We have previously discusses alarming moves in France to limit or deny speech through blasphemy prosecutions to hate speech to barring “antihistorical” speech. Now, in the wake of the recent killings by a Muslim extremist, the government of President Nicolas Sarkozy is proposing a new law that would jail repeat visitors to extremist web sites. It is a measure that strips away core free speech rights of citizens and gives the government a new ambiguous power to arrest people for the things that they read.
Sarkozy insists that such websites should be treated the same as child pornography and that “anyone who regularly consults Internet sites which promote terror or hatred or violence will be sentenced to prison.” Of course, child pornography contains an objective identifiable component to the child — picture of a minor engaged in sexual conduct. Sarkozy’s Internet law would leave it to the government to determine what sites are espousing “terrorist” viewpoints. Authoritarian governments have long defined critics as criminals and terrorists from China to Iran to North Korea.
Sarkozy expressed impatience with those who raise the niceties of free speech: “Don’t tell me it’s not possible. What is possible for pedophiles should be possible for trainee terrorists and their supporters, too.”
So, Sarkozy will identify those people “in training” to be terrorists.
It is a pattern that is all too familiar to Americans. After an individual or group commits a heinous act of terror, the government immediately uses the attack to limit freedoms of all citizens and to expand its own ill-defined powers. In this case, Sarkozy’s prospects for reelection increased with the massacre and he appears to be riding the backlash following the attacks.
It appears however that the last victim of these attack will be free speech in France.