Since 1942, after a case in New Hampshire involving a member of the Jehovah’s Witness who was distributing literature, the United States has said – with many revisions since – that so-called “Fighting Words,” were not protected under free speech since they could tend to incite violence in another person.
The question, of course, is what words would rile someone enough to respond with a fist, and now that narrow definition will be applied in Greece under the new anti-racism law – barring last-minute changes – that is really aimed at the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party which adores Hitler and the murderous junta of Greek Colonels.
The bill sat on a shelf because Prime Minister and New Democracy Conservative party leader Antonis Samaras didn’t want it because he was too busy cozying up to Golden Dawn voters, a lot of whom like to bust the heads of immigrants and gays in between practicing Heil Hitler salutes.
It took the murder a year ago of an anti-fascist hip-hop artist by a man police said was with Golden Dawn to make the Premier realize these people were both crazier than loons and dangerous, forcing him to act.
But the version that the government produced was amended to include a whole new host of criminal offenses, including various genocides but not so curiously, given the antipathy toward gays, didn’t offer them additional protection from hate crimes.
There was opposition to the idea of offering protection to people who would be targeted by violence and words of hate. Some of the resistance came a group of 139 Greek historians and academics who said the law should let people deny the Holocaust, not criminalize it, as was the intent in another shot at Golden Dawn whose members apparent think World War II was filmed on a Hollywood back lot and didn’t happen. Neither did the 1969 landing on the Moon, of course.
They said they supported measures to curb racism and racially-motivated violence but fretted over a provision which seeks to criminalize denial of the Holocaust and other genocides for impeding freedom of speech.
“Our stance is not based on tolerance of the ‘deniers’ of hideous crimes, nor from a reluctance to punish criminal acts, but from the conviction that, as international experience has shown, such measures lead to dangerous paths: they impinge on the democratic and inalienable right to freedom of speech,” the statement said.
“Furthermore, [such measures] have proved totally ineffective in fighting racism and Nazism, racism and hate speech,” it said.
They will hold to that Ivory Tower way of thinking until they get beat up by Golden Dawn or mugged by someone spouting hateful words at them.
The major opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA), the natural enemy of Golden Dawn also was opposed to most of the anti-racism bill, not so unusual for a party which thinks anarchy is preferable to order.
SYRIZA said that in some places the would-be law does not go far enough, while in others it may infringe on freedom of expression but was mostly worried it would insult the Muslim minority in Greece, who refuse to recognize the slaughter of Greek and Armenian Christians by Turks as genocide.
Justice Minister Haralambos Athanasiou insisted the bill does not target those who challenge the term genocide but those who do so “in an insulting and ill-intentioned manner” that may lead to violence, the classic Fighting Words argument.
That led SYRIZA lawmaker Anna Chatzisofia to complain: “Who defines what is insulting?” which means she defends the right of people to use hateful language toward others but not her.
She’d know what’s insulting if, for example, a member of Golden Dawn were to call her a “pinko Commie bitch,” which are fighting words indeed and should never be condoned, although it may not go too far to call a lot of academics “lazy professors,” which they’d find so insulting they’d withdraw their letter of complaint.
The real crimes of racism, beyond the words, are the acts: the head-busting of immigrants, beating up gays, desecrating Jewish cemeteries and practicing anti-Semitism, for which there are laws but not enough.
What’s dispiriting is that the anti-racism law is really a half-hearted attempt by a heartless government doing not what’s right but what it believes is politically expedient. Too bad there’s not a law against that.
The real losers in this are gays, who have also been twisting in the wind for other rights, including gay marriage because the Church opposes it, which means Samaras has to as well, so Athanasiou said he would delay legislation allowing civil unions for same-sex couples.
The phony reason he gave is that “further study” was needed how the partnerships would affect the tax and social insurance system and family law.
Greece has had years to figure it out so throw that feint out the window. Athanasiou’s decision came despite a European court ruling that found Greece has been discriminating against gays, a sector that needs protection from hate – a lot of it from people in government who’d like to see them put in ice floes to drift into the ocean near the North Pole somewhere.
Tom Koukoulis, at a gay rights protest outside Parliament, told AP he thought Greece would do the right thing: “We are on the right side of history,” he said. Sounds like words of peace.