I suppose if we were to start highlighting all the awful things European politicians say about freedom of speech, there wouldn't be much time for anything else. But there's room for it every now and then, no? Because I'd like to share some recent comments from Austria's top justice official to Catholic University law students.
Wolfgang Brandstetter, Austria's federal minister of justice, gave a February 3 talk at Catholic's law school on hate speech legislation in Austria and the European Union. Brandstetter explained that EU member states are bound by the conventions of the EU Court of Human Rights, which, in 2008, released guidelines for criminalizing speech—anything that disparages or intimidates based on race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, language, or color should be off limits, the court says. Austrian law mirrors the EU framework and, under it, hate speech is a crime that could come with a two-year prison sentence.
"Limitations are necessary in a democratic society for the protection of others. We in our legal system make use of such limitations, as compared to the United States," said Brandstetter. "For us, hate speech is misusing freedom of speech, and therefore shouldn't be permitted."
Misusing freedom of speech! And who decides what's a proper use? Prosecutors and government officials, of course, who would surely never misuse their power to suppress speech or ideas they don't like. Nope, that's never been known to go horribly wrong and—oh, wait, what? Well, we'll be better about it this time! History never repeats itself!
Brandstetter also lamented the recent attack on the office of French magazine Charlie Hebdo, adding: "Speech involving religion causes the worst problems of all." Maybe I'm using the lingo wrong, but that seems like textbook victim-blaming to me.
The bottom line is we're lucky America's is not a legal system that "make(s) use of such limitations," as much as this seems to dismay Europeans like Brandstetter … and some of our own, as well. For the most nauseatingly anti-free speech drivel you'll read this week (I hope), check out trust-fund socialist Malcolm Harris writing at Al Jazeera America. Like many on the new-left and the old right, Harris thinks drawing lines between permissible and illegal speech is easy, with white supremacist speech so obviously falling in the latter category:
… White supremacy isn't a source of information; it's among the most dangerous lies ever conceived. White nationalism has no kernel of truth for us to unearth through discussion and debate. In the marketplace of ideas, it's strawberry-flavored rat poison. Fascism has nothing to offer, and we have zilch to gain from hearing out fascists. We may, however, have a lot to lose.
But replace "white supremacy" with "racial equality," and you'll have a sentence that would've come comfortably out of government officials' mouths not too long ago. We could also insert in socialism, libertarianism, anarchism, atheism, gay pride, or women's suffrage, for that matter. There have been times when all were considered unfit for even discussion or debate, too dangerous, too radical, etc. White nationalism is clearly different than these other ideas? I'm glad Harris, and I, and most of you probably think so. But a state powerful enough to criminalize entire viewpoints, ideologies, or movements is sure as fuck not going to stop with ones you personally disavow. It's why we already see efforts to make cops a protected class, and anti-cop sentiment a form of hate speech—pushes, I might ad, that are making their way past the powers that be way faster than any lefty push to criminalize racist or homophobic language.
Update: Harris tells me he wasn't advocating for hate-speech laws or state enforcement, but for people to "go bop (white supremicists) on the head!", like this.
More of that conversation here. Other main points: he is not a socialist. And I suppose I should say alleged trust-fund kid.