The director of the Center for Equal Opportunities and Opposition against racism (CEOOR), a governmental agency in Belgium, has told the press that the stigmatization or discrimination of majorities is not real discrimination.
These days the CEOOR is distributing 100,000 post cards with the message "Vuile Hetero" (in Dutch) or "Sale Hétéro" (in French), which in English translates to: "Dirty Heterosexual". In a press release, the center explains that this is a "provocative boomerang campaign" intended to demonstrate "the kind of insults homosexuals are frequently subjected to".
And provocative it proved to be. The campaign led Jan Van Gucht, a 54 year old man living near the Flemish city of Kortrijk, to go to the police and file a complaint against the CEOOR. He told newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws:
I am a heterosexual man and I did not choose to. I was born this way, and I do not want to be insulted. This campaign will increase the lack of understanding between both groups. We are too far gone when a center against discrimination, which until now I respected, is starting these kind of 'jokes'.
In the same article, CEOOR's director Jozef De Witte laughs away Van Gucht's objections:
I have a number of experts working for me who know what discrimination is. The stigmatization of a majority is not really part of that. Discrimination is something that by definition affects minorities.
If we take De Witte at his word, the South African apartheid regime did not really discriminate against the black majority. It is not the first time that De Witte is making up legal nonsense. In earlier interviews, he erroneously attributed constitutional status to Belgium's anti-discrimination laws.
Today Brussels lawyer and law professor Matthias Storme writes in the Dutch section of The Brussels Journal that "there is not much left of 'The Rule of Law, not of men' in Belgium". Storme defends "the fundamental right to discriminate" and sees the actions of the CEOOR as the application of the cultural marxism of Herbert Marcuse. Storme:
The sad reality is that De Witte is a follower of Herbert Marcuse, who has poisoned the youth with his idea of partisan tolerance: the enemies have to be forced into tolerance, but we ourselves are allowed to be intolerant against them. This is because there are "correct" opinions that are to be preferred, and "incorrect" opinions that have to be fought against with all means. According to Marcuse, a non-partisan tolerance would leave the established values intact, which would lead to repressive tolerance. Therefore, Marcuse only accepted a partisan tolerance which would have to be "intolerant toward the protagonists of the repressive status quo", or would promote "intolerance against movements from the Right, and toleration of movements from the Left".
This is indeed the kind of partisan tolerance that the CEOOR is enforcing today in Belgium. Two weeks ago, it threatened our editor Paul Belien (who will be back at his desk next week) with a lawsuit, unless an article was removed from our Dutch section. In the article, Paul Belien compared the murderers of Joe Van Holsbeeck to "predators" who had "learned at young age how to cut the throat of warm-blooded herd animals during the annual sacrifice feast". The CEOOR interpreted this as a stigmatization of islam. In the same article, Mr Belien had written that "it is the duty of the state to protect its citizens against predators", but that when the state fails to exercise this function, citizens should have the right to arm themselves. While this was essentially a call for the right to carry pepperspray, a defensive weapon prohibited in Belgium, the CEOOR interpreted this as "incitement to violence". In the past two weeks, several journalists and politicians have denounced Mr Belien for "calling to arms against the North African predators that are dwelling our streets". This is an example of the rhetoric technique to take quotations out of context and to change words and sentences while representing them as literal quotations. The CEOOR writes on its website that it has "stopped the distribution of a hate article" because the article had "incited to hate" and "amalgamated" by insinuating that all muslims had to be criminals, all criminals had to be North Africans, and "all North Africans had to be muslims as if these two concepts were identical".
The tolerance that the CEOOR enforces is partisan. Apparently it is a crime to insult muslims, Arabs or Africans, but Americans can be insulted ad lib. Only a few months ago, the CEOOR considered the Flemish song "Weg met Amerika" ("Away with America"), which denounced the "pretence and arrogance" of Anglo-Saxons, calling them "megalomaniac unicellular idiots" and inciting to "putting a hot pick up their ass", to be OK. The CEOOR received twelve formal complaints against the song, subsequently "invited" the singer, Raymond van het Groenewoud, to "explain his intentions", and decided not to sue because it was pleased with the singer's answer.
Make no mistake: I am a strong proponent of freedom of speech, and I think that songs like "Away with America" should not be criminalized. Nor should articles like the one Paul Belien wrote, or jokes like the "Moroccon Monopoly" which led to the firing of a teacher for simply forwarding an email. Personally I don't think there is anything wrong with the "dirty hetero" campaign itself, as far as it is intended to dissuade insults, but I am appalled by Mr De Witte's sloppy definition of discrimination and by the partisan tolerance enforced by the CEOOR, an agency whose actions in my opinion unintentionally fosters an atmosphere of distrust, social friction and intolerance.