JISPIL Vol 10 Issue 2 2014 - A1

By Michael Bohlander

Usually, hate-speech and its criminalisation are looked at from the angle of a separate hate-speech offence, and often in the context of human rights law, especially freedom of speech and religion. In the Islamic world, such issues are treated under blasphemy laws and the availability of severe sanctions for that offence, not infrequently the death penalty, may make a separate recourse to homicide offences unnecessary. Yet, recent events in the Islamic world suggest that it would not be unimaginable to entertain the idea of a liability for the deaths of those killed in unrests caused by hate-speech, in Western legal systems: Can it be acceptable any longer, in the age of YouTube and other (social) networks of instantaneous and easy-access worldwide information traffic, that people intentionally put out inflammatory messages which they know will lead to unrests with the risk of lethal outcomes, without having to bear any legal consequences? Is freedom of speech a panacea which allows them to wash their hands of these obvious effects of their actions? Can the criminal law accommodate liability in such circumstances or are we asking the system to do something that it should not and maybe even cannot do? Is that kind of thinking the first step on a slippery slope towards religious censorship and thought-crime? Against the background of events such as those triggered in 2012 by the dissemination of the film Innocence of Muslims, we will look at the specific anti-Islamic context as an example where the lines appear to be particularly bright, because general experience tells us that the adherents of no other religion tend to react to religious provocations as violently and as predictably as a certain conservative sector of the Muslim community. This is a sensitive area as it partly deals with non-Muslim perceptions about Muslim self-perception which may not be shared by everyone, least of all the moderate Muslims who are not part of the problem, either. Yet it is necessary to start a discussion about the issue. By doing so, we do not contend that Islam is in any special position as far as the need for protection from defamation is concerned, yet it cannot be denied that the vast majority of the current problems in this field are specifically Islam-related. The Islamic context thus lends itself well to drawing the contours of the problem.

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