Germany springs to action over hate speech against musli ‘refugees’…will not tolerate any dissent
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.
German authorities, meanwhile, have reached a deal with Facebook, Google and Twitter to get tougher on offensive content, with the outlets agreeing to apply domestic laws, rather than their own corporate policies, to reviews of posts.
Critics call it the enforcement of political correctness, raising the question of what constitutes hate speech and sparking a national debate over free expression. Germans have been outraged, for instance, by reports of more than 100 sexual assaults and robberies in the city of Cologne allegedly committed by gangs of young Arab and North African men on New Year’s Eve. Some Germans are questioning whether their online comments could be taken down, or whether they could be charged with incitement, for publicly pondering whether refugees could have been among the assailants.
Two of the suspects have been identified as Moroccan citizens. But Cologne police say they have not yet determined whether any of the assailants were recently arrived asylum seekers. Nevertheless, the incidents have fed a strain of anger and suspicion here beyond the traditional migrant critics in the right wing.
“It’s not politically correct to say anything against migrants. We don’t have freedom of opinion anymore. #Cologne,” Tweeted a German user from Hanover going by the handle Pulvermann.
Proponents are hailing the government effort as a way to foment respect while also controlling the most savage voices in society.
“After the Second World War, it was clear that anything that could re-create National Socialist or racist thinking had to be stopped,” said Volker Beck, a lawmaker from Germany’s Green Party. Last month, he filed a lawsuit against a German anti-refugee group after its followers issued death threats against him for publicly defending the right of Muslim women to wear veils at school.
“I’m a civil rights defender, but there has to be a red line,” Beck said.
The German campaign, perhaps not surprisingly, is meeting stiff resistance from far-right groups, including the extremist National Democratic Party of Germany, which in March will face a hearing to determine whether it should be banned. Yet even leaders on the political left are questioning whether the bid to weed out hate is going too far.
Stefan Körner, chairman of Germany’s liberal Pirate Party, argued that democracies “must be able to bear” a measure of xenophobia. He condemned the government’s deal with social media outlets to get tougher on offensive speech, saying that “surely it will lead to too many rather than too few comments being blocked. This is creeping censorship, and we definitely don’t want that.”
It remains unclear how aggressive social media sites are being — some highly offensive posts in German have indeed been quickly removed from Facebook in recent days while others have lingered online for days. Yet the push here happens as a country with a built-in sensitivity to provocative speech has seen a decidedly fiercer public discourse as more than 1 million asylum seekers and migrants crossed Germany’s border last year.
The offensive views include an online post of a hangman’s noose as one solution to the refugee crisis, a quip by a right-wing politician about the breeding habits of Africans, as well as a
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