Hate Speech as Free Speech?


When mindlessly scrolling through Facebook, every now and then I see some far right activist being punched in the face by a far left activist. I’ll admit this is a guilty pleasure, but more interestingly, it always sparks a discussion on whether these extremist groups, deserve the space to say what they believe. In Western nation-states around the world, where democracy and certain freedoms are of utmost importance, freedom of speech is perceived as a fundamental right.

Does hate speech hide under the blanket of free speech?

If the far-left can speak out against nationalism, anti-immigration and conservatism, then surely the far-right should be allowed to speak out about against open borders, internationalisation and multiculturalism. If we live in an ‘equal’ society where everyone’s voice is valued equally, then everyone should be allowed to say what they want (to a certain extent).

So in theory, this sounds great. Everyone lives happy, peaceful lives in a mosaic of cultures (like the Canadian narrative) or a mixing pot, where all are seen as equal (Sweden). Defining the extreme right and left is itself a difficult task, and if hate speech is speaking out against a particular group of people then I’m sure both can be found guilty of that.

But how does it work in practice?

Before i continue, this is not a defence of the political left or of any particular political side. However, I am a student at University College Utrecht, so I suppose my views will not be too far away from the progressive left. I once cycled into an anti-immigrant protest in Utrecht. It was pretty rowdy, but what was interesting was the policing. The police were adamant to protect the anti-immigrant protesters. It went to such an extent so that the leftist activists who were counter-protesting, were treated with serious brute force and some even taken into custody.

Here, I bring you the state. The state which exists to protect the vast diversity of views from being infringed upon. Now, as we know from social sciences classes, an objective view is practically unattainable, so the state must be biased in some fashion. What I’m getting at here is that the state, is biased towards certain groups of people and protests.

If the state is biased when it comes to certain communities in society, then policing might act out differently. The people who run the country have a certain agenda or preference, and if any community differs from this agenda, then this group of people automatically have their freedom of speech limited. Simply through a expressing a specific opinion. The policing of certain groups which do not align with the general consensus of the state will always be harsher.

It all boils down to where one stands in relation to those in power.

So, the inherent or implicit bias of the state reveals itself through the different methods of policing depending on what kind of protest is taking place. In this way, free speech is not universal in Western societies. It is not something which is granted to everyone. Free speech is used to justify excessive policing and protect hate speech.

Where we may live in the bubble that all in well in the West, and that the ‘modernised’ West should be a model for the rest, I say, let’s critically reflect upon ourselves and ‘free’ we actually are.


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