‘Germany bans Nazi hate speech – the US clearly constitutionally protects that. Should I do business in Germany?’
– Bill Gates
It’s both sad and alarming to hear one of the most powerful men in the world taking such a simplistic view of a debate that that has a fundamental influence on the way in which big business will engage with the world. To compare the banning of Nazi hate speech in Germany with Chinese oppression isn’t just crass; it’s an idea that can only withstand the very briefest of examinations.
What is important is that simplistic notions of free speech are abandoned. A right to live free from hate is more important than a right to say what you want. And while arguments will always rage over where the line should be drawn, actually drawing the line is not as difficult as it first appears. We can refuse to deal with people who promote hatred on the basis on ethnicity, sex, sexuality or even faith. For example, conviction under the new religious hatred bill requires evidence of intention to cause hatred. Proving German neo-Nazis intend to spread hate would be a lot easier than proving the same of this Chinese dissident.