The futility of hate speech

In recent times several young immigrant voices have set their mark in the public debate on minority issues. One of them is 21 year old Sumaya Jirde Ali. A poet of Somali ethnic origin, Jirde Ali has also taken up the staunch defence of minority groups against xenophobic or stigmatising rhetoric. She has been active in verbal debates, in the social media and the main stream media,

Often she has adopted a provocative and confronting tone to what she sees as racist and discrimatory. In turn she has been the target of hate speech in the social media and discrediting articles on such perceived right wing internet sites as In last year`s 8th of March procession there flowed so many negative remarks against Jirde Ali that she considered to refrain from participating. However, after much show of solidarity and support, she finally joined the march and meetings.

However, as the stream of hate speech on the social media targeted Jirde Ali ever more, she finally lodged a legal complaint when an elderly ethnic norwegian woman called her a "cockroach" who needs to return to her home country. In February, the verdict found the woman guilty of racist speech, which is illegal by Norwegian law. It furthermore upholds that spokespersons for minorities need special protection against highly defamatory statements.

The trial revealed several interesing points. For instance, the accused woman countered that Jirde Ali had earlier called former Minister of Justice Listhaug (FrP) "a nazi". This countering is indeed characteristic of how extremists accuse each other of their extreme language, being blind to their won. One may discuss the soundness of Jirde Ali`s usage of "Nazi" for a former minister who had to resign because of her own extreme rhetoric. However, the court emphasised that Ali earlier had publicly apologised for the statements.

However, we are of the opinion that one pejorative is not necessarily of the same potency as any other. Being called a "Nazi" as a politician is doubtless on the borders of the defamatory and insulting. Yet the term "Nazi" is not one dimensional, and may be open to interpretation. Compare it for instance to "Fascist" or "Falangist" or "White power". Would these be incrimatory as well? After all, they are first and foremost political labels. Being called a "Cockroach" in connection with one`s ethnic origin on the internet, is in our view more serious . As such it is positive that the verdict found that the law against racist speech had been breached.

- Sheila Parrera