• What Do We Do About Hate Speech?

    I usually disagree with Mike Hosking because I do not share his fundamental social attitudes and beliefs. But, as to what he had to say in today’s Herald about the Christchurch massacre, I recognise that his motivations, in warning against closing down views with which we might disagree, were positive.

    But, I still believe that he was simply wrong when he said, “Now, just to be clear, so no one misconstrues any of this, there is a massive gap between this sort of rhetoric or policy, and mad men with guns.”

    The “rhetoric and policy” he refers to were those of people, like some Australian politicians, who set out to exacerbate division and thereby fanned the flames of hate against those who might be different. It is sadly, clear, that there is a similar stream of thought and language flowing in New Zealand – in social media in particular.

    I agree with Hosking that we should be very careful about closing down opinions, simply because “we” don’t like them. But he is wrong to suggest that there is no link between the peddling of what might be called “hate language” and the kind of violence we saw in Christchurch.

    Nor is it the case that hate language is always as extreme and clear as it has been, so it seems, on some New Zealand-based websites. There is a range of subtle ways in which hate-filled attitudes can be disseminated; some Australian politicians became adept at what were called “dog whistle” politics – the use of certain words and phrases that were not themselves offensive but signalled, to those with a mind and ear to interpret them as intended, that the speaker shared with them their extreme views.

    One of the significant aspects of the alleged shooter’s actions in Christchurch was his keenness to advertise his views and more particularly his actions. He clearly expected to be greeted as a hero, at least by some sections of opinion, and in that he was following in the footsteps of Anders Breivik, the Norwegian extremist, who killed 77 teenagers for no apparent reason some years ago.

    What seems to have been at work in both of these cases – in Norway and Christchurch – was a tragic misreading of the state of opinion in the host community. Somehow or another, these killers misinterpreted the fundamental beliefs that prevailed in the society in which they carried out their murderous intents.

    How did they make such a fatal mistake? Because they listened to the “dog whistles” – and often these noises were not difficult to interpret, but were deliberately expressive of overtly hate-filled attitudes – or at least attitudes that regarded some of our fellow-citizens, by virtue of their differences in culture, religion or ethnicity, as deserving of responses based on fear, anger and hate.

    So, sorry Mike. The “massive gap” you see between hate-filled rhetoric and policy on the one hand and “mad men with guns” is no gap at all – the two go hand in hand, and – if we are to avoid future tragedies – we have no option but to forestall and frustrate the peddling of “hate speech”. It has already done enough to propagate a shocking violence in the society in which we all live.

    Bryan Gould
    19 March 2019



1 Comment

  1. George Garard says: March 22, 2019 at 2:40 pmReply

    I believe the Christchurch gunman used verbal abuse as he was shooting his victims. So you are right there. Hosking is not an ordinary New Zealander and probably spends most of his life inside an office, not really experiencing New Zealand life or culture. Most of his opinions are probably formed from his interaction with talkback radio callers.

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