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This is the summary of a book, "Hate Spin: The Manufacture of Religious Offense and its Threat to Democracy", forthcoming with the MIT Press, 2016. Visit www.hatespin.net for more information.

Cherian George

on 30 October 2015

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Transcript of HATE SPIN

The use of hate speech to incite people to inflict harm on out-groups.
The use of moral outrage to mobilise followers and marginalise opponents.
The police – like the law – should offer solutions to human rights violations, but is often part of the problem.
A typical scenario
: An event that is legal (a publication, film, or a plan to build a place of worship) is met with violent protests. The protest leaders claim the event has caused intolerable offence. Police arrive to restore order. They decide that the protesters are too difficult to control (because they are too numerous, violent or well connected)...
Eruptions of outrage are often framed as spontaneous, visceral reactions conditioned by religious doctrine.
... so the police turns around and silences the weaker group that protesters claim has offended them.
India's Hindu nationalists have employed hate spin to devastating effect. The minority Muslim population has been systematically constructed as the Other of Hindu nationalism – a common enemy against which elites have been able to unite Hindus, including lower castes previously wary of the Brahmin-based BJP. In the run-up to Narendra Modi's triumphant 2014 election campaign, classic hate speech was deployed in the lynchpin state of Uttar Pradesh, resulting in major communal riots in Muzaffarnagar. In addition, a campaign of offence-taking has suppressed academic history not aligned with the myths surrounding Hindu nationalist ideology.
The United States' small Muslim minority has been targeted by a concerted Islamophobia campaign. In several states, hate spin agents have manufactured paranoia over a non-existent threat of creeping Sharia law, and even succeeded in getting anti-Sharia laws enacted. Small communities, such as in Murfreesboro, Tennessee (below), have faced fierce opposition to building mosques, which have been cast as terrorism training centres. Even when such campaigns are thwarted by US courts' commitment to religious freedom, hate spin agents succeed in their strategic objective: to mainstream anti-Muslim rhethoric, heighten fear, and increase support for their own religious nationalism.
After a string of peaceful elections, Indonesia can now be regarded as a consolidated democracy. The threat from radical Islamic terrorism as well as secessionist movements have been largely contained. However, Indonesian democracy is marred by rising religious intolerance. Its blashemy law has been abused by absolutist Muslim groups to persecute minorities. Political leaders' attempts to pander to the forces of intolerance groups have encouraged violent groups like the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI, below). Security forces often deal with breaches of order by siding with the larger and more boisterous mobs, against defenceless minorities.
When offence is followed by violence, is
the answer? When the vilification
the violence (as with hate speech), prohibition of the speech may be required.

But when the violence is a
reaction against
the perceived insult, censorship rewards those who choose to take offence in unlawful ways. Insult laws encourage strategic offence-taking. Such laws put the coercive power of the state at the disposal of the most intolerant groups in a society.
Hate spin always operates through provocateurs. These middlemen – usually elites – decide when they can benefit from mobilisation through fear-mongering and hate. They identify potent symbols that can generate the required outrage, and then activate their audience's religious emotions.
Hate spin can result in various harms. Hate speech can incite extreme hostility against the targeted group, resulting in discrimination, violence and even genocide. Manufactured indignation can result in censorship and the further silencing of already-oppressed minorites.
Some groups are burdened with historical disadvantages that make it hard for their members to fight back in the marketplace of ideas when they are targeted by unfair assaults on their identities. When such vilification incites harms against these groups, we call it hate speech.
The manufacture of religious offence and its threat to democracy
Why hate
and not hate
? Hate speech refers expression that incites hatred: an out-group is vilified and then becomes the victim of harms. But, sometimes, the harm flows in the opposite direction as the perceived offence. A group that feels insulted reacts by attacking those who are seen as responsible for the offending expression. The term, hate spin, captures this double-sided political strategy, of offence-giving (
) and offence-taking (
Hate spin in...
Good laws can inhibit hate spin. Bad laws can encourage it. The UN's International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights gives clear principles:
Hate speech that incites people to inflict harm on others must be prohibited by law (Article 20).
Speech that merely insults or offends, or that attacks religions or ideologies, must be protected as part of people's right to freedom of expression (Article 19).
The thinking around
has shifted dramatically in recent centuries, and especially over the past few decades. Lawmakers used to assume that the state should protect a nation's deepest beliefs and most cherished symbols (including the dominant religion and the prestige of the ruler) against deviant views. This has been overturned by the liberal view that a society's most dominant ideas and powerful groups do not need legal protection. Rather, the law should protect minorities and their viewpoints. However, the traditional approach is still found in many countries.
Within the liberal approach, the US is exceptionally strict in its definition of illegal incitement. US First Amendment doctrine allows the government to intervene in public discourse only in very extreme situations: when the speech will directly result in immediate violence. In contrast, the European Court of Human Rights and other courts that apply human rights standards expect states to intervene when there is incitement to discrimination and hostility, not just violence.
These victims could be religious or ethnic minorities, immigrants, or LBGTs, for example. There are also indirect victims: any citizen who prizes a plural democracy and a diverse society loses when exclusive and intolerant values gain ground.
Hate spin often draws on
religious justifications
, suggesting that intolerance is rooted in certain religions. However, scholars of religion tell us that all religious beliefs (even those claiming to adhere to fundamentals) are acts of human interpretation. Even religions that appear to be doctrinally more open, like Buddhism and Hinduism, have been appropriated by hate spin agents.
The internet has made things easier for hate spin agents. The world wide web is a bottomless well of material against which outrage can be whipped up. It also enables the crowdsourcing of hate campaigns.
When we see seemingly spontaneous eruptions of violent outrage, one of the clearest hints that these are actually instigated by hate spin agents is the time lag between the first appearance of the offending content and the eventual reaction.
Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says that "all human beings are born
in dignity and rights". Hate speech laws should try to strike a balance between freedom (including freedom of expression) and equality (including the right to live free of discrimination).
Unfortunately, many countries do the opposite of what's required: laws prohibiting incitement are not enforced when they are really needed, while anti-blasphemy and other insult laws rush to the side of those who express indignation with sufficient rage. In such societies, oppressed minorities face a double whammy: they are victimised by hate speech, while their own speech is suppressed as being offensive to the dominant group.
“The Mecca and Medina of their politics is in Pakistan.”

– BJP Bihar state leader Giriraj Singh questioning the loyalty of Indians who opposed Narendra Modi (left). BJP politicians' rhetoric routinely casts India's Muslim minority as dangerous, while Hindus are portrayed as genuinely Indian. Academic history books that contradict the narrative of Hindu nationalism have come under attack. Under the BJP government, Hindu mythology is increasingly being taught as Indian history.
“Kill! Kill! Kill! Kill Ahmadiyah!”
– FPI leader Sobri Lubis on a YouTube video. Such hate speech against the Ahmadiyah sect has gone unchecked. In 2011, a mob attacked Ahmadis in Cikeusik. Three members of the minority group were savagely killed. Although the entire incident was caught on video, jail terms of merely 3-6 months were handed down to 12 invididuals convicted for the crime.

Human rights groups regard Indonesia's blasphemy law as a key problem. The law reinforces the judgments of conservative religious authorities when they declare groups like the Ahmadiyah to be deviants. Extreme groups then use the official position to justify their violence.
“The preeminent totalitarian threat of our time.”

– Center for Security Policy, describing Shariah as a "legal-political-military doctrine". Although there is no movement among Muslims in the US to recognise Shariah, and despite the American Bar Association's objections, several states have enacted defensive legislation against Shariah, as a result of the Islamophobia network's effective hate spin.
Politicians, civil society and media all have roles to play in standing up against hate spin. Political and civic responses are required to develop and maintain a culture of pluralism and tolerance. Legal solutions aren't always necessary, and restricting speech should be a last resort in open societies.
The media must take a stand against hate speech, never reporting it "neutrally".
Civil Rights Memorial Center, Montgomery, Alabama.
Even if – and especially if – free speech laws permit hate speech, politicians, opinion leaders and ordinary citizens can push such speech into the margins and ensure that the core of the public sphere affirms diversity and remains open to minority voices.
Human rights champion Cedric Prakash in Ahmedabad, India, with Gujarat history text books.
NGOs and media can monitor insiduous hate spin at the grassroots, including the insertion of discriminatory language in school text books.

They can name and shame companies, foundations and other organisations that directly or tacitly support the spread of hate.
The media should not be taken in by manufactured religious indignation. Describing protests as "sparked" or "triggered" by offence conceals the vital role played by hate spin agents. As with any controversy, it is the media's job to reveal the interests that benefit from others' distress.


When the anti-immigrant group PEGIDA demonstrated in German cities, sites like Cologne Cathedral turned off their exterior lights to signal their opposition – and deny the demonstrators a photo opp at Germany's most iconic public sites.
What about psychological and emotional harms caused by expression that insults people's deeply held beliefs?

It's natural for societies to want to censor such offence. The problem is that insult and offence are highly subjective, and laws that attempt to regulate these harms are often abused.


By Cherian George
But that doesn't explain why these incidents happen when and where they do.
Law insulates people's feelings from expression that offends them.

Law sides with majority group and mainstream culture and values.

Law protects religious orthodoxy, punishing critics and deviants.

State is swift to restrict provocative speech to maintain order.

Social harmony is enforced through laws against offensive expression.
Law protects people from real harms like discrimination, violence.

Majority group can protect itself; law sides with the vulnerable.

Law won't shield beliefs; there's no progress without ideas that offend.

Public order reasons for restricting speech must satisfy courts.

Social harmony is built by civic and political means, not by force.
Forthcoming with the MIT Press, 2016
Laws against offence (like blasphemy) make such injustices more likely.
Conversely, no monotheistic faith is doomed to be absolutist; every major religion contains resources to inspire a cosmopolitan respect for diversity.
But the internet is not an indispensible tool. Hate spin campaigns can and do take place without digital media. Agents have used satellite television, political rallies, sermons in places of worship, and word of mouth to spread hate.
Weeks, months or even years can pass before something that was there all along is suddenly deemed offensive. What changed is not the presence of the offending material, but the incentives to take offence. Similarly, the protests usually die down when there is no longer political advantage to be gained, even if the offending material has not been completely removed.
Intolerant groups can use insult laws to repress minority rights...
... to instigate censorship of art, literature and science...
... and punish critics of the religious establishment.
Members of the Russian feminist punk rock group were arrested after a guerrilla performance in a Moscow cathedral. They were jailed for hooliganism motivated
by "religious hatred". The government said they were eroding the country's moral foundations.
This is an easy one. It is clear to all independent observers that Pussy Riot were not attacking religion, but protesting against Vladimir Putin and the Russian Orthodox church establishment that supports him.
The Pakistani tech activist was shot dead in 2015. Police said the suspect was taking revenge for her campaign to celebrate Valentine's Day in opposition to rulings issued by
Sabeen Mahmud's assassination probably had nothing to do with her secular views. She was almost certainly punished for hosting a discussion on Balochistan, where security forces have been accused of human rights violations.
In a series of murders in Bangladesh, "atheist" bloggers have been knifed to death one by one. The killings have been reported as evidence of growing religious extremism in the world's fourth largest Muslim country.
Bloggers became targets not because of their religious views, but due their leading role in the mass protests over the on-going war crimes trials (pictured). Religious extremists became convenient tools of the political agenda to silence the movement.
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