As if to leave no doubt about the evisceration of free speech in Germany after the decision to prosecute comedian Jan Boehmermann for insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the founder of Germany’s anti-Islamic PEGIDA movement will appear in court on hate speech charges for branding refugees “cattle” and “scum” on social media. The views of Lutz Bachmann, 43, founder of the far-right “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident” movement, are obnoxious and hateful but his views of migration generally and migrants in particular should be protected speech.
Germany has long criminalized speech, particularly speech and symbols related to the Nazi regime. I have long been a critic of the criminalization of symbols and gestures while I understand the deep injury in these countries ravaged by the Nazi regime. I view it as not just a violation of free speech but a futile effort to stamp but extremism by barring certain symbols. Instead, extremists have rallied around an underground culture and embraced symbols that closely resemble those banned by the government. I fail to see how arresting a man for a Hitler ringtone is achieving a meaningful level of deterrence, even if you ignore the free speech implications.
Bachmann is accused of having “disrupted public order” and committing an “attack on the dignity” of refugees. Those charges are so vague as to define any ability to predict with certainty what will be deemed an attack on the dignity of any group or individual. Yet, Bachmann could face between three months and five years in jail.
Bachmann reference to the migrants as “criminal invaders” and opposing politicians as “traitors” happen to be views shared by many in the country. The way to counter such views is with more informed speech, not the criminalization of his opinions.
What do you think?