TWO STANDARDS FOR HATE SPEECH
By Aisha Sherazi
If the news reports of fashion designer John Galliano’s court case about anti-Semitic slurs and Geert Wilders acquittal of Muslim-hate speech had not come consecutively, I might not have connected them. The difference between the two European men? On the surface, not much. Both wore suits in court, although admittedly, one wasn’t wearing a shirt with his suit. Both are accused of a vile kind of language. Wilders is accused of saying hateful things, not just about political Islamists, but Islam itself. He openly does not distinguish between them, and does not apologize for his views. For many peaceful, law-abiding Muslims who give to charity, take part in society and are fully-fledged citizens in the West, his speech is a blow. To be clear, no religion should be free from careful scrutiny or even informed debate. We are all accountable for our words and deeds and, as a public figure and someone who trades on his public persona, Wilders is even more accountable. Rather than using the status that has been accorded to him to promote understanding and acceptance, Wilders has chosen to scapegoat Muslims as the root cause for multicultural failure. This is nothing new. History does have a habit of repeating itself.
Hate laws focus, in general, on the understanding that you cannot incite hatred or violence towards a particular group. As commentators have observed, Wilders treads to the edge but never oversteps this boundary. Does it harm us? Nope. Does it hurt us? Sure. Is it dangerous? Possibly. Many people may take his words at face value, not bothering to check facts or consider the implications. That certainly doesn’t help people understand each other, and may lead to attacks on Muslims by those seeking to justify their own mindless thuggery. And although Wilders doesn’t call upon people to be violent toward Muslims, you can bet that violent extremists are using such speech to prove that Muslims are hated in the West under some kind of conspiracy theory. The victimization of Muslims is used to justify their heinous acts against innocent civilians. That is dangerous indeed.
Galliano’s hateful speech has cost him dearly. He has lost his position at Christian Dior. He probably won’t serve jail time, but will more than likely have to pay thousands of dollars to compensate those he hurt directly. The differences between the two cases are vast in many ways. Galliano said vile things that are not even repeatable. Wilders (apparently) enters into the realms of intellectual debate. Nonetheless, I can’t help but feel that there is a double standard at play here, when a politician on the public payroll can malign the faith of taxpayers and billions worldwide, but a clearly troubled man, high on drugs and alcohol, is fired and possibly fined, not to mention publicly humiliated. Galliano’s treatment was justified, and he clearly needs a wake-up call of some kind if he is to seek help. But it doesn’t sit right with me that Galliano is being depicted as the devil incarnate, while Wilders poses as a hero. Have the floodgates of Islamophobia just been opened a tad wider?
Aisha Sherazi is a writer, blogger and poet and a pastoral care worker at Merivale High School in Ottawa.
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