JBC: Let’s talk about Charlottesville.
As you probably heard, two weeks ago there was a protest in a small Virginia town against the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, a Confederate general who defended slavery in the American South. Various hate groups, including white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan, assembled there with shields, weapons, fascist flags and anti-Semitic slogans. They were met with counterprotest, and things got violent. A supremacist slammed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one and injuring 19.
Charlottesville has shaken hope for a post-racial America to the core. But before readers in Japan breathe a sigh of relief and think, “It couldn’t happen here, not in peaceful Japan,” remember this:
Japan has also had plenty of hate rallies — there was about one per day on average in 2013 and 2014, according to the Justice Ministry. Rightist xenophobes and government-designated hate groups have assembled and held demos nationwide. Bearing signs calling foreign residents “cockroaches,” calling for a Nanking-style massacre of Koreans in an Osaka Koreatown, even advocating the extermination of “all Koreans, good or bad,” Japan’s haters have also used violence (some lethal) against the country’s minorities.
As JBC has argued before (“Osaka’s move on hate speech should be just the first step,” Jan. 31, 2016), freedom of speech is not an absolute. And hate speech is special: It ultimately and necessarily leads to violence, due to the volatile mix of dehumanization with flared tempers.
That’s why Japan decided to do something about it. In 2016 the Diet passed a law against hate speech (albeit limiting it to specifically protect foreign residents). And it has had an effect: Japanese media reports fewer rallies and softer invective.
America, however, hasn’t gotten serious about this. It has no explicit law against hate speech, due to fears about government censorship of freedom of speech. Opponents argue that the only cure is freer speech — that somehow hate will be balanced out by reasonable and rational counter-hate. That persuasion will win out.
But in 2016, it didn’t. Hate speech is precisely how Donald J. Trump got elected president…