Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Posts Tagged ‘freedom of speech

Clarifications around freedom-of-X

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Many of my discussions have concerned freedom-of-X (X being e.g. opinion, speech, action, and possibly others). There are two important points in this area that I have probably never spelled out explicitly:

Firstly, freedom-of-X does not necessarily imply the same degree of freedom for all X. If we look e.g. at opinion (as opposed to expression of opinion), there can not and must not be any limits—there is no opinion so factually or morally wrong that it should be outlawed or e.g. be worthy of a beating or brain-washing. This includes even extreme opinions like that all bald** people deserve to die. On the other hand, there are plenty*** of actions that are unconscionable**** even under freedom of action—e.g. actually killing bald people for no other reason than their baldness.

*There might, however, be opinions that are worthy of other intervention, e.g. because they are signs of delusion (“I am Napoleon”), self-threatening (“suicide is painless”), or extremely naive (“the Earth is flat”). Even here, however, the intervention must be kept sufficiently reasonable that freedom of opinion or “the right to be wrong” is not threatened. For instance, a believer in a flat Earth may be presented with arguments, but must not be harassed with them (outside a debate or similar situation), and e.g. a brain-washing attempt must not be made. Further, the possibility that the apparent loon is correct and the self-appointed educator wrong must be kept in mind. (Indeed, political activists, most notably of a PC character, often condemn the opinions of others as e.g. prejudiced, outdated, or simply incorrect, even when those opinions actually match the scientific consensus in the area—the mere conviction that “I am right and you are wrong” does not make it so.)

**An example drawing on “Mein Kamm”, an absurdist Nazi parody by Ephraim Kishon. My intention is to provide an extreme example that is not open to misconstruction (be it out of stupidity or willfully), especially since I am myself bald. However, similarly extreme opinions concerning other groups do exist in this world.

***Where to draw the border is a tricky ethical issue, well beyond the intents of this text. However, a reasonable first approximation is that what is legal is OK, what is not is not OK. (Note that this cannot be more than an approximation, since the discussion is of abstract, not legal, rights. Consider e.g. a country that allows the at-will killing of bald people or forbids saving them from drowning.)

****In this text, I use “unconscionable” to imply something so bad that it would justify e.g. legal action even in a Rechtsstaat with a great respect for freedom-of-X; and “conscionable” to refer to something not unconscionable. (Using “illegal” and “legal” outright is problematic per the preceding footnote; and might also be too restrictive.) Other texts of mine, let alone other authors, might use these words differently. I stress that e.g. an utterance deemed conscionable is not automatically “good”—it can still be rude, ignorant, expressing hatred, worthy of condemnation, whatnot.

Secondly, when we look at speech and action, it is not always clear where speech crosses over into action, and then underlies greater constraints. Consider e.g. statements like “Go out and kill the bald!”, which contains a call for an unconscionable action (an unwarranted killing).* If such statements were allowed based on freedom of speech, this opens a loop-hole in the restrictions on freedom of action, e.g. because a convincing speaker could move an easily manipulated sympathizer to take the action—and what is the ethical difference between e.g. pulling a trigger and deliberately convincing someone else to pull the same trigger in one’s stead? Clearly, then, we should not allow such speech. On the other hand, drawing the borders too narrowly could easily invalidate free speech, e.g. by preventing someone from expressing a certain opinion, discussing that opinion with others, or trying to convince them of said opinion. Here I use the guide-line that any speech that involves a direct or clearly** implied call for action should be considered tantamount to or judged equally with an action. More generally, there are other cases of speech that by their nature are not intended to e.g. state, discuss, or further an opinion, but serve a more direct purpose of influence, say a taunt intended to provoke a fight, a threat intended to force an action, the provision of (possibly false) information to change someones behavior, … These too are better grouped with actions than with “regular” speech; however, they are rarely relevant to freedom of speech outside areas where it is used as an excuse.

* Note that the example is not one that would normally give a reasonable reason to act. In contrast, a “Go out and kill the enemy soldiers that are currently attacking us!” might be perfectly conscionable. (This is another instance of a tricky-to-determine border.)

**If this restriction is not made, there is endless room for abuse along the lines of “he claimed that he only expressed his opinion, but it is obvious that he actually intended others to act”. The “clearly implied” would include e.g. a “I believe that you should all go out and kill the bald”, because an attempt to dodge the rule on a technicality can very legitimately be assumed; it would not include “the only good baldy is a dead baldy”, because there is far less reason to make this assumption and in dubio pro reo should be applied: Such opinions are often held without an intention to act (to avoid punishment, if nothing else); such statements are often made hyperbolicly.

Excursion on speech as a special case of action:
Depending on perspective, it could be argued that any act of speech is automatically an action. However, in discussions of rights, this would merge two usually distinct categories in an unfortunate manner, and I consistently use “action” to refer to a concept not including speech (except as discussed above) in such contexts. The alternative would be to introduce more specialized terms at the cost of understandability. (Of course, similar simplifications are routinely made, e.g. in that “speech” is taken to include the written word, or even some acts that are of a symbolic or communicative nature, e.g. a flag burning. Also cf. the following excursion). As a disclaimer, the “special cases” of speech discussed above might very well form the majority of uses in a more everyday context.

Excursion on kneeling footballers:
The controversy around kneeling footballers is an interesting illustration of how freedom of action, even freedom of speech, can legitimately be restricted in certain contexts. We could argue that they are only expressing their right to free speech*—and if I thought that they actually understood** what they were doing, I might even have let them be based on that, had I been a team manager, football commissioner, or whatnot. However, there are other arguments that speak against their having the right to express themselves in this manner: They are on the job, they are in uniforms proclaiming their association with an organization, they are using someone elses resources for their protest, … To consider a few similar and less controversial examples: A regular employer should*** not interfere with the employees private political activities, but may certainly ban political**** discussions in the office, during office hours (including for non-political reasons like this being a potential source of inter-team hostility or it taking away working time). A shop owner may certainly ban his employees from proselytizing towards customers and third-parties from pasting flyers on its windows. A TV station may certainly forbid its news anchors from using their on-air time to spread their own political opinions. A sports team may certainly prevent individual players from making considerable changes to their uniforms.

*As a general, abstract right. Note that free speech in the specific context of the U.S. constitution only covers rights of the people versus the government (or even a subset of it); with a similar situation applying in many other countries. Correspondingly, arguing the legality of such protests or the ban of such protests based on constitutionality is dubious.

**Some few might, but most are bound to be nothing more than “useful idiots”, who have a very skewed image of the issues, society, whatnot—most regular people do and football players are not renowned for their intelligence and erudition.

***I almost wrote “must”; however, going that far could violate the rights of the employer and/or be too lenient when it comes to extremes. For instance, a bald store-owner should not be forced to employ someone who walks around with “Kill all baldies” signs after hours. In the vast majority of cases, however, what employees do or do not do, say, and believe outside of work is none of the employer’s business.

****However, a more selective ban, e.g. that non-PC political discussions are forbidden, is far harder to defend. Similarly, if one type of political protest was allowed during a football game, it would be very hard to defend banning another, e.g. that someone were allowed to bring in a “Vote Democrat!” sign, while someone else was prevented from bringing a “Vote Republican!” sign.

As an aside, a somewhat similar line of reasoning could be attempted against a recent text on FIFA, IOC, advertising, …. However, that situation differs e.g. in that sponsorship money is a significant part of most professional athletes livelihood; that e.g. the IOC tries to earn money of someone elses* efforts and popularity through abuse of a virtual monopoly; that the behavior of these organizations is contrary to their ostensible and historical raison d’être; and that sponsors does not underlie a blanket ban**, only non-IOC sponsors. Restrictions on kneeling in the NFL, on the other hand, has no practical negative effects on the players, the NFL and its teams do not gain “unfair” income from these restrictions, there is no special treatment based on political position, etc. Even when looking at teams vs. league resp. teams vs. FIFA, the situation is different, in that the NFL (NBA, NHL, …) is in a much closer and more symbiotic relationship with the teams than FIFA—the latter earns money from the following the teams have gathered in the previous four years, while the former is in a constant state of mutually beneficial actions regarding earning potential, popularity, etc. with the teams.***

*Note the greater individual drawing power of many individual athletes in individual sports compared to team sports, as well as the greater impact on legitimacy when a major star is missing. Compare e.g. a Wimbledon without the world’s best tennis player and an NFL where the world’s best football player is missing.

**With which I would be fine-ish.

***On paper: That the one tries to get the better of the other here-and-there is likely unavoidable.

Excursion on discrimination:
Parts of the above point to the importance and benefits of discrimination, e.g. in recognizing the principal difference between “pure speech” and “speech as action” and to treat them differently. This includes being able to see through superficial similarities and inappropriate analogies.* With the constant, absurd abuse of “discrimination”, I plan to follow-up with a text on that topic within the next week.

*As a special case, contrary to the common abuse, a core of (competent) discrimination is to not just group people (or whatnot) together based on superficial criteria, but to look at the criteria that matters with regard to the individual and situation at hand.


Written by michaeleriksson

August 3, 2018 at 12:07 am

Some thoughts on a recent German controversies around athletes and freedom of action

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An incident around German/Turkish soccer star Mesut Özil* and Turkish President Erdoğan has caused immense controversy in Germany—and, in doing so, it illustrates some of the problems I have written about in the past, including the poor behavior of sports organizations and their disgraceful treatment of athletes (cf. e.g. [1], [2]); intolerance against unpopular opinion, especially by the press (cf. e.g. [3], [4], [5]); undue accusations of racism (cf. e.g. [6]); and at least an attempt at “who cries the loudest wins” ([7]). A triple hit (sports organizations, intolerance, racism) is provided by [8].

*Most information and all quotes are taken from this (German) Wikipedia page; some information stems from memory of the previous reporting or general knowledge.

Özil was born in Germany and is a German citizen; however, he is of Turkish descent, has a strong Turkish connection, and has had* a Turkish citizenship. He has on repeated occasions met with Erdoğan, the controversial Turkish President, without notable objections. However, a renewed meeting, including several other players with a similar background, in Mai 2018 lead to strong protests**:

*Having a dual citizenship as a German is usually not allowed. The two main exceptions are citizens of other EU states (which Turkey is not) and those still underage (which Özil no longer is). The latter must, unless otherwise exempt, make a choice which citizenship to keep when they do become of age.

**I am uncertain what the cause of this difference in reaction was. It might have been a symptom of the increasing Leftist and media intolerance, a change in perception of Erdoğan, a greater publicity due to the ongoing Turkish election campaign or the soon following World Cup, or that some aspects of the latest meeting were different.

Diesmal wurde Özil, ebenso wie Gündoğan, nach der Veröffentlichung von Fotos der Begegnung und dem Austausch mit dem türkischen Präsidenten teilweise scharf kritisiert. Die Trikotübergabe wurde als “geschmacklose Wahlkampfhilfe für Erdoğan” verstanden, beiden Nationalspielern warf man mangelndes “politisches Bewusstsein” vor. Die Aktion wurde als “Gegenteil von gelungener Integration” bezeichnet. Der Deutsche Fußball-Bund erklärte durch seinen Präsidenten Reinhard Grindel, man stünde “für Werte, die von Herrn Erdoğan nicht hinreichend beachtet werden.” Deshalb sei es nicht gut, dass sich Nationalspieler für dessen “Wahlkampfmanöver missbrauchen lassen. Der Integrationsarbeit des DFB haben unsere beiden Spieler mit dieser Aktion sicher nicht geholfen.”


This time, Özil, just like Gündoğan [one of the other players] was partially sharply criticized after the publication of photos of the meeting and the exchange* with the Turkish President. [The handing over of one or more (sports uniform) shirts] was understood as “tasteless election campaigning for Erdoğan”, both national-team players were accused of a lacking “political consciousness”. The act was referred to as “the opposite of successful integration”. The German Soccer Association explained through its President Reinhard Grindel that it stood “for values, not sufficiently respected [considered?] by Mr. Erdoğan.” Because of this, it would not be good that national-team players allowed themselves to be abused for “his election tactics. The integration work of the DFB [the football association] has certainly not been helped by this act.”

*From context, likely the exchange of gifts. However, other interpretations are possible, including the interaction between them.

(Note that some typographical changes have been made to the original for technical reasons. The disputable placement of full-stops with regard to quotes present in the original has been preserved in both the original and the translation. Beware of the risk that the mixture of original quotes with text by Wikipedia editors can at some point have led to distortions compared to the full original quotes. Similar claims apply to other quotes below. )

There are quite a few problems with this*, most notably that Özil and Gündoğan should not lose their right to freedom of opinion** and action just because they happen to play for the national-team (or because they might be persons of public interest, idols of some teenagers, or similar). Such restrictions, barring exceptional cases***, are highly dubious when required by the press and inexcusable when by an organization like the DFB.****

*And note that this description (and my discussion of it) is just a sample: If this had been the totality, I might have been more forgiving. However, it is a sample highly compatible with what I have seen continually in other sources regarding Özil and/or the original events. (Unsurprisingly, there has been a lot of other discussions, including reactions-on-reactions, including by German and Turkish politicians, journalist, and athletes.)

**To boot, Özil denies that there was a political motivation or an act of political support involved (see also below). Whether this is true, I do not know; however, his claims are not obviously implausible. This would make the reactions against him even more inappropriate, be it because of being the more unfair or for being premature and having failed to discuss the matter appropriately in private before criticizing. (Which would have been reasonably possible for both members of the press and, above all, the DFB.)

***I am far from certain that such cases exist that do not at least touch upon the area of the illegal (e.g. explicitly calling for violence against Turkish dissidents). However, they might exist, and at least some of the above would be justifiable in another setting, e.g. the Pope chastising a member of Catholic clergy for appearing to support satanists.

****In as far as we speak of opinions, rather than sanctions or threats of sanctions, it could be argued that Grindel and/or the DFB equally has a right to speak his/its opinion. However, quite generally and including the press, there is a difference between an expression of opinion like (hypothetically) “I consider Erdoğan an idiot; ergo, Özil is an idiot for supporting him” and (what practically amounts to) “I consider Erdoğan an idiot; ergo, Özil has no right to support him”. Further, it can be disputed whether an organization like the DFB is even allowed to have an opinion in areas not relating to sport and its immediate business—and the implicit condemnation of Erdoğan is certainly not acceptable. Indeed, it amounts to the same sin that Özil is hypocritically accused of committing—with the critical difference that it actually is a sin when the DFB does it. Grindel, in turn, has the right to have his private opinion, but he must not presume to speak with the authority of the DFB if expressing this private opinion. To boot, people in positions like Grindel, unlike national-team players, are among the very few where I could contemplate an argument that they should hold back their private opinions, due to (a) the risk that these opinions are given undue weight by others, (b) the risk that others mistake private opinions of the individual for the opinions of the organization he leads or is a spokesman for—again making the accusations against Özil hypocritical.

More in detail, I note:

  1. The word “tasteless” (“geschmacklose”) is not compatible with a neutral discussion; “inappropriate” is an example of a neutral alternative.

    Whether this choice of word was merely careless, an unconscious sign of aversion, or deliberate rhetoric, I leave unstated; however, in a worst case, it could imply that such acts would have been allowed, had someone more “acceptable” than Erdoğan been involved—a thoroughly undemocratic attitude. (But not one that would shock me in light of my experiences with various Leftist groups. The same can apply elsewhere without explicit mention.)

  2. Even “inappropriate”, however, would have expressed a democratically dubious attitude, severely restricting the freedom of Özil on political issues.
  3. Athletes cannot be expected to be deep thinkers, intellectuals, whatnot to a higher degree than the average person. A lack of e.g. “political consciousness” (“politisches Bewusstsein”) cannot be a legitimate point of criticism unless the same is extended to the very many others who have the same deficit. To boot, this phrase is sufficiently vague that it is unclear what is meant, making the criticism harder yet to justify.* Worse, looking at the overall scope of the debate (not just the quoted Wikipedia passage), the most likely interpretation is a euphemistic way of saying “everyone who reads the paper knows that Erdoğan is evil; Özil obviously does not read the paper”.

    *In all fairness, this might have been different in the original context.

  4. The two claims about “integration” are misplaced, very hard to defend, and likely contributed to the character of Özil’s responses (discussed below). I note that integration can validly be a matter of behavior in society (and similar), possibly* even, to some degree, the adoption of certain value norms; however, it must not be extended to requiring adherence to whatever opinion corridor (cf. [5]) is currently popular. Further, the purpose of the DFB is not integration work; Özil has no duty to help them with whatever integration work they engage in; and it is not obvious to me how Özil might have done damage**. Indeed, it can even be disputed whether Özil, himself, has any reason to currently be well-integrated into Germany: He is a player for Arsenal; the Brits might have the more legitimate reason to require his conformance.

    *To me, it is more important to show (or not show) a certain behavior than to share the value norm behind that behavior. If nothing else, value norms change over time, even in a single country, regularly within a single generation, and it is important that value norms can be discussed and criticized. Also see e.g. [5]. Requiring a more than minimal value-norm conformance would deny immigrants rights of opinion that “old” citizens have.

    **If he did not, why would the DFB mention the topic? On the other hand, I could see how the behavior of the DFB and/or media might have damaged “integration”, e.g. through unnecessarily alienating some Turks or through lending them the impression that they are second-class (current or prospective) citizens.

    In addition, while it is true that many Turks remain poorly integrated even after the first generation, it is noteworthy that Özil is born in Germany, has lived most of his life in Germany, and went to school in Germany. Indeed, according to Wikipedia, even his father was two years old (the mother is not mentioned), when he came to Germany, making Özil a virtual third-generation immigrant. To, in this situation, lead with the assumption of poor integration is highly dubious, possibly genuinely indicative of prejudice; and it would be more reasonable to look e.g. at the personal character of Özil first and at “integration” only when this is insufficient. (By analogy, I do not reject, detest, deplore, and condemn the German “Karneval” because of any problems with my integration, but because of my and its respective character—as do quite a few natives.)

  5. To presume to criticize players or politicians (especially foreign* ones) for having or aiding “values” is not the job of the DFB, unless these are immediately relevant to its purpose. For instance, if a politician made statements favoring an increase of taxation for such organizations, a reduction of physical education in schools, or an outright ban of a sport or parts of that sport**, then that is a matter that the organization could legitimately speak on. Even here, however, a factual approach and factual arguments should be assumed: To say “If this tax increase is implemented, we will be forced to considerable reductions in our activities, including youth sports.” is quite OK; to say “X is a sports-hating idiot!” is not.

    *While being from another country, culture, religion, or time cannot e.g. make an unjust act just, it can change how the actor should reasonably be treated and viewed, because the degree to which he has been acting in good or bad faith, in conformance with his upbringing and societal norms, whatnot, can change correspondingly. It can also sometimes reveal a presumed-to-be-unjust act as just, e.g. because the circumstances are that different or because the presumed victim considered the act just; and it can easily reveal a presumed-to-be-illegal act as legal, because the laws in different countries and at different times can vary considerably.

    **For instance, Sweden long had a ban on professional boxing.

    The press should obviously have more lee-way (if in doubt, to protect the freedom of the press). However, I do note my suggestions for a new press ethics, and my strong belief that the press should report facts and leave the formation of opinion to the readers—not shove its own opinion down their throats. The more so, seeing how often this would amount to the blind presuming to lead the seeing.

  6. The use of “abuse” is doubly unfortunate, because it paints Özil et co. as patsies and Erdoğan as maliciously plotting in a manner that is both speculative and rude.

A point where some criticism might have been valid is concerning the disposition of shirts, e.g. depending on what team (national?, club?, other?) they belonged to, whether they were private property or team property, whether they were “official” shirts or shirts bought privately from a fan shop (merely using the same look as the official shirts), etc. However, if this criticism has been raised at all, it has not been one of the major points and it has no major effect on the above analysis. (For which reason I have not bothered to find out the details about the shirts.)

If I had been in Özil’s shoes, I would have been deeply angered over this criticism and I would not have hesitated to stand-up for my position. Gratifyingly*, Özil did exactly that. Less gratifyingly, he did so by resorting to counter-accusations of racism.

*Indeed, in [8] I call for exactly this willingness to take a stand.

Özil erklärte am 22. Juli 2018 auf dem Kurznachrichtendienst Twitter auf Englisch: “Ich bin in Deutschland aufgewachsen, aber meine Familie ist stark in der Türkei verwurzelt. Ich habe zwei Herzen, ein deutsches und ein türkisches. In meiner Kindheit hat mir meine Mutter beigebracht, immer respektvoll zu sein und nie zu vergessen, wo ich herkomme – an diese Werte denke ich bis heute”. Für ihn sei es bei dem Treffen weder um Politik noch um Wahlen gegangen. Ferner warf Özil einigen Medien vor, sein Foto mit Präsident Erdoğan als rechte Propaganda zu benutzen, um ihre politische Sache voranzutreiben. Weiterhin erklärte er, “nicht mehr für Deutschland auf internationaler Ebene spielen” zu wollen, solange er “dieses Gefühl von Rassismus und Respektlosigkeit verspüre”. Er forderte DFB-Präsident Grindel zum Rücktritt auf, weil Grindel unfähig sei.


On July 22nd, 2018, Özil declared on the [short-message service*] Twitter, in English**: “I have grown up in Germany, but my family is strongly rooted in Turkey. I have two hearts, a German and a Turkish. In my childhood, my mother taught me to always be respectful and to never forget from where I come—values that I think of even today”. For him, the meeting was neither a matter of politics, nor of elections. Further, Özil accused some media [services/sources/…] of using his photo with President Erdoğan as Rightist propaganda, to further their political causes. Further, he declared, wanting “no longer to play internationally for Germany”, as long as he “sensed this feeling of racism and lack of respect”. He urged DFB-President Grindel to resign, because Grindel was incompetent.

*A somewhat literal translation of “Kurznachrichtendienst”. I am not aware of a corresponding English word, nor do I consider it likely that an English text would have used one: This type of largely unnecessary attempts at overly abstracted classifications and pseudo-explanations is a specialty of Germany. To boot, the word is very unfortunate, because incorrect assumptions of word division could lead to great misunderstandings: “Nachrichtendienst” is roughly “intelligence agency” (but here the appearance of this character sequence is just a coincidence).

**I have translated the German text back into English, and could possibly deviate from the original in detail. This sub-optimal procedure was partly used because the mixture of Wikipedia text and original quote might make it hard to identify the exactly corresponding statements; partly because I very deliberately have blocked Internet access to sites like Twitter, Facebook, etc. to avoid unethical tracking of my activities. For a text of this length, under these circumstances, it is faster to simply translate, probably (!) even when counting this explanation.

His justification* makes great sense, especially when combined with another source (some weeks ago), where I believe I read a statement that it was less a matter of meeting Erdoğan (as a person) than a matter of meeting the Turkish President (as a symbol or as the holder of the office). Consider, in the same line, if he had been of U.S. descent instead of Turkish: Would it be remarkable if he took the opportunity to meet with the current U.S. President or cherished an acquaintance with him going beyond a single meet-and-greet? He might or might not have had a preference for Trump or Hillary—but most people in his shoes would likely have taken either.** This even when there are other people who have an extremely low opinion of one of them (as with me and Hillary).

*But I remain at my position that he had done nothing that required a justification, this being merely an issue of averting unjustified criticism.

**In all fairness, I belong to those who might have turned down both.

I am highly skeptical towards the racism angle, however, in light of the strong left-lean of Germany media, what I have read on the Özil-controversy to date, and the common abuse of the accusation of racism for purposes like discrediting opponents. An anti-Erdoğan sentiment is a far more likely explanation for these reactions, and he would have been far better off having combined his justification of the meeting with a few choice word on freedom of opinion and the need to respect the choices of others—as would society: In this case, he would have helped point the way towards a more reasoned and tolerant debate climate; as is, he worsened it through too weakly supported accusations. (In his defense, he is a soccer player—not an intellectual. The situation might also have been different, had he e.g. spoken only of the DFB or Grindel, where he could very well have had insider knowledge of importance.)

I am not certain that Grindel must resign, but a retraction and an apology would be the minimum: His actions in this issue have done more harm than good, he has proven to be a part of the intolerance problem of modern society, and he has further proven himself to be a part of the problem with athletes’ rights vs. their organizations. I can also understand how Özil, personally hit by his behavior, would see his resignation as necessary. I might even, in his shoes, have demanded a resignation to emphasize the strength of my protests and to try to make clear that the Left and the PC crowd are not the only sources of dissatisfaction and that it is dangerous to just fold for their loud cries (cf. [7]). (Whether he is incompetent, as claimed by Özil, I cannot judge beyond what is implied through his actions in this issue.)

Finally, the DFB has in turn rejected any accusation of racism in a very blanket manner and said e.g. “Die Abrechnung von Mesut Özil schießt aber über jedes nachvollziehbare Maß hinaus und lässt keinerlei Selbstkritik erkennen.” (“However, the reckoning* by Mesut Özil shots over any understandable measure [sic!**] and reveals no sign of self-criticism*** whatsoever.”)

*This, in approximately the sense used in “there will be a reckoning”, is a reasonable translation of both the literal and metaphoric senses of “Abrechnung”. However, the English version likely comes across as more drastic than the German.

**The weird mixed metaphor is present in the original and is idiomatically freakish even in German. Something like “Özils Antworten gehen zu weit und mangeln an Selbstkritik” (“Özil’s answers go to far and lack in self-criticism”), would have been a far better formulation.

***“self-perspective” or similar might be closer in intended meaning.

While I agree that the accusations of racism are over-blown, Özil’s general negative reaction is justified. I see no obvious reason to fault him for too little self-criticism (there has been no* proof that he has done anything wrong!); while the reaction by the DFB hints that it lacks in the corresponding quality. Further, I must make the depressing observation that many an athlete has been accused of e.g. racism on similarly flimsy grounds—and, in those cases, it has typically ended either with the athlete being forced to offer an “apology” or the athlete being sanctioned. This up to and including a refusal to participate in global championships! (And despite it being highly, highly dubious to exclude even a genuine racist from competition based on opinion. If nothing else, absent even the slightest shred of sympathy for the rights of the offending athlete, even the most fanatical anti-racist must recognize that the absence of competitors devalues the event and the accomplishment of the eventual winner.) A similar case is present in [8], although involving a trainer rather than an athlete.

*Barring something that has gone past me during a more than two-months controversy that I have only followed casually. If so, it is not mentioned in Wikipedia either.

Excursion on my opinions of Erdoğan:
In light of my experiences with the PC crowd, I stress that I do not defend (or accuse) Erdoğan. The above deals with societal issues based on an example that happens to tangentially involve him—no more, no less. From what I have seen so far, Erdoğan is problematic, possibly highly problematic, in terms of e.g. his approach to topics like democracy and human rights, and chances are that Turkey would be better off without him. On the other hand, my knowledge of the overall Turkish situation is shallow, and I would not condemn him wholesale before having done considerably more research, especially as his position and actions might have been exaggerated or misrepresented in German media (which would by no means be a unique event). To boot, it is not a given that he is the “greater evil”: Looking e.g. at the rise of ISIS in the power vacuum left by the Saddam Hussein (an indisputable dictator with countless lives on his hands, and whose demise I whole-heartedly welcomed), keeping Hussein might have been the lesser evil…

Excursion on hate speech:
It might be interesting to compare the above with my recent discussions of hate speech, both with regard to how hate-speech accusers often proceeded and how my interpretation was more forgiving in those cases.

While I do say that there have been a number of statements made that have been e.g. wrong, rude, or propagandistic, I do not: Accuse any of the parties of hate speech; call for legal bans on anything said or done;* claim that others must censor them for the good of society; or call for anyone to self-censor**. This is very much unlike a typical hate-speech accuser.

*But note that specifically the collectors of the examples did not necessarily imply such demands.

**With the single exception that the DFB and its representatives should stay out of certain issues—and this exception for reasons that do not relate to whether the statements are right or wrong, or worthy of condemnation in and by themselves; rather that it would be, in some sense, an abuse of its role to enter these issues with any opinion. Cf. an excursion in [8].

Also note that when I see an interpretation as merely probable above, I try to take the trouble to actually speak of a “probable” (or similar) interpretation—I have an awareness that my interpretation could be faulty. (But I do not rule out that I, on occasion, have been or will be unintentionally careless in this regard.) In contrast, hate-speech accusers tend to jump to the worst possible interpretation and take it as the only possible interpretation.

When we now look at how “forgiving” my interpretations are, there are three underlying differences: Firstly, above I argue a “lesser crime” than the collectors did—the question is not one of “hate speech: yes or no?”, but of whether the speech can be considered fair and correct. Secondly, I have more context available than in most of their examples, making the room for ambiguity and misinterpretation smaller (and some other issues, notably a preceding Hebrew–English translation, are irrelevant, which also reduces the risk of misinterpretation). Thirdly, their examples should be seen in light of their own obvious hostility, including risks like cherry-picking, removal of exculpating context, or even malicious distortion.* (While I am not infallible, I at least try to be neutral.)

*Notably, if they had had more incriminating information to provide (e.g. a damning situational context or surrounding statements that would have made a more negative interpretation likelier), it is reasonable to assume that they would have included it. Because they did not, the likelihood of more negative interpretations is reduced.

Written by michaeleriksson

July 27, 2018 at 1:00 pm

Hate speech III: Analysis of alleged Tea-Party examples

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Preamble: This is the third (and likely concluding) part in a series. For an understanding of the motivations, rough criteria, terminology, general take on the topic, etc., please read the first part (and, optionally, the second part).


  • The examples are taken from http://samuel-warde.com/2012/07/tea-party-hate-speech-10-shocking-examples/, original title “10 Shocking Examples Of Tea Party Hate-Speech”.
  • The numbering is preserved from the original. Some amount of change might have been made to formatting and typography. The contents themselves have been copy-and-pasted, and (barring accidental over-correction with the spell-checker) all language problems, bracketed comments, and whatnots were already present.
  • The quotes are given by an opponent and have often traveled over several instances, both of which imply that they might have been distorted before they arrived here. Below, I will silently take the quotes as correct, but I extend the warning that this is not necessarily the case.
  • There is minimal or no context, which makes the exact interpretation tricky. While I do repeatedly address context below, I am unlikely to have done so consistently at all points where it is needed, and the reader is encouraged to keep this problem in mind. (Note that the same sentence, even individual words, can have very different interpretations depending on context. Consider “One more step and you are dead!” said by a robber to a victim, by an explosives expert to someone standing in a minefield, and by one child to another.)
  • Through a copy-and-paste action into a text file, I overlooked that the HTML original contained a number of links to other sources (unlike the examples given in the second part). Unfortunately, I only discovered this when I had already prepared what I considered the to-be-published version of this text. Of these links, only six worked (link rot?). I have reviewed these six and added a corresponding addendum to the respective item below. (Not much changes.)

1. Tea Party leader Mark Williams mocks the NAACP.

“We Colored People have taken a vote and decided that we don’t cotton to that whole emancipation thing. Freedom means having to work for real, think for ourselves and take consequences along with the rewards. That is just far too much to ask of us Colored People, and we demand that it stop…

The tea party position to “end the bailouts” for example is just silly. Bailouts are just big money welfare, and isn’t that what we want all Coloreds to strive for? What kind of racist would want to end big money welfare? What they need to do is start handing the bailouts directly to us coloreds…

Perhaps the most racist point of all in the tea parties is their demand that government “stop raising our taxes.” That is outrageous! How will we Colored People ever get a wide screen TV in every room if non-coloreds get to keep what they earn? Totally racist! The tea party expects coloreds to be productive members of society?…

Mr. Lincoln, you were the greatest racist ever. We had a great gig. Three squares, room and board, all our decisions made by the massa in the house. Please repeal the 13th and 14th Amendments and let us get back to where we belong.”

Mocking the NAACP is hardly hate speech. The quote is an example of (admittedly crude) satire; not of hate speech. I would agree that this type of satire, especially the putting of words into the mouths of others, is inappropriate, childish, and better avoided, but that is about it—and putting words into the mouths of others is by no means a rare method in the PC and Leftist movements… Indeed, as will be seen, the collector of these examples does so again and again himself.

We might discuss to what degree the mockery does or does not reflect reality (after correcting for exaggeration). I do not feel well-informed enough to judge this, but my own impression of the modern NAACP is at best mixed, and much of the implied criticism does apply to at least some parts of the modern Black movements (whether specifically to the NAACP, I leave unstated). This includes a “complaint mentality” and a “someone else is to blame mentality”.

If the text had been mocking “We Colored People” directly, a stronger case could have been made—but the hostile collector, who knows more about the context, and who would have gained from switching to a more general target, still claims that it is aimed only at the NAACP.

The one iffy point is “Please repeal the 13th and 14th Amendments and let us get back to where we belong.”, especially the second half. Indeed, in the context of colored people in general, this could have been taken as a statement supporting slavery or racism; in the context of the NAACP, however, it merely is a case of taking satire too far.

Overall, not hate and not worthy of censorship. If it is worthy of condemnation then for being unfair argumentation—not for being hate speech.

2. Preceding President Obama’s speech before a group of leading Democrats, Tea Party protesters heckled members of Congress, subjecting them to racist and hate filled epithets as well as physical abuse.

“A staffer for Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) told reporters that Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) had been spat on by a protestor. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a hero of the civil rights movement, was called a ‘ni-er.’ And Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) was called a “faggot,” as protestors shouted at him with deliberately lisp-y screams.”

This is certainly not hate speech. It is worthy of condemnation, and the spitting, if it actually hit, might conceivably even be a legitimate cause for involvement of the law. However, we cannot just take any evil deed and refer to it as “hate speech”. The worst part, the spitting, is not speech at all, of any kind; and even the shouting of slurs are barely speech to begin with. It would be unreasonable to extend the definition of hate speech to include such; and if it were included, it would make any discussion of hate speech seriously muddled.

This even assuming that the events are given with sufficient truthfulness, considering that there are several steps of hearsay involved, at least one involving someone partial (the “staffer”). Credibility is lost by obvious speculation (“deliberately lisp-y screams”).*

*Note to non-U.S. readers: There appears to be a U.S. stereotype of a “gay lisp”, which I, frankly, had never heard of myself until a few weeks ago.

The introduction by the collector is at best misleading*: It speaks of “racist and hate filled epithets” and “physical abuse”—the core description cites two instances of slurs and one instance of spitting… The “hate filled” part is, obviously, further speculation.

*Considering that this repeats again and again, I have to assume that it is deliberate.

I note that this type of behavior is otherwise common among the Left, the PC crowd, and whatnot—and is then often lauded as e.g. showing civil courage… (Cf. e.g. various U.S. events on college campuses, or Swedish events around the much attacked SD party.) It appears to be less fun when the tables are turned…

Addendum based on https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/03/20/tea-party-protests-nier-f_n_507116.html:

There is no additional information truly significant for this analysis. There are additional statements made, but these speak in generalities, without specific examples.

It appears that “The man who spat on the Congressman was arrested, but the Congressman has chosen not to press charges.”.

3. Michelle Bachmann signs pledge that says that black children were better off during slavery.

“Slavery had a disastrous impact on African-American families, yet sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA’s first African-American President.”

The quote given has no aspect of hate or otherwise inappropriate speech—it merely points to one thing that a child in slavery might have had that a modern might not. (As a divorce child, I can personal vouch for the negatives involved even for a child who is White and leaving in Sweden, with its extensive social-security protections.)

Moreover, in my best interpretation (in the lack of context), the intent is to criticize modern U.S. society and how it has failed these children. Slavery appears to be introduced as a means of contrast because it was bad—not as something that should be rehabilitated.

The introduction is grossly misleading and intellectually dishonest, likely implying the reverse of what Bachmann actually intended. The claim “signs pledge” is particularly atrocious (unless some type of pledge actually was signed). This is far worse than the NAACP mockery above: That was obviously an at least hyperbolic and exaggerated version of what the NAACP might have claimed and done. Here, in contrast, the claim is obviously intended to be taken entirely at face value.

4. Sharron Angle calls for “2nd Amendment Remedies” telling the Reno Gazette-Journal that people are quietly stockingup on ammunition in case they need to resort to insurrection or “fight for liberty” as she put it.

“Angle: I feel that the Second Amendment is the right to keep and bear arms for our citizenry. This not for someone who’s in the military. This not for law enforcement. This is for us. And in fact when you read that Constitution and the founding fathers, they intended this to stop tyranny. This is for us when our government becomes tyrannical… Manders: If we needed it at any time in history, it might be right now. Angle: Well it’s to defend ourselves. And you know, I’m hoping that we’re not getting to Second Amendment remedies. I hope the vote will be the cure for the Harry Reid problems.”

Again not a sliver of hate or otherwise condemnation-worthy speech. To boot, the interpretation of the Second Amendment, which could have been a weakness, matches my own impression of standard interpretation. (In other countries, the situation might have been very different, but not in the U.S.) I note the explicit expression of hope that “Second Amendment remedies” will not be necessary.

Again the introduction is highly misleading: Nothing in the quote implies that Angle calls for action—she merely justifies the action she and others might have taken or prepared to take. I repeat the observation that she hopes that action will not be needed—which is close to the opposite of calling for such action.

5. Tea Party hate speech runs amok in Wisconsin over their senatorial recall elections.

“I will tell you ladies and gentlemen, I detest and despise everything the left stands for. How anybody can endorse and embrace an ideology that has killed a billion people in the last century is beyond me,” said Tea Party Nation CEO Judson Phillips.

The quote largely expresses a personal political opinion and does not go beyond anything countless Democrats have said about the Republicans or the Tea Party. There might be hate, but if he actually had hated, chances are that he would have said “I hate” rather than “I detest”.

There are some potentially problematic aspects, largely hinging on exactly what he means by “left”, including whether “everything the left stands for” can be seen as narrow-minded (likely, if the U.S. Democrats are given consideration; but need not be the case, if he has his eyes set on more extreme parts of the left), and whether ascribing the killing of a billion* people to a single ideology is justifiable (depending e.g. on whether the U.S. Democrats are included and put on a level with Soviet Communists**). Here more context would be needed. However, even with a worst-case assumption, there is nothing that would justify actions like censorship. I note that there is no hint of e.g. a call to action to harm members of the Left, to limit them in their rights, whatnot.***

*This number seems exaggerated and its use could be another point of criticism, depending on why this number was used: Was it a deliberate lie to mislead the audience? (Very bad.) Was it just a hyperbolic expression, possibly in the heat of the moment, based on the at least tens of millions that have been killed by various Communist and Socialist dictatorships? (Poor style.) Does he have some type of reasonable calculation that does indicate this number to be true, e.g after including premature deaths by factors like hunger or a weak health-care system? (Possibly OK.)

**I note that the Left rarely hesitates when it comes to associating various opponents with far extremer opponents, e.g. those calling for reduced immigration with Nazis. Even if he were grouping e.g. U.S. Democrats and Soviet Communists together, he would not have been the one to start the abuse. (Which is not to defend it—just to point out that many accusations are more appropriate when raised at parts of the Left than when raised by them.)

***All things that the members of the Left have often suggested regarding their opponents.

Again, the introduction is highly misleading: Even if we were to consider this hate speech, there is nothing that can be considered running amok, even in a highly metaphorical sense.

Addendum based on https://www.politico.com/blogs/david-catanese/2011/08/tea-party-nation-the-lefts-killed-a-billion-people-038167:

There is no real additional information concerning the above, especially no actual discussion of “billion”.

There are some other claims made of (out of context) statements by Tea-Party supporters, but none that would qualify for e.g. censorship.

6. U.S. Rep. Steve King attacks Obama because of his middle name, Hussein.

“…his middle name (Hussein) does matter,” King said. “It matters because they read a meaning into that in the rest of the world. That has a special meaning to them. They will be dancing in the streets because of his middle name. They will be dancing in the streets because of who his father was and because of his posture that says: Pull out of the Middle East and pull out of this conflict.”

Not a shred of hate, not of obvious factual error (barring hyperbole and metaphor), nothing to condemn.

Again, the introduction is misleading: King has in no way attacked Obama with this statement.

Addendum based on http://www.spencerdailyreporter.com/story/1316727.html:

This is a fairly lengthy article, and I have only skimmed most of it. The parts surrounding the above quote (read in more detail), however, appear to conform my thoughts: King does not object to (let alone “attack”) Obama, per se, but is concerned with the impression of his possible* election on the rest of the world—in particular, the Islam world. We might see some of his concerns as exaggerated (“[Islamists] will be dancing in the streets in greater numbers than they did on September 11 because they will declare victory in this War on Terror.”); however, being wrong is not a crime.

*The article is dated “Saturday, March 8, 2008”.

7. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas, member of the Tea Party Caucus), is a birther who equated homosexuality with all kinds of insane behavior — too horrible to write here — during a debate on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Followed by not one shred of evidence. Some type of video appears to be linked, but does not play. Recall the repeated exaggerated introductions of those items where a text is actually given.

The claim “too horrible to write here” is a particularly weak excuse: By giving the video (had it worked) his words would still be included in the page, except that the reader now has a ton of extra effort to get to the point… To boot, a sensitive reader would likely be better of reading a claim that hearing it.

I note that exactly this type of attack, where a strongly negative claim is made and left without proof, is a very severe problem with accusations of hate speech.

Addendum based on https://talkingpointsmemo.com/dc/debating-hate-crimes-gohmert-rambles-on-about-bestiality-sex-with-corpses-voting-for-a-black-man:

The contents are confusing and incoherent. The text is obviously partial (as is seen by e.g. “rambles on”, in lieu of a more neutral formulation).

My best estimate of events is that Gohmert spoke against a ` “wide open” definition of sexual orientation’ (possibly as a reaction against homosexuality) by pointing to e.g. “bestiality” as something that must (also) be considered acceptable if a laissez-faire attitude was taken. This, in and by it self, is not worthy of criticism. It does, in particular and unlike implied by the collector, not necessarily put those who engage in homosexual acts and acts of bestiality, respectively, on the same level. Generally, trying to find fault with something by pointing to extremes that could be justified by the same type of reasoning is a perfectly valid method.

It also points to a recurring actual problem of arbitrariness of sex vs. sexcrime: Not long ago homosexuality was widely considered a gross perversion and/or outlawed even in the Western world (elsewhere this is still the case). Some countries have bans on bestiality; others do not. Some have bans on prostitution; others do not. Some historical societies (including some ancient Greek) have allowed pederasty or other cases of child–adult sex. Some Churches ban masturbation or extra-marital sex; others do not. Etc.

Now, I do believe that homosexuality should be perfectly legal; however, we have two basic alternatives: Either we do not draw a line anywhere (except for requiring consent) or we must make an ultimately arbitrary choice of where to draw that line. Who is to say that homosexuality should be legal and bestiality* not? If in doubt, it will boil down to a matter of numbers… We certainly cannot argue e.g. that “bestiality is obviously revolting”, because many will say the same thing about homosexuality, and then homosexuality is forbidden again…

*Considering that there are plenty of instances of dogs being the sexual pursuers towards humans, the need for consent cannot be used to rule out bestiality in a blanket manner.

I note that there was nothing in that article that was “too horrible to write here”.

8. Sarah Palin’s PAC puts gun sights on Democrats.

“This is just the first salvo in a fight to elect people across the nation who will bring common sense to Washington. Please go to sarahpac.com and join me in the fight.”


This is not only a claim free from anything that can be criticized as e.g. hate speech—it is positively tame by the standards of U.S. election campaigns! (Or is the collector stupid enough to believe that Palin actually implied aggressive use of real guns?!?)

Again, the introduction is misleading. Whether just a little or enormously so depends on whether “gun sights” is intended to be understood metaphorically or literally. If metaphorically, there is not even an unfair accusation of Palin that is worthy of inclusion; if literally, the entire page is discredited—either the collector is deeply, deeply stupid or horrifyingly intellectually dishonest.

Addendum based on https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/03/24/sarah-palins-pac-puts-gun_n_511433.html:

Apparently, “Palin’s Facebook page now carries a map featuring 20 gun sights, one for each of the Democrats targeted this year by her political action committee SarahPAC.”, which makes the claims by the collector potentially less insane: If these gun sights were overlaid on a portrait of the respective target, I could see how this might cause offense. However, this is not stated, and the use of “map” could imply that the gun sights were aimed at the respective state. (If so, nothing changes.)

However, even if portraits were used, this is on the outside tasteless; and unless someone interpreted this as a wish to literally shot political opponents, claims of e.g. “hate speech” are overblown. (Even discounting the question whether this can count as “speech” to begin with.)

To boot, if these gun sights were the concern of the collector, why did he not quote the sentence about the Facebook page?!?!

9. At the state level, we have Alabama state senator Scott Beason referring to blacks as “aborigines,” while wearing a wire. Its recording was later played at a bingo-related trial in Montgomery.

I am surprised Beason was so carelessly dense as to allow himself to make disparaging remarks about blacks while he was wearing the undercover wire he so wanted to wear.

And it wasn’t just Beason making the comments. A group of Republicans were sitting around, making jokes about the customers and employees of gambling establishments. At one point, state Rep. Ben Lewis of Dothan said the people at Greenetrack are “y’all’s Indians.”

Beason responded: “They’re aborigines, but they’re not Indians.”

In another incident, after opening a speech by saying that “illegal immigration will destroy a community” he closed it by advising his listeners to “empty the clip, and do what has to be done”.

There is too much speculation, with no reasonable support in actual quotes, and too little context for a certain interpretation; however, going by the text it self, the most likely interpretation is that Lewis said something about a group of “native Americans” (not Blacks!) using the older word “Indian”, and Beason corrected him by, correctly-but-unusually, saying that they were “aborigines”. This interpretation is strengthened by Greenetrack appearing to be some form of casino, and casinos often being a matter for “Indian reservations”. If so, there is nothing remarkable at all in the words used. (Except for “aborigine”, while perfectly correct, being an unusual word in the U.S.)

Even had they, however, been talking about Black people, this would merely have amounted to ignorance of terminology, which might be a reason to doubt competence levels—but not to ascribe e.g. hate speech.

The later claim that “illegal immigration will destroy a community”, points to a real potential problem with (large scale) illegal immigration. Had the claim been “could” instead of “will”, there would have been no reason to object; even the “will” falls within the realm of typical-for-a-politician exaggerations and over-generalizations, that are just as, or even more, common on the Left.

The one point that could be problematic is the concluding “empty the clip, and do what has to be done”. However, here the full context would be needed for interpretation, including whether he was metaphorical or literal, spoke of a legal or an illegal act, spoke of a gun clip (potentially: shot them down) or a money clip (potentially: give me money to build a wall), …

(This is an excellent example of why it is so important to have a reasonably large context—especially with people like the collector of this alleged “hate”, who seems very keen on distorting the actual events/statements/whatnot to unfairly attack or discredit his opponents.)

I stress that there is a major difference between legal and illegal immigration, as well as between the respective resistance to them.

Addendum based on http://blog.al.com/jkennedy/2011/06/joey_kennedy_scott_beason_hurt.html:

This is an amateur blog post, apparently with no journalistic or other aspirations. The contents have little more than what is given above, which appears to have been a direct quote. There is no new information, but plenty of derisive and insulting statements. The one interesting take-away is that the above language and likely errors of interpretation belong that blog post—not the collector.

10. Hate Filled Racist & Anti Semitic Signs

Again followed by nothing, except a non-playing video….

I note, however, that certain groups love to use phrases like “hate filled” that amount to speculation about the inner state of other people, and that can usually neither be proved or disproved… To boot they are, in this case, misapplied grammatically—a sign, unlike its maker or carrier, cannot be filled with hate (be racist, be Anti-Semitic, whatnot).

Summary: In all, there is just one example (item 2) that actually comes across as so bad as to warrant intervention—and that example is still not hate speech. Most of the rest are nonsense or rely on additional, unproved and often unstated, assumptions, to even be relevant. This in a text that promises “10 Shocking Examples Of Tea Party Hate-Speech”…

If these examples are taken as a basis, hate speech is not much of an issue. Certainly, the common claim that the “Right” would be the source of most hate speech would fall flat on its back, because the Left and the PC crowd (feminists in particular) do worse quite often.*

*Unfortunately, I have probably never treated this topic in detail, usually being more interested in faulty or intellectually dishonest argumentation and censorship. However, [5] provides an example of feminist “debating” where I was involved myself—as might some similar or related texts. At least two texts briefly mention death wishes towards opponents: [6], [7]. Some texts, including [8], discuss other problems, including physical misbehavior, that the collector might have (mis-)defined as hate speech.

I also note that the page contains the claim “Yet, if one takes a look at some of their statements over the years – one is reminded of the admonition to beware of pointing a finger at someone because 4 are pointing back at yourself.”, to which I feel forced to answer: One should sometimes take one’s own advice.

Written by michaeleriksson

July 21, 2018 at 12:40 pm

Hate speech II: Analysis of alleged Israeli examples

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Preamble: This is the second part in a series. For an understanding of the motivations, rough criteria, terminology, general take on the topic, etc., please read the first part.


  • The examples are taken from http://realnews247.com/examples_of_hate_speech.htm, original title “EXAMPLES OF HATE SPEECH”.
  • The numbering is preserved from the original. Some amount of change might have been made to formatting and typography. The contents themselves have been copy-and-pasted, and (barring accidental over-correction with the spell-checker) all language problems, bracketed comments, and whatnots were already present.
  • The quotes are given by an opponent and have often traveled over several instances, both of which imply that they might have been distorted before they arrived here. Below, I will silently take the quotes as correct, but I extend the warning that this is not necessarily the case.
  • There is minimal or no context, which makes the exact interpretation tricky. While I do repeatedly address context below, I am unlikely to have done so consistently at all points where it is needed, and the reader is encouraged to keep this problem in mind. (Note that the same sentence, even individual words, can have very different interpretations depending on context. Consider “One more step and you are dead!” said by a robber to a victim, by an explosives expert to someone standing in a minefield, and by one child to another.)
  • Many of these examples likely originated in Hebrew (or another non-English language). Throughout, it is important to keep in mind that the translation into English might have changed something for the worse. Similarly, there might be issues of idiom that give a false impression, which is also to keep in mind. (Consider e.g. several animal comparisons below, which might or might not give a different impression to a Jew or someone from Israel. By analogy, the English (and Biblical) expression “pearls before swine” indicates, usually derogatorily, an inability to appreciate something—but it does not otherwise compare someone to a swine.)

1. “There is a huge gap between us (Jews) and our enemies -not just in ability but in morality, culture, sanctity of life, and conscience. They are our neighbors here, but it seems as if at a distance of a few hundred meters away, there are people who do not belong to our continent, to our world, but actually belong to a different galaxy.” Israeli president Moshe Katsav. The Jerusalem Post, May 10, 2001

There is no sign of hate.* Assuming factual correctness, there is nothing worthy of disapproval (short of diplomacy).

*See an excursion on hate in the first part for why I do not discuss e.g. contempt, which seems quite likely to be present in this case. (However, even claiming contempt amounts to speculation.)

The factual correctness, in turn, could very well be acceptable, e.g. when looking at some neighboring Arab countries. Certainly, groups like Hamas have done nothing to remove credibility from the claim. (Reservations have to be made for exactly who is included in “our enemies”, however.) That there is a considerable difference in many aspects of morality, culture, etc. is hard to dispute. There is room to dispute which version is the better, but the quote does not make any explicit claim in this regard— and I suspect that an overwhelming majority of the Western population would prefer the Jewish versions.

Ability is a more controversial topic. However, absent more detailed information about what the speaker means by “ability”, it is hard to fault the claim: There are a number of meanings and interpretations in which a huge gap in ability is (or is very likely to be) present, as can be seen e.g. by the respective number of outstanding scientists, average I.Q., economic progress, success at warfare, and similar. (There is still room to discuss why there is a difference in ability and, e.g., whether it will disappear over time. However, the quote does not make any claim in this area and cannot be faulted.)

The statements are potentially vulnerable to an accusation of over-generalization. However, since the quote speaks of groups and not individuals, this is not very dire; and even statements normally considered harmless can fall short of the ideal in this regard, and do not necessarily reflect the level of insight or the intended message of the speaker. (For most of the remainder, I will not explicitly go into this sub-topic, leaving a corresponding reservation implicit.)

(Unfortunately, I suspect that some irrational readers will go through something approximating “he claims that there are differences between groups of people; ergo, he is a racist; ergo, he is wrong, evil, and should be banned from speaking”.)

2. “The Palestinians are like crocodiles, the more you give them meat, they want more”…. Ehud Barak, Prime Minister of Israel at the time – August 28, 2000. Reported in the Jerusalem Post August 30, 2000

If by “Palestinians” e.g. some organization or official counter-part is intended (Hamas, PLO, …), and if the analogy with crocodiles refers specifically to the meat as a metaphor for a hunger for Israeli compromises and retreats, then the claim could be entirely beyond reproach.

If not, it could conceivably have a hate component and it could conceivably be unfair; however, nowhere near to such a degree that e.g. censorship is warranted.

3. ” [The Palestinians are] beasts walking on two legs.” Menahim Begin, speech to the Knesset, quoted in Amnon Kapeliouk, “Begin and the Beasts”. New Statesman, 25 June 1982.

Likely a genuine case of speech worthy of disapproval, but not to the point of allowing censorship. Hate is not obvious.

Even here, however, reservations have to be made, especially if this is a translation. For instance, within the English language, the claim “humans [in general] are beasts walking on two legs” could be a mere biological or philosophical observation.

4. “The Palestinians” would be crushed like grasshoppers … heads smashed against the boulders and walls.” ” Isreali Prime Minister (at the time) in a speech to Jewish settlers New York Times April 1, 1988

Unfortunately, this quote lacks too much context to be interpretable; however, it sounds more like a statement of own strength or a re-assurance for someone who fears a Palestinian attack—should the Palestinians attack, they would be crushed, etc. In this case, it is hard to see something that is even remotely hateful, worthy of censorship, or similar.

5. “When we have settled the land, all the Arabs will be able to do about it will be to scurry around like drugged cockroaches in a bottle.” Raphael Eitan, Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defence Forces, New York Times, 14 April 1983.

Apart from an undiplomatic formulation, the claim it self is harmless. The gist appears to be that once settlement has taken place, the Arabs would be helpless to change the situation, which might quite possibly have been true or believed to be true by the speaker. More worthy of discussion would be whether the mentioned settlements* were justifiable, however, that has no effect on the evaluation of the quote.

*If the type of settlement outside of Israel proper is meant, which causes so much controversy today, the answer could conceivably be “no”.

Note that the Arabs are not claimed to be cockroaches, or generally likened to them; what takes place is a comparison of situation and ability to act in that situation.

6. “How can we return the occupied territories? There is nobody to return them to.” Golda Meir, March 8, 1969.

I have doubts as to whether this claim is factually true; however, there is nothing that could reasonably be considered e.g. hateful or worthy of disapproval in it. (And my doubts could be faulty: Golda Meir would have been in a far better position to judge the matter than I am.)

7. “There was no such thing as Palestinians, they never existed.” Golda Maier Israeli Prime Minister June 15, 1969

The word “Palestinian” has a confused history and has historically even been used to refer to Jews. The modern meaning appears to have been introduced (unilaterally by the PLO) through the Palestinian National Charter as late as 1968. The quote is dated in 1969, which implies both that the quote can be seen as (at the time) correct and that there might have been very strong legitimate controversy around the term “Palestinian”.

Apart from factual correctness there is nothing that can reasonably be attacked.

8. “The thesis that the danger of genocide was hanging over us in June 1967 and that Israel was fighting for its physical existence is only bluff, which was born and developed after the war.” Israeli General Matityahu Peled, Ha’aretz, 19 March 1972.

Not only is this statement perfectly harmless (unless untrue)—it actually puts Israel in a negative light, implying e.g. that it had engaged in historical revisionism.

9. David Ben Gurion (the first Israeli Prime Minister): “If I were an Arab leader, I would never sign an agreement with Israel. It is normal; we have taken their country. It is true God promised it to us, but how could that interest them? Our God is not theirs. There has been Anti – Semitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault ? They see but one thing: we have come and we have stolen their country. Why would they accept that?” Quoted by Nahum Goldmann in Le Paraddoxe Juif (The Jewish Paradox), pp121.

Again, nothing that could be even remotely considered hate or worthy of condemnation. On the contrary, it shows and asks for understanding for the Arab position!

9a. Ben Gurion also warned in 1948 : “We must do everything to insure they ( the Palestinians) never do return.” Assuring his fellow Zionists that Palestinians will never come back to their homes. “The old will die and the young will forget.”

The underlying policy of preventing return might* be criticized; however, the statement it self appears harmless and cannot be hate speech. The part “The old will die”, notably, is merely a statement of consequence of the policy: The older people, who would be more interested than the younger in returning to their homes, will eventually die (naturally, of old age, whatnot), and will then cease to be a source of protest. There is no implication that they e.g. should be lined up and shot.

*In the heated situation, such measures might have been a (real or perceived) political necessity. More information would be needed to judge this.

10. “We have to kill all the Palestinians unless they are resigned to live here as slaves.” Chairman Heilbrun of the Committee for the Re-election of General Shlomo Lahat, the mayor of Tel Aviv, October 1983.

Finally, something that not only truly is worthy of condemnation, but which might* even be worthy of legal restrictions. Even here, however, a hate component is speculative—a willingness or even wish to kill someone is not necessarily rooted in hate; ditto other evil deeds.**

*Note that I (here and elsewhere) speak of the statement, not the implied actions. Should these actions be realized, we land in a very different discussion.

**But, in all fairness, the presence or absence of hate is quite secondary with such an extreme statement.

(With reservations for the lack of context.)

11. “Every time we do something you tell me America will do this and will do that . . . I want to tell you something very clear: Don’t worry about American pressure on Israel. We, the Jewish people, control America, and the Americans know it.” – Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, October 3, 2001, to Shimon Peres, as reported on Kol Yisrael radio. (Certainly the FBI’s cover-up of the Israeli spy ring/phone tap scandal suggests that Mr. Sharon may not have been joking.

Cannot by any stretch be seen as hate speech or otherwise worthy of disapproval (except in as far as it could be damaging to Israeli–U.S. relations or be factually untrue). If there is anything derogatory about it at all, it is also directed towards the U.S.—not the Arabs or Palestinians.

12. “We declare openly that the Arabs have no right to settle on even one centimeter of Eretz Israel… Force is all they do or ever will understand. We shall use the ultimate force until the Palestinians come crawling to us on all fours.” Rafael Eitan, Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defense Forces – Gad Becker, Yediot Ahronot 13 April 1983, New York Times 14 April 1983.

In these three sentences, we have: Firstly, a statement of opinion that many others will disagree with, but which is within the realm of freedom of opinion and not open to any other objection than disagreement. Secondly, a derogatory generalization; which, however, is made understandable if we look at the history of Israel up to that point; and which is neither hate nor worthy of censorship. Thirdly, something which, depending on context and intention, might be a harmless statement about self-defense, a promise of mindless aggression, or anything in between. Lacking the context, a conclusive evaluation is not possible.

13. “We must do everything to ensure they [the Palestinian refugees] never do return” David Ben-Gurion, in his diary, 18 July 1948, quoted in Michael Bar Zohar’s Ben-Gurion: the Armed Prophet, Prentice-Hall, 1967, p. 157.

This seems to be a variation of one of the statements in 9a (or the same statement outright).

15. “We should prepare to go over to the offensive. Our aim is to smash Lebanon, Trans-Jordan, and Syria. The weak point is Lebanon, for the Moslem regime is artificial and easy for us to undermine. We shall establish a Christian state there, and then we will smash the Arab Legion, eliminate Trans-Jordan; Syria will fall to us. We then bomb and move on and take Port Said, Alexandria and Sinai.” David Ben-Gurion, May 1948, to the General Staff. From Ben-Gurion, A Biography, by Michael Ben-Zohar, Delacorte, New York 1978.

This is a description of a military strategy—not hate or something worthy of condemnation. Note the year and the then situation, as well as the implication of the first sentence: Israel had hitherto been on the defensive—and was indeed fighting a war of self-defense. (See also an excursion on war in the first part.)

16. “We must use terror, assassination, intimidation, land confiscation, and the cutting of all social services to rid the Galilee of its Arab population.” Israel Koenig, “The Koenig Memorandum”

A second instance of true awfulness, both in terms of the stated end and the means to that end; possibly, even something relevant for the law. It is not a given, however, that an element of actual hate is present—it could equally well be what is seen as pragmatic necessity.

17. “Jewish villages were built in the place of Arab villages. You do not even know the names of these Arab villages, and I do not blame you because geography books no longer exist. Not only do the books not exist, the Arab villages are not there either. Nahlal arose in the place of Mahlul; Kibbutz Gvat in the place of Jibta; Kibbutz Sarid in the place of Huneifis; and Kefar Yehushua in the place of Tal al-Shuman. There is not a single place built in this country that did not have a former Arab population.” Moshe Dayan, address to the Technion, Haifa, reported in Haaretz, April 4, 1969.

Again nothing, barring factual correctness, even remotely problematic. It might describe an existing problematic situation, but that cannot be considered hate speech. Indeed, if anything, the statement puts the Israelis in a negative light.

18. “We walked outside, Ben-Gurion accompanying us. Allon repeated his question, What is to be done with the Palestinian population?’ Ben-Gurion waved his hand in a gesture which said ‘Drive them out!'” Yitzhak Rabin, leaked censored version of Rabin memoirs, published in the New York Times, 23 October 1979.

Far too little context to make a judgment. The result could be anything from something harmless to something in great violation of human rights. However, there is no indication of hate and, barring additional information, no obvious reason to e.g. censor it.

19. Rabin’s description of the conquest of Lydda, after the completion of Plan Dalet. “We shall reduce the Arab population to a community of woodcutters and waiters” Uri Lubrani, PM Ben-Gurion’s special adviser on Arab Affairs, 1960. From “The Arabs in Israel” by Sabri Jiryas.

For starters, I am seriously confused as to who is supposed to have made this claim. Rabin? Lubrani? Similarly, it is unclear how many hands it has been through.

There is no obvious sign of hate. There might (more likely) or might not (less likely) be something worthy of condemnation—depending on the context.

20. “There are some who believe that the non-Jewish population, even in a high percentage, within our borders will be more effectively under our surveillance; and there are some who believe the contrary, i.e., that it is easier to carry out surveillance over the activities of a neighbor than over those of a tenant. [I] tend to support the latter view and have an additional argument:…the need to sustain the character of the state which will henceforth be Jewish…with a non-Jewish minority limited to 15 percent. I had already reached this fundamental position as early as 1940 [and] it is entered in my diary.” Joseph Weitz, head of the Jewish Agency’s Colonization Department. From Israel: an Apartheid State by Uri Davis, p.5.

The first half of the quote is just an abstract discussion of opinions of what situations have what consequences, with no sign of hate, no actions that could in anyway be criticized, no disputable issues.*

*Objections might be raised against surveillance; however, the quote does not say that surveillance is something good—it merely discusses ease and effectiveness. I also do not think that the despicable “Big Brother” meaning was intended, but rather e.g. the keeping of an eye on enemy leaders and enemy organizations. To boot, surveillance might have been or been seen as a pragmatic necessity at the time. (It is not obvious when the claim was made; however, from the mention of 1940 with regard to the same speaker, it seems reasonable to assume that it fell within a time when there was a constant war threat or actual war.)

The second half remains free from hate and actions, but could conceivably be disputed due to the “15 percent”: Is such a restriction justifiable?* However, there is nothing that could require e.g. censorship.

*Answering this question would require more context: For instance, if reaching this target involved forcefully evicting Palestinians already legally present, it does not look good. On the other hand, if this is achieved by encouraging Jewish immigration and discouraging non-Jewish immigration, it might be perfectly fine. (Note that the Jewish immigration to Israel was very large for long stretches of time, making the latter possibility far more plausible than in most other countries.)

21. “Everybody has to move, run and grab as many hilltops as they can to enlarge the settlements because everything we take now will stay ours… Everything we don’t grab will go to them.” Ariel Sharon, Israeli Foreign Minister, addressing a meeting of militants from the extreme right-wing Tsomet Party, Agence France Presse, November 15, 1998.

Merely a statement of tactics or of cause and consequence. From appearances, the grabbing refers to areas not occupied by others with no true harm done to anyone. The ethics of settlements (if outside Israel) can, again, be disputed; however, not to such a degree that e.g. censorship is warranted or hate can be diagnosed.

22. “It is the duty of Israeli leaders to explain to public opinion, clearly and courageously, a certain number of facts that are forgotten with time. The first of these is that there is no Zionism,colonialization or Jewish State without the eviction of the Arabs and the expropriation of their lands.” Yoram Bar Porath, Yediot Aahronot, of 14 July 1972.

This seems like a mere statement of fact, even an admitting of certain evils that were necessary to create Israel—possibly even, depending on context, a call for compassion and understanding towards mistreated Arabs. There is no hate and (likely) nothing to disapprove of.

I am not a fan of eviction and expropriation, except in the extreme circumstances; however, they likely were necessary to implement the internationally agreed plans, and criticism should then be directed towards these plans. (I do not yet have an opinion on whether the situation behind the plans was such as to be “extreme circumstances”.)

23. “Spirit the penniless population across the frontier by denying it employment… Both the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly.” Theodore Herzl, founder of the World Zionist Organization, speaking of the Arabs of Palestine,Complete Diaries, June 12, 1895 entry.

The actions implied are problematic, especially since Herzl (presumably) wrote with an eye at the future. This is a strong candidate for condemnation, but not censorship. There is no sign of hate.

(However, in fairness to Herzl it should be added that he wrote in a time when e.g. waging war to gain land, colonizing less developed countries, whatnot, was still widely considered acceptable. A use as e.g. anti-Israel rhetoric, which might be the intention of the collector, would be highly misleading through this alone. The more so, as the statement pre-dates Israel by more than fifty years…)

24. “One million Arabs are not worth a Jewish fingernail.” – Rabbi Yaacov Perrin, Feb. 27, 1994 [Source: N.Y. Times, Feb. 28, 1994, p. 1]

A rare case where the label “hate” actually is plausible—or it might just be “contempt”. It is worthy of condemnation for being ridiculously out of line with reality;* however, not of censorship.

*I assume that the claim was not followed by e.g. “So feel free to kill them.”, because if it had been, it would be astonishing if the collector had not included that part.

Summary: While there are instances that involve hate, they are few. Ditto those worthy of legal action or censorship. More are perfectly harmless. The collector draws on one of the most controversial and extended conflicts in modern time, and while he has taken the trouble to draw examples from a very wide time-frame (the oldest example is from 1895!), he still had to resort to the inclusion of nonsensical cases… (Also note the remarks at the beginning of the text and the excursion on war in the first part, which could put yet another light on these cases.) The bar of entry is surprisingly low;* and even the average level is not high enough to indicate that the supposed hate-speech epidemic would need severe counter-measures.

*Compare the motivation given in the first part.

Excursion on the worst examples:
It might be tempting to point at the worst examples to motivate counter-measures. However, in order to get that proportion, even among these examples, high enough to justify the current demands, we would need to turn most “could-be-bad-depending-on-context” cases into “bad” cases. Moreover, the proportion of similarly bad cases among those currently accused of being hate speech on the Internet is likely to be considerably lower: Firstly, the character of the Israeli situation and the Israel–Arab conflicts imply that the likelihood of extremer statements is considerably increased (cf. various remarks). Secondly, there is good reason to assume that the above list was cherry-picked for the greatest possible effect, exaggerating the proportion even compared to other alleged Israeli hate speech from the same time periods. Thirdly, many of the examples are decades or more old, making predictions generally hard to perform; and, with a more PC climate, likely to err on the side of over-estimation. (Unsurprisingly, this is supported by the examples looked upon in the third part.)

Written by michaeleriksson

July 21, 2018 at 12:38 pm

Hate speech I: Introduction and general discussion

with 2 comments

Preamble: This started with the intention of writing one post, analyzing alleged examples of hate speech. However, with a continual wish for some additional point of explanation here-and-there, the text (and time consumption…) eventually grew out of hand, while the general/introductory part moved far beyond the original intentions. Correspondingly, the overall text was eventually broken into three parts, dealing with respectively the more general matter (here), the “Israeli” examples, and the “Tea-Party” examples. I have also tried to put the breaks on the general part, in order to diminish further growth; and I have not reworked it to the degree that might have been beneficial for a stand-alone document. Note that the belated division can have caused some undiscovered complications with optimal placement of text, internal references, or similar.

Even before the recent obsession with “Internet hate”, “hate speech”, whatnot, I had seen many, many cases of accusations of hate, sexism, racism, and various other “isms” that were entirely unfounded (and a small minority that were not)—often leaving the impression of deliberate attempts to artificially discredit opponents. (See also a number of older texts, including the more general discussions in e.g. [1], [2], [3].) Correspondingly, I have been skeptical to this obsession from the start; especially, since there has been no reason to expect a so fast and drastic change in the behavior of the alleged haters, and since a gradual intensification of the misbehavior of the accusers seems more likely a priori—in particular, as they have seen success after success when applying this type of attack in the past.

This skepticism has been increased by alleged instances normally being reported entirely without examples*—and by the few examples that do occur often being highly unconvincing (as in [4]).

*I.e. X claims that Y has engaged in hate speech, used “hate filled” expressions, made sexist/racist/whatnot statements—but does not provide one sliver of proof. We are apparently supposed to just take X’s claim as truth, which is an absolute absurdity in light of the many historical abuses. I am usually moved to the opposite conclusion: X has not provided evidence—because there is no convincing evidence to provide.

I decided to do a brief Internet search to find some more explicit examples of alleged “hate speech”, in order to indirectly probe the potential scope of the problem and whether drastic counter-measures like censorship or legal persecution might be legitimate (outside of rare exceptional cases). I soon found two* pages containing a total of 34** alleged cases, relating to Israel/Jews/Zionists resp. the “Tea Party”. These examples (discussed below) stem from collectors that are clearly hostile to these groups and who have had the opportunity to hand-pick the worst of the worst (in the former case, going back as far as 1895). In other words, it can be reasonably assumed that the examples fall solidly and unmistakably within what the collectors consider hate speech—not being border-line cases, mere filler to puff out a list of more serious utterances, or something that they would be afraid to include as “evidence” in e.g. a news paper.

*The restriction to two sources is a methodological weakness, and my conclusions would be stronger with a wider variety. However, (a) there are limits to even my time, (b) both sources have an approach very similar to what I have seen in the past, which lessens my concern. The “Israeli” source actually includes more valid examples than I am used to seeing.

**With some reservations for the exact division of cases. Consider the complication around 9, 9a, and 13 among the “Israeli” examples, and possible other deviations from a sensible division.

Correspondingly, these examples give an opportunity to find an upper* estimate of the bar for what passes** as hate speech.

*The real bar could conceivable be considerably lower.

**Note that the purpose is not to discuss whether hate speech and whatnot exists—denying the existence would be ridiculous in the light of e.g. ISIS. The point is rather to check the claims of the scope and the severity for plausibility by investigating the bar for inclusion: A too low bar makes the claims implausible, because it becomes clear that the size of the problem (or “problem”) is massively artificially increased. (This is also the reason why the older “Israeli” examples remain relevant: They are not recent utterances, but they are utterances that have recently been classified as hate speech by someone.)

As it turns out (cf. the more detailed analyses), few cases are bad enough to warrant counter-measures other than factual arguments—and few actually can be considered hate (see an excursion on the relevance of actual hate below).* The “Israeli” source contains some cases with more substance than the “Tea-Party” source; however, this should be seen in light of the very long time span, the intensity of the conflict (also see an excursion on war below), and similar factors—not to mention some far worse statements from Israel’s enemies… To boot, even the “Israeli” source contains a considerable proportion of nonsensical examples. Even going by the “Israeli” standard of inclusion, the claims around hate speech and Internet hate seem overblown; going by the “Tea-Party” standard of inclusion, they most definitely are.

*Which is not automatically to say that the other claims are perfectly fine to make—just that they are not so bad that there is reason to e.g. demand censorship. They can still be rude, narrow-minded, counterproductive, cold-hearted, whatnot. (However, a large proportion of them actually are perfectly fine.)

I originally intended to make an analysis according to a set of more elaborate criteria; however, I found this to be extremely hard due to the great room left to interpretation in many of the examples, as well as the great diversity of examples. Instead, I opted for a freer discussion, often informally using two dimensions: Firstly, is the message (with a high degree of likelihood; not just the possibility) an expression of hate (yes/no). Secondly, irrespective of the presence or absence of hate, what counter-measures might be reasonable (none/mere disapproval* or condemnation/censorship**/legal intervention***). In addition, discussions of factual correctness can take place, seeing that statements that contain a considerable**** factual error can have an undue effect, and that there is at least some risk that the error is a deliberate distortion. (However, note that such errors can also merely be a sign of ignorance.) In reverse, I will never accept the classification of a factually correct statement as e.g. “hate speech”—no matter how inconvenient it might be for e.g. the PC movement.

*In terms of e.g. how (un-)diplomatically something is conveyed, what methods of “agitation” or similar might be used, whether suggestions made are ethically hard to defend, etc. A disapproval in terms of e.g. “I have a different opinion; ergo, I disapprove” is not intended—otherwise more-or-less any debate could be considered a steady stream of hate speech from both parties.

**With some reservations for context. Here my focus is on public forums and comparable situations (including TV debates, blog entries and comments, comments on articles in online news-papers, and similar), provided that there is some pertinence to the statement. Censorship might still be warranted due to a lack of topic connection (even for harmless utterances, e.g. repeated comments concerning cars on a blog post about butterflies); and there might be some rare combination of forum and utterance where exceptional rules can apply (e.g. discussions of BDSM on a forum for pre-teens; however, not based on e.g. “some reader might be offended” or “we do no tolerate dissent”, which will defeat the purpose of a public forum). Governmental forums in a Rechtsstaat must be as forgiving as possible; strictly private forums, intended for a small and closed circle, and not even readable by others, could be allowed stricter and/or more arbitrary rules.

***Note that this should not be seen as a claim about the actual laws in any given country—it is a statement of what laws could legitimately be present in a Rechtsstaat: Could the laws be such that this statement is illegal with an eye at a reasonable protection of free speech? (Note that I do not automatically say that it should be illegal: It is better to err on the side of too much free speech than the reverse.) In particular, I make no comparison with the actual laws in Germany and Sweden, who both have unduly strong restrictions on free speech.

****For instance, claiming that 80% of all convicts are X, when the true number is 20%, is almost certain to distort the implications heavily. On the other hand, claiming 30% will in many contexts leave the big-picture implications the same, and is far easier to forgive. (But deliberate distortions of numbers are not acceptable, even when minor.)

I very deliberately do not use criteria like “is rude”, “is tasteless”, or “could offend someone”: All would reduce free speech far too much, are far too subjective, and at least the third commits the indefensible error of only looking at the result* of an utterance and ignoring the importance of the intent. To boot, such criteria could all too easily be deliberately abused to silence dissent, e.g. through feigning offense.

*If only the experience of the listener is important, there is basically no utterance that can be safely made, as is proved by the extremely thin skin, “triggerability”, and even deliberate search for offense that is common in some PC circles (notably in U.S. colleges).

I also do not (or only very rarely) consider issues of disagreement with overreaching goals, priorities of society, and similar. For instance, having the opinion that Israel has or does not have the right to exist, must be beyond legal and moral reproach—as is the case with all or almost all sheer opinions.* By extension, suggesting means to ensure the wanted outcome that are in proportion to the circumstances** must also be beyond reproach. Condemning someone because of disagreements with such goals and whatnots must be reserved for exceptional cases (e.g. the goal to exterminate all Jews); condemnation of the means must be reserved for those not in proportion to the circumstances. In particular, the accusation of “hate speech” must never become a means to conveniently silence dissent from some PC (or other) opinion just for being dissent.

*But considering someone an idiot for having the wrong opinion for a poor reason remains legitimate.

**Exactly what this entails is too large a question for this text, involving e.g. protection of rights of others, what hostile measures from others require counter-action, and similar. (To boot, there is some room to discuss whether a mere suggestion can be condemnable, or only the implementation of that suggestion; however, I will ignore that for now.) A few reasonably obvious examples concerning the wish to have an apple, however: Buying an apple is OK. Hitting a robber trying to steal an apple (that one already has) is OK. Hitting an innocent bystander in order to take his apple is not OK.

Excursion on the relevance of hate:
Whether actual hate is present, or merely e.g. loathing or contempt, can make a quite large difference in the implications: Hate can easily lead to active intervention against someone, even murder and terrorism, while e.g. loathing only very rarely does. (And when it does, usually to a far lesser degree of extremity.) To boot, hate says more about the hater than loathing does about the loather.

Claiming “hate” also makes highly speculative assumptions about the motivations and the inner state of the speaker, something dubious in it self; and implying that someone who e.g. verbally “attacks” (cf. below) automatically feels hate is unconscionable.

Correspondingly, it is very dubious to use formulations like “hate speech” where hate is not obviously present. A statement might very well still be worthy of condemnation and counter-measures, but if there is no actual hate, the use of “hate speech” distorts the situation in an intellectually dishonest (or incompetent) manner. In these cases, other names should be used.*

*Exactly which depends on the individual case, and I will not even try to create a guide. However, some possibilities include “derogatory speech”, “agitating speech”, and “hostile speech”. (Following the same naming schema. It might well be better to ignore the schema in favor of simpler and more common constructs, e.g. “agitation”.)

Nevertheless, exactly such uses seem to be programmatic in Leftist and PC propaganda. I also looked at some attempts to define the phrase “hate speech”, and found an inclusion of the word “hate”, or another implication of hate, in these definitions to be far from universal… For instance, at the time of writing, the first sentence of the Wikipedia article on hate speech reads “Hate speech is speech that attacks a person or group on the basis of attributes such as race, religion, ethnic origin, national origin, gender, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity.”, which does not necessitate even loathing, let alone hate. Indeed, “attacks” it is so vague that even perfectly legitimate expressions of opinion, or even very harmless derogatory statements, could be considered hate speech by some interpreters.*

*This points to another common problem, namely the use of a very wide definition to establish the scope of something—and another definition (or impression of a definition) to establish consequences. A good example is some treatments of rape in feminist propaganda. If we, for instance and for the sake of argument, consider “white men can’t jump” to be hate speech and use such examples to establish a very wide occurrence of hate speech, we cannot then require drastic measures against hate speech. Such measures would simply be entirely out of proportion in the vast majority of cases, often even punishing something that does not deserve any punishment.

More generally, a metaphoric, extended, or, in some sense, convenient use of words in situations like these is not defensible, due to the risk that false impressions are created. Consider similarly the feminist nonsense expression “rape culture”, which calls forth all the associations of rape—yet has virtually nothing to do with it… (As an aside, if PC application of the phrase “hate speech” would be applied fairly to everyone, feminist claims of a “rape culture” certainly would qualify as hate speech—as might “hate speech”, it self…)

Excursion on good and bad faith:
I note that many of the investigated examples require some involvement of bad faith, either on behalf of the collectors or in their preconceptions of those quoted*. Some of the quotes are so obviously not worthy of criticism that no reasonable and objective third-party would have considered them problematic; others require a choice of interpretation that varies between the implausible and just-one-of-several-possible; others yet point to poor research**, likely in the conviction that no research was needed (because “X is evil”).

*As in “X is evil; ergo, he spoke maliciously/with hate; ergo, he must have meant Y and not Z.”, while someone who does not have the same preconceptions might more easily chose Z over X.

**Consider e.g. the 7th “Israeli” item, where it is conceivable that the collector simply jumped to the conclusion that Meir engaged in historical revisionism, “ethnicity denial”, or considered the Palestinians such scum that they were not worthy of consideration—but where even brief research would have given a very, very different interpretation.

In my analyses, I have tended towards an assumption of good faith, possibly more so than I normally do. This for two reasons: Firstly, I generally recommend the application of Hanlon’s Razor. Secondly, I see it as important to apply in dubio pro reo when investigating these types of condemnations—in the presence of several reasonable interpretations of a statement, only one of them has to be acquitting in order to acquit. This especially since the quotes have been taken out of context* by the accusers, that the accusers had the opportunity to include more context*, that it is up to the accuser to prove guilt, and that the accused have no opportunity to defend themselves. (In the specific case of Leftist and PC debaters, I have seen distortion of opponents’ statements and opinions on countless occasions over several decades and in several countries—often in manner that is obviously deliberate. The “Tea-Party” examples, cf. the third part, contain a number of such distortions.)

*As I proof-read the other parts, I see that I have, there, used “context” in different meanings, e.g. textual context, historical context, context of speech. All of these are to some degree vulnerable to these complications; however, the degree varies. In the case of textual context the vulnerability and the risk of (deliberate or accidental) distortion are usually the largest; and textual context was my original intention when writing the above. However, when leaving out another type of context distorts the implications and reasonable interpretations of a quote, the same applies.

Excursion on war (and similar conditions):
Many of the “Israeli” examples stem from a time of great and violent conflict, possibly outright war, and often (mostly?) with the Israelis as the attacked party. In these cases, an additional “benefit of the doubt” must be given, compared to the analyses in their current state: In a hard fight, actions might be necessary that would otherwise be condemnable, and to consider speaking of such necessary evils to be hate speech is absurd. Notably, if the actions go beyond what is justifiable even in hard fight, the actions should be criticized without wasting time on the words.

Written by michaeleriksson

July 21, 2018 at 12:36 pm

Yet another firing based on opinion

with 3 comments

Browsing the pages of SVT teletext, I encountered a very disturbing entry*, dealing with events at Kalmar HC, a lower-level Swedish ice-hockey team:

*The source does not provide permanent content; however, I have saved a copy locally, should anyone require the full Swedish text.

Its trainer, one Duane Smith, has been fired for expressing private opinions on Twitter, with no immediate relation to the team or his work.

It is claimed that he made at least ten relevant statements*. Two** quotes are given, “Nigeria är världens aidshuvudstad” (“Nigeria is the aids capital of the world”) and “Fuck Islam” (no translation needed).

*“inlägg”: This is vague term that could mean different things in different contexts. I chose “statements” as a similarly vague English term. In context, “tweets” is probably what is meant.

**Note that if some of the other quotes were, in some sense, worse, it is reasonable to assume that they would have been used instead. Most likely, these two statements were those considered the most convincing. (While, cf. below, not being convincing at all…)

In the body of the text, it is claimed that he has expressed xenophobe opinions (“uttryckt främlingsfientliga åsikter”); the heading speaks of racist statements (“rasistiska inlägg”).

Looking at the two given statements, it is clear that neither can be considered racist or xenophobe in it self. Further, that even ascribing a racist or xenophobe motivation is pure speculation*. (The same applies to the alleged violation of KHC’s values. Cf. below.)

*With reservation for information not present in the entry. However, if such information was present, it would be inexcusable to not present it correspondingly, instead giving two quotes that do not support the claims. It is possible that Duane Smith is racist, but it is up to the “prosecution” to prove it.

The first claim comes close to being factually true*, does not (alone) contain any type of value statement, and could, depending on context, be seen as a factual observation or even something supportive of e.g. Nigeria**. Would there have been much outrage if he had said “The U.S. is the crime capital of the world”? Highly unlikely, even though this claim is further from the truth.

*According to Wikipedia “Nigeria has the second-largest number of people living with HIV.”, making the claim off-by-one if we count absolute numbers. Going by relative numbers, there are those who do much worse, including South-Africa, which is also the number one in absolute numbers; however, the rate is still disastrous by e.g. Swedish standards. (I give him the benefit of the doubt, and assume that “capital” is used just to follow the template phrase. However, even if he actually believed that Nigeria is a city, rather than a country, that only makes him weak at African geography—not racist.)

**Say, “Nigeria is the AIDS capital of the world. Please donate to help give the sick modern medicine.” or something implying that “AIDS capital” means “AIDS research capital”. (Which is not to say that this is what Duane Smith actually intended. The point is rather that condemning someone for this statement, without additional support, and without being explicit about context, is incompetent, intellectually dishonest, or both.)

The second expresses a negative opinion about a religion—and a religion which has members of a great number of nationalities and ethnicities, including white-as-snow Swedes. Note carefully that the claim is not even “Fuck Muslims”—it is “Fuck Islam”. To boot, this opinion is one that is shared by very many otherwise considered sensible (although most would be less blunt), be it because they dislike Islam specifically or religion in general. Here too, the context could be quite relevant.* Would there have been much outrage had he said “Fuck Christianity”? Highly unlikely (at least in Sweden).

*Compare e.g. “I just heard about the latest ISIS attack. Fuck Islam.” with “I just saw another woman with a burka. Fuck Islam.”, and note how very different these two words come over. (Notwithstanding that even the first could be seen as unfair or ignorant, seeing that ISIS is just one part of Islam, just like Nazi-Germany was just one part of Europe.)

To boot, we have to consider that Twitter, by its nature, is not a medium for eloquence and deep thought—but for soundbites and spur-of-the-moment statements. What is said on Twitter should be viewed less seriously than what is written in e.g. an article, for the simple reason that it need not reflect deeper opinions. (And for reasons like the lack of context, cf. above; or the greater relative impact of typos, “auto correction”, an accidental misformulation, …) A recent “Family Guy” episode, “The D in Apartment 23”, contains a brilliant illustration with disturbing parallels to what happened here. Some claims, e.g. “Kill all Jews.” would be out of the question even on Twitter; others, e.g. “Fuck Islam.” is within the realms of what a perfectly reasonable (but careless) person could “tweet” in the wrong circumstances—or a perfectly none-careless person when he assumes that the reader knows the context. (Cf. the above footnote.)

Further, even if Duane Smith, for the sake of argument, is a racist (xenophobe, whatnot), that is in and by itself not a legitimate reason to fire him: Actions are what counts—not opinions. A world in which opinions alone lead to such consequences is a tyranny and a dystopia, where diversity of opinion will be severely diminished, where faulty decisions will be made because they happen to be more orthodox, where even science will be hindered, where personal freedoms are unfairly reduced, … Unfortunately, this is the world towards we are increasingly heading, and even now all this, including restrictions on science, is happening—the question is merely one of degree and whether we will be able to turn this disastrous trend in time. Such firings are the more unfortunate, even offensive, considering the very large number of incompetent, negligent, and/or lazy people who are allowed to keep their jobs despite legitimate reasons to get rid of them.

His firing might have been legitimate, had it been shown that these opinions hindered him in his work. No such argument was raised, however, with the claimed reason “These opinions conflict with KHC’s values on the equal worth of all humans” (“Dessa uppfattningar står i strid med KHC:s värderingar om alla människors lika värde”). As can be seen, this was purely a matter of Duane Smith’s allegedly* having the wrong opinions. A firing might also have been legitimate, had he claimed to speak for KHC; however, no indication is made that this was the case.

*As can be seen from the above discussion, even this has not been demonstrated.

Did Duane Smith do something wrong? Yes! He appears to have apologized and not taken a fight, thereby giving the forces of intolerance and political correctness yet another easy victory, making repetitions of such scenarios even more likely, moving us even closer to dystopia.

Please, if you are ever in such a situation, in particular should you be a politician, executive, celebrity, …, have the guts to do the right thing! Take a stand for freedom of speech! Stand by your opinions! Do not just cave and apologize! (And if a PR specialist advises you to the contrary, fire him…) If sufficiently many stand up against scenarios like these, they will cease.

Clarifying note:
In the analysis of the text, it is often unclear who is to blame for what. For instance, is the grossly incorrect use of “racism” stemming from KHC or from the incompetent and PC obsessed “journalists” from SVT? Were there actual damning information that SVT left out through poor judgment? Etc. In the big picture, this does not really matter, because the overall, societal problem remains the same and of roughly the same scope. For this reason, I have chosen not to dwell deeper into the details of the issue to clarify blame, to check whether other sources might have more damming information, whatnot. However, I do advice the reader to be aware that it is not a given where, in this case, the societal problem has manifested how and who is to be criticized in detail for what.

Excursion on the PC crowd vs. Muslims:
The treatment of Islam and Muslims in PC circles is quite inconsistent: In situations like the above, anyone who says anything negative is a racist and should be fired. In other circumstances, Muslims are evil sexist bastards and … should be fired. I note specifically several cases of Muslim men refusing to shake hands with women for religious or decency reasons—despite Muslim women often having the same attitude of not wanting to shake hands with men. Indeed, this is the type of cultural difference that should be tolerated—but in PC circles imaginary misogynism appears to trump real cultural intolerance. (And misandrism is mysteriously considered non-existent…) This attitude to handshakes is not comparable to the attitude against pork, but appears to be more comparable to a Christian man not feeling up women during introductions—a matter of respect, not contempt.

Excursion on organizations and values:
It is questionable whether organizations should be allowed to profess or require values in the first place (unless, like a political party, values are a central aspect). Take KHC: It has players, it has volunteers, it has paying members, …* What if the board or whatnot suddenly decides that it has a certain set of values? What if a player/volunteer/whatnot has different values? What if, as is often the case, someone has spent decades actively supporting the club with his time and money, this someone is member of party X, and the new values are incompatible with those of X? Etc. What if the board today has different personal preferences than the board five years ago, and in another five years the new board has yet another view? Worse: Chances are that there is not even a decision on values, a list of values, or anyway to verify compliance in advance. More likely than not, these “values” were made up ad hoc to sound good in front of the press or to conform with societal expectations, like the stereotypical answer of “World peace!” from a beauty-pageant contestant.

*Assuming that it follows typical patterns in sport. I have not verified this.

Written by michaeleriksson

June 1, 2018 at 4:06 am

Comment censorship and comment policies VII: An interesting discussion on another blog

with 4 comments

A very interesting discussion on this topic has arisen on another bloge.

A few issues of note:

  1. A number of commenters feel that it is in order to delete comments that are too rude, lacking in constructiveness, or fall in e.g. the category of racism.

    To a part they are correct; however, great caution must be taken to avoid over-interpretation and highly subjective deletes. Deleting based on opinion (e.g. alleged racism) is something that I emphatically advice against (see previous entries); in particular, as this is a highly subjective area and an area where many systematically abuse accusations of e.g. racism or sexism to distort the debate.

    As one commenter succinctly expressed it:


    Nobody knows the truth. Therefore it’s wrong to disallow any opinions at all. You should debate to reach constructive insights instead of making subjective assumptions about what is right and wrong.

  2. An illustrating quote that shows the common sentiment of “my blog; my rules”:


    I delete absolutely any comment that I feel like deleting, and I allow absolutely any comment I feel like allowing, and I don’t feel even slightly, remotely, even a tiny little bit inclined to justify or defend it anytime in any way.

    Conversely, I don’t feel that anyone is in any way obligated to post any of my comments to their blogs (including this one). In the same way that you can walk up to me in a bar and start talking to me but I don’t have to listen, and vice versa.

    What this overlooks: A comment on a blog is not (generally) a statement made to another person, but to the public. It is, in particular, not something that must be directed at the blog author—often the target is the readers of the blog. By restricting the opportunity others have to express their opinions on the matter, the public suffers. A better analogy would be a speech in a public place: The speaker has his say (the blog entry), invites the world to voice its opinions (the comments)—and when someone has an opinion that is unsuitable, poorly expressed, or similar, a “The world, but not you!” comes from the mouth of the speaker. (Other reasons why this attitude is problematic is discussed through-out this article series.)

    As a general rule of life: That one has the formal right to do something does not automatically mean that one has an ethical right to do so—let alone should do so. A blogger should feel free to consider himself an aboslute ruler; however, he should make sure to be a benevolent dictatorw—not an arbitrary tyrant.

  3. The topic of spam comments comes up repeatedly. The need to delete spam, however, is a different issue from deleting “real” comments—sufficiently different that they are likely best off being discussed separately. Consider, in the above analogy, that the speech is ended and someone stands up to say “Beautiful speech! Now that you all are here, I would like to invite you to my store where you can buy glass figurines for only $199.99!”—just a different beast.

I made a few comments myself, including two points that I likely have failed to emphasize enough in this series:

  1. I have spent much time reading various discussions on various topics, including the talk pages on Wikipedia. I have found that it is often the back-and-forth, the contrast between different ideas and opinions, arguments and counter-arguments that best help me build a better understanding of the topic.

    This does require a receptive reader and it does require reasoning and knowledgeable debaters; however, when it works, it works extremely well—far better than a one-man pulpit.

  2. We should, as bloggers, have the humility to recognize that we have something to learn from our commenters. Disabling comments increases the risk (emails notwithstanding) that we miss what they have to teach.

Written by michaeleriksson

September 26, 2010 at 7:20 pm