Freedom of Speech


There is nothing quite as frustrating to me as American freedom of speech.

Political correctness was pretty much non-existent when I left Holland, and judging by the percentage of racial slurs on a website with Dutch swear words that I visited recently, it still is. I have to say that living here, I have been influenced by the whole political correctness thing, and when I see those racial slurs on that Dutch website, neatly collected in alphabetical order, I cringe. I would have cringed before, but now I feel shame–yes, shame, ladies and gents–for my country.

And yet in America, where the “n-word” must not ever be said completely, even when referring to it as a racial slur, the Ku Klux Klan can demonstrate, the neo-nazi-nuts can have camp-out weekends that are all about white supremacy (and marshmallows for the kids, or course), and a group of fringe-baptists goes around disturbing random funerals with signs and slogans claiming that whoever died deserved it because God hates gays. It doesn’t even matter whether the deceased was gay or not. They just want to say it, and so they find a funeral to do it at.

Nothing to be done about it, apparently. These people are perfectly in their right when they intimidate a whole ethnic group, or hold their hate speech conferences around the campfire, or destroy the last moments loved ones have with the dead, because they have the freedom of speech.

There’s the difference between American free speech and most Western European free speech laws. In Holland, free speech is qualified as not including speech that is meant to intimidate or incite violence against a group of people. And free speech also doesn’t automatically trump the right to privacy, such as at funerals.

So yes, individuals can call each other terrible things and that makes me uncomfortable, but a Ku Klux Klan, neo-nazi groups, or religious fanatics who disrupt funerals would be forbidden.

What’s wrong with that?

It’s pretty clear to us Europeans. People should have a right to privacy and safety and therefore dangerous hatemongers should be told to shut up, at least in public. Nothing else is censored. It’s not communism. It’s not a slippery slope, because it’s in the constitution and can’t just be changed.

As a Dutch person I can’t get my mind around the fact that schools here are pussy-footing around Mark Twain’s use of the n-word in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which is clearly meant to be a social criticism, but that the Ku Klux Klan is still allowed to exist.

What about the pursuit of happiness? I’m sure the KKK and the neo-nazis and those fringe-baptists are positively giddy, but how about the entire ethnic groups who are targeted by them and whose blood pressure must rise to dangerous levels when they see those white cloaks or swastikas? I know mine does. And what about families just wanting to lay their loved ones to rest in peace?

Maybe it’s not just because I’m Dutch. Maybe it’s also because I’m getting old and more like my father. Whatever happened to common decency, politeness, decorum, sensitivity, tolerance, peacefulness … and the good old urge to kill those goddamn nazi bastards!

I would love to know what you think, even about old posts.

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