Hate speech?


Parse the title as you will — analogous to ‘string cheese’ or ‘got milk?’

Our neighbors in the Great White North lately seem determined to beat us USniks at our own crazy game:

The Harper government is signaling its intention to use hate crime laws against Canadian advocacy groups that encourage boycotts of Israel.

Such a move could target a range of civil society organizations, from the United Church of Canada and the Canadian Quakers to campus protest groups and labour unions.

If they really mean it this would imply that advocating BDS constitutes ‘hate speech’.

Now there are two ways we could go with this. One would be to comment on the absurdity of considering BDS advocacy as ‘hate speech’, a preposterous notion on its face, even if you think that the notion of ‘hate speech’ is a useful construct.

But the other, more sweeping and naturally therefore more appealing to me, is to suggest that this ‘abuse’ of hate-speech legislation was certain to happen, as certain as God made little green apples, and for this reason among others, the idea of outlawing hate speech — indeed, the concept of hate crimes in general — is a disastrously bad one.

Going further still, there is, of course, an even more principled basis for resisting the notion of hate crimes: namely, that they are essentially thought crimes. If you beat somebody up because he’s gay, this is worse than beating him up because he’s a Red Sox fan. Why? Nobody deserves to get beaten up because of his tastes. Even Red Sox fans.

The underlying intent, I suppose, is to discourage people from beating up gay guys, which is certainly a desirable outcome. But assault and battery is already a crime, and has been for a long time. To the extent that law can assist in protecting gay guys from beatings, the law is already there, and it has the additional effect, also desirable, of protecting everybody else from beatings too — again, to the extent that a law can. (Enforcement and prosecution are another matter, of course, since they occur or don’t at the whim of the cops and the DA. But that remains the case with or without specific legislation about hate crimes.)

The larger purpose, perhaps, is to persuade haters to hate a little less. Also a desirable outcome. But might one suggest that creating new categories of crime, hinging on subjective feelings and attitudes, is an ill-advised way to go about that admirable project?

I am afraid we are dealing here with a déformation professionnelle of liberalism: namely that the proper response to any problem is to outlaw something not previously outlawed, and dial up the penalties for it. So the only way a liberal has to signal his solidarity with gay guys is to offer them an expansion of the criminal code, and a shiny new pair of pincers in the prosecutor’s arbitrary toolkit.

This reflects, at the very least, an impoverished repertoire of self-expression. It’s like being the driver of a car: all you can do to make your feelings known is to honk the horn.

16 thoughts on “Hate speech?

  1. how do you handle an internal, restive, ghetto-ized, mostly refugee population? unfortunately, israel is the model for many countries in the world (some way more than others.) i read somewhere (where? sorry) the baltimore P.D. sent troops (sic) to israel for IDF training. “see? this is how we treat black people in israel.” i can’t keep up with these pod people assholes. who is it in canada, bush’s mini me harper? inciting war, against iran, providing support for war, against syria & yemen, or participating in war, iraq, libya, and etc., is not “hate” but telling (excuse me, asking) people not to buy certain products is?

    Yes, it is. this quote found at the angry arab:
    “Gaza is the place where the effectiveness of Israel’s super-sophisticated weaponry and new military strategies can be evaluated and demonstrated to the world. Israeli industry minister Benjamin Ben Eliezer explains in the film [where should the birds fly] how Israel has an edge over its competitors in the field: “People like to buy things that have been tested. If Israel sells weapons, they have been tested, tried out.” ”

    why, to disinvest in israel is not to put stock in the future of society! to riff off of fiddler on the roof, if that’s not hate, what is?

    and perhaps disruption to established patterns of consumption is also a crime? like disrupting johnson & johnson testing its anti-hair curling products on fluffy poodles is “terrorism”? gaza is a test market. what are you, some kind of commie to disrupt the market?

  2. Personally, I look forward to passage of more such laws. As gay people deeply consiged to the closet 50 years ago used to say, any publicity is good publicity. Here’s a rare academic with a functional spine:

    I’ve observed public opinion shift more or less since the second Lebanon war, in 2006. I’m a historian, so I am aware that these processes take time to mature. And really it’s not so important to find out when they germinate, it’s more important to find out when they become significant. It has been maturing a long time. Surely after the first intifada in ’87, some of the demonization of the Palestinians was removed. Also the true nature of the Israeli criminality was revealed as we entered the age of Internet, and therefore after 2006 the shift was obvious and visible though still not affecting the mainstream elite…an [elite] edifice built on financial investment, bribes, threats and disinformation.

  3. Living in the Great White North, I can tell you that people are by far more relaxed in expressing their anti-Israeli sentiments. I cannot attribute that to their sense of justice or open mind and my only explanation is that maybe AIPAC never found Canada worthy of their propaganda and lobby effort.

    Of course, the new poodle who’s determined to out-perform the old poodle (Blair) is certainly doing his best to catch up with the Merkins. He just recently passed the Canadian version of the Patriot Act, Bill C-51 with the support of, you guessed it, the Liberals.

    And Comrade Smith is totally right about this bullshit about the Hate Crime. If I may recall correctly, the only difference between a Hate Crime and your garden variety regular crime is that the punishment is mandated to be more severe. So instead of an eye for an eye, it’s more like an eye and 2 balls for an eye!

    • I think people anywhere on planet Earth are more relaxed in expressing their anti-Israel sentiments than here. That includes some people in Israel itself. On this matter, as with many others, we really do live in an exceptionalist bubble.

  4. You have only to look at France to see how these “hate speech” laws operate.

    “Israel is a racist, apartheid state” = anti-Semitic hate speech that can get you locked up.

    “The French are as Dumb as Niggers” (Charlie Hebdo) = heroic defenders of free speech challenging racism.

    “We must be ready to destroy Iran” (neocons) = Western foreign policy.

    Any fair implementation of hate speech laws would start at the top with the governments and mass media in Western nations and work its way down until they reach comedians like Dieudonne, by which point there would be no one left to arrest or try him.

    • Canada has always been up there with France in terms of free speech prevention laws. Didn’t they famously jail a holocaust denier?

      I’m sure the US’s comparatively liberal free speech laws are only because dissent has been so thoroughly marginalized that allowing free speech on paper doesn’t do any harm. If people actually start speaking openly we’ll see what happens.

      • I suspect the only thing keeping the US from going full blown fascist is the fact the American people are armed with 300 million guns. They kill more fascists than guitars or empty rhetoric.

        Nevertheless, AIPAC is unrelenting in its efforts to generate anti-Semitism and is currently pushing a bill through Congress outlawing BDS. It is unclear from the article if this is directed at American citizens as well as foreign entities.


        Meanwhile, the Poodle-in-Chief of Airstrip One and Best “Friend of Israel” Forever has just announced a new crackdown on free speech in order to protect “democratic values” like free speech and aerial bombardment.


        Interesting how these unprecedented efforts to outlaw criticism of Israel have all taken shape since the Charlie Hebdo attacks just as the “conspiracy theorists” predicted they would.

        • holy shit. that aipac thing is not so surprising but the cameron speech has to be read to be believed.

          “For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens: as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone….a narrative of extremism and grievance…the party of one nation… will govern as one nation” extremism & grievance & phony narratives of oppression have arisen because of how *tolerant* england has been. wow.

          Do not rejoice in his [hitler’s] defeat, you men. For though the world has stood up and stopped the bastard, the bitch that bore him is in heat again-brecht

  5. I’m loving this new trend of yours, Michael. If you keep moving like this, we might yet see an anti-banker alliance formed between rural white nationalism and urban yankee liberalism.

    • About time, I’d say. I’ve been singing this song for fifteen years now, or so. And Weiss is *still* giving the neocons too much credit for creditable motives, to wit the belief that “if Arab countries were converted by force into democracies, the people would embrace the change and would also accept Israel as a great neighbor.” This is baloney. They never believed any such thing. What they believed is that if the state system in the region was smashed, Israel could become the regional hegemon. They never had any interest in democracy at all, in Israel or anywhere else, except as a pretext.

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