Tue, Mar 24, 2009 - Page 8 News List

Balancing freedom and prejudice

By Tao Yi-Feng 陶儀芬

During the eight years in which the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) occupied the presidency, society called on the DPP’s leaders to firmly distance itself from pro-DPP politicians and officials like Lin Chung-mo (林重謨) and Tsai Chi-fang (蔡啟芳) when they used offensive language, and from grass-roots DPP supporters who held placards reading “Chinese pigs” at street demonstrations.

When Chuang Kuo-jung (莊國榮), secretary-general of the Ministry of Education under the DPP administration, used misogynist language and publicly insulted Ma Ying-jeou’s father while speaking off duty at an election meeting, no one in the DPP sought to cover up his shortcomings. The DPP denounced Chuang in no uncertain terms and he resigned from his post that very evening.

Still, the DPP paid a heavy price for Chuang’s irresponsible pronouncements in last year’s presidential election, because a civilized society is wary of letting prejudice and hate creep into the state apparatus.

A democratic society must protect citizens’ freedom of expression — even the freedom to express their prejudices. At the same time, however, it must prevent prejudice from seeping into the machinery of government. That is why since World War II, democratic countries — regardless of whether a liberal or conservative party is in power — do not tolerate officials using hate speech. If any official should do so, the government will be expected to denounce the official concerned and remove him or her from office.

Today in Taiwan the public has the same expectations of the ruling Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), just as it had of the DPP when it was in power. Intolerance for prejudice in the corridors of power is not a mark of totalitarianism — on the contrary, it is a rejection of it.

Tao Yi-feng is an associate professor of political science at National Taiwan University.


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