What’s to hate about hate speech?

May 19, 2019 by

by David Robertson, Christian Today.

After the Second World War, Soviet Russia was determined to have the concept of ‘hate speech’ enshrined in international legislation. They wanted there to be legal sanctions against ‘hatred and incitement to hatred’. In Maoist China, hate speech was a crime.

In many Islamic states, criticising Islam and Muhammad is a crime that can carry the death penalty.

Why are repressive regimes and authoritarian governments so keen on the concept of hate speech? Because it is a means to control people – not just what they do but also what they say and think.

George Orwell in his famous 1984 novel was prophetic in his understanding of where society was heading. What he didn’t see was that it would be so-called ‘liberal’ societies that would end up using the concept of hate speech as a form of control.

In his appendix to 1984 he explained how Newspeak worked: “The Purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible. This was done partly by the invention of new words, but chiefly by eliminating undesirable words and by stripping such words as remained of unorthodox meanings.”

The attack on language in our post-modern culture has now reached these Orwellian proportions. Most rational people accept that there are limits to free speech – the famous example of a man shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre – illustrates that. Most of us would accept that incitement to violence is and should be a crime. But what has happened in our society is that the term violence has now been redefined to mean criticism of someone’s identity. Or to be more precise, criticism of someone who has a ‘protected’ identity.

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