Tag Archives: Netherlands

Political language before and after Tucson

After the Tucson shootings, we hear from Dutch and German journalists about political discourse and violence in their countries.

Like many Europeans, the Dutch used to think of their country as less violent than the United States, in both word and deed. That’s no longer the case, after the street assassinations of politician Pim Fortuyn and film director Theo van Gogh. After Fortuyn’s murder in 2002,  the political left came under fire for the tone of their verbal attacks on Fortuyn, who was a populist right-winger — something of a foreshadowing of the Tucson shootings, albeit with the politics of the accused and accusers switched.

In Germany, political discourse is far more subdued. There is, of course, a historical reason for that:  hate-mongering speech during  1920s and 1930s that led to political assassinations, firebombings and the rise of the Nazis. Moreover, there are certain things in Germany that you cannot say;  most famouly, you cannot by law deny the Holocaust. Also, libel law is more stringent than in the United States. Josef Joffe, the German journalist we talk to,  says that as a result, German political rhetoric today is “almost boring.”

Sarah Palin’s equivalent in Germany — should such a person ever exist — almost definitely would not have used the term blood libel. With its Jewish associations it would have been beyond the pale. It was strange enough to hear it in the United States. Defending herself against charges that her own harsh language contributed to the Tucson shootings, Palin said journalists and pundits were “manufactur[ing] a blood libel.” See her video message here.

Historically, as my colleague Alex Gallafent reports, blood libel is a “false accusation that Jews murder others in order to use their blood in ceremonies.”  This form of anti-Semitism goes back centuries. After the false accusation was made, more extreme rhetoric followed, often ending in ethnic violence.  Sarah Palin’s use of the term seems misplaced, insofar as she is neither Jewish nor is she accused of orchestrating or relishing the death of anyone. Still, it did draw attention to Sarah Palin, which may have been the point.  It meant that Barack Obama’s oratory at a memorial ceremony inTucson later that day, while receiving high marks, did not get the banner headline coverage than it might otherwise have done.

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Nasty speech in the Netherlands, bitter truths in South Africa, and goofy government speech in Denmark

After Joe Wilson’s “you lie!”, after Kanye West at the MTV awards, after Serena Williams’ outburst at the US Open, you may think:  enough already with nasty speech! Well, you ain’t heard nothin’ yet. This week, a report on a series of Dutch cartoon that are offensive – really offensive. Deliberately so, according to the Dutch-based Arab group behind them. The group claims that Dutch law exercises a double standard when it comes to speech and religion: while it often censors anti-semitic speech – like the cartoons in question – it tolerates anti-Muslim speech.

Then, gadfly-journalist Max du Preez.

vrye weekblad

Du Preez has been upsetting his fellow South Africans for decades – first, he upset his father by becoming a communist, then he upset the apartheid regime with his muckracking journalism. He edited Vrye Weekblad the only Afrikaans-language paper that exposed the murders, beatings and corruption of the racist government.  That upset almost an entire people: du Preez’s people,  South Africa’s Afrikaners. Only after the end of apartheid, when morality ceased to be a moveable feast, did du Preez’s father speak to him again.

These days, du Preez has new enemies: the South African Broadcasting Corporation, which fired him; former president Thabo Mbeki who du Preez called a womanizer; and agricultural giant Monsanto, which du Preez says is ruining rural  South Africa by spreading genetically modified crops.

Finally, government free speech. This doesn’t come up much. Governments oversee free speech laws; they rarely get caught up in their own free speech shenanigans. Not the Danish government. Not Denmark’s  tourist bureau. For its latest edgy advertizing campaign the bureau staged a faux one night stand between a young blonde Danish woman and a foreign man with apparently no name, and no nationality. Johnny Foreigner, as it were.  Here’s the ad:

This was supposed to be a come-on to foreign visitors; instead it had Danish politicians trying to curb the speech of their own government.

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