My Hatred of Hate Speech

English: Detail of Preamble to Constitution of...

English: Detail of Preamble to Constitution of the United States Polski: Fragment preambuły Konstytucji Stanów Zjednoczonych (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A couple of months ago, a YouTube video called “Innocence of Muslims,” claiming to be a trailer for an independently produced movie, drew quite a bit of attention around the world. It’s a poorly produced movie by every standard, if it is indeed a movie, and not just a video. The video mocks Muslim reverence for the Islamic prophet Muhammad and denigrates his character, portraying him as an adulterer, power-mongering tribal warlord, pedophile, and stooge. The video, fourteen minutes long, was blamed initially for riots and attacks by Muslims on U.S. installations around the world, including a near-storming of the U.S. Embassy in Egypt and the deaths of a U.S. Ambassador and 3 other Americans in an attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

With the subject of hate speech rising up in conversations everywhere regarding the relationship between the attacks and the “Innocence Of Muslims” video, one contribution to the conversation that got my attention is a blog post written by a Muslim woman, Bina Shah, entitled “No, I Will Not ‘Get Over It.'” In it, Ms. Shah complains that in Western countries with laws on the books criminalizing “hate speech,” those laws don’t seem to apply to hate speech against Muslims. I will not attempt to substantiate her conclusion here. But when it comes to hate speech, I have plenty to say.

The term “hate speech” is just a subcategory of the term “hate crime,” which, upon the most cursory reflection, is in itself redundant. Aren’t all crimes, most obviously violent ones, pretty much motivated by some sort of hate, even if it’s self-hatred?

That understood, the idea of extra punishment for a “hate” crime over a (non-hate?) crime is ridiculous. If you intentionally attack or kill somebody because they are black, or white, or because they have money you want, or because they end a relationship with you, what’s the difference? Hate is hate. Dead is dead. While it’s important in a court of law to establish the existence of a motive, the particular brand of motive behind the crime is irrelevant. Whatever the crime, the effect is the same, regardless of motive. If you kill somebody or steal from somebody, the value of their loss does not rise or fall upon the quality of your motivation. Neither should the value of the punishment. Moreover, a court of law can’t really judge a man’s heart. It can only judge his actions. Any ignorance of this truth is folly and a miscarriage of justice.

Hate speech, however, is not exactly the same as other hate crimes, because all speech is not motivated by hate. Unlike murder or thievery, hate speech is an entirely legal construct, and cannot be identified by its nature, as actual crimes can be, but rather is identified by arbitrary lines drawn by civil, religious, or military authorities, and the powers that influence them the most at a given moment. Otherwise, everything negative said by anyone could be legislated as hate speech, and everyone would eventually be convicted. All of which, by the way, has already happened cosmologically.

Ever told a fat joke? Made fun of someone who is short? Said you could kill someone for what they did? Told someone to go to hell? Asked to go on a “dutch” date? Claim to have been “gypped” out of something or “jewed” by someone? Called a woman a bitch? Well, then, stand in line, because that’s “hate” speech — oh, yes it is — and if hate speech is a crime, well then, my friend, those authorities might be coming for you next.

That’s why the right to free speech is so important in the United States, the melting pot of the world. And as reckoned by America’s founders, this right was not considered granted by the U.S. Constitution, but rather recognized by it as a natural right of human existence, whether honored or not. We are in America, indeed, a melting pot of cultures, religions, ethnicities, body types, sexual preferences, languages, and philosophical and political ideologies. Along the road to becoming one (united), we will certainly misunderstand one another. And in those misunderstandings, we will sometimes say and do things out of fear and ignorance. That’s just part of the process, and we need to give one another some grace along the way, both to offend and to be offended, as long as that offense doesn’t rob anyone of their various natural rights, which are listed in the first ten amendments, commonly known as the Bill of Rights, of the U.S. Constitution.

In the United States, the right to free speech means U.S. citizens tend to cut each other some slack, no matter what we say or hear, and give each other another day. Or, as one philosopher, regarded well by both Christians and Muslims, would say, “turn the other cheek.” That’s so good, it deserves some context: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also” (Matthew 5:38-39).

By the way, despite, and sometimes because of, the guaranteed right to free speech in the United States, Christians endure daily ridicule of their faith, diminution of their beliefs and cultural influence, and discrimination because of their faith in almost all circles of American culture, including news media, the entertainment industry, and government, that would never be tolerated toward Islam or Muslims in Muslim countries. And Muslims get freedom of expression in the United States that would be, and is regularly, a death sentence when exercised at that level by Christians in Muslim countries, where Christian homes are regularly burned to the ground, their women raped, maimed and disfigured, and their men killed and imprisoned for outrageous expressions like having worship services in their home, or giving away Bibles in their communities, or simply saying the word “Jesus” in the wrong context to anyone out loud. And this persecution is happening in the twenty-first century, not the twelfth. Don’t believe me? Take a gander at http://www.persecution.com/public/newsroom.aspx?clickfrom=bWFpbl9tZW51.

Show me a Western country that has hundreds, or even thousands of continuous, documented acts of violence and persecution against life, liberty, and property perpetrated on Muslims and ignored or even encouraged by civil authorities. Oh, yea. That’s right. There are none.

So to Muslims offended by this innocuous little video that most of them have never seen, I would absolutely say, “Get over it. So, you stand for something? Great. Now take a little blowback. Sorry, but that comes with the territory. Welcome to the club. Think you’re being persecuted now? Try sending out invitations to your family and friends to RSVP to your baptism in the Tigris.”

And what of those evil-doers who offend us? They’ll eventually either catch up or die out. Or who knows; maybe those offended will just learn to relax and realize they were being a little dramatic. Maybe they’ll realize, finally, that vengeance belongs to no man.

Evil will not last forever. But we cannot complete that work in anyone, including ourselves, without Grace. Until then, we wait, and we have grace for one another, even as He has given grace to us. This is the way of G-d.

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Categories: Beliefs, Morals, Crime, Events, Multiculturalism, Politics, Law

Author:Brian Howell

Very serious about very few things, and infuriatingly casual about everything else. ADD before ADD was cool. Big on relationships; small on stuff. I'm dispositionally a typical artist in the best and the worst of ways. I love debating. I hate fighting. And at the rate I'm growing up, I'll need about 120 years to complete the life most others do in 80. But that's ok; God knows His plans for me. Also at American Parser, my own blog. Google it.

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11 Comments on “My Hatred of Hate Speech”

  1. James Hill
    November 30, 2012 at 11:05 am #

    I agree wholeheartedly. Hatespeech laws have proven to be an unmitigated disaster for freedom of speech. The laws are vague and open to many interpretations. This is certainly by design: they’re in place so anyone causing trouble or irritating the wrong people in academia can be hit with a law suit (see Andrew Bolt). The over arching goal is to force people to self censor for fear of running afoul of rules they don’t fully understand.

    • December 5, 2012 at 1:31 am #

      Google American Parser

      Good to hear from you, Mr. Hill. I’ve read some of your stuff. I see your strong convictions are commonly accompanied by temperance of speech. I look forward to reading more from you on Intentious.

      Google American Parser

  2. November 30, 2012 at 7:47 pm #

    Brian, not all crimes are motivated by hate, they can be motivated by revenge, ideology, personal gain, power, sexual perversions, greed and so on, a hate crime has a persons race, religion, sex, sexual orientation etc at the centre of the choice of victim, that is the eseential difference.

    By extension, hate speech is essentially speech that incites or encourages violence against a group of people because of race, religion etc. You are right that hate speech can be unclear at times, however to not have it as a crime at all would be more dangerous than debating the merits of what is and is not hate speech.

    • December 1, 2012 at 2:20 am #

      Google American Parser

      Thank you, Stu, for jumping in! I stand by my contention that all crime is motivated by some sort of hate, even if it’s self-hatred. Whatever the label you place on it, if you are motivated to commit harm to someone else’s person, property, or liberty, that motivation is hate.

      That hate may be of another person’s right to disagree with you. It may be that you hate that someone has something you don’t. It may be your hatred of another exercising rights you don’t feel they deserve, or conditioned or taught hatred of a part of your victim’s intrinsic being. Or your hatred may be self-directed, inclining you to commit acts that you know are self-destructive, either directly, as with prostitution and drug abuse, or indirectly, as would be the commission of non-conscientious acts which result in the legal restriction of your freedom or ruin of your reputation. Hatred is always behind intentional harm done by one person to another, or to oneself. Any argument against this is semantic, not substantial.

      Because speech cannot, itself, cause harm to anyone’s physical person, property, or liberty, it is not, nor has it ever been, a true crime, whatever its legal status in a given context. And a cursory glance at history will reveal that many millions more have been killed by the criminalization of speech than by its simple exercise. Six thousand years of recorded human history shows overwhelmingly that the real danger regarding speech lies in its obstruction, not its proliferation.

      Google American Parser

    • Jean
      January 10, 2013 at 6:25 am #

      Stu,
      I would point out that Freedom of Speech has explicitly been defined to NOT apply to a person’s “right” to scream “FIRE” in a crowded theater – unless there really IS a fire.

      Islamism is the fire. Not speaking is signing your own death warrant. Most people (my lapsed Catholic self) probably don’t practice much WRT religion. Rest assured, these fanatics DO practice, and believe they have the right to force YOU to practice, too. And will kill you happily if you do not.

      The precise motivation is incidental, by the way, as Brian notes: it boils down to hate, whether talking “Crime of passion” or greed, lust, gluttony, whatever: it is hatred.
      In this SPECIFIC case, the REAL focus is: ISLAM is screaming “FIRE” every time someone tries to speak. THEIR hatred is forcing US to be “intolerant” just so we can be heard.
      CAIR is approving US textbooks now, on condition that McGraw-Hill et al do not say anything negative about Islam. Bet you a dollar they don’t gloss over the Inquisition, though.

      • January 10, 2013 at 5:33 pm #

        Islam is a not a fire, radical Islam on the other hand is, there is a distinct difference.

        Whatever radical Islamists do, they are not forcing any specific response from the US, the US (and allies) are choosing their method of response.

        For example, after 9/11 did the US (and allies) decide to investigate where OBL was and hunt him down strategically? No, they just blew the crap out of Afghanistan and ended up killing more Afghan civilians than US civilians died in New York. Also, did the US (and allies) ever try to approach Saddam Hussein with an exile plan or any other plan? No, they just blew the crap out of Iraq and tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians have died a result of their invasion. They were choices the US and allies made, they were not ‘forced’ to act like that, they chose to.

  3. December 1, 2012 at 8:53 am #

    one final point on hate as a motivation for crime, often perpetrators of peadophilia and domestic violence will claim they love and care deeply for their victims, so that would be another exception I would argue

    I also think you are underestimating the power of speech and language when crimes are committed. All genocides of the 20th century have employed propaghanda as a powerful force to justify the crimes committed (eg. the ‘cockroaches of rwanda), the Israeli government frequently employs language as a weapon of its war against Palestine (you can visit my blog for more info there), the Australian government and media continue to dehumanise asylum seekers who arrive by boat using powerful language, in Burma the Rohingyan people are considered non persons and spoken about in such a way, even in your home country the government can label someone a terrorist and get away with crimes against them…even on an individual level, verbal and viral bullying can lead people to depression and suicide

    • December 3, 2012 at 8:28 pm #

      Google American Parser

      I am a staunch supporter of free speech, Stu, not because I underestimate the power of language and speech, but rather because I don’t underestimate the power of the collective human spirit.

      As a wordsmith, I know well the power of words. But words, unlike bullets, only have the power that the receiver grants them. Like a bonding compound, that power can only be activated by mixing the consent of both the sending and receiving parties.

      As you said, speech can rationalize and even encourage evil. But that’s not the same as committing a crime. Speaking sympathetically about the wonders of heroin use doesn’t make me a heroin dealer, even if an adult listener decides to use heroin because they heard me speak. Speech does no harm that the hearer does not allow, and for that reason should not be criminalized, with the exception of fraud, which, as traditionally defined, causes financial — that is, property — loss. Speech should be free and legal because only under such conditions can it be easily rejected.

      So, on an individual level, as you put it, some forms of consensual adult sex can lead to death. Does that mean that some forms of consensual adult sex should be criminalized? Who decides which forms? Criminalizing speech poses similar conundrums.

      A lot of what passes as entertainment these days continues to glorify gratuitous violence and recreational drug use. Should producers of such art be charged with the crime of “leading people to violence and drug abuse?”

      In the United States, because of the complications involved in these scenarios, the U.S. Constitution draws a buffer around speech as a special, protected right, because it is precisely free speech that keeps totalitarianism at bay. Speech is an unavoidable part of the human experience. It is not an option. Because one man’s truth, though, is another man’s propaganda, and because words are indeed so powerful, protection of free speech is necessary. Free speech allows ideas, destructive and productive, to be assessed in the public conscience, giving the best chance in a messy world of keeping any one group or authority from dominating the public forum unchallenged. This tends to develop a more informed, more aware populace, leaving less opportunity for unilateral control over society through the ignorant and weak. The erosion of free speech begins to reverse this polarity, inviting all of the injustices to which you allude. Free speech, as the rise of the World Wide Web has underscored, is the great equalizer.

      For this reason, a liberal policy of free speech is indispensable for maintaining a momentum toward freedom and justice. And when a given example of speech is arguably imprudent, society is much better off erring on the side of liberality when determining its legal status. Free speech tends to crowd out bad ideas with good ideas.

      And about your “one final point:” you accept at face value the claims of child molesters and wife beaters as evidence disproving my posit that all crime is motivated by hate? That’s truly disturbing, Stu. Do you really want to stand on that?

      Google American Parser

      • December 3, 2012 at 10:19 pm #

        we’ll have to agree to disagree on the nuances, however we can agree on fighting to maintain freedom of speech in general.

        on my ‘final point,’ yes I am happy to stand on that, it in no way excuses or lessens the crimes, I simply argue that they are not motivated by hate for the other person

        • December 5, 2012 at 1:20 am #

          Google American Parser

          We do agree, apparently, on the principle behind your last statement: the feelings of a perpetrator toward the victim should have no legal bearing on the perceived nature or severity of a crime, and thus not the punishment for it. This is why the legal concept of “hate crime” is illegitimate. I do appreciate the civil discourse. Kudos!

          Google American Parser

  4. December 17, 2012 at 1:45 am #

    Reblogged this on America at War.

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