August 10, 2012

Right-Wing Hate in the Sikh Tragedy

alleged Sikh shooterAs a group of people who tend to value free expression, it is understandable that discussing hate speech may make some atheists feel uncomfortable. Most of us have been accused of hate speech simply because the religious majority would prefer not to hear our opinions of their faith. We are sensitive to protecting the freedom of speech, and we have good reason to be. At the same time, it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the role of hate speech in far-right extremism.

Right-wing extremists hate those with different political views. They hate individuals of different races and nationalities. They hate women. They hate anything they consider "sinful," including something as natural as one's sexual orientation. They hate persons with different religious beliefs, and they most certainly hate atheists.

These individuals have a right to their opinions and to express them. While we recognize certain limitations (e.g., inciting violence), most hate speech is legal. In fact, it is not only legal, it is modeled for us by a number of our elected officials. Of course, that does not mean we have to ignore it. We have our own right to express ourselves, and this includes organizing boycotts or other actions.

As we learn that the alleged shooter in the latest American mass murder was likely a right-wing extremist, we must acknowledge that he may not have been influenced by anything or anyone. And yet, having heard the constant stream of hate from Fox "News" and right-wing talk radio, including xenophobia and the repeated suggestion that all non-Christians are enemies of the state, it is difficult not to see some influence. To the degree that we find evidence linking the alleged gunman to right-wing hate, the odds of there being no influence drop considerably.

For those of us who value free expression, the goal is unlikely to be one of stamping out right-wing hate but figuring out how to reduce its influence on vulnerable individuals. And this might involve increasing the costs to those who propagate this sort of hate (e.g., letting their advertisers know we are not interested in supporting them).

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