Brazilian woman slashed from head to foot by Swiss neo-Nazis

// 13 February 2009

Update: the Swiss police have suggested that the attack was faked. However, I’m pretty sceptical – see AP for more info.

Paula Oliveira was attacked by skinheads near Zurich, after they heard her speaking on the phone in Portuguese. Reports Sky News:

Paula Oliveira, 26, was slashed more than 100 times during the 10-minute-long attack in Switzerland, according to reports.

Photographs of the woman’s stomach and legs with the letters SVP – Swiss People’s Party – have appeared in Brazilian newspapers.

Police were alerted to the attack by a man at Zurich train station who discovered the blood-soaked victim.

She told officers she had been pregnant with twins and was due to get married but had miscarried the babies after the attack.

It is reported that three skinheads, one with a Nazi symbol tattooed on his forehead, attacked Miss Oliveira as she made her way home.

She had been speaking in Portuguese to her mother on a cell phone when she was accosted, the Brazilian Foreign Ministry confirmed.

This is horrific. It also brings up issues relating to the SVP itself, which espouses a hard-right, anti-immigrant politics which clearly fed into and encouraged the attack:

It has spearheaded campaigns against Swiss integration in Europe and pressed to toughen asylum laws and make it easier to expel foreign nationals.

But the party is part of Switzerland’s broad coalition government and has never had links to neo-Nazism.

“This is a country of law, where every human being deserves respect,” Oskar Freysinger, a hardline nationalist lawmaker in the party, said.

“If that really was someone from our party, we wouldn’t hesitate for a second. That person would be immediately kicked out,” he added.

That just doesn’t fly, though, does it. If a political party revels in xenophobia and racism, which, to state the obvious, rely on the assumption that some human beings are worth more than other human beings, then they are responsible for what happens when racist thugs take their words as a license to carry out hate crimes.

I can’t help but feel that it was relevant that they attacked a pregnant woman, too. Was there a gendered element to this crime?

Comments From You

Rachael // Posted 13 February 2009 at 11:02 am

Of course there was a gendered element to it! They would be far less likely to attack a man! Not because of the “he is stronger and can retaliate” element – but because women are disposable. It’s become accepted to “use” and abuse women like this.

Look at any tv programme where it’s always a woman being hurt or abused. But of course, that will never be adressed by the authorities, will it?

annlondon // Posted 13 February 2009 at 11:28 am

firstly, thanks for bringing this up.

i saw it on the brazilian news, i am deeply shocked.

of course being a woman was a plus element for the attack, not to mention that being pregnant and legally living in switzerland, that meant preventing those “mixed children”, as they probably thought, of being born. i’m sick with this story, sick with the misogynistic attitudes. for how long will this happen?

Jess McCabe // Posted 13 February 2009 at 11:44 am

@annlondon That was what I was thinking too. Also, I think there’s something about how the attack was carried out, the way that SVP was literally written on her body, which seems to smack of the appropriate of and treatment of women’s bodies & wombs as public property…

Leigh // Posted 13 February 2009 at 2:39 pm

“then they are responsible for what happens when racist thugs take their words as a license to carry out hate crimes. ”

I think the racist thugs are the ones responsible for this. People are not sheep. They are people. And if you value freedom of speach you have to extend it even to those people you find odious.

JENNIFER DREW // Posted 13 February 2009 at 4:07 pm

The white men attacked this woman because in their eyes she was a woman and also non-white. So, yes this was both a woman-hating and racist hate crime. I’ve no doubt the fact this young woman was pregnant was seen by these male neo-nazis as another reason for their attempting to murder her.

Empty words from representative of the SVP because it is easy to claim they will not tolerate such women-hating but in reality their political views support and promote women-hating and racist hatred.

Jess McCabe // Posted 13 February 2009 at 5:17 pm

I’m not so invested in freedom of speech as all that, Leigh, you’re talking to the wrong person! I have no problem at all with censoring hate speech. I consider the things that the SVP has said to be inciting exactly the kind of racist (and sexist) hate crimes that this group of thugs has carried out.

The people who did this are the ones truely responsible, but I believe politicians who say hateful, racist things share in that responsibility.

If we’re prepared to criticise advertising and culture for enabling a sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, agist, and otherwise discriminatory society, then I’m sure as hell not going to hold back criticising elected politicians who openly espouse racist, hard-right policies. The SVP is the Swiss equivalent of the BNP, but much more mainstream…

Austin // Posted 13 February 2009 at 5:19 pm

Perhaps its my natural inclination to give people the benefit of the doubt, presume innocence until proved guilty etc., but I think that it is unfair to attribute culpability for a crime on someone who by neither their actions nor their explicit encouragement have contributed to a crime. Saying that one person is preferable to another in a place does not by definition indicate that such brutal force should be used to remove them from such a place. It is possible to make travellers move from a spot they are damaging using the law rather than with pitch forks and torches, to remove a polluting or offensive business without resorting to arson. Whilst I think that each person in this world should be valued equally, and that those who believe otherwise are incorrect I really find it hard with this constant vilification of them which we see in liberal circles – these people are just as important and valid as those they are trying to evict. Finally it sounds fairly classist to indicate this dichotomy between those in the party and the ‘thugs’ which perpatrated the crime.

Anne Onne // Posted 13 February 2009 at 7:29 pm

How terrible. My thoughts are with her and her family and friends, who must all be reeling from the shock of such a hideous attack.

It’s hard to say if there was a gendered element. There most certainly was a racist/xenophobic one. I can’t say whether they would have attacked a man, but the fact that she was a pregnant woman can’t be ignored. The relative position it put her in can’t be ignored, so I’d say it was. It’s impossible to say that attacks against women don’t have a gender dimension, because our gender isn’t hidden. It becomes an extra element by which people can judge us.

Leigh:I’ll agree that the proximal cause, and the blame for this specific incident lies with the perpetrators. As with rape, so with every crime: we can’t take blame from they who wield the knife.

However, to borrow a phrase from Melissa McEwan (and others), this did not happen in a vacuum. These attacks were not a freak incident inolving random men who happened of their own to come up with a hatred of immigrants and those of other races. They happened in a society in which immigrants are seen as less than, the browner the less human. They happened in a society where some political parties try to enforce policies that disadvantage immigrants or force them to return to their country of origin, or segregate them from the rest of society.

And seriously, what is it with people defending hate speech with the ‘freedom of speech’ card? Freedom of speech doesn’t mean anyone deserves a paid podium, or can’t be called out for the shit it is. Also, the ultimate caveat (Article 30, if you’re interested) of every human right (including so called ‘free speech’) is that a person’s rights MUST not be used to infringe on the rights of another. Hate speech infringes on the rights of people to live without being threatened, discriminated against, injured, killed, or denied pretty much all human rights. Therefore it isn’t covered by freedom of speech, because it actively encourages harm to other people.

And, just because I love linking to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, here they are.

Parties such as this do not have direct responsibility over an incident, but they have to bear a level of responsibility for the xenophobic and racist (as well as misogynist etc) sentiments that they actively espouse and encourage. They are helping to create an environment in which actions like this are acceptable, and no amount of their saying ‘but we’re not like that’ changes the fact that instead of using their power and influence with people to aid integration and help deal with the problems people blame on immigrants, they choose to actively encourage ill-feeling because they can capitalise on people’s loathing to get ahead. That’s enough to take responsibility for, without being actively responsible for an act.

In short, the attackers bear the responsibility for the act, but such a party bear responsibility for encouraging hostility and maybe violence against other people, knowing perfectly well the direction their supporters could take this. It’s no coincidence that supporters of such groups are more likely to act out violence.

Laura // Posted 14 February 2009 at 12:00 am

Have to say, Anne and Jess, that I worry about the way you’re dismissing the ‘freedom of speech’ argument. Remember that the early feminists were seen as dangerous and to be shut down – obviously it’s not the same but the point I’m making is that none of us should get to decide what people say. If what they are saying is actually incitement, then yes, of course that should be a criminal offence, but if it’s just ‘helping to create an environment where actions like this are acceptable’ then I don’t think they can be held directly responsible. If you defend freedom of speech, you have to defend all views, not only those that you like, or what’s the point? Of course I don’t like right-wing parties, and it is absolutely right to criticise them and unpick their ludicrous arguments wherever possible, but that doesn’t mean that they should be shut down. We also need to be fair: the spokesman has explicitly condemned the attack, and said that their movement doesn’t condone violence, and until we have evidence to the contrary we should take him at his word. In my mind at least there is a huge difference between saying ‘we should stop immigration and kick out the immigrants’ and ‘lets attack the immigrants’ – and yes there is grey in between but general hate speech I feel falls closer to the former than the latter, so should be allowed, though criticised. Apart from anything else, the universal condemnation of this act shows that this isn’t an environment where actions like this are acceptable.

Also, while we can’t ignore the fact that it was a pregnant woman, I also don’t think we can definitely conclude that there was a gendered element – men DO get attacked in racist attacks (Stephen Lawrence, anyone), and since men get attacked more than women (no source for that but the lady I live with who’s generally pretty streetwise says so), I wonder if they get attacked in racist attacks MORE – would bear looking into.

That said there is a gendered element in any racist attack in terms of the discourse of race – the making of the racially excluded person powerless, often using female-associated language and concepts, whereby the attacked person is ‘less of a man’ and therefore ‘less of a valid person’ in the same way that women are ‘less valid people’ who can be attacked.

Jason // Posted 14 February 2009 at 4:17 am

Well guys, looks like another fake.

Should’ve known it was lies after read “neo-nazis”.

Jess McCabe // Posted 14 February 2009 at 11:38 am

Laura, I don’t know what the situation is in Switzerland, but in the UK we do have a crimal offense of incitement, although who knows how difficult it is define if something is or isn’t inciteful.

But I wasn’t talking about locking up the members of the Swiss People’s Party, I was saying they should take responsibility for the ways their Nazi-like campaign material and policies create an atmosphere in which racist violence, and also general discrimination and racism in society, is seen as more acceptable and permissable. Is responsibility a zero-sum game where you’re either legally culpable or totally blameless?!

If you’ve got a ‘mainstream’ political party which is openly racist, then is it any wonder that the number of racist incidents goes up 30% year-on-year? How do these facts connect up and reinforce each other?

It’s not enough to condemn inicidents of violence, while supporting the hateful xenophobic and racist ideologies which feed that violence, and supporting policies which systematically dehumanise foreigners.

This political party is the biggest partner in the coalition government of Switzerland. I don’t think their rights are under threat here.

Anne Onne // Posted 14 February 2009 at 1:03 pm

Laura, I’m not dismissing freedom of speech, I’m dismissing the idea that people’s rights to saying absolutely anything trump those of others to not be attacked verbally or physically, because as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights actually stands, it’s pretty clear that they do not:

”Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.” (Article 30)

Since the other articles highlight the right of people to live wthout fear of attack, live where they want and marry who they want, I believe article 30 provides an exemption for ‘free speech’ in some cases.It states that one’s rights don’t allow someone to work towards taking someone else’s human rights away. This article is as important as the one which entitles all of us to free speech, yet it is so often ignored.

Note, I don’t say that all views I consider objectionable should be silenced. I don’t believe the Daily Mail or its ilk should be banned. I don’t believe people should be prevented from sharing views on an individual level, nor should anyone go round listening to everyone’s conversations. However, it is within the rights of companies to end services or contracts with people or groups they believe don’t live up to laws or contracts. I also believe that providers of media services have a right to choose which views they publish, and are within their rights to not publish or publicise something without it being an attack on free speech. They have a right to publicly not condone said views, and to oppose them if they wish. Free speech guarantees nobody a paid podium to spread one’s views, nor does it say people can’t be called out for their views.

Free speech is indeed very important, and I defend the rights of people to express their views and use their rights, as long as those rights themselves don’t involve taking other people’s rights away. I don’t interpret incitement to hatred as meaning all racism/sexism etc of any kind should be banned because I don’t like it.

Yes, incitement rules are vague. The Mail’s views (and views of that level are bigoted and objectionable) but should be allowed, if anyone wishes to publish them, under free speech, even if they are vile. They still need to be countered by our own free speech, and addressed. Note that our main concern is to address the views, contradict them, raise awareness of them and why they are wrong. The whole focus isn’t on banning everyone from talking, and the only time most of us bring up the exeption to free speech is when very extreme, very problematic views were aired.

I didn’t say that they should be held directly responsible (I take it you were speaking generally), certainly not legally responsible in this case. This is the act of individuals.

But I made a point of saying that they encourage the environment, and that their effect on the wider environment should be addressed. Just like we expect to address the media and rape culture for its effect on men and women. Jess has put it better than I can, but people, what they say, and how they say it can have a real effect, and criticising them is not taking all their rights away.

Another argument people make is that this never happens to the extreme far left. That’s probably because unlike the far right, the leftist extremists don’t get half as much attention. Sereiously. The rules apply just as much to them, but they’re not the ones with parliamentary seats (though I’ve had people tell me the Green party is actually far left!). Should the far left somehow win seats in Parliament and try to seize all property for forcible distribution of wealth(or whatever it is they think the far left want) it would be as much against human rights (the right to own property) and just as problematic. But it’s not currently happening, and all the talk of the left being given an easy ride is a diversion.

Webmaster // Posted 14 February 2009 at 1:26 pm

Sometimes, although rarely, people will “fake” a hate crime. When this happens–and when the faked crime does not involve property vandalism as it often does, but rather involves physical self-inflicted injury–the injury is quite minor, such as a single cut to one’s body, or at most, a concussion.

Therefore, it is very, very hard to believe that Paula inflicted 100 slash marks to herself!!!

Also, fakers go to the police. Paula was found blood-soaked by someone else.

In other words, this incident HAS NONE OF THE ELEMENTS FOUND IN A FAKED HATE CRIME.

Kath // Posted 14 February 2009 at 9:14 pm

Laura, freedom of speech means the political parties can say what they want, about immigration etc. It means I can say that what they are saying is racist, immoral and contributes to a culture of racist attacks. I can say I think they should stop saying it. But unless I lock them up for saying it I am not taking away their freedom of speech.

Roy // Posted 15 February 2009 at 3:00 am

The attack was pure invention. She wasn’t even pregnant.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7889109.stm

The chilling thing is that I get the feeling that some posters here WANT this to be a genuine attack. Instead of being relieved that it didn’t happen they instead descend into conspiracy and cover-up theories.

I find the anti-free speech comments on this forum very disturbing. ‘Hate speech’ law is pure censorship designed to deny the right of all people to hear all opinions. We already have laws to stop physical assaults taking place – a law that stops two people having a private conversation is a disgrace. And the law does not even allow factual ‘hate speech’. If I say something factual that is still deemed to ‘incite racial hatred’ I can still be prosectuted. Is that the sort of society you want to live in – where governments control your emotions?

Nobody ever complained of being incited to racial hatred – so where’s the victim? Refugees never run from countries for having ‘too much’ freedom of speech.

lucy // Posted 15 February 2009 at 11:30 am

Re: webmaster: not sure where you’ve got your facts about this case from, but it was revealed to be faked on Friday. You can read all about it at nzz.ch

annlondon // Posted 15 February 2009 at 1:30 pm

@Webmaster, thanks for saying this. i can’t accept this theory of the victim being guilty, i truly believe there’s more to be found in this case. i just wish and wait for the truth.

Elianne // Posted 15 February 2009 at 2:10 pm

I agreed webmaster.

De acordo com webmaster, não há dados com endossem a auto mutilação.

Anna // Posted 15 February 2009 at 7:17 pm

I don’t know if it was faked or not. I self-harmed for a number of years and yes, I can see how they appear to be self-inflicted. But.. that’s not the point.

Hate speech is a crime. I find it appalling you say ‘noone ever complained of being incited to hatred’ – the people who suffer the consequences afterward do. They are the victims. If Nick Griffin goes off on one at a BNP rally, and some thug from said rally goes and kicks the shit out of someone from an ethnic minority/woman/gay person/socialist/communist etc then the person who is being harmed IS the victim. There’s no way anyone can possibly argue with that. Free speech is fine, perhaps it is a right – but what about the rights of those affected by said speech? Noone gets prosecuted for what’s said in a personal conversation unless one of the participants from that conversation is sufficiently discomfited to the point of getting the authorities involved.. surely that would fall under your ‘someone complaining of being incited to hatred’? If one of my friends said ‘I like to kick the shit out of ‘ and I thought the police weren’t completely inept then I certainly would report it, because though I am privileged as a white person and their speech does not directly concern me [i.e. the threats being made aren’t aimed at me] because of the right of an innocent person not to have violence inflicted on them due to the colour of their skin. You see?

Anna // Posted 15 February 2009 at 7:19 pm

oh, and Roy – on a much more basic level, I don’t actually want to have the ‘right’ to hear hate speech. I don’t want to listen to people being racist, saying rape is okay, that domestic violence victims should have stayed in the kitchen, people saying that violence should be inflicted on someone because of their political persuasion. I think everyone’s lives would be vastly improved without these things, don’t you?

Anne Onne // Posted 15 February 2009 at 8:38 pm

Oh, sure Roy, we WANT women to be tortured and attacked. Yeaaaah. That’s it. Just so we can sit here and revel in everyone’s suffering. This may surprise you, but whilst I am very relieved that this incident in particular never happened, this by no means means women or immigrants are never attacked or mutilated: take some time to research, and you will find many stories about the rape, mutilation or murder of women. This case being true or not does not change the fact that things like this happen to women. So for you it might be an excuse to go back to ignoring violence against immigrants or people of colour or women, but for many of us, it’s one case among many we hear of.

And we don’t have laws that stop physical assaults, we have laws that punish those who do, assuming they are found. A BIG difference if you’re the one living in fear of said attack and then wondering if the police will believe you or help you if it happens. You might never have to worry about being attacked because people think you’re vulnerable because you’re a woman, or because they can see that you’re a different race and probably an immigrant, but laws don’t normally give many people comfort, considering the success rates in finding and prosecuting such cases is not great.

And as for cover up theories: is it impossible? consider rape. A tiny minority of those cases brought to court are successfully prosecuted. You don’t believe that 95% of women who report rapes are lying, do you? Some cases of any crime will be untrue, but that doesn’t mean all unclear or unprosecuted ones are. I don’t know the legal system over there, or the likelihood of a cover up (though bribery is a reality in many countries), so I won’t comment on it, and without all the information, it’s hard to say what’s gone on.

You say you think we’re sad it’s false, but I think you’re rather pleased yourself. It allows you to sit there smugly thinking that because this might probably be false, that nothing of consequence ever happens to immigrants and women. That people spreading views about how some other group of people is responsible for all their woes and don’t deserve equal rights is not actually problematic.

I can’t believe for a second that anyone’s seriously afraid of the police bursting in to arrest people for what they say to another person a private conversation. Come on. If it’s a ‘private conversation between two people’, how the hell would anybody hear it, let alone report it and get someone in trouble? Since when to the police honestly have time for such trifles when they don’t prosecute most rapes and burglaries as is? I think I see the conspiracy theorist here, and it ain’t one of the feminists.

Hate speech laws aren’t about private conversations, but about public speaking and how some people are influential over others,and speak out about some groups of people being responsible for a whole host of problems and that they should be allowed less rights. Considering everyone pretty much gets to say what they want if they preface it with an ‘I’m un-PC and just tell it like it is…’, I can’t actually see this piece of legistlation being used to lock people away for some trivial offhand remark. Have we ever actually seen someone convicted for this in the UK?

By the way, the government is in no way trying to control your emotions. Feel free to think as nasty things about women, immigrants or POC as you want. It’s when emotions or thoughts become actions that they’re trying to work on. What’s in your head, so long as you’re not starting riots, isn’t really anyone’s concern.

Also, what exactly is factual hate speech? Surely you’re aware that statistics can be interpreted in many ways. Whilst I wouldn’t say someone should be arrested (and note nobody here is calling for people to be *arrested* for hate speech, rather, just criticised) for presenting statistics in a way that implies terrible things about a group of people, I feel it more than fair to examine the study, debunk dodgy statistics, or point out that generalising negatively about groups of people is just plain nasty. My free speech, just the same as theirs is.

When there are scores of people being arrested and charged for hate speech because they merely stated some innocent statistics, then we’ll talk. Until then, everything you’ve said just sounds like someone who really, really wants to keep the privilege of being allowed to insult and threaten and dehumanise other people without fear of any kind of criticism. Who exactly is the one against free speech here? Funny how arguments about free speech are nearly always about some bigot being given a podium to spread their views or demand that other people are treated as less human. Suddenly, when it’s someone else criticising said bigots or their views, free speech disappears.

Free speech was a right designed to prevent governments or majorities from silencing and torturing minorities for their asking for rights. To see it used as a cover for lobbying to take someone else’s rights away, I start to believe more and more that most people have no idea what a real Human Right is, so blinded are we by privilege and bigotry.

Amy // Posted 15 February 2009 at 11:32 pm

“Is that the sort of society you want to live in – where governments control your emotions?”

I want to live in a country where my chances of getting attacked are not increased because I’m female. Most importantly where sexists are not free to voice their sexist opinions, encouraging such acts and inciting a hatred towards women which ensures they are ever deemed 2nd class.

If you have free speech, an open society, you have what is cool free speech, and socially undesirable free speech. A feminist has ‘free speech’. but does she? As no one in male- driven society wants to hear it. Understand free speech is saying whatever the hell you like. Government is not the only limit, what about social constraints and popular opinion? In an open society where any opinion goes as long as it fits the norm, it thus follows free speech often works better for the privileged, because their speech is more popularly approved.

You can therefore appreciate why feminists have their problems with free speech. Sexist free speech is often tolerated more than and before their own, such is what male culture desires to hear where there is no room for feminists. The privileged are likely to beomoan free speech, but this is likely to be because of a strong sense of entitlement to it, over any actual logical right to speak freer.

Free speech to feminists causes more problems than is worth its existence.. It will work ill in their favour, in the favour of the male sex and what that deserves all the time.

Control over free speech was developed to prevent popular opinion and the masses taking free reign over way of life. A lack of free speech currently works in favour of the oppressed, to help them get by with whatever popular opinion might or might not be of them. Why if you complain against free speech, you are usually male, white, middle class etc etc.

Arguing about government intervention with lack of free speech is taking a 1000 mile detour around the point of what you really want it for. (And seems a typical anti- feminist Jack Straw contribution tbh).

ps, mods what’s with the recent ‘free speech’ brigade anyway?

a swiss woman // Posted 16 February 2009 at 11:19 am

I’ve been reading all the comments on the case. If it is really true that the woman has been attacked, then of course it is a terrible and fear-creating crime. However, Swiss media have first written about a terrible attack, but then it was found that the woman was not even pregnant. I do not really understand what happened, and I tend to believe the swiss media more in this case since they are rather free, have the right connections and sources, and usually, they are very critical on the issues happening within the country.

What stroke me after reading all the comments is something else: Apparently, foreign media are trusted more because of a lack of language knowledge and a lack of understanding of the somewhat strange and exotic swiss system. I consider myself a feminist and I am really sad and angry hear of xenophobic attacks in Switzerland, but it’s always worthwhile to investigate and understand something well before posting it on a rather important blog like “the f-word”.

The “attack” was supposedly connected to anti-immigrant behaviour of parties like the SVP. It is right that this party exists, and that they do say terrible things about foreigners sometimes and that they gain many votes with anti-immigrant ideas. But on the other hand, one has to know that the party is just representing a part of the population in a proportional party system, and that over 70 percent of the voters wanted something else. And by the way, Swiss voters just said yes in a referendum that opens up the country for romanian and bulgarian immigrants. SVP has serious problems now.

I saw some pictures of the woman and to me it looked more like cuts with a razor knife, something that borderline patients sometimes do to theirselves. However, I don’t want to judge about something I do not really know. My main point is: get informed well before blaming people you don’t know well!

George // Posted 16 February 2009 at 11:35 am

@ Roy – “Nobody ever complained of being incited to racial hatred – so where’s the victim? Refugees never run from countries for having ‘too much’ freedom of speech.”

Dear god – do you actually know what you are trying to argue here?

What does the word ‘incite’ mean? OED Online says “To urge or spur on; to stir up, animate, instigate, stimulate.” It doesn’t mean just chat about ideas – it means to actively try to persuade something into doing something. So, where’s the victim? *Obviously*, not the poor ickle person who is being persuaded/incited, but rather another person who ends up actually getting severely harmed.

And… yes, actually, refugees do run from countries where there is “too much” free speech i.e. unregulated hate speech – please start your research under “Hitler”, move on to “ethnic cleansing”, and then see where you get to.

i.e. Not a very cool thing to say.

Anne Onne // Posted 16 February 2009 at 6:23 pm

Good point George. Just to reiterate for those who haven’t a clue about refugees: people most certainly DO run from countries where as a minority they are subject to threats, abuse, violence or discrimination. That’s practically the definition of refugee or asylum seeker!

The refugees aren’t running because they have ‘too much freedom of speech’ but because where one group holds all the power and control, the refugee group doesn’t actually have freedom of speech or other human rights. Because sometimes one group getting to say or do whatever they want causes them to trample over the rights of others (hence the very handy Article 30, and fess up, have you even READ the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?) and this is a breach of the refugee group’s human rights, hence they try to get out and go somewhere else.

Laura // Posted 8 March 2009 at 9:05 pm

Meant to reply to the comments in response to mine a while ago, but didn’t get round to it.

Jess – I know we have a law against incitement in the UK, that was why I mentioned it. The point I was making is that I agree with that law because I *don’t* believe that right of free speech means right to say absolutely anything – just that if you want to oppose immigration you should be allowed to do it. Maybe I was misinterpreting you but reading your article I felt that your implication was that the SVP shouldn’t be allowed to say the things you do, rather than that they are wrong (which they obviously are). Also, perhaps you misinterpreted me. I wasn’t trying to say that these people are a good thing and it’s great that people vote for them, just that they should be allowed to say it.

Anne – Firstly, given that I said pretty clearly that I support anti-incitement laws I think your first paragraph was a pretty ill-judged response, though I agree with pretty much everything else you say regarding the balance between free speech and incitement, paid podiums, etc. Just a few things I don’t agree on: I am familiar with Human Rights laws (Universal Declaration, European Convention, practices for implementing them, etc). Not saying that becuase I’m offended you didn’t think I would, most people don’t, just so you know where I’m coming from. The bit in your original comment that I took issue with was this:

“And seriously, what is it with people defending hate speech with the ‘freedom of speech’ card? Freedom of speech doesn’t mean anyone deserves a paid podium, or can’t be called out for the shit it is.”

I agree with you on paid podiums, and I agree that it should be called out, but I don’t consider having a political party to be a paid podium. I admit I tend to take a pretty extreme liberal position, but basically I think that political parties should be allowed to say anything that isn’t actually incitement.

I also disagree with what you said when you said ” Hate speech infringes on the rights of people to live without being threatened, discriminated against, injured, killed, or denied pretty much all human rights. Therefore it isn’t covered by freedom of speech, because it actively encourages harm to other people.”

I just don’t agree. As I said, I’m familiar with the Universal Declaration but I don’t think that vocal opposition to immigration or even racist language contravenes people’s rights not to be injured, killed, ‘or denied basically all their other human rights’. Threatened is also pretty questionable as in the Declaration ‘threaten’ tends to be linked to specific rights, ie right not to be threatened with injury, etc. Discrimination you have a point, but as nationality isn’t mentioned as one of the things you can’t discriminate on, I don’t think it applies to extreme nationalist hate speech (I know it says ‘nation of origin’, but that isn’t the same thing as ‘nationality’, and you can bet your bottom dollar it was deliberate).

More generally, and becuase I like discussing Human Rights, I don’t think that opposing immigration or saying overtly racist things on a political platform does contravene article 30; regarding immigration, I don’t read the Universal Declaration as guaranteeing the right to ‘live where you want’, Article 14 guarantees the right to asylum, but that isn’t the same thing at all.

Again more generally, this raises one of the key issues with Human Rights, namely the difficulty of balancing rights – the right to life is a particularly awkward one; when is it acceptable for the police to shoot to kill, and so on. Generally I think you have to look at the context. Given that Switzerland is signed up to the European Convention and the European Court, so if they actually *did* anything that contravened human rights, they could be taken to court about it, I think you need to err on the side of free speech.

I realise I’ve strayed a bit from the original topic, but the point I was trying to make is that I felt that you and Jess were taking blaming the SVP too far; apart from anything else, they are a product of a racist environment, as well as a cause, and that generally speaking we should avoid blaming groups for what is done in their name.

NOTE: just to be totally clear, I don’t support any element of the SVP’s platform, among other things I believe in immigration, multiculturalism, acceptance of difference, non-discrimination, and I can’t think what else.

Kath – Of course you have the right to criticise them, I didn’t say you didn’t In fact, I think saying that we should ‘expose their ludicrous views’ was pretty specific. I did say that you shouldn’t stop them saying what they want to say as long as it doesn’t constitute incitement and you shouldn’t deny them the right to exist. I believe this for the same reason that I believe in feminism, namely that I am a liberal. Swiss laws are pretty loose so they can get away with more than they could in the UK, but at the risk of repeating myself basically I think people should be allowed to say pretty much anything that doesn’t directly contravene the rights of others. Saying that it ‘contributes to an atmosphere’ is probably true but I don’t think is concrete enough to justify stopping them saying it. You obviously have the right to disagree.

More generally: a lot of elements of this attack have been questioned following the initial report. Latest article I read about it was that she was probably attacked by her boyfriend (incidentally, this is treated as being better, which is – massive understatement on the way – somewhat worrying). Also worth noting that the Swiss tend to be very xenophobic, but actually not particularly racist – or rather, when they are being racist it’s a product of general distrust of all foreigners, rather that being related to race specifically. Also I think, and some Swiss friends agree (obviously not definitive!), that the high vote for the SVP is partly to do with the way Switzerland is governed. Since almost all elements of government are based at the cantonal level, people don’t vote for the national government about things like education policy or whatever like we would in the UK, so the issues that are still handled at a national level, like immigration, take a greater importance in voter choices. This is even more the case because immigration is a big issue in Switzerland right now because they’ve just joined the Schengan treaty – and if you’re a little old lady living in Apfensell who grew up being pumped full of the neutral, fortress-nation mentality, opening your borders is pretty scary. I don’t mean that it isn’t worrying that the SVP have done so well, just that it’s not as worrying as if the BNP got 30% of the vote in the UK – and that even if they did get 30% of the votes and a big place in the coalition, they’ve basically lost the argument and I don’t think they’ll do as well again now that the Schengen integration has passed and the country hasn’t been swamped by foreigners.

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