In his final column, AJ Stoughton questioned the cultural supremacy of free speech in America. In his argument one is reminded of the fact that America is usually considered the nation with the strongest tradition of free speech and some of the most substantial protections for it. Perhaps, like most questions, this should always be up for debate.
However, particularly relevant to me as a Muslim was when AJ referenced Marco Rubio comparing radical Islam to Nazism. Evidently he thinks Rubio should not be free to say that. He seems to suggest that limiting or banning incendiary or controversial speech is the key factor in dealing with actual hatred, intolerance, and violence in society.
We should be careful how much value we put on words as opposed to actions. After the Charlie Hebdo shootings the most productive criticisms of the discussion were not the victim blaming but those that said the processions of world leaders who marched in Paris for free speech were hypocrites with records of censorship. In much the same vein, we cannot allow leaders to offer platitudes when communities come under fire, especially when they have as much blame on their own head as anyone else. The President may be celebrated for joining the bandwagon denouncing Donald Trump, but that does not change the fact that he has deported nearly two million people, or that from supporting tyrants to spying on our communities to inflaming tensions with drone strikes, his record with Muslims and the Islamic world is one of the worst in this nation’s history.
If we look to Europe, we see that this past week the Front Nationale, a deeply reactionary party with roots in French neo-nazism, won a plurality in the French regional elections. In my view, this is not the result of not enough censorship, but of too much. Laws concerning freedom of speech are much more restricted there than they are here in the United States, especially with respect to minority communities. When you make it illegal to scapegoat, that does not change minds and it it does not deal with prejudice. This is not an abstract question. When governments can direct the courts towards banning hate and scapegoating, it merely emboldens those who wield hate and ties the fate of marginalized groups to a discredited political system.
The best way to deal with hate is to fight it, to disprove it, and to put something in its place. Much of the nation is on edge after two far right wing f**k-wits with the audacity to call themselves “Muslims” attacked a municipal government event. They are very much the Muslim Dylann Roof so I don’t for a moment judge the people who have genuine fear about terrorism. Some of these people will go to Trump or someone else who partakes in hate because they are asking a question, “what do we do about this problem?” and not getting an answer from anyone else. The answer may not be guns and bombs but it has to be something- there has to be a counter narrative that addresses our role in the problem, that of the right wing in the Muslim world, and that of terrorism itself, and a plan to deal with the problem in both the short and long term. This only comes from real conversations that we must have.
Hate and paranoia scare me much more than hate speech or paranoid language and sacrificing our sacred cow of free speech will not deal with the real problems we face, it merely bats away the discursive effects of these issues until they explode.