A Scottish YouTuber by the name of Markus Meechan is about to go to trial on a charge of hate speech sparked by a video he created last year.
In the video, Meechan begins by saying: “So, my girlfriend is always ranting and raving about how cute and adorable her wee dog is, so I’ve thought I’d turn him into the least cute thing I could think of which is a Nazi.”
He then proceeds to ‘show’ the dog a clip of Hitler and teach it to do the Nazi salute and to respond to the phrase “gas the Jews.”
With about two minutes of content which has not even received 2.5 million views since it was posted, Meechan has found himself facing up to a year in prison.
The Scottish Council of Jewish Communities stated:
“It is a form of racism which needs to be condemned just as we would any other form of racism, just as we would condemn Islamophobia or anti-African racism.”
This begs the question: is condemning something the same as outlawing it?
Despite multiple requests from the SCJC and other anti-hate speech groups, YouTube has refused to remove the video on grounds of offensiveness, despite 12 months of increasingly stringent ‘appropriateness’ standards imposed by the video hosting site.
In the weeks before his trial on the 22nd, Meechan has uploaded a video in which he apologizes for any unintended offense, points out his history of commenting against Nazi-ism and antisemitism, and reaffirms that this video was only meant as a joke.
“When people watch this video, I want them to laugh. I don’t want them to be offended, I don’t want them to think I find the Holocaust personally funny. I was trying to upset my girlfriend, not [any other] people.”
He also, however, shares his certainty that he will be found guilty. Meechan elucidates the severe implications of a guilty verdict for himself, explaining a public record of ‘hate criminal’ ensures he will likely never be employed again, but he also expounds on what this means for the nation:
“If I’m…sentenced to prison, that will be a sign that this country has taken a step down a very, very dark path where people can actually spend time in prison for comedy.”
In the United States it is easy to take freedom of speech for granted. It is arguably the single most-protected right we have—with businesses, media, and individuals all having a serious vested interest in maintaining it. Any freedom of speech case heard by a federal court in the US faces dozens (if not hundreds) of amicus curiae briefs.
But across the west, motions to place limits on free speech are increasingly common.
It is imperative to remember that any “crime” involving hate speech is almost invariably a non-crime involving controversial speech.
Canadian psychologist and professor at the University of Toronto Dr. Jordan Peterson has also recently come under fire for his opposition of several proposed laws that will, in his view, limit freedom of speech in Canada. These include making the refusal to use someone’s “preferred pronoun” a hate crime and the recently passed M103 “anti-Islamophobia” bill which, in theory, makes it illegal to insult Islam.
In a controversial YouTube video, Dr. Peterson says:
“Moses was a murder. Jesus was a bastard. Mohamed was a…holy man. What else can I say?”
The fact is, outlawing speech ingrains negative emotions while freedom of speech opens doors for discussions.
As social creatures we need feedback from others to inform our opinions. All individuals are full of biases and incorrect assumptions, but our natural need to be a community almost invariably overcomes our need to be ‘right’ in our views on the first try.
“If you correct what you say you correct how you are, and if you correct how you are you correct how you interact, and if you correct how you interact you correct your society.”
A member of a crowd does not need to take responsibility for his words because the majority agree with him. If everyone shouts ‘give us Barabbas,’ no one can be blamed. Contrarily, an individual speaking his mind will always be forced to stand on his own and defend what he is saying.
Throughout history, mythology, and religion, the people who committed the worst crimes were those who spoke for the crowd—including Hitler, who Mr. Meechen is believed to revere. Hitler would never have risked losing his control over the crowd by saying anything remotely controversial in public.
Meanwhile, those held in the highest esteem are those who stood up for something against the norm, were protested by the crowd, and changed opinions because of the rightness of their views and motivations.
The archetypal highest godly figure is that of the trickster who questions convention in order to find a higher truth that has not yet been accepted. Jesus Christ himself spoke unpopular words. As did Mohamed, Moses, Jacob, David, Buddha, Krishna, the Founding Fathers, John Locke and, indeed, every scientist with his weight in salt.
If something challenging is said, it will either prove to be wrong because it does not stand up to scrutiny, or it will be shown as correct because it withstood the test.
All people, at some point in their life, question the very basis of their principles—be that religion, politics, science, or society. For most individuals, this is a sign of maturity of beliefs and a baptism into adult society where their opinions are well-rounded and well-informed. For many, the first time their initial beliefs are called into question is when they hear a comedian comment on them.
Comedy is an absolutely vital aspect of modern, western society. It allows discussion on topics that might otherwise be avoided due to social awkwardness. It allows discussion on topics that range from right to left in a way that (theoretically) avoids offending anyone.
If we ban comedy as hate speech, we eliminate one of the only avenues we have to discuss these topics.
Freedom of speech is something we must fight for across the globe, but it is also something we cannot neglect to defend here here in the west. Meechen should not be imprisoned and neither should anyone else with a funny video, an opinion I disagree with, or a controversial idea.
The dialectic nature of society must not be hindered, but instead cherished and promoted.