Thursday, 15 January 2015

Freedom of speech lasted three days

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French belief in freedom of speech lasted three days. Dieudonn√© M’bala M’bala a comedian was arrested in France on an accusation of being “an apologist for terrorism”, after saying on Facebook
 “Know that this evening, as far as I’m concerned, I’m feeling Charlie Coulibaly”. 
In other words instead of saying, as officially approved,
Je suis Charlie
he was combining Charlie Hebdo with the surname of the man who killed Jews in the kosher supermarket.
He could go to prison for up to seven years if found guilty.
The BBC says
What sophistry. Freedom of speech means the freedom to say what you like. It includes the freedom to offend. In fact, the freedom to offend people is another way of saying freedom of speech. Freedom to say inoffensive things isn't freedom at all. Obviously freedom of speech most certainly includes the freedom to express racist ideas and to make faulty historical judgments and to say it's repulsive to see men holding hands in public.
Under French law, however, you only have the freedoms the law gives you (in Britain you are free to do whatever you are not forbidden to do). And in France freedom of speech does not extend to incitement to hatred or racism, anti-Semitism or homophobia, etc.
I passionately believe the Armenian genocide happened and should be publicised, but everyone is entitled to say no it didn't. Except in France they are not. In France expressing this view is a crime. Muslims ask why their religion is less important than the Christians whom they massacred. The Muslims have a point.

Why can't people choose this moment to make a plea to legalise all manner of speech and go back to the freedom of speech people enjoyed in say 1990? That would be a fitting memorial to the people murdered. Though it would not please the French Arabs.
Actually, I am not sure whether the murdered journalists were always in favour of freedom of speech themselves. Like most people outside France I don't know too much about Charlie Hebdo but I know they were on the left and the magazine  petitioned the President of France to have the National Front banned as its ideals were incompatible with the Declaration of the Rights of Man. 

Incidentally, Charlie Hebdo does seem to have had a double standard when it comes to offending Jews and offending Muslims. The magazine fired a writer for an allegedly anti-Semitic column. He was prosecuted for the article which linked being Jewish with social success. On this point the founder of Charlie Hebdo agrees with me. He also blames the murdered editor for 'dragging the team to their deaths' by overdoing the provocative cartoons.

This story has revealed what is really sacred in Europe, in case we somehow had not known before. It's not God, not Christianity, nor of course Islam, and certainly not free speech either, but racial equality, along with sexual equality and homosexuality. In the USA, God and free speech precede equality.

Maurice Cowling was exactly right when he said
Secularisation so far from involving liberation from religion, has involved merely liberation from Christianity and the establishment in its place of a modern religion whose advocates so much assume its truth that they do not understand that it is a religion to which they are committed.

31 comments:

  1. Mbala's arrest was disturbing especially in view of what had just happened in Paris and in my view a mistake. Freedom of speech is, as you say, Paul, the freedom to offend. However it is complex. Do we in a society aspiring to be civilized, allow written or spoken incitement to violence on grounds of religion, race, sexual orientation etc.? xx

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    1. As far as I know, incitement to violence has always been everywhere a crime and should be. If that is what this man is being accused of I should think he would get off without much trouble. But I don't think it is. Violence is no worse or better because it is committed 'on grounds of religion, race, sexual orientation, etc'.

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    2. Or am I not allowed to say that?

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  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_free_speech_exceptions

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  3. On Al Jazeera, hardly an anti Muslim source, today I watched Muslims in the Philippines celebrating the murders in Paris. The Philippines is not a majority Muslim country (far from it). Of course Muslims have a right to celebrate the murders if they want to (absolutely they do), but other people have the right to note this.

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  4. Agree – we need tolerance and no fundamentalism. This is binary

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  5. I agree, despite this terrorist attack the French are not champions of freedom of speech. French law is quite restrictive on many levels when it comes to free speech - it's even surprising given the strict anti-racism legislation that Charlie didn't get prosecuted for racism when they published the cartoons. They should liberalise free speech - even wackos should have the right to be heard.

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  6. Mbala is under legal pressure for "incitation au terrorisme" which is totally different than freedom of speech and all other aspects. The story is much more complex than you have described. 54 other persons are arrested and for some of them already sentenced with up to 4 years of prison. The story about Mbala started more than a year ago and he has already up to 60 legal procedures against him.

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  7. arresting that comedian is wrong, even if he offended by putting the nameof the killer next to the one of the magazine. Makes the French state look schizophrenic in terms of freedom of expression. Can't figure out why they did it and where the case is against him.

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  8. I knew well some of the (excellent) cartoonists who were murdered (Wolinski and Cabu are legends),
    Although some of their drawings – if not the majority – were rather on the edge…
    - Charlie Hebdo was the successor of Hara Kiri, which presented itself as “Stupid and nasty magazine”.
    Even in my anarchist youth I used to find it disgusting : This has not improved over time…
    - Although not appreciated much, it is certainly not a reason to murder these people : We all agree.

    - I truly believe the murderers have not much to do with religion,
    And I am wondering how you can kill in the name of God – whoever God is –
    unless you have not understood anything to the books, being the Bible or the Coran…
    - So difficult to hear muslims clapping to the events, while all imams of France were part of the demonstration.

    - Last but not least, I have been even more shocked than you by the arrest of Dieudonné, an humorist that I do not appreciate either,
    But who has been persecuted by the French authorities for several years now for racial hate instigation as well as for tax purposes…
    - He has been forbidden of any show…that he is doing in neighboring Switzerland since 2 years now…
    S.G.

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  9. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dieudonn%C3%A9_M%27bala_M%27bala

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  10. The issue is when speech is either designed to and indeed does lead to acts of violence or threats of same. I too think that probably Dieudonne is a bit of a provocateur/clown (as is Charlie Hebdo) and merely ignoring him is probably best. But none of this equilibration should lead us away from the awful events of last week. Some conservatives seem almost to revel in the fact that these journalists were 'left-wing' (I'm not accusing you of that idiocy of course Paul) and therefore somehow 'deserved' it which is just as mad, bad, and evil as those muslims who justify these acts as somehow justified revenge. As usual the extrmes of left and right meet up in stupidity and moral blindness.
    Allan

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  11. Does freedom of speech give me the right to offend anyone I choose? Freedom of speech means I can say what I like but doesn't an innate moral compass make me consider the feelings of other people? Freedom of speech is already curtailed if there is an intention of inflaming racial hatred. It is such an important concept that confusing it with the right to be offensive seems to me to cheapen it as a principle. What Pope Francis meant surely was "I support your right to free speech but hope you will not use it to insult my mother". There are two moral concepts at work there. Tolerance of others and respect for others' feelings. The current Charlie Hebdo cover with the weeping Prophet seems to me to be acceptable. It has a strong message that Islam does not support the killings in France. Other covers I find gratuitously offensive. That does not justify violence but it calls into question the unassailable right to offend.
    Bob

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    1. I think we are in agreement. I would prefer people to exercise discretion and there to be no hate speech laws etc but if they are not repealed there might be arguments, if only for pragmatic reasons, and for making offensive cartoons and speech that offend religious groups illegal - but in France with its secularism this is impossible.

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    2. Good points, but who is to decide what counts as offensive and what classes as a religious group? Opinions vary on both.
      Helen

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    3. "who is to decide what counts as offensive"

      Why should that matter? It's a personal and subjective opinion, nothing more: if you don't like what I'm saying, or I don't like what you're saying, we can ignore each other, or argue about it. As long as we accept that freedom of expression (which is important, and an actual right which must be protected) is incompatible with and trumps the "right" not to be offended, it's purely an individual choice.

      If you were offended by the Charlie Hebdo content, that's fine: nobody's making you buy or read it. Problems only arise when someone tries to prevent other people from buying and reading it. It's different when the speech is actually targeted at a specific individual: making threats, bombarding someone with hate mail, making defamatory comments - but beyond that, almost any restriction is wrong.

      As the original link points out, when we only have the "right" to say the things the government deems acceptable, we don't really have freedom of speech at all.

      James S

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    4. The truth is that freedom of speech is of the utmost importance and should not have been circumscribed in so many ways including hate speech laws in recent years in Europe Canada etc. But as it has been and there seems little likelihood of these dreadful laws being repealed there might be - I am not sure - a case for extending this to offending religious feelings. Still this is a form of aggression against theoretically Christian countries like England or secular countries like France.

      Until the law on blasphemy was repealed by Mr Blair's administration blasphemy was a common law offence in England but it only protected the Christian God and was intended to protect Him from offence, not his followers. Some people for some reason think the idea that God Who is omnipotent can be offended is odd, but of course it is not.

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    5. Interesting view - I very much dislike the use of 'Jesus' as a swear word in practically all TV dramas, but does that give me a right to retaliate against those who do it? I would have thought that any God who could make a world and knows human weakness would not be likely to be offended in the way that we can be. And I wouldn't follow any God who demanded violent revenge for such offence. Jesus died to save people from the consequences of sin; he didn't kill the sinners.
      Helen

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    6. I asked my question from the point of view of how governments could decide on passing laws on free speech. The fact that it's practically impossible to rule on what is or isn't 'offensive' is why it's easier not to have laws on it (beyond the ones on inciting hatred already mentioned). I agree with Bob that freedom of speech is not the same as a 'right' to insult people on purpose, and that we are all responsible for the effect of our own actions, no matter what others think and do.

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    7. In England "incitement to racial hatred" was first made a crime by the Race Relations Act 1976, so it is not a very old crime but not a very new one. I wish it wasn't a crime, though, any more than it is in the USA where the First Amendment safeguards freedom of speech. 'Incitement' (to violence or to commit any crime) was always rightly a Common Law offence.

      I am much more worried about the offence of insulting behaviour created in Section 5, Public Order Act 1986, a law passed when Mrs. Thatcher was in power. Rod Liddle dealt with this one rather well here: http://www.spectator.co.uk/columnists/rod-liddle/8688541/everyone-agrees-its-time-to-get-rid-of-the-word-insulting-from-the-public-order-act/

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  12. I understand that at about the same time as the Charlie Hebdo killings, if not on exactly the same day, around 2,000 (yes, TWO THOUSAND!) people, of which a high proportion were women and children, were slaughtered in northern Nigeria by Muslim extremists. Why do I see no soul-searching, no protest marches, no philosophizing related to that horrendous event? Were the lives of twelve Frenchmen so much more important? - Perhaps not relevant to the debate on freedom of speech, but surely relevant to a discussion of the relative horrors of extremist terror ....

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    1. A week or so before September 11 about 3000 people died in a natural disaster in Central America though I don't remember the details. At the time this is why I did not accord September 11th attacks the importance they deserved. I suppose Paris is closer to home than Nigeria and closeness to home is not measured in miles. But yes the media decides what is important. Fighting has raged furiously in Donetsk airport all this week but the events in Paris are important. I think they will be a turning point where history won't turn and nothing much will be done as a result. Muslims will continue to enter Europe, many as asylum seekers, many as normal immigrants, anti-Muslim protests will be half hearted, attempts will be made I hope to make young Muslims less disaffected, the disaffected people of Pegida etc will be too weak to change the consensus

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    2. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/niger/11352645/Niger-churches-torched-in-anti-Charlie-Hebdo-riots.html

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  13. 3rd WW is on. This time it is the war of the cultures, mainly Islam vs. secularists in the Occident. (Some one said 9/11 was the Pearl Harbor of WW III). The victims are whatever few Christians are left in Europe and in the Islamic lands.

    The winner in this conflict will be the side that believes in its cause and is willing to die for it if necessary. Europeans do not seem to believe in anything. They will demonstrate but fight? I doubt it. Only the young have energy to engage in protracted struggles. Europeans have killed their young because they lack hope since they refuse to acknowledge the God of their fathers and mothers. The immigrants will inherit Europe because they have children. Muslims are the majority of their immigrants.......

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    1. Actually I don't like secularists. Europe has lost its faith in God and in its tradition and civilisation, because of liberalism and post-colonial guilt. Bad history is to blame for a lot of our problems and I wish I had been a historian of colonialism but bad history is itself a symptom of what is wrong. Perhaps Neagu Djuvara is right and civilisations die from exhaustion. I wrote about Mr Djuvara last week: http://pvewood.blogspot.ro/2015/01/neagu-djuvara-thinks-killings-in-paris.html

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    2. I met a Russian bricklayer at the seaside in Estonia in 2006 who told me the Third World War has already started. I was very impressed by this but someone since told me that this is an idea often repeated in Russia. But the Russians, ordinary ones I mean rather then their rulers, seem to have many sensible ideas.

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  14. Free Speech for Me--But Not for Thee.
    Toni P.

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  15. Sorry Paul but there is a marked difference in France once you get beyond the edge of Ile de Paris. It is a traditional and religious place where the screaming hyper egalitarian left is only composed of the occasional rich visitors from Paris. The bulk of the mainstream doesn't really torture themselves with pyrrhic questions about freedom of speech after an event like the one in Paris. It was to be expected, and does not imply that representative egalitarian structure is changing there. French democracy has a very different meaning to the French than that equivalent word within the realm of the English speaking world. Moreover, there is a strong political dissonance with regard to immigration from the Maghreb in the countryside as opposed to the views within Paris... outside of Paris, the mass immigration of the past decades is not a welcome thing among the majority (please note how it is practically impossible for the members of the Maghreb families from the banlieue find it almost impossible to build meaningful careers in the peripheral cities of the country... it is not for a complete lack of a desire to do so, but of the realization that they would effectively need to renounce their cultural viewpoints to integrate in the working world outside of the big office buildings of Paris). I think you are judging the reaction of the French political class through your English lenses... France, its culture and its way of life is far less maleable to the forces of modern life than you think (something which is NOT true of what I've seen of England outside the outskirts of London - English culture is far more malleable and adaptive).

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  16. Mr Wood is correct - either one believes that people should be free to express their opinions with their own private property (such as a magazine) or one does not - and I do believe in Freedom of Speech.

    "Ah but you would not allow people to argue for your own execution" - yes I would, if someone wants to write an article about "Why Paul Marks of Kettering, Northamptonshire should be hanged by the neck till he is dead", I would not want the state (or private thugs) to prevent publication.

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    1. I agree so long as they wanted to state to hang you but not if they wanted to incite private citizens to do so. British Muslims were arrested a year or two ago for forming a party to bring back capital punishment for homosexuals. This seemed to me to be very wrong - they were entitled to argue for any change in the law they chose. They did not argue for private citizens to attack homosexuals.

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    2. Agreed Sir.

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