There are two training rooms: one is a room that is mocked up to be a terrorist cell headquarters, and is filled with booby traps that you have to try and find without setting off the explosives (a light goes off to indicate that you will not be a recurring guest star on NCIS). This wasn't what interested me the most, however. Two of the walls were decorated with flags and graffiti of different domestic terrorist groups, including the Aryan Nation, Christian Identity movement, and ...
The Nation of Islam.
Problem is: for all that you may not like the Louis Farrakhan (I wasn't so hot on Elijah Mohammed, either), and despite fairly constant surveillance from the FBI, there has never been a credible report of terrorism or planned violence about the Nation of Islam. One of the individuals undergoing the training with me happens to be one of the foremost national authorities on Black Power movements, and he politely pointed this out to the people in charge of the display.
He agreed that whoever painted the wall may legitimately not have known that the Nation of Islam was not a terrorist group, but he asked that--now that he had clarified the truth, with references--that the reference be removed. Otherwise, he explained, law enforcement officials coming through the training will leave with the erroneous perception that the government considers NOI to be a terrorist group, and may act accordingly.
The folks running the Center declined to change the display. Their bosses, even when provided with an official statement from the FBI that it does not consider NOI to be a domestic terrorist group, declined to change the display. The last time I was there (two years later) the display had not been changed. The only explanation we ever received: "It's a radical Muslim group. With them there is always the potential for terrorism."
Is this hate speech?
Factors suggesting that it might be include broad-stroke negative stereotyping that tends to place members of the organization at risk, with such stereotyping consciously taking place after factual evidence to the contrary has been provided.
Factors suggesting that this isn't hate speech: it stems from a government organization. And since the government--either through legislation or the judiciary decides what is and what is not hate speech, by definition nothing that the government ever says could be considered such. And--even if it was--you'd have to get the government to waive sovereign immunity to pursue it.
So we get to one of the reasons that I don't like the doctrine of hate speech: it places the government in the business of deciding which forms of political or intellectual expression will be sanctioned, and which will be prosecuted, with one of the by-products being that only the government is immune to these strictures.
It's not that I do not accept the doctrine that says there are limitations to free speech: I certainly recognize the concept of fighting words, and threats, and slander/libel, and even (in specific, limited situations) violations of operational security.
You can voluntarily sign away some or all of your free speech rights. You do so upon entering the military or taking certain jobs, both civilian and government related. In some situations you sign away your immunity from prior restraint about certain materials in order to get access to them.
But being accused of hate speech is worse, in many ways, than being accused of sexual harassment or even sexual assault, because being offended has now moved completely into the ears of the person who hears the speech.
Intent doesn't matter. Factual accuracy sometimes does not matter. All that matters is that your victim feels disempowered.
Another anecdote: in teaching DSU's introductory course (University Seminar) we often cover the Earth on topics like academic integrity, freedom of speech, and other issues. About ten years ago I suggested a scenario to my class in which I--as a history professor--was teaching a course on Germany in World War Two, in which I had assigned readings from the virulently anti-semitic Mein Kampf. One of my students informed me that I could not do that, because Mein Kampf was by definition hate speech, and I had no right to impose it on my students, regardless of my contention that it was necessary to read the material in order to understand Germany's descent into totalitarian rule and genocide.
She explained to me that the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights actually protected her freedom from offensive speech, a more important right than my right to say whatever I wanted. She suggested with great confidence that if I attempted to assign such obnoxious material she could take me to court, where a judge would rule not only that she did not have to read such trash, but that I would never be allowed to inflict it on anyone else again in the future.
The source of this interpretation: a professor in another department who had conducted a two-day seminar on combating hate speech.
The problem with a society based on the concept of free speech is that people often say things intended to be hurtful, they often say things that are factually inaccurate, and they sometimes use speech as a tool or weapon to intimidate other people.
But where do you draw the line?
It's a really tough call, sometimes, as evidenced by the lively brouhaha over at Down With Absolutes regarding whether or not liz allen is an anti-Semite. Let's check in on what happens when folks get really passionate and start to lose it:
liz allen: And the Palestinans with no army, navy or air force, no weapons of mass destruction, no nukes, should just sit by and be slaughertered without fighting back? Is that your position? Do you think if f16’s were flying over your heads droppins phospherous bombs, killing your women and children, you wouldnt do whatever you could to defend yourself. Think Warsaw ghetto, think about how they tried to smuggle anything and everything they could to fight the nazis…its human nature and self preservation.
a. price: Liz dont you fucking DARE compare the Israelis to Nazis. THAT CROSSES THE LINE. Hamas STRAPS BOMBS TO THEIR CHILDREN! where is your outrage there? the Palestinian leadership intentionally keeps their people in poverty and jobless so they can BLAME THE JEWS. you are the WORST kind of anti semite. you think you are being rational and fair but you HAVE NO IDEA what the situation is like. you are the type of person who would have let the holocaust occur and you should really search your soul because of that last comment.... liz? anything? why dont you go tell your jewish friends you consider israelis to be like the nazis who killed their grandparents. you small minded bigot
liz allen: a,price…..WTF: can you read! I was stating a fact…that the Nazis were exterminating Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto and they did everything to protect themselves…wouldnt you in the same situation? Get over yourself zealot. Try reading something from the other perspective….there is no one truth, there are multiple truths….it depends on where you live and how you are being treated. I made no such comparison that jews were like Nazis…see how you go off…on your little tangents. You cant even see there is a self preservation issue here and all people have the right to defend themselves. You small minded fool…I have never and will never deny a horrific holocaust occured…you have never read or heard me say anything to the contrary… I believe a holocaust occured in the US, it was by europeans who slaughtered native americans…almost all of them..
hube: As for revisionist history and Liz Allen: "I believe a holocaust occured in the US, it was by europeans who slaughtered native americans…almost all of them.." No, Liz. The Europeans did NOT “slaughter” almost “all of the” Native Americans. The credit for that goes to disease which, except for a few horrific instances, was unknowingly unleashed upon the American Natives. Anywhere from 80-95% of the indigenous peoples died as a result of germs. Not warfare with the white man.
Now, let's parse this a bit: Did liz actually declare that the Israelis were like the Nazis, or did she make a legitimate historical comparison?
What standard should we use? a. price's outrage and sense of offense?
Then what do you do about this:
A prestigious London university will host an event this week that compares the plight of Gaza to the Warsaw Ghetto.
The Student Union at Goldsmiths, University of London, is hosting an event entitled "From the Warsaw Ghetto to the Gaza Ghetto" on November 12 .
The event is being organized by the Palestine Twinning Campaign, a student union group who won a vote to twin Goldsmiths with Al-Quds University in Jerusalem. In a tense debate in the union last February, the group won a motion to twin the two universities and push Goldsmiths to offer scholarships to two Al-Quds students.
Speaking at the event is Suzanne Weiss, a Holocaust survivor and member of the Toronto-based group "Not in our Name: Jews against Zionism" that encourages boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.
Weiss claims that Israel "uses many of the methods of Nazism to oppress the Palestinians, including confining them in walled ghettos," and that the Jewish people are threatened by the Jewish state.
"We are told," she has written, "that because Hitler killed the Jews, the Zionist state is needed today, supposedly to protect the Jewish people. But there is no Nazi threat against the Jews in Israel. Rather, the Jewish people are threatened by the aggressive policies of their own government."
So is liz crossing the line here, or is she merely advocating for an unpopular political viewpoint--which, instead of hate speech, is considered protected political speech under the First Amendment?
And what about the supposed American holocaust? First, two cautions: Hube never accuses liz of hate speech here, and I personally (and professionally) agree about 75% with his interpretation more than hers.
However, even here liz is presenting a legitimate academic interpretation of historical data: For example, see Daniel Stannard's American Holocaust: Columbus and the Conquest of the New World or Ward Churchill's A Little Matter of Genocide: Holocaust and Denial in the Americas, 1492 to the Present. You may not agree with these viewpoints, but unless you are willing to take on major academic presses as purveyors of hate speech, they have to be countered, not silenced.
[An aside: Churchill's academic career has literally been destroyed for unpopular comments about the victims in the World Trade Center attacks on September 11:
In January 2005, Churchill's work attracted publicity, with the widespread circulation of a 2001 essay, On the Justice of Roosting Chickens. In the essay, he claimed that the September 11, 2001 attacks were provoked by U.S. policy, and referred to some people working in the World Trade Center as "technocrats" and "little Eichmanns". In March 2005 the University of Colorado began investigating allegations that Churchill had engaged in research misconduct; it reported in June 2006 that he had done so. Churchill was fired on July 24, 2007, leading to a claim from some scholars that he was fired over the ideas he expressed. Churchill filed a lawsuit against the University of Colorado for unlawful termination of employment, and in March 2009, a Denver court began hearing the case.
Was Churchill engaging in hate speech or unpopular protected speech, which turned out to be not so protected after all?]
The purpose of this exercise is not to defend liz allen. She can do that herself, and--besides--I also find a lot of her rhetoric over the top, inaccurate, sometimes downright looney in its continual drift into weird conspiracies, and--yes--offensive. Have some of liz's statements about Jews controlling the banking world been so far out there as to be potentially considered anti-Semitic rather than inaccurate, idiotic, or conspiracy-theory-driven? Good question, but a lot more ambiguous than most of liz's critics would like to admit.
On the other hand, the specific intent of labeling liz an anti-semite or a bigot is, it seems, language intended to intimidate her into not speaking, or at the very least into self-censorship.
Apparently my opinion is at variance with most folks in the Delaware blogosphere [including folks like Hube, Pandora, and Liberalgeek, whose positions I respect even when I don't agree with them, and other people whose opinions I value about as much as a bucket of warm spit]. Near as I can tell, only that intellectual anarchist Mike Matthews sees it my way:
The implications of hate speech and "outing" people as bigots, racists, or anti-semites are far worse than the implications of dealing with them and discrediting their arguments.
As for the policy of anybody's blog: do whatever you want--the blog is your property. You don't want liz to be able to comment, ban her. Wouldn't be the first time in the Delaware blogosphere.
But spare us all the moral high ground argument.
Most of us here (myself included) have thrown out more than a few intemperate and offensive quips that we'd probably--on reflection--like to be able to cancel with a do-over.
Pots. Kettles, Rocks, Glass houses. That sort of thing.