France rang church bells and observed a minute of silence on Thursday in honor of those killed by jihadists. Afterward the French of every rank resumed touting the French value of freedom of speech. It is a value for which the Charlie Hebdo victims gave their lives. How dedicated the French government is to freedom of speech isn’t as clear. Indeed, how dedicated is the Western world?
In 2012 Muslims planned to protest airing the film “Innocence of Muslims” in France. The French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault banned the protests planned for Paris. At the time, Ayrault made an Orwellian statement about freedom of speech:
Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault reaffirms that the freedom of expression is one of the fundamental principles of our Republic. This freedom is exercised within the framework of the law and under the supervision of the courts when a case is referred to them.
At the time, Stephanie Charbonnier, editor of Charlie Hebdo, defended the right of Muslims to protest the film.
Why should they prohibit these people from expressing themselves? We have the right to express ourselves, they have the right to express themselves, too.
For all the self-congratulation the French are giving themselves on the matter, the truth is their laws on freedom of speech are open to arbitrariness and subjectivity which leads to all sorts of claims of insult and injury.
It is recognized that in a civilized society there may be some restrictions on freedom of speech. Shouting fire in a crowded theater, for example. We now find ourselves in a time when encroachment on freedom of speech is alarming. There may be examples where France is particularly egregious in this regard, but it is happening all across the Western world.
In 2008 Bridget Bardot was fined for inciting racial hatred against Muslims. She opposed the ritual slaughter of sheep during a Muslim feast. She said Muslims were destroying France through their acts. It was the fifth time she was fined since 1997.
In 2002, author Michel Houellebecq who appears on the cover of the latest edition of Charlie Hebdo, was charged with inciting religious hatred for calling Islam “stupid”. Thankfully, he was acquitted, maybe because he called all religions stupid, Islam being the stupidest. He still had to go through a court appearance.
“Exhibit B” is an art show where black actors appear in chains. The artist, Brett Bailey, intends his work to elicit compassion for the plight of blacks who were forced to appear in human zoos in Europe and the United States in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
“Human zoos really legitimized the colonial process by dehumanizing people,” Mr. Bailey said between rehearsals this month at the Musée de Ste.-Croix in Poitiers, in west-central France. “Colonizers could stride into people’s lands and destroy their social, cultural and political systems because they portrayed them as barbarians. These images legitimized the systems I grew up with — apartheid.”
You would think this type of anti-colonial incrimination would be hailed by the art world. Times have changed. Political correctness is now preeminent and that leads to strange bedfellows. Artists want to ban “Exhibit B” because it is racist and degrading.
A divisive art show featuring black actors in cages as a portrayal of 19th century “human zoos” had to be halted on Thursday after more than 120 angry protesters smashed their way into Paris theatre where it was being held.
I wonder if those 120 are defending freedom of speech today.
In September the show was cancelled in London, after protests. The extreme nature of the protests was a threat to safety.
The Paris church bells had barely stopped ringing out mourning when the French press starting asking—
“There can be no exclusion from national unity,” said Prime Minister Valls on Thursday, though adding that this unity must be built around certain values “that are profoundly republican – of tolerance, of a refusal to associate [Islam with extremism]”.
The latter remark was widely interpreted as a suggestion that the FN did not meet these requirements.
François Lamy, a former Socialist minister, said “only republican parties, which refuse to stigmatise and stoke fear”, should take part in Sunday’s rally, implying that the National Front was not welcome.
Even Charlie Hebdo was against free speech for a right-wing political party calling for the National Front (FN) to be banned.
Charlie Hebdo itself has always been a steadfast opponent of the far right, which it routinely depicts as a clique of racist and fascist thugs.
In 1995, the left-wing magazine ran a cover with a cartoon of a handcuffed Jean-Marie Le Pen – Marine Le Pen’s father and the party’s founder – along with a call to ban the FN, “whose aim is to make the Republic disappear”.
We are in new times that try men’s souls. If freedom of speech dies, the silence could last forever. Where to draw the line?
La liberté d’expression