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Unpublished Paper
Speech Along the Atrocity Spectrum
ExpressO (2013)
  • Gregory S. Gordon, University of North Dakota

In the abstract, speech may have much intrinsic value with its power to facilitate democracy, self-actualization, and good will. But, in certain contexts, it can also be quite deleterious, spawning division, ignorance, and hatred. Within the crucible of atrocity, speech may be similarly Janus-faced. Its power to prevent mass violence is indubitable. But its capacity for enabling mass violence is similarly unquestionable. So the issue arises: when and how may speech work for good or ill in relation to atrocity? This Article grapples with that question. And, in doing so, it finds that the relationship between speech and atrocity should be analyzed within a two-axis matrix. The first axis relates to chronology and divides into “process” (referring to the cycle of atrocity) and “pre-process” phases. The “pre-process” phase indicates a target group is successfully integrated into the social fabric and not subjected to untoward degrees of discrimination. The “process” (or atrocity cycle) phase consists of three critical junctures: (1) identification; (2) action; and (3) execution. The second axis is qualitative and entails classifying speech as both “salutary” and “inimical.” Returning to the chronology axis, during the pre-process phase, the focus must be on disseminating salutary speech. Such speech can go a long way toward preventing prejudice and discrimination. Dissemination can be achieved through various means, including fostering education with an emphasis on teaching pluralistic values and safeguarding free access to channels of public communication. During the “identification” stage – when prejudice and discrimination are on the rise, promoting salutary speech may still play an important role in preventing atrocity. The question during this stage becomes whether salutary speech is still capable of negating inimical speech. During the “action” stage – when pre-atrocity persecutory measures are being enacted – negating inimical speech may no longer be possible. And during the “execution” stage, when speech is in the service of ongoing violence or directed toward inciting it, the goal becomes preventing inimical speech through civil legal action or criminal punishment. Such measures may have a significant deterrent effect and help combat the culture of impunity.

  • speech,
  • atrocity,
  • genocide,
  • freedom of expression,
  • incitement,
  • persecution,
  • crimes against humanity,
  • genocide denial,
  • speech crimes
Publication Date
February 18, 2013
Citation Information
Gregory S. Gordon. "Speech Along the Atrocity Spectrum" ExpressO (2013)
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