If We’re Going To Talk About Free Speech, We Have To Mean It.

I’m feeling quite devoid of inspiration lately and can’t bring myself to write a full indictment of everything I have read, so I’ll keep this one brief. By the way, before I get going, if anyone has any interesting topics they think I should be writing about, or (Lord help us) want to hear my opinion of please do feel free to comment below with suggestions, everything is rather boring me at the moment and I can’t motivate myself to write anything extensive.

Having said that, one thing that annoyed me recently (calm literature recommendations didn’t last long…) is a certain amount of hypocrisy when it comes to views on free speech. The disgusting and horrific attacks on Charlie Hebdo rightly received global condemnation, and I have written about that previously. However, two things I have seen in the press recently, one directly linked to the attack, seem to contradict the outpouring of grief at the attack on freedom of speech. Ironically they both have to do with France.

The first is perhaps the simpler, so I will deal with that first. Marine Le Pen, leader of the ultra-right wing Front National in France (who I personally believe holds despicable views), has recently been invited to give a speech at the world famous Oxford Union.

There have been several campaigns to take this platform away from her and effectively silence her. Now, this seems counter-intuitive. If we really mean freedom of speech for all, surely we must allow these speeches to happen, and if you don’t like it, don’t turn up. Ms Le Pen is the leader of one of the most popular parties in France, what right do we have to say she is not allowed to stand and give her personal point of view in front of an audience? I understand the point, but there appears to be a certain amount of hypocrisy involved.

The second is more problematic, because there is more emotion involved. It involves the case of French comedian Diudonné, who has courted controversy in the past for his perceived anti-Semitic views. I haven’t seen enough of his comedy to know whether this is the case or not, but I do know he was recently arrested and put on trial for saying he felt like Charlie Coulibaly (making reference to the supermarket shooter the day after the Charlie Hebdo attacks).

Poorly timed, yes. Insensitive, yes. Incendiary, of course. But if you are going to defend Charlie Hebdo’s right to satirise at all costs, then you have to defend Dieudonné’s right to say what he likes as well.

I say this not knowing precisely where I stand on the matter myself, though I do believe if you claim to stand by freedom of speech, then you have to stand by it at all times, and with all its proponents, not only the ones that suit your cause at the time. You don’t have to defend free speech at all costs, but if you do, you must be prepared to stick by it when the going gets tough, as it has done recently.

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5 thoughts on “If We’re Going To Talk About Free Speech, We Have To Mean It.

  1. I personally loath Dieudonné (not that I prefer any Le Pen), but I would never go against the freedom of speech. Plus I believe that the more one censors those idiots, the more famous they become. They are good at playing martyrs, would be too bad to offer them such the chance.
    There have been some brilliant debates between Sarkozy and Ramadan, or Le Pen. Sarkozy back then was the only one to challenge them in a debate and he was really good (as much as it irritates me to admit it). Those were lessons of rhetoric, real democratic debates. Definitely more challenging and intellectually stimulating than flat and useless censorship.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think that’s a great point regarding doing nothing but draw attention to their views by attempting to censor them. My French is only good enough for a rudimentary understanding of spoken stuff, so I wouldn’t want to comment on the subtleties of something like comedy, though it seems to me that people like Dieudonné wouldn’t be half as famous as they are if people didn’t keep highlighting their points of view. I agree in finding both Le Pen’s abhorrent, but the interesting thing to me is allowing them to debate so that they actually have to answer for the nonsense they are spouting, rather than doing so unchallenged. Thanks for your point of view, always interesting to hear 🙂 Any recommendations for which Sarkozy/ Le Pen debate I should watch in the meantime?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You said it all, perfectly ! “allowing them to debate so that they actually have to answer for the nonsense they are spouting, rather than doing so unchallenged” sums it all (wish my English were good enough so I would have written it myself 😛 )
        For the Sarko/Le Pen debate, it was the one of 2002. ( Chirac had always refused to debate with the leader of the FN ). If you also have a chance to watch the one with Ramadan, you ll see how Sarkozy really managed to literally “deflate” him. He really impressed me, especially because I am not one his fans. This is what we need, confrontations of ideas and challenging debates.

        Liked by 1 person

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