Fight against hate speech begins at home

opinion May 19, 2014 00:00

By The Nation

2,416 Viewed

The process must begin with oneself if we want to prevent another bloody episode in our history

A lot has been said about “hate speech”, but little has been really done about it. And the trickiest thing about “hate speech” is that even its proclaimed staunchest opponents can be drawn into its trap. In other words, haters of hate speech can unknowingly become its advocates.
It is not easy to condemn hate speech without sounding hypocritical. In Thai circumstances, it’s even harder. To begin with, one rarely accuses those on “the same side” of resorting to hate speech. If “the same side” is to be criticised, it’s usually a slap on the wrist. When “the other side” does it, it’s a big, almost unforgivable crime. This is probably the biggest reason why hate speech is flourishing in the country despite criticism from all fronts.
And there are many kinds of hate speech. Using rude language is an obvious one, but equally bad is using normal language to amplify misunderstanding or exaggerate flaws of the other side. Polite generalisation – using words like slaves or elites – can cement resentment, which can easily turn into hatred.
But a major misperception about hate speech is that it does not necessarily provoke outright anger or hatred. Hate speech can cause one to first feel low and sorry for oneself but that self-pity can turn into wrath, and the wrath can fester. So, hate speech can be virtually everywhere – on rally stages, in opinion columns, among Facebook postings condemning political wrongdoings or during seminars held to decry rampant verbal abuses.
On anti-government rally stages, broadcast by Bluesky, caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her brother Thaksin have been subjected to name-calling on a daily basis. On the other hand, Suthep Thaugsuban and Abhisit Vejjajiva have been treated the same way on the Asia Update channel. It doesn’t matter any more as to who did it first. They are hate speeches all the same. Problem is, while they are equally easy to identify, they are not equally easy to condemn, because this is where political leanings come into play.
And there are “hate-speech haters” who do not practice what they preach. On Twitter, some supposed anti-hate-speech crusaders have called those disagreeing with them “stupid”. Is “stupid” different from “buffaloes”, a word that the anti-hate-speech campaigners are so against? The answer(s) to this question will tell a lot about why the Thai situation is so hard to rectify.
If this is an age of ideological battle, it’s impossible to stop opinions from being expressed. Which leads to the most important point: stopping hate speech begins with ourselves, not others. It’s difficult to be full of opinions these days without offending others, but it’s not impossible. Using pure, sincere reasons is a way to do it. People can be reasonable without insulting others at the same time.
And we must all try – if Thailand’s roll toward another nasty, bloody episode of its history is to be prevented, that is.
With its political strife, Thailand is a perfect breeding ground for hate speech, which feeds on the an-eye-for-an-eye mentality. Self-pity can fuel hate speech. Attacking supporters of those who we think are wrong can foster hate speech. Decrying hate speech, if not done carefully, can have an opposite effect. How can we win this battle then? It’s easier said than done, of course, but to defeat hate speech, we first must overcome ourselves. Whether we like to do that or not, there is no other way to do it.