This week, pundits on France’s RMC’s mid-morning show Les Grandes Gueules (The Big Mouths) have been debating how far freedom of speech should go.

On Monday, January 19, opinion was divided among them and those ringing in:

Charlie Hebdo should continue as they are.

Charlie Hebdo should stop publishing cartoons of Islam’s prophet; anything else they do is acceptable.

– A phone-in poll on the subject started with 42% of respondents saying they objected to Charlie Hebdo cartoons of said prophet; ten minutes later, 52% were opposed.

RMC’s hosts and panellists discussed the Pope’s prounouncement insinuating that an insult should be met with physical violence. They were surprised and bemused.

His comment was breathtakingly weird:

Gesturing towards Alberto Gasparri, a Vatican official who organises pontifical trips and who was standing next to him on board the plane, he said: “If my good friend Dr Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch in the nose.”

He then went further and said that no one should make fun of religion. Those who do should expect the worst:

They are provocateurs. And what happens to them is what would happen to Dr Gasparri if he says a curse word against my mother. There is a limit.

What about what a lot of us who are 50+ were taught at home: ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me’? Nor will cartoons, for that matter.

An article in Le Monde asked if there was a difference between offensive cartoons and the anti-semitic speech of the controversial French comedian Dieudonné. With regard to the latter, anti-Semitic speech and text are illegal. That said, some judicial decisions against him have been overturned. Therefore, even when there are laws, nuances abound.

Charlie Hebdo, too, has fallen foul of the law. Le Monde‘s article has a bar chart of the number of lawsuits brought against them since 1992. They had none in 2014 and five other years. Their peak year was 1998, when ten formal complaints were filed.

Another article provides detail on the lawsuits. Most came from ‘far right’ political parties, then from the media and Catholic organisations, then from Muslim groups. After the Millennium, the magazine won most of its cases, citing French legislation guarding freedom of the press.

Going back to the Pope’s statements, he — and many others in the West — lay the blame at cartoonists’ feet. I would ask:

What did the victims of the kosher supermarket attack do to offend anyone? Nothing.

What did the policewoman killed in cold blood on January 8 do to offend anyone? Nothing.

Granted, the Kouachi brothers and Coulibaly had different targets. The former were notionally defending their prophet and the latter targeted police and Jewish people. However, gratuitous violence will continue and more innocent people will die — whether we do anything offensive or not.

It’s odd that no one is talking any more about how offensive these three men were in killing law-abiding Frenchmen and women. The narrative has turned inward once again to ‘How can we law-abiding, reasonable people stop offending others?’

Our politicians are not helping, either. The same things are being said now in France which were said in 2001 in the US and in 2005 in the UK. In the latter case, in 2006, the Labour government issued a sweeping hate crimes law in response to pressure from the Muslim community after the London bombings when the rest of us were still reeling in shock and sadness. No one wanted reprisals. We just wanted to mourn our dead.

It’s hard to disagree with this sentiment from a National Review reader:

I don’t know what’s more insulting. That some [person] thinks he’s superior to me because his parents raised him in a certain religion or that my own government thinks that if they mention this religion after terrible things happen, I’ll go out and start murdering its adherents.

Yes, the fact that our governments do not seem to trust us is worrying — and rather offensive.

Advertisements