The Landscape of Hate

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A new book: Law, Media and Culture: The Landscape of Hate is the collaboration of Janis Judson and Donna Bertazzoni, professors at Hood College, in Frederick, Maryland. This is yet another academic assault on "hate speech," that nebulous conduct that collegiate types see under every rock and around every corner. However, the magnitude of this insidious behavior seems to have escaped the attention of those of us who reside outside the walls of academia.

A promotional blurb about the book states: "We are living in an era in which hate has become a national value. This book takes a fresh look at how the Internet has become a major tool to communicate hate, and how the development of attitudes toward hate are shaped by gender." In addition to the Internet, the book points the finger at Rap music, radio and television programs, and, of course, the Ku Klux Klan.

Most of us have heard about hate speech complaints from minorities on college campuses. But these authors inform us that there is also "anti-gay hate speech" which is hurtful to gays and lesbians. In addition, they tell us about the latest target of hate speech: pro-abortion activists. To me it seems a little disingenuous to call opposition to abortion "hate speech." And, if we scrutinize examples of so-called hate speech, we find that it is often the expression of opinions contrary to a specific agenda a particular group is pursuing. However, the term "incorrect opinions" wouldn’t generate a lot of support from the public so the harsher description "hate speech" is utilized.

Here are two examples of hate speech cited by Ms. Judson and Ms. Bertazzoni.

President Bush is accused of hate speech for "praising the Southern Baptist Convention." This allegation is justified by the fact that a former SBC president made disparaging remarks about Mohammed, the founder of Islam. Also, he claimed that many of America’s problems could be attributed to religious pluralism. Although some might consider these remarks to be ill-considered, it is quite a stretch to call them hate speech.

The second of their examples of hate speech is "condemning affirmative action." I wonder if they know that the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case of a woman who was denied admission to the University of Michigan even though she had higher grades and test scores than some minority applicants who got in. If the court rules against Michigan’s use of affirmative action to determine admissions, will Judson and Bertazzoni call the Supreme Court’s ruling hate speech?

I honestly believe that the majority of Americans oppose preferential treatment based on race, gender or ethnic affiliation. This opposition is based on equity not hate. Apparently the Hood College professors are predisposed to view all objections to affirmative action as motivated by hate and we assume this is what they are telling their students.

The authors claim that hate speech happens when "you try to impose your moral code on other people and begin to see those other people who don’t fit that mold as somehow wrong." But this is exactly what their book is attempting to do, and by using it’s subjective criteria for determining hate, we could find hate everywhere.

But, contrary to what the book claims, true hate speech is far from being epidemic. Also, those on the receiving end of offensive comments are not nearly as intimidated as the authors imply. In fact, the opposite seems to be the case. Articles in campus newspapers show that recipients of derogatory remarks aggressively respond to all charges. We even read reports where entire issues of campus newspapers are ripped from racks and burned simply for airing opinions a particular group doesn’t like.

When asked how they felt about the message conveyed by Rap music, female students at Hood College informed the professors; "we don’t listen to the lyrics, we just listen to the beat." As to the assertion that the Internet is being used to communicate hate, it should be noted that it is strewn with websites sponsored by minorities, gays and lesbians, pro-abortion activists and other so-called victim groups. These sites powerfully and effectively push the group’s agenda as well as rebut criticisms.

But college professors have learned that, to advance their careers, their curriculum vitae should contain one or more scholarly books they have authored. So literally hundreds of books are pouring forth from academia. However, literary endeavors addressing subjects such as chemistry or physics are not usually intended for public consumption. But works that address contemporary social problems, like the new book from Judson and Bertazzoni, often receive extensive media attention and might influence public debate.

This book is one of a surfeit of works on hate speech and their cumulative impact might persuade the government that the phenomenon is widespread and causing harm. Consequently, it may decide to enact laws to prevent it. If you think this is farfetched you should know that some European countries already have laws criminalizing hate speech. In Sweden, a pastor could face up to two years in jail if, in a sermon, he refers to homosexuality as sinful or against biblical teachings. Norway recently imprisoned a man convicted of violating that nation’s ban on Internet hate speech. He was accused of posting comments on a website that were interpreted as racist.

Finally, it should alarm us that the Council of Europe is already in the process of adopting stringent regulations to outlaw hate speech on the Internet. The Council’s "Convention on Cybercrime" proposes, not only to close websites but to impose criminal charges on those posting to websites or sending email containing hate speech. The draft proposal contains this language: "The purpose of the protocol is to make it a crime to distribute, make available, or produce racist or xenophobic material via the Internet (including) any written, any image or any other representation of thoughts or theories, which advocates, promotes, incites (or is likely to incite) acts of violence, hatred or discrimination against any individual or group of individuals, based on race, color, national or ethnic origin."

Soon the Council of Europe will petition European countries as well as the United States, Japan, Canada and South Africa to implement the final version of it’s Internet hate speech ordinance. The Council of Europe has 43 members and the last time I checked, 32 nations had signed off on the proposal.

This shortsighted ordinance is not compatible with freedom of speech and would go a long way toward silencing dissent because the determination of what constitutes hate speech would be made by bureaucrats with political agendas; agendas probably very similar to the ones being pursued by Ms. Judson and Ms. Bertazzoni.

Gail Jarvis [send him mail] a CPA living in Beaufort, SC, is an advocate of the voluntary union of states enumerated by the founders.

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