Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s far-right National Front, has been criminally charged with inciting racial hatred in the latest example of the rollback on basic free speech rights in France and other European nations. I have been a critic of the crackdown on free speech in France, including the hypocrisy of the government in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo massacre. In this case, Le Pen compared Muslim street prayers to a Nazi-like occupation, a statement that should be clearly protected as political speech in France. Instead, she will be pulled before a tribunal in another example of how free speech is being eviscerated by anti-discrimination and hate speech laws.
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).
In this case, Le Pen made the comment during her campaign to take over leadership of the party from her father in December 2010. She complained that there were “10 to 15” places in France where Muslims worshipped in the streets outside mosques when they were full: “I’m sorry, but for those who like talking a lot about World War II, if it comes to talking about the occupation, we can talk about it, because that (Muslims praying on the street) is the occupation of territory. . . It is an occupation of part of the territory, suburbs where religious law is applied. Sure, there are no armoured vehicles, no soldiers, but it is an occupation nonetheless and it weighs on residents.”
Rather than simply answer such arguments with argument, critics sought charges for inciting racial hatred. Notably, the investigation ended without charged but a complaint by an association led to a judicial inquiry which was opened in January 2012.
The FN is clearly anti-immigrant but so are a sizable number of Europeans. This is a debate that is occurring around the world, including in the United States. To use criminal law to chill or punish speech is a denial of the very right that defines Western Civilization. I hold no brief for Le Pen, but her trial is a threat to the free speech of all French and illustrates the absolute hypocrisy of the French government joining the rally in support of free speech after the Paris shootings. If you truly want to “Stand With Charlie,” you can start by standing with free speech.