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The Poison of Hate Speech Law

Today another show trial of a critic of Islam has been going on. No, not in Saudi Arabia. In Austria. Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff is being prosecuted for hate speech for describing Islam and Sharia law in public lectures. Reporters from the left wing NEWS, an Austrian magazine, recorded her lectures and gave them to the Vienna public prosecutor as evidence of hate speech against an officially recognized religion. She is being tried by a single Judge, who will decide her guilt or innocence. Quite right, too! You can’t let these people get away with saying just whatever they want. Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile. Fortunately, punishing heresy has been one of our most successful traditions, a tradition of which even the left has a keen appreciation. Heaven forbid it should ever die out. England is trailing behind as usual, but no doubt, what with the EU and all, we’ll be catching up soon.

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6 Comment on this post

  1. “The word free still existed in Newspeak, but could only be used in such statements as “The dog is free from lice” or “This field is free from weeds.” It could not be used in its old sense of “politically free” or “intellectually free,” since political and intellectual freedom no longer existed even as concepts, and were therefore of necessity nameless.
    Eat your heart out, George !

  2. Sabaditsch-Wolff faces a “show trial” for her “heresy” in “describing Islam and Sharia law”?

    Not sure what your evidence is for thinking she won’t get a fair trial, and not sure what relevance the politics of the “left wing” person holding the tape recorder are supposed to have, but you made me curious to know what she actually said…

    Here is my favourite bit of her, ahem, scholarly disquisition:
    “Die Muslime führen einen heimlichen Dschihad. On immigration and birth rate they want to spread Islam in Europe.Über Einwanderung und Geburtenrate wollen sie den Islam in Europa verbreiten.”

    “Muslims are waging a secret Jihad. Through immigration and high birth rates they want to spread Islam in Europe.”

    I always find it helpful to substitute the word “Jews” for “Muslims” and see if the claim that comes out sounds a tad anti-Semitic. I’d say this example would score pretty high on that scale.

    It’s true that in the US where – exceptionally – they don’t have hate speech laws, this sort of speech would never put you behind bars (although a lot less could easily get you fired from your job). But here in Europe, we do things differently. We think that it’s acceptable to put some legal limits on free speech, and in particular on speech directed at inciting hatred of people because of their particular characteristics of race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion. This is part of each of our cherished national cultures, one might say. What’s so bad about it?

  3. Oops Google added a bit of English into the middle of the original German quote I gave above. It should have been:

    “Die Muslime führen einen heimlichen Dschihad. Über Einwanderung und Geburtenrate wollen sie den Islam in Europa verbreiten.”

  4. The other issue here is trial by a single judge. Is this just a part of the Roman Law tradition on the Continent, or is there a special procedure for hate-speech?

    And recall the context, where Islamophobia has become big politics in the Netherlands.

  5. In the case reported, the hate speech law runs up against democracy and the public discussion of public matters.

    What if the commentary on Sharia was within the range of proper academic discussion. Assume it was well founded and reasonably delivered, and ended with conclusions that were negative relative to the consequences of applying sharia law in particular and ordinary cases. Such commentary is useful for public discussion of public issues. Its negative effects cannot outweigh its utility to a democratic society. Substitute a discussion of support for Israel no-matter-what in the UK and the US and … and I think you come out the same way, no matter how much you hear cries of “antisemitism”.

  6. It seems to me that several questions that ought to be kept distinct are being confused here. Here are a few.

    1. Is it permissible to curtail freedom of speech, and if so under what circumstances?
    2. What does the hate speech law under which Sabaditsch-Wolff is being prosecuted actually prohibit?
    3. What kind of judicial process is being followed here, and is it (as Jerome pertinently asks) exceptional by the standards of Roman law or not?
    4. Specifically, is incitement to hatred a legitimate ground for curtailing freedom of speech?
    5. Should organised religions be given special protection? (This has been discussed elsewhere on this blog.)
    6. More generally, what criteria are being / should be used to determine whether speech is likely to incite hatred?
    7. Are there circumstances where inciting hatred should be regarded as a “necessary evil”?

    I’d be interested in anyone’s attempt to address some of these questions directly, especially if their answers were accompanied by a clear statement of the overall ethical and/or meta-ethical frameworks they are using, if any. Aside from my own personal interest, I think this could potentially enhance this blog’s role as a forum for forging consensus on ethical issues, which strikes me as a worthy objective.

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