The invisible Hand Steering European Censorship
In what can only be described as the ultimate irony, the German Chancellor’s Cabinet on April 5th approved a new bill that punishes social networking sites if they fail to swiftly remove content their laws make illegal, such as hate speech or defamatory fake news. Under the proposed new legislation, Facebook, Twitter and other social media networks will face a fine of up to 50 millions Euros if they fail to remove content deemed as “hate speech” or “defamatory fake news”.
Rationalising the censorship, German Justice Minister Heiko Maas stated, “Just like on the streets, there is also no room for criminal incitement on social networks.”
He further justified the tough new rules by stating, “The internet affects the culture of debate and the atmosphere in our society. Verbal radicalization is often a preliminary stage to physical violence.” Due to its Nazi past, Germany bans public Holocaust denial and any overt promotion of racism.
Maas went on to say that measures to combat hate speech and so-called fake news will ultimately have to be taken at the European level if they are to be effective.
The bill awaits parliamentary approval before it can go into effect.
The bill was widely described as a prophylactic against the kind of online invective that has allegedly risen since the recent entry of large numbers of migrants into Germany.
A Brief Analysis of Terminology:
Those who defend Europe’s internet censorship laws make constant reference to the illegality of the speech in question. There seems to be a vicious circle of question begging: when asked exactly what constitutes ‘hate speech’ the reply is “illegal forms of speech”, and when asked why these kinds of speech are illegal, the answer is that they are hate speech. The only thing that lends this definition some vague semblance of content is “incitement”, a concept that assumes adult individuals are not responsible for their own actions anyway, since other people are apparently to be blamed for making them do things. The government would be better off not mentioning this deterministic concept if it really wants to find anyone guilty, since the idea of vicarious guilt completely demolishes the bedrock premise of European law; namely, that individuals are responsible for their own behaviour and not for other people’s.
Sacred truths that cannot be transgressed by heretics become no different from the dead dogmas of religious orthodoxies. Treating the Holocaust as so sacred that questioning the facts automatically makes the questioner a criminal or a psychopath is to assume not just that the guardians of orthodoxy are certain, but that they are infallible. If they are so certain (or indeed infallible) about the facts, then why do they harbour a dread fear of defending them? When holocaust denier David Irving sued Deborah Lipstadt of Penguin books for libel after she had labelled him a ‘Holocaust denier’, the ensuing trial resulted in expert assessment of the historical evidence.
By letting David Irving have his say and his day in court, new evidence for the existence of Auschwitz emerged. It was through the process of testing the sacred ‘truth’ of the Holocaust that the orthodox view was reinforced. Had there been inaccuracies in our knowledge of the facts, there would be no harm in bringing them to light. Even when we possess truths that no reasonable person could doubt, this is no guarantee that we have the whole truth. History has shown time and again that our most sacred beliefs can be mistaken.
An extensive survey by the Chatham House think tank conducted in 10 European countries (United Kingdom, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Austria, Hungary, Italy, Poland, and Spain) between December 2016 and January 2017 based on the statement: ‘All further migration from mainly Muslim countries should be stopped’ found that, overall, across all 10 countries, an average of 55 per cent agreed that all further migration from mainly Muslim countries should be discontinued.
According to German Federal Criminal Police Office (Bundeskriminalamt, BKA) data (page 14), there has been a sharp rise in sex crimes by migrants (Zuwanderer) between 2013 and 2016. In the first three-quarters of 2016, migrants committed 2,790 sex crimes, or around ten per day. Meanwhile, police deliberately omit any references to migrants in crime reports, making it impossible for German citizens to understand the scale or proportion of migrant crime. “What do citizens know about the true extent of the criminal threat?” Said Peter Biesenbach, a CDU law and interior politician. German Police forces have increasingly demanded that government-friendly police statistics not be “manipulated.” Allegedly City police asked German media to delete any images of a migrant suspect. A note for editors stated: “The legal basis for publishing the surveillance photos has been dispensed with. We strongly urge you to take this into account in future reporting and to remove and/or make changes to existing publications.”
Between 2008 and 2014, the overall number of police-recorded offences of sexual violence increased by 16.6 % across the EU-28 (data available for 25 jurisdictions). After a fall in the number of police-recorded offences in 2009, the incidence of police-recorded sexual violence in the EU-28 rose slightly each year during the period 2010–12, but increased more rapidly in 2013 and 2014. For example, in 2014 (data available for 28 jurisdictions) the number of police-recorded offences of sexual violence in the EU-28 rose by 12.2 %.
Far-right AfD co-chief Joerg Meuthen, said: “We are shocked by this crime and at the same time we see that our warnings about the uncontrolled arrival of hundreds of thousands of young men from Islamic-patriarchal cultures are written off as populist.”
Contextualising the German Bill, the Bigger Picture:
In 2005, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) prepared a ten-year action plan for the Muslim Ummah to achieve its renaissance, in order to (inter alia) project the true image and noble values of Islam. The action programme made all human rights relative to Islamic law, and specified that they must comply with it. The Ten-Year Programme of Action on the topic of human rights has since been extended to the year 2025.
The OIC is the self-proclaimed representative body of the Universal Ummah: a community of more than 1.5 billion Muslims. The organisation considers itself the “collective voice of the Muslim world” and is the second largest intergovernmental organisation after the United Nations. Since 2013 the OIC has had an official representative office for the European Union in Brussels. The OIC’s current charter was adopted in 2008 by the Eleventh Islamic Summit, which aimed to revitalise Islam’s role in the world. Article 1 of the new charter states the OIC’s objective “to protect and defend the true image of Islam” and to “combat defamation of Islam”. The OIC’s concerns over the image of Islam came into focus during the third Islamic Summit Conference in Mecca in 1981. During this Summit the members of the OIC agreed to
“develop … mass-media and information institutions, guided in this effort by the precepts and teachings of Islam, in order to ensure that these media and institutions will have an effective role in reforming society, in a manner that helps in the establishment of an international information order characterised by justice, impartiality and morality, so that our nation may be able to show to the world its true qualities, and refute the systematic media campaigns aimed at isolating, misleading, slandering and defaming our nation.” (Mecca Declaration, 25-28 Jan, 1981, Final Communiqué, para. 6)
‘Nation’ in this document may be read as Islam in general. Second, it is not the image of Islam for Muslims within OIC countries that is stressed so much as the perception of Islam by non-Muslims globally.
On March 24, 2011, the United Nations Human Rights Commission adopted Resolution 16/18. It was a crucial moment in the dismantling of the liberal concept of freedom of religion. The OIC had introduced the resolution on “Combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatisation of, and discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against persons based on religion or belief.” This document has played a guiding function in the UN and received the backing of the United States, which stated that it was “pleased” and hoped the consensus would become a blueprint to “promote respect for religious differences” in the international community.
Only several months after the adoption of resolution 16/18, the OIC’s Council of Foreign Ministers adopted a new resolution on the topic of combating religious defamation and resolved to remain seized on the matter as a top priority at all OIC Summits and Council of Foreign Ministers. In her trenchant analysis of the 16/18 resolution, Dutch jurisprudence scholar Mirjam van Shaik observes that while there is no longer explicit reference to the ‘defamation of religion’ concept, making it appear as though the aim is to protect the individual rather than religions, there remains an implicit emphasis on one religion in particular and even more concepts are included which have more or less the same ambiguity as the defamation of religion concept (e.g. “derogatory stereotyping”, “negative profiling” and “stigmatisation”).
To facilitate implementation of Resolution 16/18, the Istanbul Process, a series of high-level meetings, was formed in July 2011. The first of these meetings was hosted by the OIC and chaired by Hilary Clinton. This was followed in December 2011 by another meeting (behind closed doors) in Washington, again co-chaired with the OIC. This time Clinton had a more prominent role, and stated “together [with the OIC] we have begun to overcome the false divide that pits religion sensitivities against freedom of expression.”
Annual sessions took place in London, Geneva, Doha, Jeddah and Saudi Arabia in the following years. In 2013 the criminalisation of hate speech was put on the agenda, leading to more debates over the line between free criticism of religion and hate speech. Rhetoric and semantics had already been used to re-define free expression that could be interpreted as ‘denigrating’ sacred symbols and personalities as ‘incitement to religious hatred’, which was now being re-framed as a matter of identity: “It needs to be understood that people in some parts of the world tend to identify themselves more with a particular religion than elsewhere.”
A year after the adoption of resolution 16/18, the Islamic Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (established by the OIC) announced that the International Federation of Journalists “should respect Islamic religious symbols and halt desecration of them.” As van Shaik has observed, the OIC have managed their image carefully to give the impression that they are falling closer into step with international law and human rights, but the substantial direction of change has been in the opposite direction, with the international community gradually marching to the tune of Islamic demands while compromising freedom of religion.
The Budapest Process is, according to its own website, a consultative forum with over 50 governments and 10 international organisations aiming at developing comprehensive and sustainable systems for orderly migration. It is one of the longest-standing cooperation frameworks on migration for Europe and its eastern neighbours and during its more than 20 years of operation, the Budapest Process has developed from an information sharing tool between European countries in a pre-EU enlargement setting to a far-reaching Europe-Asia forum for improving migration management.
According to ‘The Heart of Asia – Istanbul Process’ website, The United States and over 20 other nations and organisations serve as “supporting nations” to the process. On April 26, 2013, Almaty, Kazakhstan, hosted the third Ministerial Conference of the Istanbul Process. The April meeting focused on the creation of “Silk Routes Partnership for Migration” to promote further dialogue and cooperation on the issue of migration. The Budapest Process (from 19 April, 2013) provided the groundwork for the following week’s Istanbul Ministerial Declaration on A Silk Routes Partnership for Migration. The Declaration outlines its vision for Integration thus:
a) Strengthening integration processes for migrants and refugees,
b) Working for the successful integration of migrants and refugees and their active participation in receiving communities through the provision of adequate integration tools and measures,
c) Supporting receiving communities in welcoming migrants and refugees as well as taking action to encourage their active participation in the social and cultural life of the receiving communities,
d) Promoting host governments’ cooperation with civil society and diaspora communities in both monitoring and countering incidents of discrimination, racism and xenophobia.
The language here is vague enough that ‘integration’ can be understood as happening in either direction. It is not clear that newly arrived migrants or refugees are expected to integrate into the host culture, or whether the host culture will integrate for (and into) the migrant’s origin culture. No reference is made to factors that facilitate assimilation, develop the migrant’s intercultural skills, or his adaptation to the new culture. Rather, the language suggests that the receiving culture will be the one actively ‘supported’ in curtailing its attitudes towards new arrivals, and in ‘welcoming’ the newcomers.
This leaves many questions about the future direction of integration unanswered, which makes censoring public debate about it at this historical junction particularly unseemly.