Posts Tagged ‘hate speech’

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).

Murder at Charlie-Hebdo

JeSuisCharlie2

Had there been any doubt that the freedom of speech and expression of the West is under siege from violent Islamism, it ended in the scene at Paris satirical magazine Charlie-Hebdo, assaulted by Islamist gunmen in a siege that has left twelve dead. Early reports indicate careful planning: the attack took place during a morning staff meeting at which top talent had gathered, and the murderers are said to have been equipped with a list of artists whose work they deemed disrespectful of Islam. At least four leading French cartoonists were killed.

It is one of the darkest days of the new century so far for the cause of free expression. But it is far from an unexpected day. The portents have been building for years: in the way the Danish Jyllands-Posten cartoonists, like author Salman Rushdie before them, had to go into hiding over supposed blasphemy; in the 2011 firebombing of Charlie-Hebdo, covered by the Weekly Standard here; in the way the French government had repeatedly pressured Charlie-Hebdo not to, well, go so far in giving offense [The Guardian]. Even after today’s events, many Western broadcasters and publishers continue to pixilate or blur out the Charlie-Hebdo images — not the images of slaughter in Paris streets, but mere cartoon images of men in Middle Eastern garb.

And yes, fear has shaped the actions of publishers in the United States too. Where Charlie-Hebdo was courageous on the Mohammed cartoons, Yale University Press was oh so craven, as the late Christopher Hitchens pointed out in Slate [more: Guardian; note also the history of the online, mostly U.S.-originated “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day“]
TyrannyOfSilence
In a new Cato Institute book entitled The Tyranny of Silence: How One Cartoon Ignited a Global Debate on the Future of Free Speech, discussed at more length by Kat Murti at Cato at Liberty, Danish journalist Flemming Rose, who was at the center of the Motoons controversy, traces the grim aftermath of that controversy in the self-silencing of Western opinion. [more coverage here, as well as a Law and Liberty podcast]

The danger now is not that there will be no outpouring of solidarity and grief and indignation in coming days, in France and around the West. Of course there will. The danger is that after the Charlie-Hebdo story passes from the headlines and other stories take its place, writers and publishers and artists and thinkers in the West will adjust to a new reality of fear, stifling the output of their minds and pens and keyboards for fear of giving provocation. If they don’t adjust, there are legal, insurance, and risk advisors at publications and universities who will be willing to do it for them.

And maybe lawmakers as well. Already, blasphemy laws are back on the march in Europe, after many years in which it was assumed they were a relic of the past. They must go no further. The best way to show resolution is to remove, not add, legal penalties for speech that offends (some) religious sensibilities.

From journalist David Jack on Twitter:

A comment of mine, also on Twitter:

International human rights law roundup

Free speech roundup

  • Long before North Korea “Interview” episode, Hollywood was caving repeatedly to power-wielders [Ron Maxwell, Deadline] Relevant: “A Tyranny of Silence,” new book by Danish-Muhammad-cartoons editor Flemming Rose published by Cato Institute [Kat Murti, earlier on the Danish cartoons, related Liberty and Law]
  • Score 1 for First Amendment, zero for Prof. Banzhaf as FCC rejects “Redskins” broadcast license attack [Volokh, earlier including the prof’s comment on that post]
  • Court dismisses orthopedist’s defamation suit against legal blogger Eric Turkewitz [his blog]
  • “Hate speech” notions reach the Right? Author claims “justice” would mean incitement “charges” vs. liberal talkers [Ira Straus, National Review]
  • Wisconsin prosecutors said to have eyed using John Doe law to aim warrants, subpoenas at media figures Sean Hannity, Charlie Sykes [Watchdog] More: George Leef on California vs. Americans for Prosperity;
  • “British journalist sentenced for questioning death toll in Bangladeshi independence war” [Guardian] Pakistan sentences Bollywood actress Veena Malik to 26 years for acting in supposedly blasphemous TV wedding scene [The Independent] Erdogan regime in Turkey rounds up opposition media figures [Washington Post editorial]
  • “Is it a crime to say things that make someone ‘lack self-confidence in her relations with the opposite sex and about her body-build’?” [Volokh; Iowa Supreme Court, affirmed on other grounds]