Speech not so Free in France

French courts on Friday, February 18, struck another serious blow at Freedom of Speech in the country when they found conservative reporter and pundit, Eric Zemmour, guilty of “inciting racial hatred”.

Zemmour’s crime was to justify police profiling when conducting random shakedowns. He had said on French TV that Blacks and Arabs are searched more often “Because most of the drug traffickers are Black and Arab. That’s the way it is. It is a well known fact.”

The court argued that as Zemmour is a professional of the media he knows “the meaning of words and their weight,” and the judges added that he “went beyond the authorized limits of freedom of speech”. And this is where the problem lies.

At no time did the court consider what Zemmour said on the basis of whether it was true or not. From observation, I consider it true. The French have no ethnic census so it is impossible to find statistics on crime and ethnicity. You only know if they have French citizenship or not. This does not prevent the French from separating prisoners in many penitentiaries into blocks according to ethnicity however: Arab, African, European, to avoid violence. But the French are not embarrassed when it comes to hypocrisy on the issue.

Truth’ in France is not a defense when it comes to laws covering slander and discriminatory speech. In France official history is made by politicians in parliament and not written in books by historians. When the French parliament passed a law declaring the killing of Armenians in Turkey in 1915 a “Genocide”, it then became illegal to intellectually challenge what happened without risking prison and fines.

The far right leader Jean Marie Le Pen was found guilty of “Negation of Genocide”, a crime, when he said that he considered the killing of Jews in World War Two “a detail in history”. Others in France have been attacked for mentioning the term “Jewish Lobby”. Once again, there was no debate on whether such a thing exists or not.

The problem with limiting free speech is many fold. As Marcela Lacoub pointed out in her brilliant defense of the First Amendment in De la pornographie en Amérique (Paris, Fayard, 2010), we are dealing with a system that takes the expression of thought and makes it a physical act of crime. So the lawmakers impose what are “the limits of authorized Freedom of Speech” which comes out to what is authorized thought. Or as the lawyers for the Plaintiffs in the Zemmour case put it “the Courts have reminded us that the expression of racism is not an opinion but a crime”.

It is a well known tactic of ‘liberty killers’ to attack what is the least defensible in order to eat away at other rights. It is in fact dictating what is ‘legitimate thought’ and what is not with no concern as to whether the thought is true or not. But even if it is false, I believe people should be able to express their thoughts. How else do you confront them and hold public debate?

France has an enormous problem with millions of immigrants (Arab and African) and their children who have not integrated the culture or even show hostility to the French. In his controversial book The Denial of Cultures (Le déni des cultures, Paris, Seuil, 2010) the French sociologist Hugues Lagrange, pointed out that years of research demonstrated certain ethnicities, cultures and religions made it more difficult to integrate French society.

Lagrange says because of the differences « it is dishonest and inefficient to believe that in France we share the same values, the same principles (…) the same conception of authority and freedom.” The results of his ethnic studies back up his claim. However, this researcher has not seen his book censored by the courts although many other books have been censored in France for much less.

It was for expressing a similar opinion that Eric Zemmour was found guilty and fined.