Tolerance and understanding defuse hate speech

Post Date: Jul 12th, 2014 | Categories: Advocacy | COMMENT

Hong Kong has no specific laws to protect victims of racial discrimination and hate speech, or punish offenders, although the Bill of Rights states that “the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all person equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” (Art. 22)

Asia’s World City might be a decade behind developed countries in defining racial hate crimes and enacting legislation to deal with such offenses that today may shock the public conscience and outrage our standard of decency without punishing perpetrators who use insults as weapons against people targeted for their difference.

In other countries verbal abuse or insults motivated by racial, ethnic or religious bias are criminalized under the law. Such offenses are not limited to verbal outburst, but include hateful written expressions. It is regrettable that multicultural Hong Kong has no legislation to criminalize hate speech and its derivatives

Hong Kong wishes to portray itself as a sophisticated and inclusive society, an international melting pot that rivals London and New York in welcoming and integrating people from diverse countries and cultures. This polished veneer, however, might be thinner than desirable and the underlying social fabric is often corroded by, if not founded upon, prejudice, discrimination, racism and downright xenophobia.

At a time of increased globalization, driven by unbridled capitalism in which Hong Kong’s elite are both unrivaled entrepreneurs and unrestrained consumers – thereby benefitting twice – the authorities seem to have allowed racial undercurrents to propagate dangerous hate waves, at times unchecked.

This phenomenon is observed in the many social faultlines that appear to divide local Chinese from Mainland Chinese, Chinese residents from ethnic minorities, one ethnic minority from another, new-arrivals from longtime residents, the poor from the wealthy and, last but not least, citizens from refugees.

Government policies and propaganda do little to mend divisive rifts and reconcile feuding groups. A case in point is Hong Kong’s laughable acceptance rate of refugees (22 cases out of 14000 in 22 years) which perpetuates the stereotypical view that asylum seekers are cheats who lodge ‘bogus’ claims to abuse the generosity of an endangered citizenship whose only defense is a firm immigration hand.

Recent media reports portray certain Hong Kong citizens as being unreasonable when issues such as ‘race’, ‘foreign’ and ‘wealth’ are factored into a discussion about society and evaluated to define which social groups are welcome or unwelcome, which are desirable or undesirable. An insular mentality emerges in which insiders lock the castle gates and dump pots of hot insults on outsiders below the walls.

Further, some Hong Kong citizens conveniently apply a double standard expecting to be treated fairly overseas as travelers, visitors and even migrants, but slam immigration doors in the face of anyone attempting to gain residence in the territory without meeting the highest standards. Hong Kong tourists demand respect abroad and are easily offended when treated as unwelcome guests, but often do not see the irony in their treatment of foreigners at home.

“You go home! This is my Hong Kong!” ranted a middle-aged gentlemen at destitute refugees gathered at their protest camp in Central a couple of weeks ago. He unreasonably demanded that refugees vacate the camp and return to their country because they were giving ‘problems’ to Hong Kong, without thinking that refugees are indeed a problem because of the reception they are afforded in Hong Kong. When confronted by refugees who calmly explained they would gladly leave this unwelcome shores had they been given the opportunity to do so, he donated 20$, and left with a better understanding.

Hate speech may be founded on ignorance and is easily manipulated by misinformation and propaganda. On the frontline of rapid globalization, Hong Kong should manage the discord that is gradually tearing apart its social fabric and promote values of tolerance and inclusiveness with more than happy government posters. True international citizens appreciate that with great privilege comes great responsibility, particularly in the care and protection of the most vulnerable in society.

Vision First is the only NGO doing outreach in the refugee slums of Hong Kong