Recently, French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira announced that she wants the power to quash speech as she and her government see fit, stripping judicial niceties from the process of shutting people up, says Paris-based news outlet France24.
Justice Minister Christiane Taubira has said she will push for legal reforms that would help French authorities crack down on racism and anti-Semitism online in much the same way they do with pedophilia. The proposals include empowering French authorities to shut down websites hosting content that is deemed illicit without prior court approval.
“Crimes recognized in public spaces must also be recognized as such on the Internet,” Taubira [said], echoing other recent statements on combating terrorism. “Our challenge is to find the most appropriate responses, but we are determined to wage an unmerciful battle against racism and anti-Semitism on the Internet.”
Almost no one likes hate speech, but neither should the government of a modern, secular state be in the business of defining and targeting it… unless and until it rises to the level of incitement. It’s fairly easy to get people to agree (as do I) that racist and anti-Semitic invective should not be tolerated. For me, that means that sanctions should be social, from verbal pushback to full-throated rebuttals to ostracism.
Intemperate words and pictures are rarely, I think, a matter for the police or the courts.
Taubira’s well-intentioned but dangerous proposal has every likelihood of defining public discourse down to the comfort level of the most thin-skinned and vocal members of society. And I predict that this will please and benefit no group quite as much as French Muslims who believe that the Charlie Hebdo victims had it coming. The hate-speech crackdown will feel like vindication to them, and/or like a government-endorsed justification après la lettre.
Brendan O’Neill at Reason explains how illiberal France’s plan is:
It would make the state the judge, jury, and executioner of public debate, the sole policeman of the parameters of acceptable thought. It would remove even that thin, unconvincing veneer of democracy that gets attached to hate-speech clampdowns in Europe — the bothersome task of having to go through a court case to prove that certain words were indeed racist or something-phobic and therefore should be punished — and would instead allow officialdom to strike from the public sphere, and shove down the memory hole, anything it “deemed illicit.”
This unmerciful dispatching of hate-policers across the internet hasn’t come out of the blue. In the two months since the Muhammad-mockers at Charlie Hebdo were gunned down at their desks, the French authorities have arrested loads of people for the crime of saying nasty things — the same “crime” the Charlie Hebdo folk were executed for.
In the seven days following the massacre, 54 people were arrested for hate speech or apologizing for terrorism. … The anti-Semitic comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala was arrested for a Facebook post in which he said he was less Charlie and more Coulibaly — the name of the guy who carried out the post-Charlie murder of Jews at a kosher deli.
… doesn’t only chastise the sort of stuff we can all agree is repulsive — like using the n-word to describe black people — it also polices and punishes moral convictions: people’s deeply held, if not very mainstream, beliefs. So poor Brigitte Bardot has been arrested five times for expressing her serious animal-rights view that the Islamic method of slaughtering meat is “barbaric.” The novelist Michel Houellebecq was hauled before the courts for describing Islam as “the most stupid religion,” an entirely legitimate viewpoint.
Further criminalizing hate speech — that is, giving bureaucrats and cops the power to censor controversial opinions willy-nilly — does have its proponents, obviously.
You know who will fervently embrace that message? The kind of people who shot up Charlie Hebdo; super-sensitive and censorious Islamists who think anyone who takes the mick out of Muhammad or riles their religion is a “phobic” who should be reprimanded.
Well done, France — you have just inflamed the very offense-killing sentiment that motored the Charlie Hebdo massacre; you have just given the green light to others who also want to launch an “unmerciful battle” against those who defame or diss their beliefs. Only their merciless war might not be as blood-free as yours.
(Image by Claude Truong-Ngoc via Wikipedia)