Posts Tagged ‘hate speech’

Garry Trudeau vs. Charlie Hebdo

“Spare me your sanctimony about ‘punching down’ – when someone brings a gun to the fight, punching down is a kindness,” wrote Jason Kuznicki at the time of the Charlie Hebdo massacre. His words well anticipated the spectacle of cartoonist Garry Trudeau (“Doonesbury”) now suggesting that it is “hate speech” to challenge the claims of a major world religion some of whose fanatical adherents regularly menace cartoonists, journalists, scholars, and artists around the world. Eugene Volokh dissects Trudeau here, keeping his temper better than I suspect I would have done. And more from Amanda Kendal in the U.K.; pursuant to points both Volokh and Kendal make, the arbitrary and manipulable nature of the “punching up/down” discourse is an important clue to its intended use as a mechanism of control.

Earlier on Trudeau and Doonesbury here and here. More: David Frum; Jesse Walker (Trudeau inaccurate re: actual editorial posture of Charlie Hebdo); Ken at Popehat (“journalists who confront and defy blasphemy norms are helping to make the point that religious offense is no excuse for murder. If that’s punching down, let’s punch harder.”)

France and its speech-throttling litigation

Jacob Sullum on why a nation that mourned the murderous attack on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo over its provocative speech was nonetheless content to let the magazine be sued, and sued, and sued over such speech:

under French law, insulting people based on their religion is a crime punishable by a fine of 22,500 and six months in jail.

In addition to religion, that law covers insults based on race, ethnicity, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, or disability. Defamation (as opposed to mere insult) based on any of those factors is punishable by up to a year in prison, and so is incitement to discrimination, hatred, or violence.

Christopher Caldwell, Wall Street Journal ($):

In France, antiracism set itself squarely against freedom of speech. The passage of the 1990 Gayssot Law, which punished denial of the Holocaust, was a watershed. Activist lobbies sought to expand such protections by limiting discussion of a variety of historical events—the slave trade, colonialism, foreign genocides. This was backed up by institutional muscle. In the 1980s, President François Mitterrand’s Socialist party created a nongovernmental organization called SOS Racisme to rally minority voters and to hound those who worked against their interests.

Older bodies such as the communist-inspired Movement against Racism and for Friendship Among the Peoples made a specialty of threatening (and sometimes carrying out) lawsuits against European intellectuals for the slightest trespasses against political correctness: the late Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci for her post-9/11 lament “The Rage and the Pride,” the philosopher Alain Finkielkraut for doubting that the 2005 riots in France’s suburban ghettos were due to unemployment, the Russia scholar Hélène Carrère d’Encausse for speculating about the role of polygamy in the problems of West African immigrants.

Sullum again:

Other countries that criminalize “hate speech,” including Germany, the Netherlands, the U.K., Sweden, and Canada, are likewise sending the dangerous message that offending people with words or images is akin to assaulting them with fists or knives. …

Sacrilege may upset people, but it does not violate their rights. By abandoning that distinction, avowed defenders of Enlightenment values capitulate to the forces of darkness.

Earlier here, here, here, here, and generally here.

Scottish man jailed for 4 months for singing sectarian song

For singing a song? “Scott Lamont, from Glasgow, was heard singing the words of the Billy Boys song on Cathcart Road on 1 February. The 24-year-old admitted the charge at Glasgow Sheriff Court.” Via Spiked Online, which has more on Scotland’s legislation against sectarian football songs. More on Scotland’s recent policing of offensive tweets and other online speech here.

After Copenhagen: live-tweeting Flemming Rose at Cato

On Sunday an Islamist gunman attacked a panel discussion on “Art, blasphemy and the freedom of expression” being held at a cultural center in Copenhagen:

One of the panel speakers, and the likely target of the attack, was Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who appeared on the March 2013 al Qaeda magazine Inspire “hit list,” along with Charlie Hebdo’s Charb, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and others. Vilks has faced many perils, some of them in the U.S., since drawing a sketch of Muhammad a decade ago.

I am particularly proud of my own Cato Institute for publishing and recently hosting Danish editor Flemming Rose, who like Vilks appears on the al-Qaeda hit list. Rose is foreign editor of Jyllands-Posten, the newspaper in Denmark that published the famous Muhammad cartoons and nearly a decade later remains heavily guarded by police. In the wake of Sunday’s attack, I decided to tweet some highlights from a November Cato panel in which author Jonathan Rauch, known for his writings in defense of free speech (and an old friend), interviewed Rose about his new book The Tyranny of Silence and its implications. Referring to the famed page of Muhammad cartoons:

Remember, this panel was taped in November, which makes Rose’s next comment especially poignant:

A major theme of the conversation was hate speech laws, widely adopted in Europe, but not in the United States due to our First Amendment jurisprudence:

“It basically boils down to a wrong reading of the reasons behind the Holocaust,” Rose said (31:30). It wasn’t free speech that cleared a path for the Nazis: “In Weimar Germany you had hate speech laws on the books” (32:15). And in fact the “vast majority” of European hate speech laws now in effect date not to the period after 1945, but to that since the fall of the Berlin Wall (34:30)

Now the idea is ramifying:

While the U.S. Supreme Court has been a bulwark against hate-speech prohibitions, their advocates have made some inroads in academia:

But it’s complicated:

Which drew in Greg Lukianoff himself with a comment:

This was to become the most shared entry in my series:

There was also a side conversation (you can read it here) about a comment by Lars Vilks, the attacked Swedish artist:

I read “meaningless” in this context to stand for “futile”: a madman unable to achieve his goal does not become sane, but may switch projects. The way to make an attack on speech futile is make clear that the resented speech will continue unbowed or even intensified, as Vilks has done by continuing to pursue his work and proclaim his views in public and without apology — good advice for us on this side of the Atlantic, too.

Earlier on the Charlie Hebdo attack; on wobbling U.S. leadership in international forums on the speech topic; on blasphemy laws, and my piece in Time last month, “Blasphemy Is at the Front Lines of Free Speech Today“.

“Human rights barrister” Amal Clooney

Yet another occasion to note that what passes for human rights advocacy is often nothing of the sort: famous “human rights barrister” Amal Clooney, alas, appears to be arguing the speech-suppressive side of a high-profile freedom of speech case. [Telegraph]

More, and clarification: Walter Katz responds, condensed from Twitter, to a Ted Frank tweet characterizing Clooney as having sided against speech: “This completely misrepresents Clooney’s role. Turkey was not a party to the initial prosecution at the initial ECHR appeal, Turkey did appear and basically argued there was no genocide to deny. The ECHR opinion was ambiguous about the genocide factual question. It is that specific issue which Armenia is challenging, i.e. court, don’t buy Turkey that there was no genocide. Armenia’s argument has little to do with the free expression issue.” Cite: Asbarez.com.

My response, again patched together and condensed from Twitter: My reading of the Asbarez coverage: Clooney’s co-counsel Geoff Robertson, from the same “human rights” law firm Doughty Street Chambers, argued pro-conviction on frank anti-speech grounds. If she left the pro-censorship advocacy to her law partner and handled only a narrower issue — I hope because she disagrees with him! — then, yes, a point in her favor. Update: this video does show her approximately six-minute speech focusing on the “setting the record straight” issue and on Turkish government hypocrisy. Whatever this may or may not illuminate about Clooney’s personal involvement, the coverage in both the Telegraph and Asbarez makes it hard for me to go along with the idea that either Armenia’s role or Robertson’s arguments on its behalf have “little to do with the free expression issue.”

Ted Frank’s response, once more condensed: “The story says she is ‘defending the conviction.’ Armenia’s role in the case is arguing for reinstatement of conviction. [Citing Clooney’s comments about not aiming to restrict free speech is] putting too much weight on a self-serving disingenuous throwaway line. ‘Free speech but’ not free speech.”

Full hearing video here.

Free speech and free expression roundup

  • Boss Tweed, in legend, railing against cartoonists: “I don’t care so much what the papers write about — my constituents can’t read — but damn it, they can see pictures.” [David Boaz, Cato] “Jyllands-Posten Not Reprinting Charlie Hebdo Mohammed Cartoons Because ‘Violence Works'” [Ed Krayewski, Reason]
  • “Police Scotland will thoroughly investigate any reports of offensive or criminal behaviour online and anyone found to be responsible will be robustly dealt with.” That includes TV personalities’ tweets disparaging to Glasgow [BBC, Alex Massie/Spectator, Elizabeth Nolan Brown] More: Calls mount for repeal of Australia Section 18C speech-crime law, which would ban the French magazine Charlie Hebdo if someone tried to publish it down there [Australian, Sydney Morning Herald, earlier on Andrew Bolt case]
  • “Hate speech” concept got rolling when Stalin used it as weapon against democracies [Jacob Mchangama, Hoover, a while back] More on history of speechcrime: antebellum North (not just South) repressed abolitionist opinion, and how the great Macaulay erred on blasphemy law under the Raj [Sam Schulman, Weekly Standard, also a while back]
  • “Campaign Finance Laws Don’t Clean Up Politics, But Do Erode Our Freedom” [George Leef, Forbes]
  • In case against personal injury lawyer/legal blogger Eric Turkewitz, court rules that critical commentary about medical examiner is protected opinion [Turkewitz, Daniel Fisher/Forbes, Tim Cushing/TechDirt]
  • “It is unusual for Swedish courts to hand out prison terms for art works.” [The Guardian on Dan Park case]
  • Australian man arrested after loitering around campaigners of incumbent political party wearing “I’m with stupid” T-shirt [Guardian]

“In the name of equality and fraternity, liberty has been curtailed in France.”

Jonathan Turley in the Washington Post explores at more length a point I made briefly in my TIME opinion piece: to honor the slain cartoonists of Charlie-Hebdo, we should be lifting legal constraints on what their successors tomorrow can draw and write and say, rather than, as France and other countries have been doing in recent years, bringing it under tighter legal constraint in the name of equality and the prevention of offense:

Indeed, if the French want to memorialize those killed at Charlie Hebdo, they could start by rescinding their laws criminalizing speech that insults, defames or incites hatred, discrimination or violence on the basis of religion, race, ethnicity, nationality, disability, sex or sexual orientation. These laws have been used to harass the satirical newspaper and threaten its staff for years.

The numerous court actions brought against Charlie Hebdo by religious groups (as of 2011, organizations connected with the Catholic church had taken the magazine to court 13 times, Muslim groups once) are only the beginning:

[Other] cases have been wide-ranging and bizarre. In 2008, for example, Brigitte Bardot was convicted for writing a letter to then-Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy about how she thought Muslims and homosexuals were ruining France. In 2011, fashion designer John Galliano was found guilty of making anti-Semitic comments against at least three people in a Paris cafe. In 2012, the government criminalized denial of the Armenian genocide (a law later overturned by the courts, but Holocaust denial remains a crime). …Last year, Interior Minister Manuel Valls moved to ban performances by comedian Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala, declaring that he was “no longer a comedian” but was rather an “anti-Semite and racist.” It is easy to silence speakers who spew hate or obnoxious words, but censorship rarely ends with those on the margins of our society….

Recently, speech regulation in France has expanded into non-hate speech, with courts routinely intervening in matters of opinion. For example, last year, a French court fined blogger Caroline Doudet and ordered her to change a headline to reduce its prominence on Google — for her negative review of a restaurant.

Related: National Post and Jacob Gershman, WSJ Law Blog, on efforts to repeal Canada’s not-entirely-in-disuse blasphemy law; earlier here and here. And from Ireland, an urgent reason to repeal its own law of this sort: Muslim leader vows to “take legal advice if Irish publications …republish or tweet cartoons.” [Irish Times, Irish Examiner, Independent]

P.S. Graham Smith on Twitter: “What if every State represented in Paris today promised to repeal one law that restricts free speech?”

Murder in Paris, cont’d

Time magazine invited me to write an opinion piece on yesterday’s lethal Islamist attack on the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie-Hebdo. (earlier here). Excerpt:

If you defend freedom of speech today, realize that “blasphemy” is its front line, in Paris and the world. …

Most of the prestige Western press dodged the running of the [Danish Mohammed] cartoons, and beneath the talk of sensitivity was often simple fear. As journalist Josh Barro noted today on Twitter, “Islamists have by and large succeeded in intimidating western media out of publishing images of Muhammad.” …

[On the modern European rise of laws against “defamation of religion” and related offenses]: One way we can honor Charb, Cabu, Wolinski, Tignous, and the others who were killed Wednesday is by lifting legal constraints on what their successors tomorrow can draw and write.

Also recommended, this thoughtful Ross Douthat column on blasphemy and religious offense. Douthat is not enthusiastic about blasphemy generally, but makes an exception for instances where it is done in defiance of grave dangers. “If a large enough group of someones is willing to kill you for saying something, then it’s something that almost certainly needs to be said … it’s precisely the violence that justifies the inflammatory content. … if publishing something might get you slaughtered and you publish it anyway, by definition you *are* striking a blow for freedom, and that’s precisely the context when you need your fellow citizens to set aside their squeamishness and rise to your defense.”

“So many of Charb’s fellow journalists have long been aware of these threats, and have said nothing,” writes Mark Hemingway in the Weekly Standard. Jytte Klausen, author of a book on the Danish cartoon episode, in Time: “Over the past five years, [the editors of Charlie-Hebdo] have been left alone standing in defense of press freedom.” And Alex Massie at The Spectator:

[The 1989 fatwa against Salman Rushdie] was a test too many people failed back then. We have learned a lot since then but in many ways we have also learned nothing at all.

In 2012, Rushdie wondered if any publisher would have the courage to endorse The Satanic Verses if it were written then. To ask the question was to sense the depressing answer. They would not.

As for the present day, CNN, NYT, AP, NBC, ABC, the BBC, Guardian, Telegraph, and the CBC, will *not* be running Charlie-Hebdo cartoons, though a number of American publications did so, including Daily Beast, Vox, and Bloomberg. No UK paper on Thursday morning runs the cartoons on its cover — though the Berliner-Zeitung in Germany publishes a full spread of them.

23 cartoonists respond [BuzzFeed]. Claire Berlinski’s firsthand account of the attack scene, and Charb’s now-famous “die standing” vow. Andrew Stuttaford at Secular Right on whether anything will now change in Europe’s slow constriction of free speech: he fears not (& Hans Bader, CEI).