Hateful Insult cowers behind Free Expression

2013-01-08 08:36

‘If Liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear,’ said author George Orwell. Free expression is no offense. But as far as I’m concerned, harassment and threats are no ‘free expression’.

Leaders are expected to behave with decorum, yet it happens too often that under the guise of comment, response or ‘communication’, and especially when it comes to online media, readers let fly a barrage of no-holds-barred insults.

A case in point: After my December blog post criticising the national government but also urging whites (OMG not that label again!) to escape the victim mentality, I received what I thought were well-balanced responses, so thanks! But it was too good to be true. Take this recent delightful New Year’s message sent to my email address, an extract which reads as follows:

....you are sick, anti white.... You absolutely disgust me, you liberal brain doner. I hope some black muthaf***er rapes the shit outta you bitch, and when he's done with you, I hope he dispatches you to hell by cutting your miserable throat, because you don't deserve any better...

Yikes! If I hadn’t already written my crime-thriller novel Divine Justice, where my baddies are archetypal racist white-supremacists out to wreak havoc on different races and cultures, I might have reworked the vicious words from sakkiedekok at hushmail.com. The messages smack of over-the-top crime-fiction dialogue.

Instead, I’m using this John Thomas’s vitriol as an example of the kind of poison that too often leaks over the Internet in response to opinion pieces in general. I decided I would not ‘hush’ about this email attack. It’s personal, it’s nasty, and it’s cowardly coming under the guise of a hackneyed pseudonym. Like dude, be a real man and use your name!

Some might think it’s bad form to engage with the ‘critic’, and I’ve been encouraged by caring friends to bin trashy bits and pieces sent to me, ignore ‘em and pour myself a G&T. But surely tackling the issue of blisteringly misogynist and racist hate speech (which is what it is) has to come under the spotlight? Leaders are challenged if they spew the stuff. Some lose their jobs over it. And so should ordinary folk be challenged too.

That my children, my pets, my soul is threatened, that I’m told I should ‘f***ck off and die’, preferably be consumed by hellfire, for daring to have an opinion and to argue the issues the way I see them, is not something any ‘hush mail’ is going to have me keep quiet about.

Looking at it in another way, so vitriolic is the tone of the messages that I have to wonder how deeply this charmer felt – perhaps legitimately fearing if he has a future here? - when he pressed send. A sense of absolute powerless, in an instance like this, surely is a contributing factor enabling this sniper to take aim. But it’s difficult to consider underlying issues as he shoots his wad. (No offence to real men here, the kind that ‘don’t rape’ as onse Charlize has said in the past).

Sure we harbour deep wounds. Hate and rage are maybe the tip of the iceberg. Underneath hangs a misshapen unrecognizable hulk of feeling – especially powerlessness - which it would be helpful to expose and to talk about. But even the wounds are an excuse in the long run to let the mouth run amok. Don’t get me wrong, I want to engage. I appreciate balanced responses. And emotional, heated responses.

Philip Hensher, novelist and columnist for the Independent, writes, ‘The progress of free speech has been advanced over the centuries, not just by calm, rational argument, but by excess and irresponsibility. Those who, with increasing noise, are insisting that free speech can only be permitted when it is used ‘responsibly’ ...are prescribing a range of expression and a range of agreed opinions.’ Which is not free speech at all. No one can tell anyone what to say or what not to say.

But at what point is the line crossed? How can hate speech be justified? There is no clear definition of Hate Speech. Generally, according to Wikipedia, it’s communication that vilifies a person or a group on the basis of colour, disability, ethnicity, nationality, race, religion or sexual orientation. Hate speech hurts and propagates hatred.

Whichever sort of chit-chat presses buttons and gets people bantering (especially with all this black/ white stuff making the news at the mo) we can ask ‘Are we growing our country? Or are we widening the existing chasms between races and genders?’.

The plus side of being on the receiving end of insults, is that I don’t have to hide them in the dark. This then is freedom of speech. That I have the right to respond. That I have the right to say I find it offensive and distasteful.

We’ve never been a society of shrinking violets, but as part of it I’d rather debate and argue free from threat fired from trolls. I'll be as broad minded as I can when it comes to considering differences of opinion. But simply banging on a drum, often as a gut reaction motivated by feelings of powerlessness, is pointless. Or destructive. A question to ask is where along the line have we have given ourselves permission to be so vitriolic, as if our words don’t mean a thing?

Even if we had a crappy childhood, an ineffectual mother, even if the national government is corrupt, or the long-dead colonialists stole everything, or affirmative action is detrimental to minorities, we have to grow up and stop tantrumming about it all.

In the New Year, I hope we can communicate with each other ‘freely’, all the time bearing in mind the principles of tolerance and patience. I’d prefer to try to understand rather  than to condemn. Rather than break society down, I’d prefer to build it up. But then again, that’s just me.

P.S. Happy New Year.

I'm on twitter @JoanneHichens

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X

AB praises selfless skipper

2010-11-21 18:15

Inside News24

 
/News
 

And the Paws24 and Hill's winners are ...

Find out who the winners of our Paws24 pet pics and Q&a competitions are...

 

Paws

Keep your family and pets safe from rabies
5 scientific benefits of owning a cat
Why we love cats
8 great natural remedies for your pet
Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.