released a surge of rare honesty among the Left about its intentions, coupled with a sense of triumphalism that the country is now on board for still greater redistributionist change.

    This from one who calls himself the “neo-neocon”, i.e., a radical right-winger, who favors redistribution, to the 1%.

    LOL!!!

  12. WW wrote:

    These are the most foreboding times in my 59 years. The reelection of Barack Obama has released a surge of rare honesty among the Left about its intentions, coupled with a sense of triumphalism that the country is now on board for still greater redistributionist change.

    This from one who calls himself the “neo-neocon”, i.e., a radical right-winger, who favors redistribution, to the 1%.

    Did you actually follow DNW’s citation? Maybe you ought to read the NeoNeocon’s reasons for leaving the liberal Democratic fold. Of course, the article DNW cited said nothing at all about her “favor(ing) redistribution, to the 1%;” that was simply something you assumed, without reading any further.

    Of course, I understand your assumption: to you, if you do not favor redistribution of wealth away from the people who produce it, then you simply must favor redistribution of more wealth to the top producers.

  13. Wagonwheel says:
    Thursday, 3 January 2013 at 17:42

    From DNW’s cite:

    These are the most foreboding times in my 59 years. The reelection of Barack Obama has released a surge of rare honesty among the Left about its intentions, coupled with a sense of triumphalism that the country is now on board for still greater redistributionist change.

    This from one who calls himself the “neo-neocon”, i.e., a radical right-winger, who favors redistribution, to the 1%.

    LOL!!!”

    Wrong. That’s from a classicist and renowned historian of ancient Greece.

  14. Editor says:
    Thursday, 3 January 2013 at 17:55

    WW wrote:

    These are the most foreboding times in my 59 years. The reelection of Barack Obama has released a surge of rare honesty among the Left about its intentions, coupled with a sense of triumphalism that the country is now on board for still greater redistributionist change.

    < This from one who calls himself the “neo-neocon”, i.e., a radical right-winger, who favors redistribution, to the 1%.

    Did you actually follow DNW’s citation? Maybe you ought to read the NeoNeocon’s reasons for leaving the liberal Democratic fold. Of course, the article DNW cited said nothing at all about her “favor(ing) redistribution, to the 1%;” that was simply something you assumed, without reading any further.

    Of course, I understand your assumption: to you, if you do not favor redistribution of wealth away from the people who produce it, then you simply must favor redistribution of more wealth to the top producers.”

    Perry’s was wrong on two counts, eh?

    He has misidentified the author of the text he quoted, and gotten the author of the web site wrong.

    She is relatively well known as an author and commentator under her real name (a lawyer and family therapist), but I’ll let Perry search that out himself.

    By the way, it was John Hitchcock who first linked there to the best of my knowledge.

    I didn’t discover the site on my own. Hitchcock, I if I recollect accurately, admired her dexterity is dealing with trolls, and keeping her comment section alive through pruning.

  15. Did you actually follow DNW’s citation? Maybe you ought to read the NeoNeocon’s reasons for leaving the liberal Democratic fold. Of course, the article DNW cited said nothing at all about her “favor(ing) redistribution, to the 1%;” that was simply something you assumed, without reading any further.

    Of course, I understand your assumption: to you, if you do not favor redistribution of wealth away from the people who produce it, then you simply must favor redistribution of more wealth to the top producers.”

    I plead guilty as charged. This is the first time in my life that I have been wrong! :)

    However, I have not observed this alleged hatred, as I continue to watch political developments on a daily basis:

    A goodly portion of the preening triumphalism that has followed in the wake of the 2012 election involves just this kind of hatred: towards white men, the rich, Republicans, Christians, gun owners. There’s a lot of talk about how the demographics have permanently changed in this country, and perhaps that’s correct—and now the tables are being turned, with glee. It’s been a long time since the expression of real racism against black people (as opposed to imaginary and/or astroturf-generated racism) was acceptable in this country. But it’s now completely acceptable against white men, and this is an exceedingly ominous sign.

    I’d say that our neo-neocon here has observed behavior which I have not seen. Perhaps it is out of the liberal character to express some degree of confidence about tax policy, but I am seeing no confidence in being able to head off being held hostage by the Republican right-wing regarding the debt ceiling issue. The Dems did win the election, but let us be honest, the Right still holds the power re the purse strings in the House, and re the filibuster in the Senate, by which they can do much damage to the economy they themselves have already damaged, going back to 2001 and forward.

    Regarding all the hate she feels following her “conversion”, it has come from her friends, focused on the Bush years, which I do not believe are representative of the general left of center. Perhaps
    the reaction to her may reflect the way she presents herself, in a passive-aggressive manner, characteristic of folks who have a masters in Marriage and Family Therapy.

    And by the way, DNW said: “Wrong. That’s from a classicist and renowned historian of ancient Greece.”

    Are you serious, DNW?

    We see/hear exactly the same kind of rhetoric from the far right as from the far left, which is characteristic of our polarized politics. Just frequent First Street Journal if one wishes to see these rantings from the far right.
    Let us watch these Righties misbehave from this point on, because we all know they will.

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