Monday, May 25, 2015

Glenn Greenwald on western limitations on free speech

In a recent article in the Intercept, journalist Glenn Greenwald, argues that the greatest threat to free speech in the West at present comes not from Islamic fundamentalists but from western politicians who claim to fight them and to protect free speech.
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Greenwald notes the UK government is among many in the west suppressing free speech in the name of combating terrorism by disrupting the actions of those trying to radicalize people: "They would include a ban on broadcasting and a requirement to submit to the police in advance any proposed publication on the web and social media or in print."
In defence of this move to criminalize expression of ideas that the government authorities consider extremist Prime Minister David Cameron said: “For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens ‘as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone.'” The Home Secretary Theresa May tries to justify the bill in an interview shown in the appended video. She talks about undermining British values and the need to ensure that the UK is together as one nation.
The UK is not the only country in the west to pass legislation purportedly to counter extremism and terrorism that restricts freedom of speech and expression. Similar legislation can be found in the U.S., Australia, France, New Zealand, and Canada. The same politicians who marched in solidarity in defence of the anti-Muslim fundamentalist Charlie Hebdo cartoons supposedly to support the right to satire and free speech, now are marching together to suppress free speech. More and more laws restrict free expression not just to fight terrorism but to counter any "hate speech." French hate speech laws were used by a Muslim group to lay a criminal charge against Charlie Hebdo:In 2007 the Grand Mosque of Paris began criminal proceedings against the chief-editor of Charlie Hebdo, Philipe Val, under France's hate speech laws for publicly abusing a group on the ground of their religion. The lawsuit was limited to three specific cartoons, including one depicting Muhammad carrying a bomb in his turban. In March 2007 le tribunal de Paris acquitted Val, finding that it was fundamentalists, rather than Muslims, who were being ridiculed in the cartoons.[25]
The development of social media has led to an explosion of commentary often critical of governments and also often containing what many would call "hate speech." Commercial media filter out this type of material in a form of self censorship but for the most part it remains unfiltered on the Internet. Just read any comments on articles where there are not authorities censoring the material. This situation is seen as a threat by authorities who do their best to control it. In some authoritarian countries many social media outlets are simply banned. However, in western democracies where free speech is lauded other means of control must be found. Anti-terror and hate speech laws are the favored method along with vast data collection such as the US National Science Foundation, that is generating a data base of hate speech articles.
We think of criminalizing blogging as happening in Egypt or Saudi Arabia, but it is also happening in the UK and the U.S. as well. In the UK last month a 35-year-old mother of six was sentenced to five years in prison for "promoting terrorism on Facebook." In the U.S. in 2011, a 24-year-old Pakistani resident of the US was convicted on terrorism charges after uploading a 5 minute video that shows photos of Abu Ghraib prison abuse, US armoured vehicles being blown up, and a prayer message by the leader of a designated terror group. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
The Stephen Harper Conservative government in Canada is a great promoter of laws against hate speech and of anti-terror legislation. Aboriginal and environmental activists fear that they will be targeted using anti-terror legislation such as the new bill c-51. Groups critical of Israel fear that they may become targets of hate crime laws. The government has said that it has a "zero tolerance" attitude to any group participating in the loose coalition called Boycott, Divest, and Sanction(BDS). When asked by reporters to explain what that meant, a spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney replied by giving news media a detailed list of Canada's hate laws and the spokesperson noted that Canada has one of the most comprehensive set of hate laws anywhere in the world.