Getting tough on hate speech

Japan was criticized by the U.N. Human Rights Committee last month for allowing hate speech to proliferate. According to experts on the committee, in 2013 there were more than 360 cases of racist demonstrations and speeches in Japan. The committee demanded to know what actions the country would take to counter the recent proliferation of hate speech. Their demand needs to be answered.

Most of the hate speech took place at demonstrations and in public speeches, though an increasing amount of hate speech shows up on the Internet. The xenophobic, hate-filled ranting is usually directed toward Koreans, but also toward Chinese and foreigners in general. Often the demonstrations and marches are conducted in Korean neighborhoods.

The government needs to consider how to curb hate speech. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Japan has ratified, states that advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred constituting incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence should be prohibited by law. At present, the police may not intervene to stop hate speech.

Legislation need not restrict speech that is simply filled with unpopular, shocking or disturbing ideas. Freedom of such speech deserves full protection. Hate speech is different. In most developed countries it is restricted because dehumanizing groups of people and making death threats against them fuels discriminatory practices and violent actions.

Hate speech also destroys respect and fair treatment for all individuals. A free and just society should tolerate speech that is strange, different or offensive; however, hate speech denies the basic humanity of certain people and advocates illegal and discriminatory actions as well as violence, often on a large scale.

Speech that demands absurdities like cutting off all ties with neighboring Asian countries should not be considered hate speech. But the speech proliferating over the past two years in Japan that describes minority groups as inhuman or advocates massacres can be called hate speech.

Free speech is the basis of all democratic societies, but hate speech that impugns people’s dignity, restricts their rights and promotes violence should have no place in even the freest society.

Because hate speech contributed to many of the worst acts of mass violence and genocide in the last century, most countries have severely restricted it or banned it outright.

The media can help the general public understand the history and culture of minority groups in Japan and the complex consequences of word use. The government needs to put forth legislation that helps to restrict the most hostile and virulent forms of speech, even while ensuring that foolish or unconsidered ideas, not to mention more valuable ones, can still be expressed openly by all.

  • Christopher Cole

    Hate speech is easy to hate until you realize that who defines hate speech gives that person or institution a lot of control over other people’s lives. When seeking to reduce hate speech, a laudable goal, remember that our definition is not the right one to impose on everyone else – only on yourself.

    • Miamiron

      I’m pretty sure that no matter how you slice it or where you are from, saying that Koreans are sub-humans, is universally hateful.

      • Christopher Cole

        Every human culture has a fear and distrust of “strangers” even those that practice hospitality. You never know what a stranger will do since, by definition, a stranger does not follow the rules of proper society (i.e. the rules you live by) and is therefore dangerous. By denying the stranger the same level of humanity that you grant to those of your tribe you make it easier to kill that stranger if need be. This is so universal that it might be genetic. Saying that some other culture are sub-humans is but a shading of this basic idea and would not be universally hateful. What you are doing is practicing cultural imperialism – believing that what you find hateful, beautiful, enjoyable, etc. is therefore universal. Sorry to bust your bubble but there is nothing that is universally hateful.

      • Miamiron

        >By denying the stranger the same level of humanity that you grant to those of your tribe you make it easier to kill that stranger if need be. This is so universal that it might be genetic.

        So its universal to hate people, but there is nothing that is universally hateful?

      • Christopher Cole

        Hating the stranger comes closest to being universal as far as I have ever been able to discover. But for anything else the determination of what is hateful depends upon your religious / moral / cultural upbringing. A brief study of curse words as used in various cultures will demonstrate that.

      • Andrea Hall

        “Universal” does not mean it’s right.

      • Christopher Cole

        At what point in time are you referring to? Now? Many would agree with you. Two hundred years ago? Almost no one would. Two hundred years into the future? Who knows.
        But also, “Universal” does not mean it is wrong either. Hatred and / or fear of the stranger goes back a long way, back to the Neolithic at least and there was probably a reason for it to have started and for it to have continued as long as it has.

      • Kochigachi

        Mr. Cole, these Koreans are not strangers to Japan. You must be confused with your Muslim/Black neighborhood at your backyard.

      • Christopher Cole

        I would suggest you study anthropology. In anthropology the term stranger refers to someone who does not look like you and who does not share in your cultural norms. Koreans are not Japanese, they do not look like Japanese in detail nor do they have the same cultural norms. A Korean in Japan will always make some mistakes in dealing with the culture and thus stand out. This goes back to more ancient times when, to use this example, Japanese and Koreans had no contact on a regular basis and were strangers in the more “street” definition of the word as well as the anthropological definition. The fear and distrust of strangers goes back even further, back to the days when someone you met, who was not part of your tribe, could easily be out to kill you and / or steal your possessions. Modern communications has made it more likely that someone will know at least something of another culture and thus probably not treat it with the same level of distrust but this sort of think still exists and is perhaps even genetic given how far it goes back and how long it has lasted. When I was in France, I was immediately identified as non-French and treated horribly even though I was bringing money to the area. Were I to visit Japan I might be treated in the same fashion even though Japan is quite familiar with Western culture and has taken various aspects of it and adapted it to fit into Japanese culture. As a non-Japanese I “stink” even just out of the shower and get treated differently. The treatment I would get as a non-Japanese would fit in with the anthropological definition of the word stranger.

      • phu

        Saying that any person or group is “sub-human” could very reasonably be defined as hateful (I’d certainly agree). However, in this context, the implication is that it should thus be illegal.

        Mean? Yes. Stupid? Yes. Illegal? Absolutely not. Insulting a person or group may not be pleasant, and in most cases it’s not likely to be something rational people agree with, but as long as you’re not actually causing a violation of their rights, your speech should be protected.

        The punishment for speaking in an offensive way is social: The people around you take offense. Speech is just that; it’s words (if it’s more than that, it’s something else, potentially something punishable). Punishing people simply for expressing ideas others don’t agree with puts you on the road to fascism.

  • phu

    “Free speech is the basis of all democratic societies, but hate speech that impugns people’s dignity, restricts their rights and promotes violence should have no place in even the freest society.”

    This phrase in itself nicely wraps up the piece: Presumptuous and dangerously native.

    “Free speech” is defined differently (and legislated vastly differently) in every nation that considers it legally important. “Democratic society,” unless it’s granted a begging-the-question definition of a nation that is based on the freedom of speech, include places like the US and the UK, neither of which were founded on principles that included freedom of expression (they were added as amendments in the US Bill of Rights and, much later, in the UK after adoption of the European convention).

    “A free and just society should tolerate speech that is strange, different or offensive; however, hate speech denies the basic humanity of certain people and advocates illegal and discriminatory actions as well as violence, often on a large scale.”

    There are so many instances of either meaningless or arbitrary definitions and re-definitions of what is or should be considered intolerable speech that it’s sickening. In one breath, hate speech both “denies the basic humanity of certain people” (what does this even mean, and how should someone’s opinion of other people be considered illegal to express?) and simultaneously “advocates illegal and discriminatory actions as well as violence” (so it may do these things as well, or has to do these things, instead of or in addition to the “basic humanity” thing, or what?)… it’s hard to believe any real thought about what should constitute hate speech went into this article.

    It’s also easy to see ever-increasing abuses on limitations of freedom of expression springing up all over the world in these highly-touted democracies. Arguing that “hate speech,” yet another not-easily-definable and thoroughly-abused concept, should be punishable explicitly contradicts this article’s earlier lip-service allowances for unpopular speech:

    “Legislation need not restrict speech that is simply filled with unpopular, shocking or disturbing ideas.”

    After this and other such mockeries, the article is concluded in this way:

    “The government needs to put forth legislation that helps to restrict the most hostile and virulent forms of speech, even while ensuring that foolish or unconsidered ideas, not to mention more valuable ones, can still be expressed openly by all.”

    In closing, the writer(s) reveal their real opinion of unpopular speech: Not subversive ideas, not challenges to popular beliefs, but “foolish or unconsidered ideas.” Once again, we have lip service to “more valuable ones,” but the only ones worth listing — and, to be sure, the only ones a government interested only in self-preservation would not happily take an interest in suppressing — are those that couldn’t possibly call into question the status quo.

    “Hate speech” is easy to subject to excessive and arbitrary legislation, and given the Japanese government’s penchant for vague wording and arbitrary enforcement, editorials like this provide a rather alarming glimpse at the kind of ill-conceived discussion that must actually be rampant within the government.

  • Sasori

    at least they’re not sallyong up and removing our heads once we arrive, as history illustrates.
    If you think of Japan as being in the late 60′s in most things, such things are more stomach-able.
    Also, expecting cops to enforce petty laws is a strech; try asking to stop that smoker inside th station and see how far you get.

  • Sasori

    If you consider Japan to be in the late 60′s, it’s easier to understand… but not to tolerate.