The recent sexual assault in Cologne of women on New Year’s Eve has shocked the nation. As many as 1000 men, allegedly set upon women and made them run a gauntlet as they were grabbed, their clothes ripped, and their bodies groped. Police sources and witnesses have said that many were refugees — triggering renewed objections over a spate of rapes and assaults of women in the country attributed to recent immigrants. To make matters worse for the government, newspapers are reporting that one man told police “I am Syrian. You have to treat me kindly. Mrs Merkel invited me.” The result has been a rising tide of criticism of Merkel for her open-door policy. Yet, that criticism may now be muted by a move by the government to crackdown on anti-immigration comments as a form of “hate speech.” As we discussed today with the effort to ban Donald Trump, free speech is being rolled back in Europe under hate crime and anti-discrimination laws as an alarming rate. It is particularly worrisome when the government is under attack on an issue like immigration and responds by prosecuting people for such criticism. News reports indicate that 18 of the 31 known suspects from Cologne were asylum seekers, including “nine Algerians, eight Moroccans, five Iranians, four Syrians, an Iraqi, a Serbian, an American and two German nationals.
We have previously discussed the alarming rollback on free speech rights in the West, particularly in France (here and here and here and here and here and here) and England ( here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here). Much of this trend is tied to the expansion of hate speech and non-discrimination laws. We have seen comedians targeted with such court orders under this expanding and worrisome trend. (here and here).
Prosecutors are charging people who are “inciting hatred” in Germany by speaking out against immigrants and their impact on German society. Prosecutors and judges are determining what criticism will be allowed and what will be treated as criminal. In the meantime, the government has reached a deal with Facebook, Google and Twitter to crackdown on Internet speech. It is an effort to create the artificial appearance of agreement and tolerance by denying free speech to critics.
While it is still not clear how many of the Cologne attackers were immigrants (as many as 22 have been identified as refugees), the incident has been a flashpoint as numerous stories of women and girls being harassed about their clothing or assaulted by immigrants. For example, a 26-year-old Berlin man’s home was raided by police, who confiscated his computer and phones after he had posted the image of a dead 3-year-old Syrian boy on a Turkish beach and wrote “We are not mourning, we are celebrating!” A disgusting comment and one that is worthy public condemnation. However, it is also an act of free speech.
Nevertheless, many citizens are celebrating the denial of their own free speech rights. So long as they disagree with the speakers, there appears little concern over the rising tide of censorship and criminalization of speech. People are now unsure what they can say about immigration, which is precisely the chilling effect that governments seek in such measure. The result is a forced silence . . . which is golden for governments like Merkel’s that do not like what they are hearing.