Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

Sweden's Got Problems, Too–Hateful Problems

not just meatballs, also xenophobia and suppression of free speechIt's good to remember-for reasons both depressing and, in the misery-loves-company way, oddly comforting-that other countries struggle with the same issues America struggles with. Take Sweden, for instance, where a television station's refusal to air a clearly racist television ad promoting an anti-immigrant political party has raised an interesting debate over censorship-and calls from neighboring Denmark for international election observers to monitor the September 19th vote. Here's the ad, from the Sweden Democrats party.

It's tricky. You want all political parties to have equal access to airtime in the run-up to an election. The Sweden Democrats, a right-wing conservative party, are open in their stance against Muslim immigrants. Regardless of whether or not you agree with them, shouldn't they have a chance to argue for their position, and try to drum up votes, over the airwaves?

The television station, TV4, opted not to run the spot because they feared it would be in violation of Sweden's laws against hate-speech. Political leaders on the left support the decision. Says Mona Sahlin, of Sweden's Social Democrats party:

"The difference between freedom of speech and incitement to hatred against an ethnic group must be understood. What I saw in (the SD's) attempt at a TV ad was incitement to hatred against an ethnic group."

Per Hultmangård, a lawyer at the Swedish Media Publishers' Association, disagrees. He says:

"I cannot see how this would be hate speech. This is an election ad. The scope is wide for what one can say. They simply play on people's fears. Legally, it is within the allowable framework."

I don't know whether I agree that election monitors are in order. (Maybe we should just INVADE SWEDEN!) And TV4 is a private company.

But I think I might come down on the side of the racists on this one. Not for their racism. And that ad is despicable. There's a problem when a television station rejects political content in a preemptive attempt to interpret hate-speech laws, especially when those laws, like Swedens, are constituted as vaguely as "forbidding disrespect." Hateful bigots should be able to say and display their hateful bigoted feelings about things, and the government should find ways of combating the potential harmful effect other than criminalizing words or images. As a theoretical position, I think societies have more to lose by squelching freedom of expression than we do by letting the crazies incite the other crazies. (What's more? "For as long as I'll live, I'll never understand how people want to vest in the Government the power to criminalize particular viewpoints it dislikes," is how Glenn Greenwald once put it.) I may disagree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it and all. Well, maybe not to the death. But, you know, I'll definitely write a blog post about it.

17 Comments / Post A Comment

deepomega (#1,720)

And this is why I am tremendously opposed to hate-speech laws (not to be confused with incitement-to-violence laws). Greenwald's got the right idea, as ever with civil liberties issues.

It's always nice to remember that as bad as it can get in the US, europe is steaming foetid swamp of racism!

lbf (#2,343)

Well, now, remember: most European countries have at least one xenophobic anti-Muslim party, just like the US; however, that party isn't half of the country's political system by itself.

lbf (#2,343)

Sweden is a pretty homogeneous country (besides Stockholm and Malmö, the latter being the big immigrant magnet city). That's why the fact that a lot of Swedes are crazy racists doesn't show too much: they're not confronted to actual black people, for example. When I studied there for a year I heard things said about the French national football* team that were pretty out there.

*the real football – if you're not aware of it, France's team is very diverse.

jfruh (#713)

It may be idealistic but the big advantage of running ads like this is that it puts the beliefs of the party running out there in the open. Honestly, most people don't really spend much energy thinking about politics, so if the Swedish Democrats just ran ads that featured a white person saying "We're tough on crime and high government spending," people would probably think "hmm, crime and government spending are bad, I'm against that," while their target far-right audience is well aware of the "tough on (Muslim) crime and government spending (on Muslims)" undertones. This puts it all out there in the open.

What I'm trying to say, is why help non-respectable groups appear respectable?

deepomega (#1,720)

Ding ding ding! Government mandated "I'm not a racist!" signs won't help anyone here.

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

Haters gotta hate. I'd prefer that it happen in the open.

SourCapote (#4,872)

i clearly see muslim women with anchor babies…it's not really vague enough to be just "i dont know what an illegal looks like."
Plus i only saw that the second time i watched it. There is almost a subliminal aspect to it with a hazy short depiction of said teet munchers

I bet if those anchor babies were cute they would let the old lady die writhing in pain.

DCali (#5,634)

Look, if the private television station doesn't want to take their money and chooses not to carry the ad, that's their right. The government isn't pressuring them to censor the ad. They own that station. Free speech doesn't mean anyone's medium is forced to carry the speech against their will. If we're talking about government going too far…forcing a private television station to carry an objectionable commercial is closer to an example.

This is not the 1950s…there are more than three television stations in Sweeden, no?

And besides, any casual observer of politics knows this not only isn't effective censorship, but is going to get the commercial plenty of free views on the internet and news programs.

This is not Iran shutting down twitter or China limiting google hits.

petejayhawk (#1,249)


hungerartist (#7,247)

About one in four of Malmo's population are immigrants (many from North Africa), and it's not uncommon to see drunk aryan looking guys beating up on people of color. It's disgusting. They have a definite problem, and I don't see what they're doing about it.

Greg Dewar (#5,128)

Is this ad really that much different than anything that currently airs on TV or the radio here, either as an ad or a TV show or radio show?

It's easy to get all high and mighty at other countries. Let's take a look at our own, first, which has far worse. If anything this ad is mild compared to some of the crapola out there, from both sides, this year.

Lockheed Ventura (#5,536)

I am not so sure the ad is racist. As a democracy, they have every right to keep out foreigners that they don't want to live in their country. If Swedes don't like radical Muslims taking over their country, they can pass laws to prevent radical demographic change. If the majority prefers to become a Muslim country, they are free to choose that policy choice as well.

It is not up to Americans to criticize Swedish politics. Not every country has to embrace the polyglot immigrant model. If you really believe in "multiculturalism" then you should respect the Swedish decision to protect their cultural identity.

shaved_ape (#728)

There is no "Swedish decision to protect our cultural identity", therefore it needn't be respected. SD is a (commonly mocked) minority party with a clear background of racism and nazism that hopefully won't get the 4% of the votes that is needed to become a riksdagsparti (equal to "having actual political power").

hockeymom (#143)

I didn't need to see that ad to know that Sweden's got problems. Have none of you read the Stieg Larsson trilogy? My god, that country is a cesspool of dismembered women, rapes, incest, death by fire, death by torture, death by nail gun, death by fake suicide, the list goes on and on. Apparently, the only people to escape unscathed in Sweden are handsome, crusading male journalists who sleep with sources, editors, competitors, victims, cops and unstable murderers.
Hell on earth, I tell you.

Scum (#1,847)

The ad is clearly appealing to cultural rather than racial angst. The only way this is racist if you think having a dumb ass worldview hostile to key tenets of western civilisation is a core and integral part of being non-white. As you all do, you big racists.

joeclark (#651)

Muslims aren't a "race"; the commercial is xenophobic if anything, not racist. And you can't determine the race or even gender of the creatures in the niqabs.

The Manhattan experience of multiculturalism, with the expectations it conjures among the liberal intelligentsia, travels poorly, particularly to formerly homogeneous social-democratic nations. In other words, you're being a cultural imperialist.

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