Racism is a scourge. It is an antiquated and crude way for simple minded people to view the world by categorizing entire ethnicities of people into a set of stereotypes. It requires no further explanation to say that racial slurs and discriminatory ideas should be vanquished from free countries.
What should also be clear to every member of every liberal country in the world is that the freedom to speak ones mind and viewpoints, even if they are hateful, should be allowed. Efforts to fight evil viewpoints often end in failure, or radicalization of those who may be exploring such viewpoints.
For example, in the aftermath of the rise of Fascism in WWII, a number of European countries created laws against espousing hate speech, but it is clear that laws meant at preventing anti-semitic and hate speech in Europe are often crudely implemented, and do little to change societal viewpoints. They simply move hatred underground, and do nothing to change the underlying reasons for racial tension. Public censure, instead, of people who express these viewpoints is a much more effective tool in suppressing the acceptance of these views that legalizing “proper” thoughts, and speech.
When speech incites violence, the speaker should be held liable. When speech expresses crude and inane viewpoints, it should be spat at and rebutted, but never criminalized. This is in opposition to all of our Western norms of toleration of viewpoints, however extreme, and protection of the right to express those viewpoints.
Last week, in South Africa, a South African white woman was censured under an old principle, “crimen injuria,” which involves harming a person’s dignity. She also made threats to black South Africans, and her repeated utterance of racial slurs was as disgusting as it was inappropriate.
She was sentenced to three years imprisonment, one suspended, and denied the right to bail on appeal.
Even accounting for the threats of harm, this is excessive, unacceptable, and is a violation of liberal notions of free expression, regardless of her disgusting views. What was even more disturbing, though, was the cheer squad of some Americans and Europeans who thought that this was some kind of positive step towards healing the racial wounds of the country of South Africa. This is as naive as it is ignorant.
South Africa went through decades of brutal suppression, racial segregation, and violence that culminated in one of the most peaceful transitions of power witnessed. A truth and reconciliation commission led to amnesty for crimes committed during the period of apartheid, crimes that even included murder. Twenty years after the foundation of the new state with equal rights for all under the law, and the forgiveness of capital crimes, to see the legal system be misappropriated to criminalize racial tension is a spit on the grave of those Africans who died in the struggle to end apartheid, and disingenuous to any who want to see a real change in racial attitudes in South Africa, to be driven by culture and time, not this abomination of activist legal reinterpretation.
Freedom of expression is an American principle that all Americans should hold dear, and it has been most disturbing to see Americans cheer on this sentencing for the utterance of racial slurs, in violation of the norms of America’s constitution. Americans as of late on both the right and left have seemed to have forgotten the rights and duties that keep the country strong and the constitution valid and relevant. All have the right to speak, and it is every American’s duty to uphold that right, now matter how abhorrent that speech may be. Therefore, Westerners should be outraged at this and push back against South Africa, not because the ideas she espouses are right, but because our values overpower her individual case and make the West what it is.
Idiocy is not a crime, and speech should never be held as criminal, especially when it reflects held views, however despicable they may be. Outlawing the use of words, ideas, or viewpoints that don’t specifically entail harm to others is the Orwellian definition of policing thought, and this is dangerous to the liberal world order when misused.
Staff writer: Ari B
Photo credit: Benny Jackson