Few Americans today have any remote recollection or understanding of the genocide that occurred in Rwanda, mostly during April, 1994. Fewer still grasp that the horrific slaughter was largely triggered by "free expression" in the form of hate cartoons and talk radio - depicting the Tutsis of Rwanda as cockroaches.
What began as "humorous" cartoons depicting Tutsis as the most hated insects on the planet then transmogrified to non stop hateful rants about the "cockroaches" on Kigali RTLM radio, run by the majority Hutus. While the Tutsis could tune out this hate spiel (as most wise aleck 'free speech' mongers like to recommend for those who dislike bullying verbal taunts), the Hutus didn't - but rather fed their infernal hate on it to the bursting point. Every night more hate was ingested via this "free speech" medium until only a trigger was required to unleash the worst in Rwanda. That transpired when the Rwandan President's plane (he was Hutu) was shot down en route to what was supposed to be a peace conference in Tanzania.
Two side notes on this:
1) At one point the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State asked that the U.S. military jam RTLM radio - but was told that doing so was against "freedom of speech". Her response that the talk radio was feeding the hatred (already 280,000 were slaughtered by machete by Day 15) fell on deaf ears. Pseudo "free speech" principles obviously had to prevail over human lives.
2) Ten years later when the main broadcaster was brought to judgment in Tanzania his lawyer asked the War Crimes Tribunal plaintively: "What has he done? Who has he really killed? He was just a journalist doing his job, exercising freedom of speech!"
However, the accused didn't buy it and acknowledged his direct responsibility in the genocide by fomenting hatred of the Tutsi via his nightly radio show. He had thereby courageously acknowledged there is a vast gulf between what clueless humans call "freedom of expression" and moral communication.
The key difference is that moral communication does not incite to violence, by castigating and vilifying a whole people. And yes, that means words and cartoons can act as murderous weapons! They embed themselves in the mind, especially of those already with axes to grind, and incite them to take precipitous action.
And lest we take that as a freak exception let us recall how Limbaugh once referred to Leftists as "cockroaches" e.g.
And the Nazis during the Third Reich regularly depicted the Jews in cartoons and films as "rats". E.g.
Was this free expression or free speech, given the horrific effect it had? Of course not! It was the most scurrilous, vile refuse and propaganda masquerading as speech. No form of propaganda is defensible, whether in books, film or cartoons. This is not free speech but hate speech. It defiles the user as it does the target, reducing each - via dehumanization. See the Nazi material produced on the Jews in the preceding link.
In his superb book, Morality and Human Nature, Robert J. McShea, in Chapter 14 (Moral Communication) makes clear the standards and norms we are talking about. It is a subtle read but one which I would recommend to all those who insist that there should be absolute freedom of speech to say whatever, insult and demean people at will - with no consequences.
McShea writes (p. 221):
"Moral communication is possible among us to the extent to which we share common genetic feelings and a common view of facts."
Did the Hutus share common genetic feelings, e.g. with the Tutsis? Of course not! They dehumanized them via their "free speech" portrayals and depictions as cockroaches. This already discloses the break with moral communication. Did the Nazis share genetic feelings with the Jews? Again no, not if they depicted them as sub-human vermin. But the point here that may be missed is that it isn't even necessary for a depiction to be one of vermin. A depiction, say via cartoon, of the people or their sacred icons as practitioners of perversion or sexual license is an equal transgression of genetic feeling. In addition, such depictions violate the rubric of a common view of facts - hence cannot be regarded as moral communication.
My argument, and the author's, is that only moral communication is truly deserving of protection - not gratuitous speech that violates precepts of fact or shared genetic feeling - which only inspire isolation and hatred. Key to grasping this is McShea's point that moral judgments are composed of two independent variables: circumstances and feelings. Circumstances are "real, objective and not a matter of point of view". Thus, the circumstance that Hutu talk radio was inciting to actionable violence is beyond question - it did, and even its perpetrator admitted such. Similarly, the Nazi use of anti-Jewish propaganda was purposefully done to motivate anti-Jewish violence and hatred. In the same way one can surely argue that Charlie Hebdo cartoons depicting Muslims in vile poses, caricatures fall under the same category.
To reinforce this, McShea adds that (p. 221):
"Feelings are real, objective and not a matter of point of view. Therefore it follows that morality, statements about the better or the worse, about 'what is to be done' is ultimately knowable, ultimately not a matter of point of view".
Thus, if a person or group experiences its feelings violated by a symbolic portrayal - sees it as demeaning and hateful - the ones creating it are in absolutely no position to deny the authenticity of the group's feelings. Further, by McShea's reckoning, they know damned well exactly what they are doing. When they sketch that vile depiction, say of a group as cockroaches, they know in their deepest conscious recesses they are transgressing moral norms. They are acting with intent to defile a group, and attend not at all to facts. All that matters is the toxic caricature - despite the fact they have to know the virulent seeds sown.
It is also idiotic and useless to inform the affected or aggrieved group "don't read it or look at it if you're offended" because irrespective of whether they do so or not the wider populace likely will and take the hateful images and "hate speech" to heart - reinforcing their feral beliefs and prejudices. Thus the wider Hutu population adopted the view that the Tutsis really were cockroaches and this dehumanization via symbolism made it easier to hack them to pieces with machetes (1,000,000 were estimated slaughtered by the end of the genocide).
One last point: the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists were not evincing or manifesting "freedom of the press". The "press" means specifically the medium of objective information and news conveyance - not depicting and abusing assorted groups in cartoon satires. And in point of fact, despite all the pompous blather by blow dried blowhards, there is more than enough evidence to show there is no "freedom of the press".
For Exhibit A I leave readers to peruse the Project Censored site, noting the dozens of news stories left out of the mainstream for one reason or other - usually because the item challenged those in power or corporate advertisers. See e.g.
If there were real "freedom of the press" none of those stories would have been sidelined to the margins or not published anywhere it counts. In this sense, it is ironic all the hoopla made over the "suppression" of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons but not one squeak or tweet about the plethora of real news - which affects all our lives- and is kept under wraps. Why is no one screaming about that?