Here we go again
web posted October 1998
A few years ago civil libertarians had a tough time defending the right of people to place and consume pornographic images on the Internet. It was a fight that culminated in America's Communications Decency Act, fortunately struck down by their Supreme Court. It was an piece of legislation which would have affected Internet surfers around the world.
Sex, however, is a relatively easy thing to defend when compared to racist web sites.
While action against pornography has been temporarily placed on the back burner, the battle against racist web sites on the Internet is just beginning.
In September, the United Kingdom Home Secretary, Jack Straw, called for a world wide fight against racism on the web. Straw wants the governments of countries around the world to work together to remove illegal web sites and prosecute those responsible for them.
To show how serious he is, Straw announced that the country's National Criminal Intelligence Service would act against threatening, abusive and racist material.
"The Internet offers exciting opportunities for global communication, but it is vulnerable to abuse, because web sites and newsgroups are accessible from across international borders," Straw told the Board of Deputies of British Jews on making the announcement.
NCIS experts say that not only are these web sites propagating material like Did Six Million Really Die?, they are also planning terrorist acts. The problem for Straw and NCIS is that most racist web sites are located in Germany, Scandinavia and North America -- especially the United States.
The European Union obviously doesn't have jurisdiction in North America and the laws of the United States present a problem.
"The problem is whose jurisdiction does it come under?," asked Board of Deputies of British Jews spokesman Michael Whine. "Not the Americans, because they don't have laws against it - the First Amendment of the Constitution overwhelms everything."
And there lies the problem for the judges of acceptable speech. While Canada can prosecute racist writings -- and continues to hammer anyone who publishes the writings of Ernst Zundel, even outside of the country on the web -- the home of the modern neo-Nazi movement, the U.S., is beyond their reach.
And a good thing too. While I find racist web sites odious, I am also compelled to defend their right to speech as vociferously as I defend my own. Racism may be the lowest order of collectivist thought, based on irrational conclusions, but it is still speech and must be defended as such.
Despite what one may think, rights can only be infringed by the use of physical force and its indirect means, such as fraud. A racist web site does not infringe your rights even if it targets the particular group you identify with. Until a racist web site actually calls for physical violence against a group, it has left the rights of others unbreached.
That makes government action against these groups and their web sites even more immoral. Government is given a monopoly of force to protect our rights, no matter if the ideas we hold are despised by the rest of society, and not to make value judgments on those ideas.
Speech laws in the real world are undemocratic and an infringement of our rights, even if we don't say anything that contravenes the law, and they are just as undemocratic on the Internet. Unfortunately for those who would judge acceptable speech, the medium moves so quickly that anyone could set up many racist web sites a day and propagate their messages no matter what Jack Straw thinks.
But we must not rely on technology to defend free speech. It is an issue which directly affects all of us, liberal or conservative. We can't be hypocrites on this issue and only defend free speech that we agree with.
If ueber-leftist Noam Chomsky had the guts to defend the free speech rights of racists two decades ago, the least we can do is continue on with that fight. Both in the real world and on the Internet. Free speech is your right too.
Thanks for reading,
Meanwhile, back at the ranch...
Okay, so last month I told you that the minor change to the index page was the last redesign of this site I would ever do.
Over the next few months a new (and I swear permanent) version of Enter Stage Right will be built and tested, though it may not be used. However, unlike previous versions of the site, the new redesign will be geared for a specific content delivery schedule...or in simple language, I'm going to redo the site so that content is added more often than once a month.
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