"Hate speech" or "hate propaganda" is back in the news after the contemporary controversy over the Christchurch mosque terrorist's rambling "manifesto" and renewed debates over the scope of censorship policy in this context. How has this debate affected New Zealand's LGBT community in the past and how might it affect us in the current context?
Some definitions are needed at this point. It may seem an absurd question, but what is "hate?" One might respond that it is the diametric opposite of love. inclusion, community and solidarity. If the aforementioned emotion has connotations of social solidarity and cohesion, then hate must therefore be about exclusion, the limits of community and expulsion from it, and the threat of social dissolution. What is "hate speech?" One might define it as interpersonal conversations that involve one individual engaging in interpersonal interactions that rely on simplification, stereotyping, references to folktales and propaganda that are intended to exclude individual members of marginal social groups through referring to alleged negative personal behaviour or group attributes, and therefore is intended to prompt exclusion or discrimination as specific outcomes. And here's the problem as the anti-censorship "Free Speech Coalition" sees it. Is criminalisation of "hate speech" an unconscionable violation of civil liberties, such as freedom of expression? Not all "hate speech" acts result in antisocial or violent behaviour, because not all "hate speech" is effective. Over time, social attitudes, public opinion and community values have shifted insofar as sexual orientation and gender identity are concerned. If someone calls me a "faggot" while I am engaged in typing this article on my local library computer, then I am able to complain to librarians who will then warn the individual or eject him from the library if the nuisance behaviour continues.
Should "hate speech" therefore result in legislative response? However, I am a fairly articulate educated gay man. I recognise that I cannot speak for other members of other stigmatised and marginalised groups. Given the Christchurch mosque terrorist tragedy, let's see how that might affect members of New Zealand's Muslim communities. In this context, controversy has arisen over the mosque terrorist's white supremacist "manifesto" which "explains" his destructive actions and why he felt "entitled" to engage in an act of terrorism. The New Zealand Chief Censor and Office of Film and Literature Classification then prohibited further prohibition and distribution of this 'manfesto" as well as a point of view online broadcast of the alleged terrorist engaged in what appears to be the use of firearms to attack individuals at the two Christchurch mosques he is said to have targeted. In this context, the aforementioned 'hate speech' occurred after the individual allegedly engaged in his attack. and therefore cannot be said to have 'led' to the incident that it resulted from. However, one objection to this response might be that the manifesto and broadcast of images were intended to motivate likeminded individuals to undertake similar attacks on vulnerable individuals and groups.
So, why did the alleged gunman allegedly undertake this alleged deadly act? Here, the framework of analysis needs to spread beyond interpersonal speech and conversation between two individuals that carries 'hateful' content and which might be dealt with through imposition of localised behavioural codes and expectations of social interaction within settings such as libraries, workplaces, public thoroughfares or schools. Racist and white supremacist terrorists undertake acts like interpersonal assault motivated on a targeted individual's perceived group membership ("hate crime") because they participate within a social movement that forms its own community of perceived interest or expression. These white supremacist communities and social networks have their own media, websites, reference literature, and other content that positions white supremacists against various "other" communities and individual members, based on false and mendacious derogatory depictions, stereotypes and folk mythology about those communities and individuals. Therefore, white supremacists feel entitled to harrass, intimidate or urge discrimination and exclusion against Jews, Muslims, immigrant groups and LGBT individuals.
But is censorship policy the best way to deal with this? The LGBT community experience has been that over time, anti-LGBT hate propaganda has lost its effect not because it has faced censorship enforcement and prohibition, but because social attitudes and community values have changed. Individuals may engage in hate crime against members of our communities, as occurred with Aziz al Sa'afin in Auckland several months ago, much to the disgust and abhorrence of his Three newsroom colleagues. The assailant was apprehended and may soon face trial. Here, cause and effect are questions. Was Mr Al Sa'afin's assailant motivated by negative stereotypes or exposure to anti-LGBT hate propaganda? Probably not the latter, given that such literature has been decreasingly effective or prevalent. LGBT rights debates have become more civil and rational- I may dislike Bob McCoskrie's political philosophy and regularly subject his claims to critical analysis, but Family First is much more civil toward members of our community than the opponents of homosexual law reform were back in the mid-eighties. I may regularly question the veracity and accuracy of McCoskrie's political claims and cited material, but I would never classify that material as 'hate propaganda' because it is not motivated to cause interpersonal violence, harrassment and intimidation. Based on media effects theory research about "television violence" and pornography and sexual violence, I would argue that there are actually a range of discriminatory cues that lead to negative social behaviour such as rape or hate crime. Banning "pornography" or "television violence" or "hate propaganda" might therefore not attack the other causes of destructive and antisocial behaviour against others.
How then might we do so? In the case of the Christchurch mosque terrorist attacks, the assailant became involved in white supremacist communities and came to believe in anti-Muslim hate propaganda and interpretations of Muslim social activity and presence. One solution might be greater public education and the enactment of local context speech and interaction codes which would reduce the overall impact of hate speech and hate propaganda, meeting them through use of civil and rational speech and corrective information. Ethical condemnation and stigmatisation of hate speech and hate propaganda as erroneous and maliciously motivated might also be useful- behavioural norms would change, but without the need for legislation. However, it could be objected that this wouldn't neccessarily affect members of white supremacist communities, who reject mainstream sources of information and education and prefer propaganda within their own subculture. Howevcr, increased stigmatisation and marginalisation of such groups would therefore lead to heightened incentives to depart from that subculture and diminish their active membership and they are already marginal and weak in number.
The Free Speech Coalition isn't helping matters, I fear. There is a legitimate case against censorship of hate speech and propaganda, but stigmatisation and corrective education as dual stratagies are not censorship. One hopes that they take this as constructive criticism- opposing censorship of controversial material requires a reciprocal commitment to critical analysis and evaluation of the accuracy and ethical probity of the claims made in this context.
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