The criminalization of dissent

When I saw Yahya Chaudhry’s editorial in the IDS, I assumed it would be the usual call for racist speech, white supremacist propaganda or other such filth to be censored. I’ve seen these arguments a number of times, and I vehemently disagree with any efforts to censor speech no matter how offensive that speech may be. It is precisely the speech that is universally offensive where we need to defend free speech most, because censorship of that speech establishes a precedent that endangers all speech – including Chaudhry’s editorials.

Chaudhry’s “argument” was much more insidious and dangerous than that. Chaudhry actually argued videos claiming that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is dictator (which he is) or memorializing a woman shot during the protests “constituted hate speech.” Chaudhry dishonestly equated calls for the death of Ali Khamenei to legitimate criticisms of Ahmadinejad.

This is ridiculous.

What Chaudhry is advocating is the criminalization of all dissent by labeling it “hate.” Under Chaudhry’s cynical, self-serving and authoritarian definition of “hate,” virtually anything can be classified as “hate speech” and criminalized. Chaudhry’s definition of what incites violence could easily lead to censorship of e-mails, Facebook posts and other speech by the Communications Workers of America in protest of a lack of a raise for IU employees, critics of Mitch Daniels and his budgetary priorities, and criticisms of President George W. Bush’s overreaches in the War on Terror, including the inappropriately named “Patriot Act.”

Chaudhry makes the statement that Americans “must continue to hold onto our First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and press” and then follows up that statement by saying “the Internet must be regulated.” The two statements are mutually exclusive, making it clear that the first statement is merely a cynical attempt to shield himself from accusations that he hates freedom. Furthermore, Chaudhry’s overly broad definition of “hate speech” makes him an apologist for a tyrannical and murderous regime.

Chaudhry clearly does not understand why free speech is important, especially over the last 15 years as the Internet has become a way for anyone to have a public platform to criticize those in power. Free speech allows us to hold government accountable and is a critical tool for protecting our freedom and keeping government in check. It is no surprise that authoritarians and their apologists seek to eliminate free speech. The butchers in Iran are terrified of the Internet, and with good reason: The Internet is a threat to absolute power.