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The freedom to express hate

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Published: Updated:

Late author Ghazi al-Gosaibi was one of the most prominent figures to confront the hatred movement in the beginning of the 1990s. His book “Until there is no fitnah” is a significant historical and intellectual reference during that Saudi phase which suffered from the extremist Sahwa movement.

The public declaration of hatred and incitement via platforms and media outlets are still a common culture today. However, they are now being carried out under different excuses. In the past, the rhetoric of hate and hostility was adopted on the basis of religious principles that were taken out of context.

This is what activists did against their rivals. Today, however, they are adopted in the name of freedom of expression which is restrained by time and place and which is against collective incitement that is considered a crime. Expression via making statements and incitement are different than freedom of discussion which can be tolerated even if it proposes racial ideas.

Hate speech emerged in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf in the 1990s, and it was accompanied by regional political disturbances, the development of technology and the import of Sahwa ideas. It happened around the same time we witnessed activity which exploited religion. That activity was called “Sahwa” in Saudi Arabia, and it basically copied the culture of the Muslim Brotherhood and brought foreign political agendas into the kingdom.

If this racist rhetoric spreads and threatens the society’s stability, American legislators will most likely intervene to impose controls

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

The Arab nation-state

The standards of freedom differ according to the country’s civilization and cultural experience. The concept of the Arab nation-state is new and it takes time before it shows signs of maturity through the society’s full and harmonious integration within a civil system. This is not an easy task.

What is ironic is that when wars in third world countries erupt in the name of “nationalism” and “reform,” they often end up in fighting over contradictory values, which defend sectarianism, tribalism and other unpatriotic affiliations. This is what is happening today in Syria, Libya and Yemen.

All the wars there erupted to reinforce national concepts, reject dictatorships, i.e. Assad’s, Qaddafi’s and Saleh’s, and demand justice. Later on, however, the wars became all about partisan projects with very narrow interests.

To some, hate speech seems like a simple and spontaneous expression that is harmonious with the society’s common inherited racism. However, hate speech is what threatens the state’s entity the most. Allowing people to express hatred and encourage hostility against groups in their own society threatens to undermine the state. Allowing sectarianism means allowing discrimination.

Recently, two hate incidents occurred in two different places around the same time and showed that this hate disease is in fact present even when the society is cultured. The first incident is when sectarian and racist people criticized those offering their condolences for the death of Kuwaiti actor Abdulhussain Abdulredha.

White supremacists

The second one is the white supremacists’ protest in the University of Virginia in Charlottesville against other races. Those protesting under the excuse of freedom of expression can notice that almost all American media outlets do not host anyone who defends racist protestors. This is because hate speech is rejected although freedom of expression is protected by the constitution.

Social media networks represent a challenge to the American government as well as to our governments because they are out of control and they are being used by racists to market their ideas and mobilize the public opinion in their favor.

If this racist rhetoric spreads and becomes a dangerous phenomenon that threatens the society’s stability, American legislators will most likely intervene to impose controls and penalties on the use of tools like Twitter and Facebook. Things however haven’t reached this phase yet.

Racism in the US may seem uncontrolled but people in the US are allowed to express it but are prohibited from practicing it. The law actually criminalizes those who do not hire or educate people for racial reasons and prohibits discrimination.

The sectarian voices we heard when Abdulhussain Abdulredha passed away did not target him as a figure or insulted him or rejected him but actually exploited the occasion of his death to impose their opinions and activate conflicts. Racism is a disease that is present in all societies and like wars, it will always exist. Civilized countries aim to fight racism via laws and batons and also via education.

Expressing hate towards other citizens is capable of undermining any state entity. Therefore, when we reject and confront hate, we don’t just do it out of respect for Abdulredha but also to protect the entity of a nation.

Racism is a series of endless practices against those who are not from one’s same area, town, sect, religion, race and ethnicity and against those whom one does not agree with. This is how societies fragment and clash.

This article is also available in Arabic.
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Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.