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  • Speaking back: The free speech versus hate speech debate by Katharine Gelber
  • Mousa A. Btoosh
Speaking back: The free speech versus hate speech debate. By Katharine Gelber. (Discourse approaches to politics, society and culture 1.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2002. Pp. xiv, 177. ISBN 1588111881. $59 (Hb).

Gelber presents a new hate speech policy whereby victims of hate speech can speak back whenever such speech occurs. Throughout the book (which consists of six chapters, with abstract, introduction, conclusion, notes, references, and appendices), G argues convincingly that her ‘speaking back’ policy is better than the punitive hate speech legislation used in New South Wales, Australia, and some other Western countries.

In the introduction (1–11), she provides a rationale for her study by stating the deficiencies of the hate speech laws and the inconsistencies between the goals of securing free speech and ameliorating the negative effects of hate speech. Such deficiencies and inconsistencies, according to G, justify the urgent need for a new balanced proposal. The introduction also presents an overview of the rest of the book. The first chapter, ‘The problem: An example of racial antivilification laws in practice, 1989–1998’ (13–27), familiarizes the reader with the reasons behind the legislation of the New South Wales’s racial antivilification law, the structure of the legislation, and three empirical problems resulted from its application.

The second chapter, ‘Expanding speech liberties: A capabilities approach’ (29–47), sheds light on two proposals that differ in their assessments of free speech, hate speech, and speech policy. The first represents the current deficient major arguments in defense of free speech, which emphasize the quantity of speech: the more the better. The second represents G’s view, which aims to empower people to respond to hate speech rather than to be silenced by it. Another area of difference between G and defenders of free speech appears in the third chapter, ‘Speech as conduct’ (49–68), which analyzes speech conceptions within the framework of speech act theory and communicative action theory. Unlike many free speech adherents, G argues that hate speech is a kind of conduct and that any proposed distinction between speech and conduct is highly challengeable.

The fourth chapter, ‘Hate speech as harmful conduct: The phenomenology of hate-speech-acts’ (69–91), presents an analysis of a number of hate speech utterances in terms of the validity claims model by which it has become feasible to identify and understand hate-speech-acts. Trying to investigate whether the weaknesses in the application of hate speech policy is universal or just a state-specific issue, G, in the fifth chapter entitled ‘Australia, the UK and the USA compared’ (93–115), adopts a com parative method, whereby she investigates hate speech policies in all three countries. The final chapter, ‘A policy of speaking back’ (117–34), deals with the core value of the book, G’s ‘capabilities-oriented hate speech policy’ which provides the institutional, material, and educational assistance that victims need to respond to hate speech. In brief, this policy suggests that hate speech should not be banned, but rather be answered.

This book makes an important contribution to the field of discourse studies, providing a consolidated hate speech policy whereby the goals of both securing free speech and ameliorating the negative effects of hate speech are achieved simultaneously.

Mousa A. Btoosh
University of Texas, Arlington


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