In Europe, Hate Speech Laws are Often Used to Suppress and Punish Left-Wing Viewpoints

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In Europe, Hate Speech Laws are Often Used to Suppress and Punish Left-Wing Viewpoints

Screenshot of BDS protesters in Paris, from the documentary "Chosen and Excluded—Jew Hatred in Europe." (Film: Courtesy)

Terrorist attacks, and the emotions they spawn, almost always prompt calls for fundamental legal rights to be curtailed in the name of preventing future attacks. The formula by now is routine: The victims of the horrific violence are held up as proof that there must be restrictions on advocating whatever ideology motivated the killer to act.

In 2006, after a series of attacks carried out by Muslims, Republican Newt Gingrich called for “a serious debate about the First Amendment” so that “those who would fight outside the rules of law, those who would use weapons of mass destruction, and those who would target civilians are, in fact, subject to a totally different set of rules.”

Of Islamic radicals, the former U.S. speaker of the House argued that they do not believe in the Constitution or free speech, and the U.S. should thus “use every technology we can find to break up their capacity to use the Internet, to break up their capacity to use free speech, and to go after people who want to kill us to stop them from recruiting people.” In an essay defending his remarks, Gingrich argued that “free speech should not be an acceptable cover for people who are planning to kill other people who have inalienable rights of their own,” adding that “the fact is not all speech is permitted under the Constitution.”

The white nationalist violence at Charlottesville has led to similar arguments. While polling data and anecdotal evidence have long shown an erosion in the belief in free speech among younger Americans, including those who identify as liberals or leftists, Charlottesville has prompted a full-scale debate about the merits of preserving the right to express “hate speech,” however that might be defined.

An excellent Guardian article on Monday by Julia Carrie Wong examines the implications of the growing liberal/left desire for “hate speech” to be restricted — either by the state wielding the power of “hate speech” laws or by private tech executives prohibiting the use of their platforms to disseminate what they regard as “hateful ideas.” As Wong correctly notes, “Many Americans increasingly favor European-style limitations on hate speech.” Numerous op-eds and blogposts have been published recently explicitly calling for such restrictions. As a result, it is well worth examining how those “European-style limitations” operate in practice, and against whom they are applied.

Read the full article, and possible updates, at The Intercept.

Glenn Greenwald

Glenn Greenwald

Glenn Greenwald is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, constitutional lawyer, commentator, author of three New York Times best-selling books on politics and law, and a staff writer and editor at First Look media. His fifth and latest book is, No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State, about the U.S. surveillance state and his experiences reporting on the Snowden documents around the world. Prior to his collaboration with Pierre Omidyar, Glenn’s column was featured at Guardian US and Salon.  His previous books include: With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the PowerfulGreat American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican PoliticsA Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency, and How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values from a President Run Amok. He is the recipient of the first annual I.F. Stone Award for Independent Journalism, a George Polk Award, and was on The Guardian team that won the Pulitzer Prize for public interest journalism in 2014.

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