Monday, December 20, 2010

Hate Speech

In "A Democracy of Chameleons" Edrienne Kayambazinhtu and Fulata Moyo argue that "the new constitution [of Malawi] does not make sufficient provisions against hate speech and the violence and intolerance that it fosters."

Outside of the U.S. hate speech legislation is not particularly controversial. The U.K. has it, South Africa has it, and so do many (most?) other European nations. I'm not sure of the situation in other parts of Asia but in South Korea suing for defamation is a very common.

Personally I'm strongly with Voltaire on this one. I may disagree with what you say but I am willing to fight to the death for your right to say it.

This position does not resonate very well with most Asians or Africans, however, who tend to have a much more communal understanding of how individuals should regard each other in society. I'm not terribly familiar with how African philosophies have traditionally understood the concept of "free speech" but in Korea it is certainly not regarded as an a priori right but rather, as all things in Korea, a contextually bounded one. I suspect that in most of Africa the situation is quite similar and that the right to speak freely is rarely regarded as a pre-eminent value. Along this line Kayambazinthu and Moyo argue that because hate speech is responsible for inciting physical violence there must be legal ways of curtailing it. In other words, the right to speak freely is not unconstrained and must be balanced against other rights, in this case not to be insulted. Particularly in a culture where it is understood that one's dignity is both very important and vulnerable to insults (hate speech), having a legal means of thwarting such injuries is necessary to curtail uncontrolled physical retaliation.

I don't like this line of thinking, but it is certainly an authentic viewpoint. I would be grateful if my Malawians readers could confirm whether or not it is an accurate summary of at least some Malawian's thinking on the matter.

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