The New Yorker:

Those who want to curtail freedom of speech do not log the debits and credits of censorship, nor do they care about the balance of norms—they act when they have power.

By Jay Caspian Kang

Terrible times breed terrible words, and words have consequences—especially when what you say can be recorded and broadcast. Yet society cannot agree, perhaps more so now, on which views are acceptable and what the consequences should be for a person expressing them.

Last week, Stuart Seldowitz, a former State Department official, was arrested and charged with a hate crime after videos of him delivering a series of bigoted rants against Mohamed Hussein, a twenty-four-year-old Manhattan street-cart vender, went viral. In these, Seldowitz called Hussein a terrorist, insulted his Muslim faith, and said, with a hysterical crack in his voice, “If we killed four thousand Palestinian children, you know what—it wasn’t enough.” Hussein, for his part, repeatedly asked Seldowitz to leave him alone.

The online case against Seldowitz is fairly open-and-shut. It is quite clear that he is a bigot and a bully. As hundreds of people on social media have pointed out, his dangerous rhetoric is far more disturbing when placed in the context of his proximity to the highest levels of the U.S. foreign-policy establishment. Seldowitz served under both Republican and Democratic Presidents and worked in the State Department’s Office of Israeli and Palestinian Affairs. Bad people go viral for all sorts of reasons, but there’s a special level of contempt reserved for those who seem to reveal something rotten at the core of the institutions of power.

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