#JeNeSuisPasCharlie: French Hypocrisy on Free Speech and Islamophobia
By Yousuf Ali
About five years ago the headquarters of Charlie Hebdo was attacked by Muslim Millitiansts who were angered by the magazine’s irreverent depictions of the prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Of course, the attacks were almost universally condemned by leaders both inside and outside the Muslim community. At the same time, many felt the need to not only to oppose the violence described above but to actually express support and solidarity at the “right” of Charlie Hebdo to publish blasphemous depictions of the prophet Muhammad.
In fact, this became so widespread that the hashtag #jesuisCharlie was trending in support of the magazine with many even spreading the degrading images of the prophet with the hashtag. With the trials of some of the suspected accomplices in the attack on trial, the hashtag has become While we should rightfully oppose the violence against the magazine, make no mistake the impulse to defend the publication is not rooted in a genuine appreciation of free speech but the chauvinistic impulse to inflict insult on an already deeply injured Muslim community.
With the trial, many European leaders have refused to condemn the cartoons as an indication of their solidarity with “freedom of expression”. According to Al Jazeera, “ “A president of France should never judge the editorial choice of a journalist or editorial staff because there is freedom of the press which is rightly cherished,” he said on a visit to Beirut, Lebanon.”
While this sounds like a fairly neutral statement, one would have to question how consistent he would be in upholding this had the victims of the magazine’s vitriol had been from a different community like Jews or Zionists.
Would he refuse to “pass judgment” against attacks on a small minority group like he did in the case of Muslims?
I highly doubt it. In fact, this is most likely him desperately trying to pander to public opinion in light of his noted unpopularity with the French public. In fact, we don’t even have to speculate as France and several other European countries have laws against anti-semitic hate speech while allowing open season against Jews.
The fact is that France and other Europeans do not believe in absolute freedom of speech as their rhetoric suggests but have limits depending on the group under attack. In fact, France has explicit laws against Holocaust denial, unlike the United States. This was passed in 1990 and when challenged on grounds of Freedom of Speech, the law was upheld on grounds of being necessary to combat antisemitism.
To be clear, the Holocaust was a terrible crime against humanity, and those with any knowledge of it and decency will condemn it. At the same time, the fact that France feels the need to censor some expression to protect one of its minorities while lecturing another on the importance of that freedom gives the lie to their pretenses of caring about freedom of expression. In fact, it is a clear example of their hypocrisy and institutionalized Islamophobia by protecting those who degrade Muslims. If the French want to start a genuine dialogue with Muslims about free speech, then they should learn to be consistent in its application.