Hate Speech or Free Speech on Migrants in UK Press?

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The anti-immigration movement in Britain has parlayed fear and reality of continued migration into substantial political power in effective alliance with an ever more xenophobic media. Of course this is nothing particularly distinct to the UK but appears as an ever more dominant part of the rhetoric in most EU states, from Scandinavia to Germany to Greece to France, the Le Pen dynasty has concocted a new political intoxicator —  anti-Semitism with  anti-African and anti-Islamic rhetoric. Nonetheless, the Sun  tabloid in the UK may have exceeded all bounds for a presumably mainstream press outlet when it referred to migrants as “cockroaches.” At a time when the UN is concerned and Europe is seeking a more comprehensive response regarding the plights, death and exploitation of waves of migrants mostly indistinguishable as to whether they are escaping conflict, climate change, or demeaning poverty in home countries, according to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, (UNHCHR), this “nasty underbelly of racism that is characterizing the migration debate has skewed the EU response to the crisis.”

Nazi Holocaust to Rwanda Genocide

The Sun Nazi Holocaust to Rwanda Genocide article from April 17, 2015  began: “Show me pictures of coffins, show me bodies floating in water, play violins and show me skinny people looking sad. I still don’t care.” The article describes migrants as “a plague of feral humans,” and said some British towns were “festering sores, plagued by swarms of migrants and asylum seekers shelling out benefits like Monopoly money.”  According to the statement issued by the UNHCHR, Prince Zeid, the article also advocated using gunboats to stop migrants, threatening them with violence, and said “drilling a few holes in the bottom of anything suspiciously resembling a boat would be a good idea too.”  He also noted that the cited rhetoric is in language very similar to that employed by Rwanda’s Kangura newspaper and Radio Mille Collines during the lead up to the 1994 genocide. Such language eventually resulted in convictions of such offending Rwandan media organizations by an international tribunal (ICTR) for public incitement to commit genocide. If such criteria applied to Africa or Asia, then a similar standard should be relevant in Europe.

Is Europe Infected by Hate more than overrun by Migrants?

High Commissioner Prince Zeid urged UK authorities to closely examine the broader issue of incitement to hatred by the tabloid press and other sectors of society. “This vicious verbal assault on migrants and asylum seekers in the UK tabloid press has continued unchallenged under the law for far too long. The Nazi media described people their masters wanted to eliminate as rats and cockroaches. This type of language is clearly inflammatory and unacceptable, especially in a national newspaper. The Sun’s editors took an editorial decision to publish this article, and – if it is found in breach of the law – should be held responsible along with the author.”   He noted that this was no longer an isolated incident but something becoming more prevalent. UK tabloids over the past two decades have attributed real and imagined acts to asylum seekers and migrants including rape, murder, disease, theft, and almost every conceivable crime and misdemeanor in front-page articles and two-page spreads, in cartoons, editorials, even on the sports pages of almost all the national tabloid newspapers. “Many of these stories have been grossly distorted and some have been outright fabrications.” Such rhetoric has not only been targeted at new migrants but also well established minorities, from the Roma, to Jews to persons of color to European Muslims.

“Elsewhere in Europe, as well as in other countries, there has been a similar process of demonization taking place, but usually led by extremist political parties or demagogues rather than extremist media.” UNHCHR Zeid offered that while migration and refugee issues are completely valid topics for public debate, “it is imperative that migration policy decisions that affect people’s lives and fundamental human rights should be made on the basis of fact – not fiction, exaggeration or blatant xenophobia.” The debate in the free media perhaps has to also consider what is free expression or plainly hate media, an incitement to violence, conflict, perhaps even genocide, and ultimately undermines human rights but also our free society. (See : “Does the US See ‘Institutionalized Discrimination’ in the Wake of Ferguson?“)

“Hate Within will eventually Destroy the Hater”

We tend to favor freedom of media and expression whenever there is a balance to be considered particularly with government or theological authority providing the final say on what is legitimate. The rise of social media and digital diplomacy has opened the window for hate speech, incitement and terror recruitment; however, new technology also exposes such hateful ideas that slithered unnoticed in the past to an ever more broad and well circulated free marketplace of ideas. From the far right of Europe, to the “696” incitement of Myanmar.  (See:  “Aung San Suu Kyi — Silence to Genocide?‘)   to the hate groups in the US to ISIS, (see:  “Confronting ISIS: Is Rule of Law & Democracy Part of Coalition?”) the light of day may be the best sanitizer.  As one American born a slave and reaching to be one of the US’s great educators and scientists, George Washington Carver, stated: “Fear of something is at the root of hate for others, and hate within will eventually destroy the hater.”

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has acted correctly to put to notice the rise of a new rhetoric which has had consequences both in terms of incitement and prosecution under the rule of law for incitement and genocide. Whether Rwanda, Bosnia, Myanmar or the UK, accountability is part of both the further development of national responsibility and the notion of the rule of law internationally. However, recalling George Washington Carver, hate may corrode the very values and democratic ideals from within a free society, unless we expose and retort.



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