As we debate the heady issues of the day here in the United States (often at very high temperatures) it’s probably wise to pay attention to what happens if you live in a country that doesn’t have anything close to our First Amendment protections. Today’s example comes to us from Germany, where unrest over the flood of Syrian refugees and “economic immigrants” has led to a growing backlash among the natives. They’ve been speaking out, both in public protests and on social media, and the government has heard their cries… and decided to prosecute them for it. (Washington Post)
Donald Trump may be testing the boundaries of tolerance on the U.S. campaign trail. But here in Germany, the government is effectively enforcing civility, taking aim at a surge of hate speech against refugees and Muslims.
As Western Europe’s most populous nation grapples with a historic wave of mostly-Muslim migrants, politicians and activists are decrying a rash of incendiary speech bubbling to the surface of German society. In a country whose Nazi past led to some of the strictest laws in the West protecting minorities from people inciting hatred, prosecutors are launching investigations into inflammatory comments as judges dole out fines, even probation time, to the worst offenders.
Perhaps even more disturbing than the crackdown on the protests, it’s being reported that German has “reached a deal” with Facebook, Twitter and Google wherein the social media outlets will cooperate in identifying “hate speech” for investigation. And here we run into the same old problem that we encounter in the United States with so called “hate crime” laws. The criminalization of thought is troubling enough to begin with, but as soon as that door is cracked open you then have to deal with the question of who will be making the determination of what constitutes “hate speech” as opposed to criticism or debate. As long as it’s the government making that call you have effectively approved censorship of opinions. And in Germany you can be arrested for it.
I’ve read a bit of the history of this over the years and to a certain extent you can understand how this took place in Germany. It dates all the way back to the end of World War II and the fall of the Nazis. The pushback against the evil empire was so great that it quickly became a crime to so much as mention the name of the party, display any Nazi symbols or basically do anything else to remind people of the horror show which took place. Hard to blame them, I’m sure you’ll agree. It’s somewhat ironic that there were probably more openly avowed Nazis in the United States than in Germany in the decades following the war.
Unfortunately, once the government safely assumed the power to restrict people from talking about Nazis, they could then pretty much ban opinions on anything else they wanted. And today that seems to be applied to objections to the masses of immigrants – particularly Muslims – coming into their country. So if you happen to live in Germany, be careful which rallies you attend or what you say on Twitter. You might be getting a visit from the authorities shortly thereafter.