Freedom of Speech

Europe likes to present itself as the cradle of modern civilization.  Europe would like us all to believe that the continent embodies the best of modern liberal Enlightenment values like democracy, transparency, rationality, reasonableness and freedom of speech.  Unfortunately, it ain´t so.  Not only is the EU an institution that has a sever lack of democracy, accountability and transparency, but European countries are riddled with all kinds of “hate” speech laws.  Obtensibly this is to promote “tollerance” and “peace”, but in reality is nothing more than leftists, and other pressure groups, enjoying a nifty little tool that they can use to suppress the free exchange of thought.  The same is true of American universities with its speech codes, so that “deviant” or contrarian views can be suppressed and censored and only politically correct views will be tollerated.
It all sounds so noble, but the truth is very very ugly and Orwellian.  Essentially “hate” speech can be defined as any negative opinion, so that is out.  “Offensive” speech is anything that someone does not want to hear and declaires to be “offensive” so that is out.  Therefore, in the brave new world, negative comments, and comments that might upset someone, can be punished criminally.  Old quaint notions of truth, or just the idea that people have a right to express contrarian opinions, are hopelessly out of date.

As a final note, such speech codes inevitably are interpreted politically and thus capriciously and unfairly.  Already we have seen numerous examples of how whites, and right of center people have been much more subject to harrassment, than have leftists and Muslims.  Such vague and open-ended laws are just begging to be applied unjustly and unevenly.  To me these speech laws represent the leading edge of totalitarianism.  In a modern democracy people are supposed to act as adults, and respect other people´s right to express an opinion, even one that upsets them.  That is how mature dialogue functions.
It is interesting to note how  almost all the comments in the economist.com are in favor of freedom of speech.  Maybe even the leftists are beginning to understand how dangerous these laws are.  Of course, the elites-being out of touch as usual-still largely love such repressions of freedom of speech.  That is why people like Wilder are doing better, because they represent what most people are feeling.  Please see the comments below:
Jun 24th 2011 3:33 GMT

The article’s title (Not a hater, say the judges) misses the essence of the verdict. The judges don’t state he was not a hater, but that his hate speech was not directed towards people, and hence was not a crime.
That sounds highly reasonable, as many readers noted, and even necessary if we don’t want to slip back into the era of censorship, disguised as “not saying anything that could hurt anyone’s beliefs”. If we accepted that principle, there is basically no limit to what could be censored. Today religious beliefs, tomorrow political ones. All in the name of preserving peaceful harmony (sounds like Chinese Communist Party speech by the way).

mv75nl wrote:
Jun 23rd 2011 6:55 GMT

Wilders is not even remotely racist, and islam is not a race. Criticism of islam is more than justified considering its bloody history and odious ‘founder figure’ and of course the hatred being spewed from every page of the quran (‘kill/subjugate unbelievers etc…’).

The fact that christianity used to be similar does not take anything away from that. And the christian ‘reformation’ was a very close call, the church violently resisted it and tried to keep its privileges. But in the ‘west’ it is generally (though by no means unanimously) accepted that separation of church and state is necessary.

In islam this is quite different, in fact in nearly every majority islamic country government is fused with some strand of islam, even if not fundamentalist. Discrimination of non-muslims, gays and women is rampant and often deeply entrenched and even government-tolerated in cases. This is the inconvenient truth that the western progressive elites refuse to see, as they consider islam to be some sort of ‘persecuted minority’ (a laughable claim if there ever was one).

Ferretti wrote:
Jun 24th 2011 9:07 GMT

This is a quotation from Salman Rushdie (Open Democracy 7th February 2005):

“At Cambridge University I was taught a laudable method of argument: you never personalise, but you have absolutely no respect for people’s opinions. You are never rude to the person, but you can be savagely rude about what the person thinks. That seems to me a crucial distinction: people must be protected from discrimination by virtue of their race, but you cannot ring-fence their ideas. The moment you say that any idea system is sacred … freedom of thought becomes impossible.“

In my view Europe’s “hatred” legislation reflects the inability to draw just such distinction between people and their ideas. This is an intellectual limitation typical of most pre-Enlightenment cultures but, in the end, is inconsistent with mutual respect between unlike-minded persons. That’s why those laws are really a danger for everyone’s liberty and should be deleted from the statute books.

Jun 25th 2011 1:12 GMT

Here in the West, we all owe our liberty to some gigantic tyranny haters of the past. So, long life at least to THAT hatred. I for one would strongly claim it as my birthright.

Still, who is to claim infallibility in defining exactly what tyranny is made of? You can see it in capitalism and hence hate capitalism. It’s your right. Yet others may fear it from Marxism, or any other form of socialism, or Roman Catholicism, or Islam, or Zionism or whatever. And it is still their right to hate and attack such things.

So, I would say, my hatred is my right. And let one hundred different hatreds flourish, to see which one is best.

Where should I draw the line? Where violence, legal coercion or intimidation are meted out to individuals. To rubbish any opinion or culture whatsoever is all right. It is to kill an opposer, ban the Koran or jail a holocaust denier that is not. Why? Because that is the stuff of tyranny.

D. Sherman wrote:
Jun 23rd 2011 7:47 GMT

I’m not in a position to comment on Dutch internal politics, any more than I’d want a Dutchman professing to be an expert on American internal politics, but I think this kind of case points out why it’s better to have a blanket constitutional protect for free speech, no matter how unpopular, than to have “hate speech” laws that require courts to draw a line somewhere between allowable and prohibited obnoxious speech. Mr. Wilders may be an obnoxious boor, and I may find his language offensive in all sorts of ways, but in the US, he would be allowed to say whatever he wants without fear of prosecution. We can decide for ourselves whether to criticize him (also allowed as free speech) ignore him (probably the best response) or follow and support him.

Nobody in the US, and possibly in the free world is currently as offensive as our “Westboro Baptist Church”, a publicity-whore of a “church” whose goal seems to be to find the most sensitive situations imaginable (e.g. funerals) and then find a way to say things that are as offensive as possible about them. Their antics are thoroughly hateful, and thoroughly protected by our constitution, while being roundly ridiculed and ignored by the general public. Somehow our country survives, and despite despite their hateful speech being legal in this country, they are attracting approximately zero new followers as a result of it.

I would agree with the writer that in terms of Holland, it’s the rightward tilt of the political establishment that is more interesting than one vocal right-wing firebrand.

wendywe wrote:
Jun 23rd 2011 10:34 GMT

This trial was not about whether the Dutch agree with Mr Wilders. They don’t. We don’t. This was about freedom of speech. Even the people who despise Wilders for what he says, say that he has the right to say it. If we end freedom of speech because we don’t agree with what someone says, then we end democracy, and we’ll end civilization.

valwayne wrote:
Jun 23rd 2011 7:16 GMT

One wonders why the Dutch are so terrified of speaking the truth about Islam?

sdoEZuUt7h wrote:

Jun 24th 2011 8:57 GMT

I love this man. The only haters are the Muslims that use violence to intimidate freedom of speech and expression. Europe may actually have a chance with people like him in charge.

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