Double standards when it comes to free speech?

Double standards when it comes to free speech?
In 2007, Bruno Gollnisch of the National Front party in France, was convicted for questioning the veracity of the Holocaust and was sentenced to a three-month, suspended prison term.

Mr Craig Ower's claim, that "the cartoonists were entirely correct in believing that they were acting within their rights as French citizens, both in terms of the law and the centuries-old tradition of satire", is a logical fallacy in which the conclusion does not follow from the premise ("Free speech is not the problem, extremists are", last Saturday).

Articles 24, 32 and 33 of the 1881 Law on the Freedom of the Press expressly prohibit anyone from publicly inciting another to discriminate against, or to hate or to harm, or from publicly defaming or insulting "a person or a group for belonging or not belonging, in fact or in fancy, to an ethnicity, a nation, a race, a religion, (and so on)".

And blasphemy remains a crime under the penal code in France's Alsace-Moselle region.

So what constitutes a fundamental right for one, and a crime for another, in the free speech debate in France?

In spite of the "centuries-old tradition of satire", in 1970, the satirical weekly, Hara-Kiri Hebdo, was banned for satirising the death of former president Charles de Gaulle.

After its closure, Charlie Hebdo was formed through a loophole in the law.

In 1972, France passed a law under the ill-defined term of "racism", though racism, hate speech and blasphemy against Islam - thinly disguised as satire by cartoonists - never resulted in any conviction because, allegedly, in France, there is "a liberty to laugh at everything".

But in 2007, Bruno Gollnisch of the National Front was convicted for merely questioning the veracity of the Holocaust and was sentenced to a three-month, suspended prison term, plus a fine.

Mr Bilahari Kausikan was, therefore, right to ask "but why throw the weight of the state against discrimination against one religion or group, while acquiescing in the systematic vilification of another religion, Islam, in the name of freedom of speech?" ("Take care not to head down false path"; last Tuesday).

With more than a century of occupation of former Muslim colonies across Africa, it is only fair that France accord proper respect to the sensitivities in Islam by taking former president Jacques Chirac's advice seriously that "anything that can hurt the convictions of someone else, in particular, religious convictions, should be avoided".

Tan Keng Tat


This article was first published on May 19, 2015.
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