Zero Tolerance for Enemies of Free Speech




France’s Socialist Interior Minister Manuel Valls recently drew a large line in the sand warning that Islamist extremists face expulsion if they fail to respect the country’s secular and republican traditions.

Interior Minister Manuel Valls: France will not accomodate attacks on its secular tradition (Credit: Wikipedia)

Speaking at a ceremony September 27 to inaugurate the new grand mosque in Strasbourg (the biggest in France and accommodating 1,500 worshippers) he said:  France will be “intransigent… and I will not hesitate to expel those who claiming to follow Islam represent a serious threat to public order and as foreigners in our country do not respect our laws and values … The preachers of hatred, those espousing obscurantism and fundamentalists … have no place in France … Racism, fundamentalism these are not part of Islam …Those who are on our soil to defy our laws and want to attack the foundations of our society cannot remain here.”

Manuel Valls went on to insist that while Islam has a place in France — a country with an estimated four million Muslims —  he “would not hesitate” to expel anyone who, in the name of Islam, threatened French security.

He urged the Muslim community to organise itself so as to be able to fund its own mosques (meaning without recourse to Gulf State petrodollars, the Algerian government — which finances the  Grande mosquée de Paris, —  the King of Morocco who via his membership helps fund the Conseil français du culte musulman (CFCM), or the Mulsim Brotherhood in Egypt with has funding influence over l’Union des organisations islamiques de France (UOIF) ), to train French-born and French-speaking Imams, to combat extremists preaching to Muslims in jail and to integrate their youth into French traditions. He added he would be implacable in opposing the “salafists” (Salafist jihadists are those who take Koranic texts in their most literal form with an absolute commitment to jihad, and who perceive of America as the greatest enemy of their faith).

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His remarks could hardly be more timely. Toulouse-based newspaper Ladépêche reported October 4 that a Moroccan-born, Muslim artist Mounir Fatmi participating in the city’s Printemps de Septembre festival had, under pressure, withdrawn his video installation celebrating Islam after co-religionists protested that “it enabled people to walk on Koranic verses” .

His piece called «Les Temps Modernes, une histoire de Machine» projected video images on the pavement of the Pont-Neuf bridge over the Garonne river. After an altercation between a 19-year-old passerby and a Muslim girl who accused the pedestrian of having “stepped on the Koran”, a crowd gathered and further  violence was only avoided after rapid police intervention. Later as news of the incident spread across Muslim neighbourhoods anger rose and a delegation was sent to the City Hall to make demands for the installation to be halted.

The newspaper said the Printemps de Septembre team “was appalled, this is about freedom of expression. This artist has introduced his own culture in his work, and within the context of the theme of this exhibition, «L’histoire est à moi».What has happened is really most unfortunate,” said Frédérique Mehdi, organiser of the festival, which runs in Toulouse until October 21. “We did not take a decision to cancel his installation, he did and it is too bad because his work is of very high quality and has a place in this festival. “

Mounir Fatmi himself was quoted by the paper as describing the row as a “huge misunderstanding.   I was particularly surprised because I did not think that a work that deals with light and combines Arabic calligraphy with  Marcel Duchamp Rotoreliefs and the Biting Back at the Machine in Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times  could trigger such a reaction. It is surreal and a huge misunderstanding”.  He said the reaction of some Muslims who expressed anger that Koranic verses were displayed on the  ground was misplaced.  “This is just a light projection, there is nothing printed or painted on the floor, the images come from a projector which throws a light beam that illuminates them. Indeed one verse so projected says: ‘God is Light.’  I do not encourage people to walk on the images. In fact I put up signs saying ‘thank you for not walking on the work,’ out of respect for the Koran and the work itself, which is a tribute to Arabic calligraphy and to Duchamp. I chose these works because of their relation to the theme of the festival, «L’histoire est à moi» Now, I almost feel deprived of my own history. It is sad that this has happened in France. This work was exhibited in a museum of contemporary art in Qatar without so much as a murmur”.  He added he had decided to withdraw the work from the Pont Neuf. Conditions for a proper viewing and understanding of the work “cannot now be met so I have chosen to suspend the installation” he told the paper.

The artistic director of the event Paul Ardenne told l’Express newspaper that he agreed there was a need to calm feelings in the city ( where the Muslim community is reportedly still ‘bruised’ over the recent terrorism affair involving Mohamed Merah, a 23-year-old French-Algerian Islamist, who went on a killing spree in March 2012 and was subsequently shot dead by police besieging his apartment). However he added that he was concerned  that the withdrawal of the installation was a victory for the “profoundly anti-cultural attitude” of radical Islamists.

Mounir Fatmi was born in Tangier in 1970 and  lives and works as an artist in Morocco, France and the United States.

The objections to the light display came from Muslim groups in Toulouse and led to local Imam Mokhtar el Meddah and Boujama Andoh, president of the Toulouse Associations of Muslims meeting with City Hall officials. This followed public disorder on the Pont-Neuf bridge which required police intervention.

The newspaper reported that Noredine, a resident of the Pont-Neuf neighbourhood gave the following reason for the protest: “We are not judging the intentions of the artist, we are here for an explanation of why these projections of the verses of the Koran are on the ground. The Arabic script used is nice, but it must not be on the ground. We demand an end to these projections.”

The City Council issued a statement  saying that while the work was itself in no way blasphemous  and had been mounted with appropriate signage, it understood the artist’s desire in the circumstances, to suspend the work .

The affair coincides with a renewed and widely criticised effort at the United Nations by two of the world’s most populous Muslim states —  Indonesia and Pakistan to enforce a global ban on “blaspheming” any religion. Success would be a massive defeat for the basic free speech values cherished by liberal democracies.

See: How do You Solve a ‘Problem’ like Charlie H?

Editorial Note: French News Online is an unapologetic free speech fundamentalist. In this it follows traditions set by Enlightenment thinkers and philosophers — many of them French — that laid the groundwork of modern-day freedom of expression. Identical views are strongly voiced by Jacques Julliard, publisher of the left-wing weekly Marianne and editorialists and writers across the political spectrum in France and have again been heard following the outcry over the latest publication of Muslim cartoons by Charlie Hebdo. The right to blaspheme, to criticise, to ridicule, to insult and to caricature other’s beliefs whatever their creed or none is among core freedoms in Western liberal democracy and is increasingly under attack from certain incomers who insist on telling the host population that their way is better than that of the indigenous peoples.

For those interested we have set out our views on our Blog – a forum for all shades of opinion  – and we welcome your views and comments on what we consider to be a defining issue for Western-style liberal democracy.

Story: Ken Pottinger
editorial@french-news-online.com

UPDATE: François Hollande promises crackdown on terrorists

President François Hollande told Jewish leaders he met with October 7 that “places of worship would be more closely monitored” and France was committed to the “total mobilisation of the State” against “terrorist threats”.  He added that amended anti terrorism legislation would  be  “adopted if possible before the end of the year.”  The head of state was reacting to the firebombing of a Jewish store in the Paris suburb of Sarcelles on September 19 and carried out on the same day as Charlie Hebdo a French satirical paper published caricatures of  Mohammed.

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