It’s been almost one year since millions of people — led by the world’s most repressive tyrants — marched in Paris ostensibly in favor of free speech. Since then, the French government — which led the way trumpeting the vital importance of free speech in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo killings — has repeatedly prosecuted people for the political views they expressed, and otherwise exploited terrorism fears to crush civil liberties generally. It has done so with barely a peep of protest from most of those throughout the West who waved free speech flags in support of Charlie Hebdo cartoonists.
That’s because, as I argued at the time, many of these newfound free speech crusaders exploiting the Hebdo killings were not authentic, consistent believers in free speech. Instead, they invoke that principle only in the easiest and most self-serving instances: namely, defense of the ideas they support. But when people are punished for expressing ideas they hate, they are silent or supportive of that suppression: the very opposite of genuine free speech advocacy.
French comic Dieudonné M’bala M’bala speaks to the media during a press conference in a theater in Paris, Jan. 11, 2014. Photo: Michel Euler/AP
Days after the Paris march, the French government arrested the comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala “for being an ‘apologist for terrorism’ after suggesting on Facebook that he sympathized with one of the Paris gunmen.” Two months later, he was convicted, receiving a suspended two-month jail sentence. In November, on separate charges, he was convicted by a Belgian court “for racist and anti-Semitic comments he made during a show in Belgium” and was given a two month prison term. There were no #JeSuisDieudonné hashtags trending, and it’s almost impossible to find the loudest post-Hebdo Free Speech crusaders denouncing the French and Belgian governments for this attack on free expression.
In the weeks after the Free Speech march, dozens of people in France “were arrested for hate speech or other acts insulting religious faiths, or for cheering the men who carried out the attacks.” The government “ordered prosecutors around the country to crack down on hate speech, anti-Semitism and glorifying terrorism.” There were no marches in defense of their free speech rights.
In October, France’s highest court upheld the criminal conviction of activists who advocate boycotts and sanctions against Israel as a means of ending the occupation. What did these criminals do? They “arrived at the supermarket wearing shirts emblazoned with the words: ‘Long live Palestine, boycott Israel’” and “also handed out fliers that said that ‘buying Israeli products means legitimizing crimes in Gaza.’” Because boycotts against Israel were deemed “anti-semitic” by the French court, it was a crime to advocate it. Where were all the post-Hebdo crusaders when these 12 individuals were criminally convicted for expressing their political views critical of Israel? Nowhere to be found.
More generally, the French government seized “emergency powers” in the wake of the Paris attack that they originally said would last twelve days. It was then extended to three months, and there is now talk, as the deadline approaches, of extending those powers indefinitely or permanently. Those powers have been used exactly as one would suspect: to barge into places without warrants where French Muslims gather, shut mosques and coffee shops, detain people with no charges, and otherwise abolish basic liberties. They’ve also now been used beyond the Muslim community, against climate activists. If that sort of classic, creeping repression does not anger and upset you, then you may be many things, but a genuine advocate of free expression in France is not one of them.
End of quote.
Entirely to be expected, as I documented at the time. It’s wonderful to see Greenwald spelling it out.