Freedom of Speech – No Ifs No Buts
The first duty of journalism is just “to make trouble” – Seymour Hersh
The free communication of ideas and opinions is one of the most precious of the rights of man. Every citizen may, accordingly, speak, write, and print with freedom, but shall be responsible for such abuses of this freedom as shall be defined by law. – French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen adopted 1789
The defence of press freedom has become a central issue for those who want to uphold not only freedom of expression, but also a human-centred view of the future – Mick Hume author of: There is No Such Thing as a Free Press …And We Need One More Than Ever
(The Blog is where we publish FrenchNewsOnline opinions. Readers are most welcome to debate our view in the comments below.)
Freedom of expression may not be the most popular cause of the moment but it is critical to individual liberty and liberal Western democracy — we thus make no apology for being fundamentalists in the matter of free speech.
“Liberals sought and established a constitutional order that prized important individual freedoms, such as the freedom of speech and of association, an independent judiciary and public trial by jury.”
We support these values — dating back as they do more than 300 years — but we fear, they are being imperiled by a combination of malignant neglect on the part of the West’s dilettante elites and the thrusting intolerance of Islamist extremists and their fellow travellers.
These are issues that were brought sharply into focus recently in France — one of the fountainheads of today’s liberal traditions — in the wake of the outcry that erupted over the most recent publication of Charlie Hebdo’s Muslim cartoons.
Jacques Julliard, the outspoken editor of the leftwing weekly Marianne, summed up the issues in an editorial (Issue No 805, 22-28 September 2012 not available online) days after the cartoons were published:
“If Voltaire or one of his contemporaries were to return today he (they) would be shocked not by our technological progress but by the regression that he (they) would find in our liberty. The France he would have left behind in the late 1700s was on a voyage and under full sail towards tolerance. However on his imagined return in the 21st century he would have found a world on fire, bloodied under the yoke of fanaticism and obscurantism … He would have further discovered that his own work Le Fanatisme ou Mahomet (a tragedy written in 1736 and first performed at Lille on 25 April 1741 by the Comédie Français) would today have exposed him not only to legal proceedings and reprobation from a range of anti-racist groups but likely also to a fatwa emanating from the depths of Iran or Saudi Arabia and placing a price on his head just as was done to Salman Rushdie, author of the Satanic Verses. Indeed he would have discovered that he faced far greater perils today than under the reign of Louis XVth. He would have discovered that in the era of the mobile phone, the automobile, the airliner, computer hi-tech and molecular biology the main topics of public debate focus on the rights of women to dress up as ghosts and of human beings, obeying the tenets of major religions, causing animals to suffer before they are eaten.”
Clearly concerned by the West’s apparent spinelessness, Jacques Julliard, a long-standing Socialist with strong Catholic roots — went much further: “We should mention here a singularly important step in the affirmation of France’s secular tradition, that is to say a refusal to provide state support for a supernatural truth. In 1825 under the reign of Charles X — a time of extremist reaction — a legal bill was discussed which would have put to death convicted authors of the ‘crime of sacrilege’… A veritable liberal front was formed embracing those on the Left and even a party of the extreme Right. Chateaubriand, that paladin of Christian ideas, proclaimed that such a bill would wound humanity without offering any protection to religion. In the end the law was not promulgated. This tradition of religious neutrality on the part of the (French) state is consubstantial with the Republican pact. Allah, Yahweh (Jehovah) or God the Father has strong shoulders. Islamic integralism is a simony, the trafficking of the sacred for the benefit of totalitarian political intention. This is the nonsensical pretension of those who claim to speak in the name of God and so usurp his powers. No one can speak in the name of God or use his name to advance their own agenda, for this in reality is the true blasphemy. Either God is nothing or he is ineffable. The Almighty, if he exists, does not need us to make others respect him … Fanatics, drunk on violence, horse-dealers-in-the-sacred who monopolize to their own benefit the religious feelings of the people, hypocrites that you are, you are the true blasphemers.”
Concluding his editorial of fiery conviction he writes: “We will offer you no concessions because that which you wish for involves the denial of our convictions whether we are Christian, Jew, Muslim or agnostic … We remain faithful to the spirit of the French revolution as transmitted by Stanislas de Clermont- Tonerre on 23rd December 1789 who wrote, with regard to the status of the Jews: ‘we must refuse everything to the Jews as a nation and agree to everything for the Jews as individuals’. This maxim, which does not recognize the rights of communities but only those of individuals that make up such communities, rests and will remain the golden rule that underpins our Republic. This fight against foolishness, fanaticism and the spirit of domination should be a fight embraced by all of us including indeed the Muslims of France. In the name of the principles of this Republic then, solidarity, total solidarity with Charlie Hebdo because if we do not exercise our liberties they will wither …..peace to all men and women of goodwill”.
Stirring words in our view and he was not alone, for similar sentiments were echoed in editorials and commentaries by leading journalists and intellectuals across the spectrum of French politics.
Julliard’s editorial is a ringing endorsement of freedom of speech at a time when a vast multi-cultural, politically-correct rights and entitlements monolith has assumed a dominant place in Europe. This monolith has emerged as a mechanism for dealing with mass migration by peoples who seek to impose views and beliefs on host countries rather than integrate and assimilate, and who use the community identity politics that Julliard decries above, as a tool for these ends, turning nonsensical and often obnoxious demands into a growth industry.
Along the way common sense has been all but abandoned, freedom of speech and the concept of democracy has, we believe, been seriously eroded and curbed in the name of this false community harmony.
The problem is of course that once such rights — honed over centuries of struggle — are eroded, reclaiming them will, as George Orwell repeatedly alerted his readers, become an Herculean task.
Voltaire (pen name of François-Marie Arouet 1694-1778) one of the philosophers of the Age of Enlightenment was reportedly influenced by his time in exile in England where rights and freedoms enjoyed under the Magna Carta strongly impressed him.
That at least some of these rights and freedoms are now under constant attack, ironically in the name of protecting the rights and freedoms of others, might well strike Voltaire and the Enlightenment thinkers as a perverted twist.
Modern-day inheritors of this proud Anglo-French tradition in France and elsewhere in Europe (See Enemies of Free Speech for coverage of the Danish cartoons affair), are now seeking to make clear that Enlightenment values are not to be easily trifled with.
They face an uphill battle to a large extent because the general populace appears to have been cowed into silence by an overweening bureaucratically-imposed machine happy to find offence around every corner and threatening, bullying and cajoling dissenters at every opportunity.
While the campaign by those who would suppress hard-won Western freedoms has had far too much success, a fightback appears to be emerging.
As a former British communist and man of the Left, Mick Hume notes here: “Ours is an age in which the old industrial class war has been superseded by a new culture war over such fundamental democratic rights as freedom of expression. And in that culture war, the crusade to curb and sanitise the press has become a frontline battlefield. This is a battle in which the future shape of our society is at stake. Freedom of expression is the bedrock liberty of modern civilisation. And freedom of the press in all its forms is the practical form of that liberty – which is why it has been at the centre of a struggle in Britain since the printing press was first introduced more than 500 years ago”.
While Nick Cohen another British journalist on the Left reporting after the recent launch of Salman Rushdie’s autobiography wrote of “the extraordinary risks and sacrifices involved in the name of freedom of speech — the noble cause of keeping Rushdie alive. You only have to turn on the news to see how important that cause remains. Watching the ease with which obscurantist demagogues manipulate credulous mobs, it is easy to despair. Rushdie’s autobiography launch provided a small moment of optimism … The fatwas and the murders, the book burnings and the bombings did not stop The Satanic Verses. Salman Rushdie is still alive. Meanwhile, and to be blunt about it, the Ayatollah Khomeini is not.”
In the Netherlands, long a nation of liberal values, Jan Bennink, a columnist for the leading newspaper De Volkskrant writes about the rise of “new great dictators” in Europe, the Brussels bureaucrats who have forgotten what human rights and freedoms mean.This column was first published in Dutch onVolkskrant Opinie and reprinted in English by the Testosterone Pit: “In Holland we have Article 7. Freedom of the press. Freedom of speech. Censorship is forbidden. You can say and write, sing and film whatever you want. At least I cherish that illusion. You may protest and express whatever opinion you have. As long as you don’t threaten or slander anybody. And as long as you leave the queen alone.
“But still my critical fingers hesitate more and more when I am writing stuff. How long will the Dutch government be in charge over its citizens? The power of the ‘new great dictators’ in Brussels grows. And they are getting more threatening towards freedom of speech all the time.
“Take for example the chairman of the European Parliament Mr. Martin Schulz. Angry faced, he condemned the making of the sad little film ‘Innocence of Muslims,’ and the spread of it, while flanked by two ‘gentlemen’ from fine countries where adulterous princesses are still being decapitated in dusty town squares.
“And when one of those ‘gentlemen,’ Khalid bin Hilal Al Mawali from Oman, started ranting about eradication of blasphemous acts, Schulz kept very quiet—though ‘eradication’ in that sense has overtones of a dreadful history in Europe.
“But the issue is broader than the behavior of Schulz. Take for example the words of Lady Ashton, the glorious EU minister of foreign affairs: ‘While fully recognizing freedom of expression, we believe in the importance of respecting all prophets, regardless of which religion they belong to.’ In other words Freedom of Speech is great as long as we do not insult or hurt religious people.’ … If and when the insane federal plans of European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, expressed in his State of the Union speech, are going to become reality, I am truly afraid that anti EU populists will not fit the story. And that guys like me, who make films, sing songs, and publish stuff suddenly have a lot to worry about from those grey mice in Brussels with their newspeak and absolute power. It’s this question that comes to my mind: ‘Is there anything more frightening than bureaucrats with a dream?’ “
To windup our concerns about free speech we offer without further comment this video clip: a report of a former Muslim, Maryam Namazie’s keynote address at the World Atheist Convention Dublin on the 5th June 2011…
UPDATE: Is a new Dark Age coming? Across Europe, free speech and democracy face their biggest threat since the Thirties: “…the freedom of the Press, the corruption of the establishment, the arrogance of the elite and the terrifying storm engulfing the economies of Europe — go to the heart of a crisis that threatens to tear the Continent apart…”
- ‘Islamophobes’ through History (themuslimissue.wordpress.com)
- Salman Rushie on “Innocence of Muslims” and Defending Freedom of Speech (reason.com)
- Bill Kristol Would Like to Remind You of Winston Churchill’s Rabid Bigotry (theatlantic.com)
- Reward for Salman Rushdie’s murder boosted by Iran cleric (cbc.ca)
- France to Expel Islamist Threatening Security (neglectedissues.wordpress.com)
- Islamists who pose a threat ‘have no place in France’, said interior minister Manuel Valls (refreshingnews99.blogspot.com)
- Mr JS Mill and the Twitterati