Below is my column in the Sunday Washington Post on the free speech implications of the massacre in Paris and what it means to “stand with Charlie.” Rather the piece explores the status of free speech in France and The murders themselves are clearly the work of Islamic extremists who need little reason to kill innocent people in their twisted view of faith. However, the victims were journalists who had struggled with rising speech limitations and regulations in France as well as other European nations. (Indeed, at least one surviving journalist express contempt for those who now support free speech but remained silent in the face of past efforts to shut down the magazine). We have previously discussed the alarming rollback on free speech rights in the West, particularly in France (here and here and here and here and here and here) and England ( here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here). Much of this trend is tied to the expansion of hate speech and non-discrimination laws. We have seen comedians targets with such court orders under this expanding and worrisome trend. (here and here).
As many on this blog know, I have a particular affection for France and its people. I was moved to see the protest spontaneously protest as thousands can out to defend liberty and French culture. It was a quintessential moment for the French. Indeed, it reminded many of us of how the French once voiced the “Rights of Man” and rallied around civil liberties at a defining moment for all of Western Civilization. We all felt victims of these attacks and most of us were moved to see our French counterparts joining together in one voice to support free speech. However, there needs to be some frank discussion of threat posed by increasing speech regulations and prosecutions. Ironically, while thousands have demonstrated against immigration as a threat to national identity, the real threat is not the immigrants themselves but the loss of national identity from these prosecutions. What is France if it is not its liberties and freedoms? France cannot simply be defined by brie and baguettes. Those who want to join Western countries must accept their core commitment to free speech as part of a social convenant not just with the government but with each other.
(The title of the piece is selected by the Post, not the author. (We usually learn of the titles when the reader does). The print version includes a title that the “threat” comes not terrorism but the French. Many may conclude that the piece somehow blames the French for these attacks which is obviously not true. Rather, with the rallies (including the huge rally today) in support of free speech, the column explores the primary cause of the erosion of free speech in France — and what can be done to restore it. Likewise, this article is not meant to suggest that any criticism of religion is no longer tolerated in France. After all, the magazine continued to publish despite efforts to prosecute the editors and journalists. Moreover, French courts have ruled in favor of free speech in some critical cases. However, while some efforts have been curtailed by the French courts, government censorship has been increasing, particularly when the challenged speech is directed at living individuals. Other restrictions are broader and the appetite for such regulation appears to be increasing. For example, a few years ago, when the government made the denial of the genocide of Armenians by Turkey a crime, the drafter of the law Senator Valerie Boyer dismissed the objections and said “That’s democracy.” Indeed, Boyer exemplified why John Adams warned that “ democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There is never a democracy that did not commit suicide.” The clash between democracy and free speech is growing as different groups demand that others be silenced in the name of pluralism and tolerance.
Here is the column: