Then recently, something triggered an odd thought.
What I was reading was a report on (in)tolerance in Estonia, prepared by ECRI - the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance. It's a consultative organ of the Council of Europe, itself a very suggestive and non-binding kind of organization. I have a natural distrust for entities of the caliber that the ECRI purports to be, but the report's findings were reported in the local press, so I went to look at the source.
Before going into my main point, let me just take a second to address the obvious issue with any report on social equality in Estonia: the ECRI report, while somewhat poking the government with a stick on integration, actually recommends outright that Russian schools be closed and all students made to do their studies in Estonian - something that the government has been doing very slowly over the last twenty years, and still isn't close to accomplishing, for fear of being labelled intolerant and discriminative. Which is, well, ironic.The quote that tripped me up comes from page 8 of the ECRI report:
The provisions of the Criminal Code regarding racism are still very rarely implemented, primarily due to Article 151 which criminalises activities which publicly incite hatred, violence or discrimination on the basis of, among others, nationality, race, colour, language, origin or religion, only if they result in danger to the life, health or property of a person. Therefore, the ECRI considers that the Criminal Code does not, in fact, punish hate speech independently of specific consequences as recommended in its General Policy Recommendation No. 7 on national legislation to combat racism and racial discrimination.
Let that sink in for a second. The European Commission on Racism and Intolerance, part of the Council of Europe, advocates that hate speech be banned - criminalized - outright, even in circumstances where there is no demonstrable harm.
The obvious point is that this is not tantamount to banning minarets. Hate speech is not the same as religious self-expression. The point I tried to convey in the Switzerland article was that any broad-reaching humanitarian policy is only meant to be applied in situations where no clear picture can be established, and that if we encounter a uniquely unambiguous situation where the double majority of a community decides of its own free will to impose a restriction on itself, that decision must be respected - to undermine it would be to defy the very concepts of both liberty and common sense.
Let me be clear: Hate speech does not merit the same treatment.
Let me also be clear that I am not an unequivocal zealot of free speech. Obviously. But my writings here on AnTyx and elsewhere are personal; I am not affiliated with any political party, and while I do occasionally contribute to the media, I have not gotten paid for it in half a decade. My opinions are purely my own; I would like others to agree, but don't realistically expect it.
In other words, I am not the Council of Europe.
Is it really acceptable for a body that is, in its own words, "composed of independent and impartial members, who are appointed on the basis of their moral authority", to publically advocate and recommend that states adopt legislation that limits free speech, even when it causes no demonstrable harm? Yes, the state's obligation to protect its people from direct harm is unequivocal and trumps all other considerations. Yes, hate speech is probable cause for investigation, even if it's not an inevitable precursor of hate crime (one should never underestimate people's inclination to say extremely dumb shit out loud, and yes, I am well aware of the irony of this statement in blog).
Given all that, can a moral authority really recommend a limitation of free speech?