We recently discussed the arrest of two Chinese tourists for taking pictures of giving the Nazi salute in Berlin. Now, an American has been arrested for giving the salute in Dresden — after a passerby punched him. The arrests highlight the failed effort of Germans to criminalize certain forms of speech to deter neo-Nazis.
The tourist was reportedly drunk and gave the salute multiple times. The 41-year-old was slightly injured when he was punched by a bystander.
As discussed earlier, I have long been a critic of the German laws prohibiting certain symbols and phrases, I view it as not just a violation of free speech but a futile effort to stamp out 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.
Arresting tourists for giving salutes is not only a curtailment of speech but a useless exercise given the burgeoning population of neo-Nazis in the country. The neo-Nazis routinely make a mockery of the limitations by making slight changes in their speech to evade the laws. The real impact is to make these extremists into self-described victims and to make a mockery of Western principles of free speech. The solution to hate speech is counter-speech not the criminalization of speech.