Is This A Good Thing?
German police have banned the display of the American flag at pro-Palestinian rallies in Berlin following flag burning and violent protests in Sweden. Earlier this week, a number of Swedish Muslims torched a synagogue in Sweden. It was the second of two recent attacks on Jews in the area, both of which were allegedly inspired by President Trump’s declaration on Jerusalem. It followed a protest in Malmö where pro-Palestinian Muslims were chanting about shooting Jews.
Flag burning is obviously a controversial and incendiary action, but there are two main problems with the decision made by Germany in this case. First, supporters of America are unable to display their opinions. This leads to a one-sided debate that can have the appearance of unanimous consent by the Berliners that are forced into silence. Alternatively, and perhaps the only benefit, is that it does isolate the protesters–if bad actors are present or the protest is a call for violence, it will be quite clear which side is to blame since only one side will be waving banners. But restraints on speech like this also rein in the disrespectful behavior of protesters that would otherwise inform the public about what is in their hearts. By forcing Palestinian supporters to behave, German police will enable them to later claim that they are not a threat in any form.
A less popular concern seems to be the restraints on free speech of the protesters. Apart from the fire hazard of a burning flag, protesters should be allowed to display their contempt. Fortunately or unfortunately, Europe is hardly a bastion of free speech and in many cases people are not afforded the opportunity to speak freely without their government penalizing them.
Some conservatives might be comforted by the prospect of the flag’s sanctity being protected from the dirty hands and ill-mannered tempers of flag burners. But the reality is, more often than not, these anti-speech laws in Europe constrain freedom lovers far more than they impact the lives of violent interlopers. The clearest example of this is in Germany’s own “hate speech” laws that forbid criticizing Islam in many cases. Recently, German lawmakers passed a bill that seeks to impose hefty fines on social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter if they fail to remove content they deem as “hate speech.” In many such cases, that content is nothing more than criticism of violence perpetrated by Muslims.
Berlin police have banned American and Israeli flags at a pro-Palestinian march, after flag burning at previous recent protests prompted outrage in Germany. Police are also trying to crack down on anti-Semitic chants by having translators accompany the Friday march and record any illegal utterances.
Jewish leaders condemned anti-Israel and anti-Jewish chants during protests in Germany last weekend against the U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Berlin police said the marchers Friday were warned in Arabic and German about restrictions, including the ban on flags. Police said the march will be filmed, adding: “we will not tolerate forbidden utterances.”