Primo Levi wrote that in Auschwitz the question “where was God?” should have been replaced with the question “where was the man?”
Well, in my opinion this question could be perfectly addressed to the neo-Nazis and white supremacists rally that happened in Charlottesville (Virginia, US), yesterday. Here we could add: “where is the understanding and collective memory of the facts experienced by the Americans themselves who have endured the loss of 400,000 lives among their soldiers to combat Nazi barbarism?” The conscience of the past, the knowledge about the gas chambers, about the crematorium at the extermination camps, about the terrible medical experiments on human-being considered racially inferior by the Nazis racist doctrines, the tortures and the separation of the families, the hunger and the slave labour – all of these examples and barbarities are the result of the forgotten or ignored experiences of the colonial and of the Armenian genocides – forgetting history paves a way for its repetition. The voices and faces of millions of innocent victims murdered by regimes inspired by the same ideas as they were at Charlottesville this week invade our consciences by taking responsibility and the commitment assumed by civilization after the liberation of Auschwitz and Dachau. Will the world once again give voice to such ideas? Is there a place for such ideas at all in the modern world order?
On June 14th, 1977, the United States Supreme Court decided (NATIONAL SOCIALIST PARTY v. SKOKIE, 1977, n. 76-1786) that the North American socialist party should have its liberty of opinion granted, under the First Amendment (http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-supreme-court/432/43.html), thus reforming the Illinois Supreme Court decision that had banned the North American Nazi march through the Jewish neighborhood of Skokie – a neighborhood populated predominantly by Holocaust survivors.
The Skokie case left, as one of its legacies, a question: should a democratic order allow propaganda of hate speech on the grounds that it is an exercise of the freedom of expression, the basis of democracy itself? Is it possible to keep separated the violence and hate inherent to the racists and supremacists’ ideologies, from a classical and fundamental guarantee expressed by the liberty of political opinion?
In relation to the neo-Nazis’ and supremacists’ rally in Charlottesville (Virginia, US), the event was protected by the First Amendment. However, on the other hand, the Nazi ideology does not allow the exercise of the freedom of expression or of opinion; nor the liberty of artistic expression or the religious one. Hitler wrote about liberty of the press and education in his Mein Kampf that “…The State cannot forget that it is precisely here that all means must serve a single scope; one should not allow oneself to deviate from its purposes by claiming the so-called “freedom of the press” and one cannot persuade oneself to fail in the performance of its duty, which is to put before the nation the food it needs and which will be good for it; thus, it must guarantee with ruthless determination the control of this vehicle of popular education and place it at the service of the State and of the nation.” (edition of 1939, p.258). The neo-Nazi ideology and the white supremacy movements in America do not consider the liberty of expression as a fundamental and constitutional right but, on the other hand, they use it exactly to destroy it and the democracy itself.
As we could see, racists that marched in Virginia, most of them, were carrying guns. Violence is another inherent element of the far-right extremists: the Nazi and the Ku Klux Klan ideology cannot be understood without consideration to the violence proposals typical of their world vision. The pseudo-Nazi concentration of universe is exactly the result of the totalitarian and racist conceptions. Violence and dehumanization are inseparable elements of its ideological base. Due to this fact, constitutional and democratic political regimes are irreconcilable with racists’ ideologies.
The limit of the liberty of expression is the hate speech, that must be forbidden and punished under the law and its due process.
Finally, these recent events demonstrate the need for immediate condemnation of propaganda of hate speech by means of an immediate, clear and precise manifestation by the statesmen and international organizations, under penalty of provoking the stimulus to such hatred.
The final consequence of racism and Nazi ideology is genocide. History sends its alert. We must listen to it carefully.
Professor Flavio de Leão Bastos Pereira. Professor of Human Rights and Constitutional Law at Mackenzie Presbyterian University – São Paulo; Member of the roster of Experts of the International Nuremberg Principles Academy.