One man’s meat another man’s poi­son

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE -

The ter­ror­ist at­tack on the of­fices of Char­lieHebdo de­serve univer­sal con­dem­na­tion. But the tragedy has also brought into fo­cus the de­bate be­tween our cher­ished Western value of free­dom of ex­pres­sion and the fuzzy bor­der where free speech ends.

In such mat­ters the United States’ view is much more lib­eral than in France or in the Euro­pean Union as a whole. The very first change to the US Con­sti­tu­tion, the Bill of Rights, adopted in De­cem­ber 1791, not co­in­ci­den­tally around the same time as the French Revo­lu­tion and its af­ter­math, pro­hibits any law lim­it­ing free­dom of speech. Of course, there are some lim­i­ta­tions for mat­ters such as na­tional se­cu­rity, child pornog­ra­phy and in­cit­ing vi­o­lence.

The lat­est rel­e­vant rul­ing by the US Supreme Court, in a 1969 (Bran­den­burg vs Ohio) case in­volv­ing the white su­prem­a­cist or­ga­ni­za­tion Ku Klux Klan, held that the gov­ern­ment is pro­hib­ited from pun­ish­ing in­flam­ma­tory speech un­less it is aimed at in­cit­ing, and is likely to in­cite, im­mi­nent law­less ac­tion. Un­der this rul­ing for ex­am­ple, Nazis in the US have been able to op­er­ate freely or­ga­niz­ing marches and pub­lic demon­stra­tions.

By con­trast, in post-World War II Europe, in re­ac­tion to the hor­rors of Nazism and spurred on by xeno­pho­bic an­ti­Semitic pro­pa­ganda, many coun­tries adopted hate speech laws de­signed to pro­hibit in­cit­ing re­li­gious and racial ha­tred. It’s ironic that France was sev­eral gen­er­a­tions ahead of the curve in that its Press Law of 1881 crim­i­nal­izes in­cite­ment to racial dis­crim­i­na­tion, ha­tred or vi­o­lence on the ba­sis of mem­ber­ship of an eth­nic, racial or re­li­gious group.

The le­gal bar in France is set high, how­ever. Char­lieHebdo has been un­suc­cess­fully sued sev­eral times in law­suits claim­ing that it was var­i­ously anti-Semitic and anti-Mus­lim. Its cartoons, as we’ve seen th­ese last few days have lam­pooned main­stream re­li­gions of all stripes but theMus­lims per­haps more so and more vi­ciously.

This de­bate would be in­com­plete if we did not con­sider the views ofMus­lims, a few of whom have re­sorted to the ex­treme vi­o­lence that we have seen in Paris this week or per­pe­trated by Is­lamic State group in Iraq and Syria in re­cent months. A London-based rad­i­calMus­lim preacher, An­jem Choudary, said onWed­nes­day that he blamed free­dom, and free­dom of ex­pres­sion for the Charlie Hebdo at­tack.

Free­dom of speech can in­volve opin­ions to which oth­ers ve­he­mently dis­agree. It can be hurt­ful, in­sult­ing, of­fen­sive, anger-in­duc­ing and de­mean­ing. But in theWest we fer­vently be­lieve in the clash of opin­ions, view­points and ar­gu­ments in the mar­ket­place of ideas.

But free­dom of speech in the US and the EU is not ab­so­lute. Pens, pen­cils and word pro­ces­sors are ver­sa­tile in­stru­ments. There are many other ways to make a point — and to make it even more sharply. A pic­ture or a car­toon may be worth a thou­sand words. In the right hands those words can move peo­ple much more pro­foundly. But in the wrong hands, and for the wrong pairs of eyes, well, they can mean a to­tally dif­fer­ent thing. The au­thor is a se­nior ad­viser to Ts­inghua Univer­sity and for­mer di­rec­tor and vice-pres­i­dent of ABC Tele­vi­sion in New York.

On June 4, 2004, Ger­hard Schröder be­came the first Ger­man chan­cel­lor to stand along­side the lead­ers ofGer­many‘s wartime en­e­mies in France, mark­ing the 60th an­niver­sary of theNor­mandy land­ings, which were a pre­lude to the end for the Third Re­ich.

“Hugely sym­bolic,” Schroder, who ac­cepted the invitation from thenFrench Pres­i­dent Jac­ques Chirac, said of his attendance in France. “It mean­sWorldWar II is fi­nally over.”

Such a hugely sym­bolic mo­ment has yet to oc­cur in Asia.

War an­niver­saries are still a sore point in East Asia. Me­dia in Ja­pan are fore­see­ing this year as a dif­fi­cult one for the coun­try, as it marks the 70th an­niver­sary of the end of WWII on Aug 15, when Ja­pan sur­ren­dered un­con­di­tion­ally to the Al­lied Pow­ers in 1945. Un­like Europe, Asia’s for­mer en­e­mies have never come to­gether to com­mem­o­rate the end of the war.

This year is also the 50th an­niver­sary of nor­mal­iza­tion of diplo­matic re­la­tions be­tween Ja­pan and South Korea. Although both en­tered of­fice more than two years ago, Ja­panese PrimeMin­is­ter Shinzo Abe has not been able to have a for­mal sum­mit meet­ing with South Korean Pres­i­dent Park Geun-hye, be­cause of the Abe ad­min­is­tra­tion’s claims that the Im­pe­rial Ja­panese Army was not in­volved in co­erc­ing women into sex­ual slav­ery.

In his Jan 1 re­marks, Ja­pan’s Em­peror Ak­i­hito asked the na­tion to learn from the WWII as it con­sid­ers its fu­ture. He rec­om­mended start­ing with theManchurian In­ci­dent of 1931.

Thiswaswhen­the Ja­panese troops sta­tioned in­North­east­China – known asManchuria back then – det­o­nated a bom­bon­the rails of the SouthManchuria Rail­wayan­dused it asan ex­cuse to at­tack­Chi­nese troop­son Sept 18, 1931, herald­ing the be­gin­ning of Ja­pan’s in­va­sion ofChina.

Will the 81-year-oldEm­peror’s call for re­flec­tionon­the­warhave the ear of his “sub­jects”?

The an­swer will be re­vealed in a state­men­tAbe­will is­sueonAug15. He said it will in­clude re­morse for the past warandJa­pan’s post­warand­fu­ture de­vel­op­ment.

Ja­pan is not com­fort­able ev­ery time it is com­pared to Ger­many in terms of atone­ment for its deeds and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with the vic­tims.

Both waged war, but Ger­many has apol­o­gized sin­cerely and atoned, Ja­pan has not.

When Schröder came to power one of his cen­tral pledges to Ger­mans was to drawa line un­der their coun­try’s night­mare his­tory, to fi­nally make Ger­many a “nor­mal” coun­try. Schroder de­scribedD-Day as “a day of grat­i­tude for the free­dom which was won start­ing there”. For Ger­many, Schröder’s pres­ence in France on June 4, 2004 sig­naled in­ter­na­tional re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion.

Abe is the first Ja­panese prime min­is­ter born after the war who has a po­lit­i­cal agenda to build a “proud and strong Ja­pan”. He is com­mit­ted to break­ing away from the post­war regime theUS oc­cu­pa­tion im­posed on Ja­pan. And on wartime his­tory, Abe has al­lied him­self with Ja­pan’s right-wing politi­cians, news me­dia and schol­ars. He doubts the va­lid­ity of the post­war Tokyo Tri­als, in which Ja­pan’s wartime lead­ers were con­demned.

But the sack­ings ofNan­jin­gand Manila; the slavesworked to deathon theThai-Burma rail­road; the bru­tal pris­oner ofwar­camps­from Sin­ga­pore to Su­ma­tra; the mil­lions of dead in China. The­se­have left per­ma­nent scar­son­the his­tory ofAsia.

Europe took60years to deal with its WWIIle­ga­cyand­forge new­bonds, Asia still does not­knowhow­long this will take.

This is up to Ja­pan.

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