French authorities miss the memo on Charlie Hebdo being about free speech.

Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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36 Responses

  1. Mad Rocket Scientist says:

    Most of Europe seems to have this problem.Report

  2. Burt Likko says:

    Damnit, you’re getting ahead of me, Tod! I can’t write my next bit about tailoring inevitable restrictions on speech to policy goals until this weekend! And damn you too, République de la France; I was already going to use Dieudonné’s “quinelle” as one of my examples!Report

  3. Guy says:

    What did he actually say?Report

  4. trizzlor says:

    Yes, one of the odder responses I had heard was that Charlie Hebdo could not be racist because France strictly prosecutes racist speech. Should we urge major US pundits to perform Dieudonné’s modernized Nazi salute, in solidarity of free-speech rights?Report

  5. dragonfrog says:

    The thing that surprises me, and maybe it’s because I’m missing a ton of context, is that the statement “I feel like Charlie Coulibaly” was taken to express support for the terrorists.

    I immediately read his statement as a shorthand for something along the lines of “As a human, I am horrified by the violence committed at Charlie Hebdo. As a black man in France, I am terrified of being the victim of racist or islamophobic retaliatory violence.”Report

  6. Saul Degraw says:

    Dieudonne has a long history of anti-Semitic remarks and is part of the long-time line of tensions between Jews and Muslims in France. I’ve written about him before:

    He is famous for this gesture:

    Note: I am against the ban of the quenelle because I think censorship bans largely make things more powerful than they should be but I am not a fan of Dieudonne.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      One problem with hate speech laws is that the line between fierce outside criticism and slur-free hate speech can be very thin at times. Its better to allow nearly everything and let the social market place deal with how the message is received.Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to LeeEsq says:


      • Saul Degraw in reply to LeeEsq says:

        I don’t disagree but I still dislike Dieudonne.

        He does get nothing but free publicity from this arrest so I oppose it though. I think just ignoring him long enough to make him tend bar for a living is a better way of dealing with him.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to LeeEsq says:

        I hate Dieudonne to, Saul. I also agree that this arrest gives Dieudonne unwarranted free publicity. Sometimes when dealing with speech you don’t like, the best answer is to ignore it. “If a tree falls in a forest” and all that. Just because someone is speaking, doesn’t mean you have to listen.Report

  7. Tod Kelly says:

    Oops. Just noticed and corrected an error in the blurb, where I meant to write “Daniel Tosh” but for some reason wrote “Peter Tosh.”

    Very, very different cats.Report

  8. dragonfrog says:

    It’s not just Dieudonne – since the attacks, they’ve apparently arrested 54 people for speech.

  9. Rufus F. says:

    I’ve read a few people from Europe and Canada now write something like “I am absolutely for free speech. Not hate speech, of course. But all other free speech.”Report

  10. CK MacLeod says:

    French PM gave a speech which a.o.t. attempted to differentiate forcefully between blasphemy or insolence on the one hand and hate speech and incitement on the other. Most directly relevant portions at the end, though the entirety gives relevant backstory:

    • Stillwater in reply to CK MacLeod says:

      @ck-macleod or anyone else who might know:

      I found it, well, puzzling, that in the aftermath of the Hebdo massacre that the PM’s speech focused mostly on anti-semitism and the absence of more pronounced outrage and pushback against anti-Jewish sentiment. It’s seems especially weird given one of the lines from the author of the from the linked-to article where the writer apparently connects the dots between Hebdo and the PM’s speech:

      An indication, perhaps, that the lack of outrage which so incensed the French Prime Minister will continue for as long as journalists and reporters fail to acknowledge that hatred of Jews lies at the core of Islamist ideology, just as it did among the nationalists and xenophobes whom Emile Zola confronted more than a century ago.

      I can’t figure this out.

      So, some questions:

      1. Why did the PM focus on anti-semitism so specifically when the attack were apparently Muslim v The West?

      2. Am I correct in thinking that given the writer’s claim about Muslims, pushing back against anti-semitism sorta requires demonizing Muslims, which seems to undermine the substance of what the PM was getting on about. Or does it?

      3. Or 1 and 2 more generally: is there something going on in France that explains all this, or is it the PM doing his best to put out fires where he thinks they’re most likely to rise?Report

      • CK MacLeod in reply to Stillwater says:


        In the excerpts of the speech, PM Valls seem to address your points directly.

        Valls justifies his focus in three ways: in relation to horrific attacks on Jews as Jews, both prior to and immediately subsequent to the massacre at the CH offices; in relation to the notion of antisemism itself as vital or existential threat to the Republic (the Republic as realized ideal of liberty, not somehow in its physical being, as many who attempt to interpret “existential threat” seem to think makes sense); the arguably related centrality of anti-semitism or Judeophobia to radical Islamism (or to Islam according to radical Islamists).

        In terms of your three questions:

        1) The PM denies that anti-semitism and anti-Westernism are separate: For the PM Jews are essential to the West; for the PM you cannot be anti-semitic without being anti-Western, and you can’t in the end be anti-Western without being anti-semitic. He focuses so specifically because inspired by specific, striking acts, and because, in his view this identification of the French and Western interest with the Jewish interest has been borne out by catastrophic historical experience. Though this argument is far from unprecedented, he does go quite far, it seems to me, almost in the Christian right American style, but with a secular-progressive twist.

        2) No.

        First, “demonizing” seems to me to be prejudicial, suggesting the same Islamophobiaphobic conflation of anti-Islamist with anti-Muslim we were recently discussing in relation to another RTod post.

        In other words, if someone really is murdering Jews simply because they’re Jews, it’s not “demonizing” the murderers to say that that’s a bad thing they’re doing, they should stop doing it, and they should promise not to do it anymore and give up those responsible or incorrigible for punishment or restraint. How exactly to identify “them” is a second question, but there is ample justification, it seems to me, for associating radical Islamism with antisemitism (you need evidence?). To the extent the vast majority of Muslims don’t see things quite the same way, then there are at least two different groups, but opinion polling and anecdotal evidence (popularity of anti-semitic cartoons and conspiracy theories; expulsion of Jews from much of the Islamic world) suggests that there is substantial overlap. Whatever the explanation, there does appear to be a real problem in Islamicate cultures generally today in relation to the Jews, which in turn makes aspects of those cultures a real problem for the West, even if you don’t go as far as Valls in identifying the West with the Jews.

        3) The PM’s argument is a declaration and argument in the affirmative to the first part, and of no contradiction between the first and second parts – so, not an “or” but an “and,” and “yes.”Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:


        Thanks for responding. Like I said, I was genuinely puzzled about how all the strands weave together and I think you’ve shown it quite nicely.Report

      • CK MacLeod in reply to Stillwater says:

        @stillwater My pleasure.They were remarkably remarkarble remarks, and I was glad to be able to remark on them.Report

  11. Vikram Bath says:

    French authorities miss the memo on Charlie Hebdo being about free speech.

    They missed the memo that *we* think it should have been about free speech. If instead we considered the possibility it was about tribalism, then this makes total sense:

    At least 54 people were arrested for hate speech or other acts insulting religious faiths, or for cheering the men who carried out the attacks.