December 8, 2012 § 3 Comments
I took part in a meeting in Geneva last week convened by the UN to help advise the Special Rapporteur for Cultural Rights on a report she is presenting next year on artistic freedom of expression. The UN’s record on free speech has, particularly in recent years, been abysmal, so it was a useful and fascinating discussion, illuminating many of the contemporary faultlines of free speech. All the participants, activists from around the world, were free speech advocates. The issues that have caused much concern in recent years – that of blasphemy and the ‘defamation of religion’ – created little debate here. There was unanimous acceptance that neither should be reason for censorship. There were, however, serious differences between those who, as one participant put it, ‘take the human rights approach and those who adopt the First Amendment approach’. He himself, a representative of a free speech NGO, adopted, in his words, ‘a human rights approach that balanced rights against each other’ and so ‘rejected the First Amendment view of free speech’.
November 11, 2012 § 4 Comments
Today’s Premiership clash between Chelsea and Liverpool provides a good opportunity for me to write about something about which I have been thinking for a long time – the controversy over racism in English football. Chelsea and Liverpool are the two clubs at the heart of that controversy. Earlier this year, Luis Suarez, Liverpool’s Uruguayan forward, was banned for eight matches for calling Manchester United’s Patrice Evra a ‘negrito’. Suarez insisted that this was colloquial Spanish for ‘mate’. An FA disciplinary board found him guilty of racism. More recently Chelsea (and former England) captain John Terry was accused of racially abusing Queen’s Park Rangers defender Anton Ferdinand during a match. This time the police got involved. Terry was charged under the criminal law with using ‘abusive language’ but was acquitted in court. After that acquittal the FA charged him with the same offence and, with a lower burden of proof, found him guilty. Then last month, Chelsea accused a referee, Mark Clattenburg, of using ‘inappropriate’, and reportedly racist, language towards two of its players, a claim currently being investigated by both the police and the FA.
August 5, 2012 § 9 Comments
As a coda to my previous post on abuse and how to deal with it, I am republishing this essay on changing notions of incitement that was first published in Index on Censorship in 2008. The essay was written in the context of the debate about the war on terror – it is an edited version of a talk I gave at an Index on Censorship conference on ‘Extremism and the Law: Free Speech in an Age of Terror’. It does not relate directly to the controversy about the abuse and threats received by Tom Daley and other public figures, nor to the question of how to deal with nastiness on the web. Nevertheless, the issues raised here are pertinent to the wider debate about incitement and the policing of speech.
Twenty years ago, at the height of the Rushdie affair, a televised debate took place in Manchester Town Hall. On the platform was Kalim Siddiqui, the founder of the London-based, Iranian-backed Muslim Institute. The fatwa, he claimed, was just, and Rushdie had to die. How many of you, he asked the audience, support the death sentence? The majority raised their hands. How many, he continued, would be willing to carry it out? Almost the same number kept their hands up. It was an electrifying moment, caught on camera and replayed on the evening news. It became the spark for a debate about incitement to murder. « Read the rest of this entry »
August 1, 2012 § 8 Comments
The arrest of a Dorset teenager for abuse of, and alleged death threats to, British Olympic diver Tom Daley on Twitter has divided both the Twittersphere and free speech activists. After Daley, and his partner Pete Waterfield, failed to win a medal in the synchronized diving competition, a Twitter user, @Rileyy_69, tweeted ‘You let your dad down’ (Daley’s father died last year of a brain tumour ). When Daley responded, understandably angry, @Rileyy_69 descended into abuse:
Hope your crying now you should be why can’t you even produce for your country your just a diver anyway a overhyped prick.
The tirade eventually gave way to this:
i’m going to find you and i’m going to drown you in the pool you cocky twat your a nobody people like you make me sick « Read the rest of this entry »
April 19, 2012 § 32 Comments
I gave an interview last year to Peter Molnar for a book on the regulation of hate speech that he was editing with Michael Herz. The book comes out of a series of conferences and seminars organised by New York’s Cardozo School of Law and the Central European University in Budapest. (I presented a paper at a seminar in Budapest). Other contributors include Jeremy Waldron, Ronald Dworkin, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Nadine Strossen and Bhikhu Parekh. The book is finally published this month under the pithy title of The Content and Context of Hate Speech: Rethinking Regulation and Responses . And here is the interview.
Peter Molnar: Would you characterize some speech as ‘hate speech’, and do you think that it is possible to provide a reliable legal definition of ‘hate speech’?
Kenan Malik: I am not sure that ‘hate speech’ is a particularly useful concept. Much is said and written, of course, that is designed to promote hatred. But it makes little sense to lump it all together in a single category, especially when hatred is such a contested concept. « Read the rest of this entry »
March 16, 2011 Comments Off
The Westboro Baptist Church is among the nastiest of the nutty, publicity-demanding evangelical churches that litter the American landscape. Its leader Fred Phelps makes Pastor Terry Jones seem positively calm, measured and rational. Phelps is deeply anti-Semitic, having in 1996 organized a picket of Washington’s Holocaust Memorial Museum claiming that
Whatever righteous cause the Jewish victims of the 1930s–40s Nazi Holocaust had, (probably minuscule, compared to the Jewish Holocausts against Middle Passage Blacks, African Americans and Christians—including the bloody persecution of Westboro Baptist Church by Topeka Jews in the 1990s), has been drowned in sodomite semen. American taxpayers are financing this unholy monument to Jewish mendacity and greed and to filthy fag lust.
Phelps has also organized pickets outside Catholic churches describing Catholics as ‘vampires’ and ‘paedophiles’.
Westboro’s principal hatred, however, is of gays. Its main website (which currently appears to be down) is called GodHatesFags.com. It claims that all the ills in the world are linked to the spread of homosexuality and demands that homosexuality should be made a capital crime. The Church has taken to picketing funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq with placards proclaiming ‘God Hates Fags’, ‘Thank God for Dead Soldiers’ and ‘Thank God for 9/11’. ‘Our attitude toward what’s happening with the war’, Phelps has said,’ is [that] the Lord is punishing this evil nation for abandoning all moral imperatives that are worth a dime.’ « Read the rest of this entry »
February 25, 2011 § 3 Comments
I have had a lot of responses to the extracts from my interview on hate speech and the law, many of which argue that speech that does not directly incite violence but creates a climate in which such violence becomes more probable should be banned. As one respondent put it in a comment thread:
If I say that all Moslems, Catholics, homosexuals, vegans, and so on, are terrorists and a danger to the nation, I’m not inciting DIRECTLY to violence, but indirectly I’m justifying it.
The idea of ‘indirect incitement’ is one that policy makers have enthusiastically adopted in recent years. As I’ve noted in an essay for Index on Censorship, ‘Over the past decade, the government has used the law both to expand the notion of ‘hatred’ and to loosen the meaning of ‘incitement’. This expansion has become ‘One of the most pernicious means by which restrictions on free speech have grown tighter.’
‘Indirect incitement’ is a dangerous concept because it erodes the distinction between words and deeds. Or, rather, it attempts to create a link between words and deeds that in most cases does not exist. Once you argue that words should be banned not because they directly incite an action but because they create a climate within which others may act in a particular fashion, then you are on dangerous ground. « Read the rest of this entry »