Bernie Farber, a former CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress, writes on human and civil rights matters. He is currently CEO of the Paloma Foundation that works with homeless youth shelters in Toronto's inner city.
The brutal murder in France by Islamic terrorists of 12 journalists from France's satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo should prompt a discussion about the stark differences between racial hatred and the deliberate use of irreverence and stereotype to drive home a message.
There can be no doubt that Charlie Hebdo's credo was to shock the reader using blasphemy and stereotype to make its point. And yes, at times, Charlie Hebdo could be excessive. In democracies that value free speech, religion can be criticized, questioned and yes even mocked. In many democratic countries laws have been enacted to counter speech that is used to provoke and promote extreme hatred. It is interesting to note that France has some very onerous anti-hate laws, yet Charlie Hebdo has never found itself in French Court as a result of its hard-edged criticisms of Mohammed and Islam.
For fascist terrorists, free speech simply does not exist. Anyone who blasphemes the Prophet Mohammed must die. Never mind that such murder of innocent people runs counter to Islamic law, this has nothing in fact to do with religion and everything to do with control and an imposition of values.
At the same time, another smaller but important free speech controversy was also playing out: Facebook was permitting its site to promote racial hatred with a page established by unknown bigots called "Jewish Ritual Murder." It is a historical calumny which promotes the poisonous lie that Jews use the blood of Christian and Muslim children to bake unleavened bread for the holiday of Passover. It has received close to 800 "likes". This racial hatred is more despicable than the ridicule seen in Charlie Hebdo.
When the page was brought to my attention I did what I was trained to do from years honed as a human rights advocate with Canadian Jewish Congress; using an actual Facebook "Community standards procedure," I filed a complaint asking that the offensive page be removed. Dozens of others have done the same. Facebook says the following about hate speech:
"Facebook does not permit hate speech, but distinguishes between serious and humorous speech. While we encourage you to challenge ideas, institutions, events, and practices, we do not permit individuals or groups to attack others based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability or medical condition."
Really? Forgive then my cynicism, but having spent a good portion of my professional life mired in analyzing and assessing alleged hate speech, I think I am on pretty safe ground in stating that Facebook's "Jewish Ritual Murder" is no comedy and quite possibly the worst form of antisemitic race hatred.
Why so? Nothing can stink more of Jew-hatred than the accusation that Jews engage in ritual murder. It has been the cause of indescribable brutality directed at Jews for centuries. Jews have been murdered as a direct result of this malicious representation. Facebook has refused to remove the page, so I began to wonder how stringently Facebook reacted to community concerns.
Back in October of last year, Emma Bond, a young British mother, posted a picture to Facebook of her breastfeeding her premature baby. Sadly, but not surprisingly, one outraged Facebook subscriber made a complaint and in a flash Facebook acquiesced and removed the photo in question. Thousands of irate Facebookers took to their Macs, tablets and PCs to let Facebook know exactly how they felt.
This led to a review of the circumstances of Ms. Bond's posting of the picture and surprise, the picture was reinstated. In fact Emma Bond's advocacy led to a revolution of sorts with Facebook taking a wholesale re-look at their policy towards nude mothers.
Perhaps its is time that those of us in the human rights community use the market place of ideas to speak out against race hatred and hate speech on places like Facebook. Emma Bond showed us that exposing right from wrong actually works. Indeed such action demonstrates how to effectively deal with publicly promoted hatred in free and democratic societies. We use words not bullets.
Allegations of Jewish ritual murder were often found in the dingy basements of bigots and racists. Even during the heyday of the neo-Nazi movement in Canada and North America, Jewish ritual murder occupied a special place in the perverted minds of only a very few despicable anti-semites. Today, Facebook has elevated anti-semitism to new heights of acceptability; its time that Facebook learned wrong from right.