Freedom of speech is important to us at Debating Europe. We believe there are limits to that freedom (for example, inciting somebody to commit violence is clearly over the line). However, it’s important to discuss where we draw that “red line”, so as to avoid setting limits in such a way that it censors people whose opinions we don’t agree with.
For example, what about extremist speech that stops short of outright incitement to commit violence? During the 2016 Security Jam (the report of which can be read here), participants were asked the question: Should radicals be allowed a platform of free speech if they don’t advocate violence? 76% of respondents said “Yes”.
It’s a topic we’ve discussed several times in the past. Our readers are split, but many tend to come down on the side of 100% freedom of speech, without any limits at all. Myron, for example, paraphrases Voltaire when he says “I may disagree with what you say, but I will fight till the end so you can say it freely” (Voltaire never actually said this, though it summarises his beliefs accurately enough).
To give you some examples of high-profile hate speech cases and legislation in Europe, we’ve put together the infographic below (click for a larger image).
We had a comment sent in from Link_CJD, who (quoting Alan Derschowitz) argued that “the threat or fear of violence should not become an excuse or justification for restricting freedom of speech”. Is he right, even in the case of radical incitement to violence?
To get a reply, we spoke to Dr Seyed Mostafa Azmayesh, a French-Iranian human rights activist and scholar of Gnosticism, Islam, and Christianity. What would he say?
Yes, freedom of speech is very, very important, and it is the right of each human being to have freedom of speech. It is an inseparable right, a sacred right.
But should we draw a line between ‘hate speech’ and ‘free speech’? If so, where should that line be drawn? That was the question from Corvus, who asks: Who gets to decide what is hate speech and what is criticism?
In the verses of the Quran, this teaching is [attributed] to the Prophet Mohammed, that all Muslims must respect freedom of speech according to logic and reasoning, to listen correctly and talk softly… and not try to force people into accept your reasoning… The moment that somebody thinks he is related to a supreme authority and that it is necessary to impose his will on others, then the line between freedom of speech and respect for others has be deleted. He is not within his rights. He is passing the borders of his own right and would like to impose [his view] on others.
Finally, we had a comment from Maia, who believes that the internet (including social media) is a potent tool for radicalisation. She believes that access to Facebook and Twitter should be blocked in some countries (such as Syria) to stop violent extremists like ISIS from spreading hate online. How would Dr Azmayesh respond?
The internet is just like an instrument. It is possible to manipulate this instrument, to handle it with bad intentions or good intentions. The internet is not important, what is important is how the internet is used.
People who would like to keep society open [too often] leave the ground free for people who have bad intentions, who would like to use the internet to manipulate and brainwash people who don’t know the reality of the teachings of the Quran. We should [use the internet to] educate people better about the values of human rights and citizenship, and enter into discussions with people who need to debate and to learn to be educated.
Should all radical speech be censored? Where should the line be drawn between ‘hate speech’ and ‘free speech’? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!