On Saturday June 18 the world will be observing the International Day for Countering Hate Speech.
What is hate speech?
How do we draw a line between hate speech and freedom of speech? How do we separate hate speech from constructive criticism? In religious circles, how do we draw a line between hate speech and the preaching of truth? These are some of the questions that make it difficult to define what hate speech is. The United Nations acknowledges that there is no international legal definition of hate speech and what characterizes hateful is controversial and disputed. What other cultures perceive as constructive criticism, others perceive as hate or offensive speech. What other religions perceive as truth, others perceive as hateful. However, they define hate speech as, “any kind of communication in speech, writing or behaviour, that attacks or uses pejorative or discriminatory language with reference to a person or a group on the basis of who they are," in other words, based on their religion, ethnicity, nationality, race, colour, descent, gender, sexual orientation, education, culture, and other identity factors.
The problem of hate speech globally has been on a rise in recent years and this has been happening in all facets of life whether being religious, political or business. Hate speech has been the source of inciting violence, disunity, intolerance, and discrimination. In religious contexts, ideological interpretations and appropriations of the biblical texts have been another major source of hate speech.
In political spheres, conspiracy theories and propaganda by politicians driven by self-perpetuation and interest have been the major source of hate speech and in some instances such cases have degenerated into war. The United Nations General Assembly meetings have been platforms for trading hate speech among world leaders. The former president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe would receive a heroic welcome back home for having delivered a hateful speech against the West. Hate speeches in political cycles have been perceived as models of principled and fearless leadership while in reality they do more harm than good in straining relationships. The first step towards eliminating should start with transforming the nature of debates among world leaders when they meet at such gatherings.
They should find ways of expressing their differences without perpetuating hate speech. The next step then should be the transformation of how business is done in parliamentary debates. Parliamentary debates in South Africa are heavily characterised by hate speech. In 2023, Zimbabwe will be having general elections and the tone of political campaigns do not reflect people belonging to one country.
They are characterized by toxic and hate speeches and in most cases those speeches translate into bloody violence. The Book of Proverbs in chapter 10 verse 12 makes it explicitly clear that hate speech is not healthy for any society or organization. It stirs up conflict and as the world leaders work towards peaceful societies by 2030, countering hate speech should be a priority. This is the major source and root cause of conflict that should be eliminated. In this article, I however propose that for sustainable countering of hate speech to take place, there should be serious interfaith and intercultural dialogue among people.
This is inevitable especially in the contemporary communities that are multicultural and multi religious in nature. Why are these too important for countering hate speech? Intercultural dialogue takes place when there is open and respectful exchange knowledge between individuals and groups belonging to different cultures. In the same manner, Interfaith dialogue takes place when there is cooperative, constructive and positive interaction between people of different faith traditions. This helps in eliminating stereotypes that lead to hate speech.
Sometimes we witness how preachers spread hate speech through the pulpit and mainly by uttering fault statements about other religions. We have seen how people falsely and negatively label religions. Such dialogues help in clearing stereotypes that are the main source of hate speech. We sometimes perpetuate hate speech ignorantly because of the lack of knowledge for the other. Intercultural and interfaith dialogue helps in clearing such ignorance.