I hope Ola Larsmo’s commentary on the part played by others’ words in paving the way for Anders Breivik’s acts of evil becomes available in English. Even filtered through Google Translate it still asks hard questions about free expression principles and the spread of racist hate speech – what Toni Morrison, cited favourably by Larsmo, called one of “the policing languages of mastery” in her 1993 Nobel Prize acceptance speech.
Though all PEN’s writer-members must commit themselves to favour “good understanding and mutual respect” and pledge “to do their utmost to dispel race, class, and national hatreds,” it is still striking to hear Larsmo, president of Swedish PEN, remind us that these hard questions are not easily deflected by the stock answer of free expression organisations like PEN and Index on Censorship, that racist hate speech must always be countered by argument, not censorship.
And whether “language designed for the estrangement of minorities, hiding its racist plunder in its literary cheek” as Morrison put it, words that “cannot, do not permit new knowledge or encourage the mutual exchange of ideas,” really deserves our protection.
Such speech, writes Larsmo, cannot be banned or censored out of sight. We simply have to take day to day responsibility for what we say and write. “Most of all,” he says, “I wish that people who make a habit of using words like ’kulturberikare’, ‘cultural Marxists’ or ‘Eurabia’ would look in the mirror and ask themselves what it is they think they are doing. That would be for the best. But I do not think it will happen.”