That’s all I have to say to Eric Michael Johnson’s post, Ann Coulter, Hate Speech, and Free Societies. OK, seriously, from what I recall Eric is an American, though resident in the forgotten north. American absolutist stances on free speech are not shared by most Western societies, so demanding total free speech is quixotic and culturally tone deaf. Granted, Europe or Canada are not barbaric like China or Muslim societies when it comes to speech, so that communication about this issue is possible. But here are the exceptions to free speech enumerated in the European Convention on Human Rights:
The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or the rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.
I bolded aspects which I think Americans would assume are going to be open to abuse. The new Irish blasphemy law is rumored to be motivated by a fear of Muslim violence aimed at those who defame their primitive superstitions (
the cowardly Irish atheists know that Western Christians tend to be lax about agitating violently on behalf of their superstitions, so they blasphemed Catholicism, this was an error, see below). Though it isn’t just Muslims who are barbaric, a few years ago Sikhs in Britain rioted over a blasphemous theater production, and the arguments that it isn’t speech if it “hurts feelings” were voiced by them as well. This is a normal human viewpoint, protection of patently offensive speech is probably a cultural aberration. What to Americans seems a universal human right is actually a perverse extremism from the viewpoint of outsiders (though do note that the abolitionists seemed to be perverse extremists in their time, so numbers don’t always predict where history will flow)
This is why Coulter’s speech is not just “free” (i.e. bias-free, objectively sent out into the atmosphere). The effects of her speech when launched into public space are not simply situational. They are another series of burps in the historical and currently existing framework that has normalized a particular way of thinking about Muslims, gays and lesbians, and other marginalized groups.
Pretty funny that Muslims are marginalized along with homosexuals, since when Muslims are a majority they have a tendency to persecute or kill homosexuals with more efficacy than other cultures (though not homosexual behavior). Naturally Muslims in the West are exempt from the injunction toward not engaging in homophobia, as it’s naturally part of their barbaric set of beliefs. The op-ed continues:
From this framework, we can see how free speech is a slippery problem. Ironically, it seems to surface when there is a need to stifle speech that challenges social power (which is what the U of Ottawa students were doing – challenging the inequitable social power relations that Coulter’s “speech” upheld).
Really someone should ban the usage of quotations, because morons like this will get drunk on them. Though seriously, I’m expressing a very cultural biased viewpoint here, an American one, and I’m of conscious of this. I really don’t see a point in castigating Canadians for being Canadians, they’re not China or Syria, but neither are they the United States. Even the British have insane libel laws which stifle speech operationally, though there’s a chance that the law might be tightened up. We alone should be the City upon a Hill where the blasphemers and peddlers of bigotry can take refuge, because we’re already the last best and only hope.
* I use the term “barbaric” to refer to societies which I feel express values which are fundamentally different from those of my own so that there is a lack of commensurability of discourse. From the perspective of many Muslim societies American culture is barbaric and kuffar, while the Chinese have their own set of values as evident with the recent conflict with Google over censorship. I use the term “savage” to delineate those societies which dehumanize other cultures. So the Aztecs were savage because they waged wars against other polities for the sake of harvesting sacrificial victims, who were later cannibalized.