Some years ago, the founding fathers gathered to create the bill of rights. Well, it was mainly Madison who wrote them, but it was agreed upon by the other representatives. Among these inalienable rights was the right of all people – or whoever counts as “people” – to “the freedom of speech … [and] press.”
This freedom of speech had set the United States apart from a lot of countries in the 18th century. Almost every country was controlled by a monarch and did not allow for the freedom to criticize the government freely. The first colonies saw this as a misstep, that one must be able to criticize the government so that a totalitarian government does not form.
I love free speech. It lets me say what about to say right now. It has let me run a blog or post on Facebook without being arrested. I come from Bangladesh, and I’ve had numerous family members spend time in jail due to – as they called it – political dissent. I’ve got a family friend in there right now. So, I understand the value of free speech.
But the events in Charlottesville, Virginia over the past few days have opened up a point I have made to many friends over the past few years: Free speech does NOT extend to hate speech.
Allowing hate speech to run unchecked leads to a validation of that hate speech. Something along the lines of: “if no one is stopping me, then I must be right.” Is this intelligent thinking? No. But it exists nonetheless. Hate speech, if gone unregulated, can go and infect the lives of good citizens. Maybe they pick up a book blaming immigrants for the lack of jobs. Maybe they’ve heard that from their father or their uncle. Or maybe they’ve heard their coworkers say it. Suddenly here’s this book, which must be accurate if it got published, that is also saying this same thing. Now they believe it. Then they tell someone else this belief and they give them that book. Now another person believes it. Suddenly, a few hundred people storm the streets with torches and guns screaming “Send them back.”
This isn’t too far from the truth. It also isn’t too far off from what happened in Germany in the 20th century. The formula is simple: Deep seated racial or cultural prejudices + scapegoat for economic downturn + unchecked hate speech = rise of fascism. Anti-Semitism had been rampant in Western America throughout the 19th and early 20th century. Coupling that with the huge economic downturn, which so many figures claimed to have been the fault of the Jews, and the spreading of documents of Anti-Semitic and nationalist propaganda, and suddenly Germany had a rise of a fascist political group.
The difference is that the Nazis tore apart Europe. Literally. So many countries – such as Germany and Denmark – have since placed strict anti-hate speech laws in act. The US, however, have no such laws. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) has ruled that “any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law” (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 20). However, enforcing hate speech becomes a problem because so many people argue that it gets in the way of free speech.
But that is simply bullshit. You can’t claim that enforcing laws against hate speech would desecrate free speech. Plenty of Western countries have harsh hate speech laws while maintaining free speech. Hate speech is defined as an attack on a person based on their race, religion, culture, sexual orientation, gender, ethnic origin, or disability. No one should be able to say things that directly harm or alienate a group of people based on the aforementioned attributes. Letting them say bigoted beliefs is a slippery slope to letting them act it out.
Of course, America has a long lasting history of letting bigoted attacks happen. Almost entirely, however, one group of people are not persecuted for their actions.
Let me explain, when the protests at Ferguson were happening, 144 people were arrested. Pictures of arrested protestors being pepper sprayed by state troopers spread across the internet like wildfire. Police have hosed down, set dogs on, beat, and arrested civil rights protestors in the past.
But the KKK walks free. They’ve walked free after every lynching, torched march, and cross burning. Once again, these open white supremacists – just KKK members in the open – have walked away. Many people point to Fields Jr, who murdered a woman with his car, having been arrested, but that’s one person. The rest all have the capacity to do the same. So many of them have threatened to do the same. Why doesn’t the government crack down on them?
Probably because so many of our “representatives” don’t see themselves as ever being victims. These white, affluent males will never see systematic or outright racism problematic enough to actually try cracking down on what causes it. The cause is simple: Hate speech. Let’s show these fascists that if you talk shit, you get hit. And I can’t iterate this enough, talking shit doesn’t mean being critical. It means being hateful.
Allowing for hateful speech is just a slippery slope to fascism.