Monday, April 27, 2009

Censorship by another name....

The Outcome Document of the Durban Review Conference was approved unanimously by those countries that had not boycotted the conference. You will be told that the document is not bad. It does not mention Israel. It does not mention Zionism. It does not mention the Palestinians. While this is all true, the document still contains a concept within its text that is so anathema to American values that the United States would not have been able to approve the document regardless of the Israeli-Palestinian issues. It is this concept that caused some of the European countries to pull out of the conference – not the arguments surrounding Zionism.

The Outcome Document states that “all dissemination of ideas based on racial superiority or hatred * * * shall be declared offence punishment by law”. Basically, the Outcome Document states that incitement to hatred should be illegal.

Your response may be, so what? Isn’t it bad to incite hated? Isn’t it bad to claim racial superiority? Aren’t these ideas harmful to the fight against racism, intolerance and xenophobia?

Or course it is bad to incite hatred. Of course it is bad to claim racial superiority.. But it is worse to prevent free speech. Free speech is the keystone to a functioning democratic society. In our country, we do not suppress speech. Speech can be vile. It can be hate-filled. It can be untrue. But, with few exceptions, speech is always legal.

You do not win by suppressing speech. You do not win by allowing the government to chose which ideas are allowed and which ideas are banned. You win by being right, by having the ability to speak back, and by promising that – whether we are in the majority or in the minority – we will always have the right to disseminate our ideas.

As Americans, we are alone in this view of free speech. Many European countries have less expansive views. As just one example, in Germany it is illegal to deny the Holocaust. But because we are alone does not mean that we are wrong. Our country is far from perfect. But taking into consideration our differences as far as race, religion, political philosophies, gender, sexual orientation, culture, and geography, I would say we are doing pretty well. And free speech is a large part of how we can function as such a diverse society. It may be easier to just make hate-speech illegal. It may be easier to have the government decreeing what ideas are allowed and what ideas are banned. But it would be wrong.

So many aspects of Durban were hijacked by the fight over Zionism. The debate centered on this issue, the demonstrations centered on this issue and the media coverage centered on this issue. But do not make the mistake of thinking that Durban was only about this one issue. Durban also put the right to free speech on the line in the name of racial tolerance. Whether the concept is called “incitement to hatred” or “defamation of religion” or any other euphemism that is developed later on, it is about censorship. If we, as a global community, decide that censorship is the way to fight hatred and racism we have already lost.

Text from the outcome document:

Paragraph 13 - Reaffirms that any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law; reaffirms further that all dissemination of ideas based on racial superiority or hatred, incitement to racial discrimination as well as all acts of violence or incitement to such acts shall be declared offence punishable by law, in accordance with the international obligations of States and that these prohibitions are consistent with freedom of opinion and expression

Paragraph 69 - Resolves to, as stipulated in art. 20 of the ICCPR, fully and effectively prohibit any advocacy of national, racial, or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence and implement it through all necessary legislative, policy and judicial measures

Paragraph 99 - Calls upon States, in accordance with their human rights obligations, to declare illegal and to prohibit all organizations based on ideas or theories of superiority of one race or group of persons of one colour or ethnic origin, or which attempt to justify or promote national, racial and religious hatred and discrimination in any form, and to adopt immediate and positive measures designed to eradicate all incitement to, or acts of, such discrimination

1 comment:

  1. What will be interesting is how this resolution will be viewed and applied by Muslim countries who ratified Durban 2.

    Iran for example, calls for the destruction of Israel, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are hosts to a number of Imams who regularly encourage their follwers to holy war against "infidels" (read: Westerners).

    That said, I completely agree with your points. Imagine this rule was on the books during America's Civil War?