Monday, December 14, 2015

Hate Speech, Education for Tolerance, and Counter-Speech

By Lauren E. Bartlett

A few days ago I listened to Ted Cruz talk about the difference between Islamism and the Islamic faith, and “carpet bombing” in response to ISIS.  Earlier this week I saw my first Trump for President shirt at a local mall and the next day Donald Trump called for a ban on Muslims entering the U.S.  Also, along my drive to work through rural Northwest Ohio, I pass no fewer than five Confederate Flags.  I acknowledge that terrorism is extremely frightening, as are perceived threats to your way of life, but this bombardment of racism is offensive, deeply saddening, and pisses me off.   

 Some part of me wants to argue that all of that is racist hate speech and should be banned, but I believe that argument should fail from the start.  I wholeheartedly agree with U.N. High Commissioner on Human Rights Prince Zeid who said that “Trump is grossly irresponsible for stoking Islamophobia and hatred”, and notice how carefully he chose the word “stoking” as opposed to “inciting”.  But that is as far as I actually want to go in terms of limiting this speech.  True to my U.S. legal training, I love our broad interpretation of the First Amendment.   I am a firm believer in the fundamental right to freedom of opinion and expression as necessary for transparency and accountability to further each and every human right.  If I was not presented with all of the Confederate Flags, I may not have realized that I live and teach in one of the most racist parts of the U.S.  If I did not hear what the presidential candidates really think about my Muslim friends, perhaps I would vote for them.  If we do not hear the true opinions of others, it is easy to get lulled into thinking that there are no problems. 

The U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination stated in its General recommendation No. 35 on Combating racist hate speech that “especially effective antidotes to racist hate speech include education for tolerance, and counter-speech.”   That is my plan.  I am going to fill the void and make sure that counter expressions in support of freedom from discrimination are prolific, in my own community. 

I am going to talk about the Confederate Flag in my classes when we tackle lawyering across cultural differences.  I plan to discuss the Flag as a war memorial to fallen soldiers, as a symbol of States’ rights and autonomy, but also as a symbol of racism, denial of slavery (comparing our treatment of denial of slavery with denial of genocide laws in Rwanda and other countries), and the anti-civil rights movement (I may use this radio show released a couple of weeks ago to introduce the topic).  During the same series, we will also talk about Black Lives Matter, and anti-Muslim rhetoric and its effects on Muslim Americans among us.  I may get some ideas from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Lesson Plans on propaganda and otherwise.  Facilitating this conversation among my majority conservative law students may push my buttons and stretch my patience, but isn’t it my job as an educator to demonstrate respect and understanding?  To show respect and provide space for dignity for all, lawyers need to be able to demonstrate tolerance with our clients—tolerance to be able to discuss different cultural beliefs, tolerance of misunderstandings, and even racism. 

I have already reached out to each of my Muslim students to tell them that they are awesome, that lunch is on me any time they wish it, and that I will serve as a resource if they would like.  I am trying to support an event here on campus to provide support to the many Muslim students on campus, and I am going to register voters for the upcoming elections.  Let me know in the comments section if you have any additional ideas for me and/or others.

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You are awesome, Laura. Thank you for this post and your ideas on how to bring this discussion to life in our schools.

Posted by: Margaret Drew | Dec 14, 2015 5:06:51 AM

Thank you for this. We must make a strong, loud, and ethical response.

Posted by: Jane McPherson | Dec 15, 2015 8:03:06 AM

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