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Racist ideas will be punished January 26, 2007

Posted by dorigo in language, news, politics.

In a unanimous effort, for once, the italian government has approved the project of a law which will punish with up to three years of inprisonment the diffusion by any means of ideas founded on the alleged superiority of one ethnicity with respect to another, or racial hatred. And whomever commits acts of racial discrimination can be sentenced to up to four years of detention. 

My feelings are mixed. While I of course subscribe to the condemnation of racism in all its forms, and to the prevention of its diffusion, I cannot help feeling that we are getting close to touching basic civil rights here. This law to a certain extent dictates what I am free to say or declare (even in this blog, for instance) and what I am liable to be punished for. If I write that the holocaust is a sionist conspiracy, or if I write that niggers are less intelligent than asians, will I do time ? Looks like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Charles Murray will soon be declared personae non gratae in Italy.

Of course, living in a community means abiding by some rules. Laws in some way restrict our freedom in many aspects of our life: we are punished if we assume or sell drugs, we cannot perform sexual acts en plein aire, we have to pay taxes. But usually, the expression of personal opinions is a very sensitive issue, with which laws seldom interfere.

I see no big issue in today’s newspapers concerning the law approved by the italian government yesterday. Maybe we shall have to wait for the implementation of Angela Merkel’s plan of approving a similar law in the whole european community, currently 27 states. (Merkel, Prime Minister of Germany, is temporarily the President of the European Community).



1. SF - January 26, 2007

This kind of laws are an insult to human dignity; it suggests that some races are inferior and we have to shut up about it. If there’s nothing to shut up about, why censor? I don’t get it.

2. orasis - January 26, 2007

To comment above.

It is not a question of whether racial superiority exists or not, which it does not. It seems that with all of the current popularity of hating arabs it is a way to prevent another Hitler from rising to power by manipulating these sentiments.

Then again, if there was another tyrant as Hitler he probably would not use race as his cause, he would be more likely to use religion as his launchpad today, it is hard to fool people twice.. in so tiny of a time frame.

And plus, being black myself I would rather the government not decide that it can control my ability to tell da crackas how it is! 😛

3. riqie arneberg - January 26, 2007

It is far better to let fools demonstrate their inanity publicly so that others can see them for what they are than to make “martyrs” of them. Additionally, it is entirely possible that Asians ARE more intelligent! (although “Asians” is a very broad catagory, but i suspect that Icelanders are more intelligent than Italians for example).

Of course, one would need to define intelligence and then devise a test, but it is certainly possible that members of certain groups average better scores on certain kinds of tests. This might lead to research which would benefit educators or, better yet, their subjects. Political correctness comes very close to the kind of censorship imposed on Galileo et al.

4. dorigo - January 26, 2007

Well, SF, it is not a censorship, rather a statement about the fact that promoting racist ideas is a damage to our society. In that sense, outlawing racist talk is a law defending our way of living.

Orasis, I think the point is exactly about preventing the diffusion of racist ideas and ethnic hatred, which are tagged among the leading causes of trouble such as the rise of nazi-like movements. Probably you are right, the next tyrant will use religion as his launch pad. But the italian law seems designed in a rather general way, and it is in that sense a honest attempt at limiting the scope and freedom of racist-inspired activists, even those triggered by religious fundamentalism.


5. dorigo - January 26, 2007

Riqie, I suggest you to follow some of the debates on the net concerning the IQ, see “the Bell Curve” and Murray bashing. I guess you would find a good match to your ideas about intelligence. You correctly say we need to “define intelligence”. But the definition is usually cooked up by those who belong to the racial class scoring better. This is a bias which is hard to avoid.
I ultimately believe intelligence can be defined in many different ways, but if one sticks to a number in a graph, as the enthusiasts of IQ do, one does not show a lot of it.


6. Guess Who - January 26, 2007

I would like to see the actual law. Does it really make statements of statistical facts illegal? Common example: once could easily perform a statistical analysis to show that olympic runners of West African descent tend to do better than Caucasian ones. If you are a sports nut, that could easily be construed as a claim that West Africans are “superior” to Caucasians. Is that worth three years in an Italian jail now?

Oh, by the way, if Icelanders really were smarter than Italians, they would obviously be the ones living in Italy. I mean, come on, who wuld choose glaciers, geysers and permawinter in the middle of the North Atlantic over the Med? 😉

7. dorigo - January 26, 2007

“if Icelanders really were smarter than Italians, they would obviously be the ones living in Italy”… LOL!

I doubt the proposed italian law will ban statements about race-dependent abilities. It is conceived to prevent negationism of the Holocaust, to prevent openly racist remarks, and to make it harder to permeate our society with suggestions of a superiority of one ethnicity with respect to another… I hope I will still be allowed to say what I think of WASPs 😉


8. Critical - January 26, 2007

So if I go to Italy and say Bushmen in South Africa and shorter on average than the average European would I be put in jail?

I mean, I would be making a racist statement in the sense that it discriminates baesd on “ethnicity” and someone would clearly be superior. It’s true (you can measure it and prove it) but would it be forbidden to publicize it?

9. dorigo - January 26, 2007

Well, Critical, racist ideas are not to be confused with trivial facts and scientific observations. Afroamericans have a dark skin. This is not a racist statement, no more than the fact that bushmen are shorter than caucasians.
But if you publically say that people from X are inferior to italians and they should not be admitted to the same schools you are getting closer. If you then found a movement which strives to expel X-ans from our country because of that, you are probably going to do some time.


10. Pietro - January 27, 2007

As far as I know, this law covers avery discrimination based on “religion, ethnicity, sex, category”: so, illegal statements will range from those concerning Holocaust to those concerning “Icelanders” , “women” and so on. I am pretty sure that on the field judges will decide that this applies to “road workers”, “dark-haired people” and so on, because these can be called “categories”.

Oh well, I think that Riqie Arneberg is right in saying “It is far better to let fools demonstrate their inanity publicly so that others can see them for what they are than to make “martyrs” of them.”.

Last but not least, one can question whether this law is a law that can be defined a “law that punishes opinions”. I think this is pretty true, and the Italian Constitution is very clear about such a law: it is unconstitutional.

11. Gordon Pasha - January 27, 2007

Free speech is mostly a US phenomenon. It is not guaranteed in the legal system in almost any other country. Italy is no exception. By European standards this type of law is quite standard. Germany,
Sweden, etc, have had similar laws for years. In Sweden it is illegal to argue differences among sexes. Let’s recall that in Italy they almost sent Oriana Fallaci to jail for what she wrote. She might have been jailed had she not passed away…

12. dorigo - January 27, 2007

Sure Gordon, they almost did. As they did with Gramsci some time ago…

13. dorigo - January 29, 2007

Pietro, I am unsure on the constitutionality of the law. We will have to see when the text appears… So far I have only been able to read about it in newspapers.


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