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Hate Speech Is Not Free Speech
rights and freedoms |
Monday February 06, 2006 21:08 by Kevin Wingfield - Socialist Workers Party info at swp dot ie (01) 8722682
SWP statement on anti Islamic cartoons
Socialists condemn unequivocally the publication of racist cartoons designed to demean Muslims.
If newspaper had asserted their ‘freedom’ to print images that compared Jewish people to rats, there would have been an outrage.
Or if images were presented of Nelson Mandela in thick lips and other racist stereotypes there would be equal outrage.
But in a totally spurious assertion of ’liberal values’ major newspapers in Europe have re-printed racist cartoons in the name of ‘freedom of speech’.
The current hysteria about the Muslim population has nothing to do with free speech. Instead we are witnessing a carefully orchestrated campaign to present Muslims as ‘outsiders’ from Western society.
There is no absolute right to free speech. No one, for example, defends the right of paedophiles to advocate child abuse. Few people think it is a good idea to deliberately shout ‘Fire’ in a manner that might cause a stampede among crowds.
The call for ‘free speech’ was, and is, a legitimate demand to create a space where people can express themselves without fear of sanction from authorities. But it was never about whipping up a hate speech that can only serve to stimulate violent attacks on minority groups.
The Danish daily, Jyllands-Posten, that published the twelve cartoons on Mohammad, supports the right wing government headed by Prime Minister Fogh Rasmussen.
This government includes a rabid anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim party.
In the 1920s and 1930s, the same paper was infamous for its support for Italian fascism and German Nazis. In 1933, it argued for dictatorship in Denmark.
This particular context reveals that publication of the cartoon was a deliberate provocation.
It fits neatly with the racist agenda that underlies a whole epoch that is characterised by the ‘War on Terror’.
Ever since September 11th, the imperialist powers have encouraged islamophobia to cover their new ambitions to expand by conquest. Deprived of an enemy in the communist block, Islam was caricatured and attacked so that it could be turned into a substitute scapegoat to unite populations around Western values.
Part of this construction meant portraying Western society as a haven for liberal discussion and debate – in contrast to the supposed fanaticism of Islam.
This binary opposition was false from the very start. The very same Western liberals who rush so actively to defend free speech are silent when a trade unionist gets sacked for wearing a union badge.
The Independent Group of newspapers which now champions its freedom to insult Muslims, censored one its own reporters when she made critical comments on the Irish Ferries dispute. Freedom for these hypocrites extends only to their supposed right to insult and demean oppressed groups – rather than the right to challenge the right of capitalists to own ideas and modes of expression.
Just as Bush tries to wrap his discredited war in the name of democracy, the liberal imperialists now try to target Muslims in the name of ‘free speech’. Liberalism here is supposed to be a badge of intelligence that is contrasted with unthinking, “fanatical” Muslim masses.
The parading of Christianity or Western civilisation as innately more superior to other societies is disgusting.
The level of freedom in any society is not dictated by particular religious texts –but by histories of struggles and the particular conditions under which they develop. Muslim society in 10th century Spain was much freer than Christian civilisation at the time. But that did not make Islam as a religion superior to Christianity.
Socialists are for the right to subject every idea – including religious ideas – to critical scrutiny. We are for the right to debate the existence or non-existence of God. We defend the idea of a separation of Church and state.
The record of the SWP in standing up to fundamentalist groups like Youth Defence in the past is second to none.
But when it comes to a fight between a deadly form of imperialism that masks its racism with talk of free speech, we know where we stand: with the oppressed: against the racists.
Today as the US and its deadly watchdog, prepare for new attacks on Iran, we need to be even clearer on this issue.