EDITORIAL: Hate speech should be fought with actions, not empty words

A very important event took place at the United Nations headquarters in New York Tuesday, but it did not make it to many media outlets, possibly having been over-shadowed by the death of former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and the Strait of Hormuz crisis.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres launched the UN Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech.

The launch could not have come at a better time; bigotry, misogyny, racism, anti-Muslim rhetoric and xenophobia seem to have taken centre stage and no one seems to be doing anything about it.

Most of the above extremist ideology is fueled by hate speech which has capacity to spread at lightning speed courtesy of social media and governments’ inertia in combating it.

Some hide behind the mantle of “free speech” to avoid being sucked into something they don’t know the final outcome, but in actual sense, some leaders just don’t care as long as it is not taking place within their borders.

At the height of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, the US government was requested to jam the radical Radio Television Libre de Mille Collines (RTLM) but it gave a lame excuse that it would be too costly. Was the cost they were about to incur higher than the over one million people who perished because of sitting back and doing nothing?

The UN, which was the biggest culprit among the 1994 procrastinators, is finally making amends with the ghosts of its past. But its plan of action should not just be sweet nothings that will gather dust in the bottom drawer, just as the 2005 Responsibility to Protect (R2P) commitment is doing.

The world should walk the talk in as far as stopping the escalation of hate speech, otherwise, documents and empty declarations will not deter extremists.