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World Association of International Studies

Post Freedom of Expression in France
Created by John Eipper on 01/10/15 4:24 AM

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Freedom of Expression in France (Randy Black, USA, 01/10/15 4:24 am)

In his 9 January post, Massoud Malek wrote: "In France you can't draw and publish an anti-Semitic cartoon, but you are free to tell the world with your cartoon that 14 centuries ago, the Prophet Muhammad was sodomized."

Somehow, Massoud equates a 2014 editorial cartoon in a marginally interesting French satirical publication with theoretical events from 1,400 years ago as justification for murders in France by radical Muslims in 2015.

I don't see the connection.

As a basis for his argument, Massoud wrote, "The Gayssot Act of 1990 prohibits any racist, anti-Semitic, or xenophobic activities, including Holocaust denial."

As if denial of the fact of the Holocaust of WWII has any bearing on theoretical events from more than 1,400 years ago.

Let's address the issue that the spirit of Muhammad's thoughts might be offended by someone drawing an image of him in the present-day world. Come on. Let's be real. My Bible asks that no one worship images of the Lord. Yet we do it every day. Thus, I suppose my God is more tolerant than Massoud's God. And yet, no one, me included gets their panties in a wad. (John, don't censor me here, read on before you start.)

In the West, we have paintings, neck chains, statues and so forth that portray images of the Lord. Heck, we have plastic Jesuses on the dashboard of our (Roman Catholic) cars. Yet, no one blows up Jewish grocery stores or kills the editorial staffs of tiny magazines, smutty or otherwise, and their Muslim police protectors in Paris over these matters.

Yes, the cop that one of the two Muslim brothers executed on the sidewalk two days ago was Muslim. There the poor man lay, wounded in the legs by the initial shots, raising his arm and pleading for his life, as the Muslim's Russian AK47 burst of gunfire finished him off when that "brother of Islam" ran up and executed him with a final bullet to the head. I saw the CNN video of the actual headshot before the networks decided later to blur out the final image.

Later, contrary to Robert McCabe's statement, the murderers were not the victims.

See: Robert McCabe (8 January) "Who are the victims? Not only the three killers themselves, and not only the careless editors of the smutty little weekly Charlie Hebdo and those who died with them."

The victims were the 11 dead French writers, artists, editors, support staff and the bodyguard along with the dozen or more others who lay wounded in the offices of Charlie Hebdo. Full stop.

And then there's the matter of the grocery customers who died in the store in the Porte de Vincennes region today.

I got a panic-ridden email from a close French friend today who reminded me that she and I had shopped at that exact store last March during the time that I enjoyed a delightful evening with Robert and his wife in their Paris home.

My other friend lives in Le Perreux sur Marne, which is near the Jewish grocery that was hit today. Her comment was, "That could have been me. I was there recently. The entire country is frozen." In her French language email, I sensed her emotional panic really to an extent that I had not felt in the 30 plus years that we've known each other.

She used a French idiom that does not translate very well into perfect English. She wrote, "Nous sommes ici en France tous sur les dents. Depuis 3 jours, C'est très, très grave."

While my French is a bit lacking due to neglect, she seems to be saying that the French are completely "overcome with emotions."

Correct me if I misunderstood. In Western English, someone in a battle for survival might express that they "are armed to the teeth." This means that they have a lot of weapons to defend themselves.

Bottom line: Because the dead at the magazine were "called out by name," and then executed by the two Muslim brothers, this was a hired hit, no more, no less.

To borrow from Real Clear Politics: "To understand what is at stake in this struggle, it is important to look closely at what we are defending... It is possible to reject the content of those drawings and still stand firmly with the Charlie Hebdo staff. In free societies, there will always be writers and artists who use their freedom in ways that the rest of us find obnoxious, ugly or even dangerous. The French imam who denounced the killings clearly and called the victims "martyrs" surely doesn't care for those cartoons. But he knows the price of living under constitutional freedom that protects his right to worship--and to protest, without violence, words and pictures that offend. If only the would-be persecutors of Islam in the West adequately comprehended that same principle."


JE comments: No censorship here, except I took out an "FYI." I don't like those cutesy acronyms, LOL.

It seems to me that Randy Black misunderstands Massoud Malek's point.  Massoud called our attention to what he sees as a double standard in France:  anti-Semitism is prohibited by law, but you are free to mock Islam as much as you want.  My one question:  is this actually the case in practice?  Specifically, has anyone been prosecuted in recent years for anti-Semitic speech?

As long as I'm at it, let me also come to the defense of Robert McCabe:  Bob was saying that the entire nation is a victim of the massacre, precisely because France is at a moment of crisis--demographic, economic, cultural, political.  To channel Sartre, perhaps we should call it an existential crisis.

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  • Freedom of Expression in France (Carmen Negrin, France 01/10/15 7:24 AM)

    I totally agree with Randy Black's comments (10 January). Massoud Malek is wrong if he thinks only Muslims are caricatured. Each religion has been caricatured by Charlie at some point. Popes (the representatives of the Catholic God on earth) have also been sodomized in cartoons, and let us not mention the representatives of our countries (this is punishable by law in certain countries, including Spain), and nobody has ever complained. Muslims have not receive a special treatment.

    And last but not least, there have been recent convictions in France for inciting hatred. Dieudonné is one of them.

    JE comments:  Has Charlie Hebdo ever published anti-Semitic or Holocaust denial material?  As for the French-Cameroonian comedian Dieudonné, here's the story:


    Dieudonné (ironically, God's Gift) has been called the French Louis Farrakhan.  His rants would not be tolerated in the US.

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  • France, a Country of Exclusion (Massoud Malek, USA 01/11/15 6:09 AM)
    In his post of 10 January, Randy Black wrote:

    "I suppose my God is more tolerant than Massoud [Malek's] God. And yet, no one, me included gets their panties in a wad. (John, don't censor me here, read on before you start.)"

    Please, Randy, you may worship your tolerant God, but I am against any type of idolatry. I also abhor any type of vulgarity.

    On 10 January, Carmen Negrín, who I suspect never read my post and expressed her agreement with Randy Black's tale, wrote:

    "Popes have also been sodomized in cartoons."

    In 2010, Le Monde Magazine published a vulgar carton, describing the Pope sodomizing a little boy. We all know that thousands of little boys were sodomized by priests and bishops. Does Carmen have any historical evidence about Muhammad being sodomized? If not, then she shouldn't defend vulgar and repulsive cartoons, to prove to us that she believes in freedom of expression.

    On 9 January, I wrote:

    "Those two ugly brothers have done more harm to Islam than anyone else in history. We just discovered that Islamic extremists have insulted Prophet Muhammad more than Charlie Hebdo's cartoons.

    I see now that I was right; even in this high-minded Forum, WAISes feel more comfortable now to show their dislike for Muslims than before. They choose only the sodomy part of my post to argue that I support terrorism. Should we assume that the two terrorists are representing all Muslims? The day after the Charlie Hebdo tragedy, French citizens started retaliating by attacking mosques throughout the country. How many Christians expressed their outrage about the Le Mans Mosque attack with grenades or an explosion of a small Middle Eastern restaurant near a mosque in Villefranche-sur-Saone? None. I am curious to know if anyone received an email from a friend who lives near the restaurant in Villefranche-sur-Saone, telling about the explosion. I read carefully all the posts about Charlie Hebdo before writing this response. I could say that my condemnation of Charlie Hebdo's tragedy was one of the strongest posts condemning the attack.

    I have been to France and I know about the French people; without any hesitation, I would say that unlike America, France is a country of exclusion. In France, Muslim girls and Sikh boys are not allowed to cover their head in school. Veiled students are often denied attendance in universities, but nuns could cover their hair and take classes. In some cities such as Montreuil and Seine-Saint-Denis, veiled parents are frequently denied entry to their children's schools. In America, Muslim girls or Sikh boys can cover their head without being harassed by their teachers or the government. Could someone tell me how education in France was improved by forcing Muslim girls and Sikh boys to show their hair?

    I had a classmate who wore a hat to cover his semi-bald head. When I was in the fifth grade, one day a new substitute teacher came to the class and ordered the boy to take off his hat. The boy refused; the teacher got mad, slapped the boy, and removed the boy's hat. Once he saw the head with partly missing hair, he put the hat back on the boy's head. It was the first time that we saw his head. The boy immediately left the class while crying and never returned to our school.

    I heard many arguments in favor of the head scarf law in the country of Voltaire, but they all made no sense to me. It is very strange that the European Court of Human Rights agreed with the French government on the hijab ban, arguing that the ban contributes to a more cohesive society.

    France calls itself a Laïc (secular) society, but unlike America, the Alsace-Moselle blasphemy law which covers only Catholicism, Protestantism and Judaism is still practiced. Article 166 of the Alsace-Moselle penal code relating to blasphemy states:

    "He who causes a scandal by publicly blaspheming against God by disparaging or publicly insulting Christian cults or a religious community established in the territory of the Confederation and recognized as a corporation, or institutions or ceremonies of these cults or which, in a church or other place devoted to religious meetings, has committed offensive and outrageous acts, shall be punished with imprisonment of three years."

    Although the League of Judicial Defense of Muslims had sued Charlie Hebdo in Alsace and in Paris for "provocation and incitement to hatred on the basis of religious affiliation and insult" in accordance with Article 166 of the Alsace-Moselle penal code and the Pleven Act of 1972, both verdicts were in favor of Charlie Hebdo.


    JE comments: I will attest that Massoud Malek strongly condemned the attack, with his statement that the the Islamic extremists insulted Muhammad more than the Charlie Hebdo cartoons.

    What do other WAISers say about France as a "country of exclusion"?  Le Pen's followers would argue exactly the opposite:  that the country is now paying the price for being too "inclusive."  Massoud bases his conclusion on the French law banning head scarfs/hijabs.  But isn't this just a tiny example?  What about France's long-standing reputation as a country that accepts people of all races?  Look no further than the thriving African-American cultural scene in 1920s Paris.  And consider the Great War:  the French army was more multi-racial than the other major powers.  The United States at this time still had a segregated army.
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    • France, a Country of Exclusion? When in Rome... (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 01/11/15 10:03 AM)

      All my sympathy to Massoud Malek's views expressed in his post of today (11 January),
      but, beside the fact that Charlie Hebdo is disgusting and that I will never wear a lapel button with
      "Je suis Charlie," the bottom line is:
      If you go in another country you have to follow the customs of that country.

      When I was in Saudi Arabia I followed its customs, then when I was in the United States I followed other customs. Problems may arise with serious consequences when people arriving from abroad want to follow and impose their old customs, even if they are in contrast with the customs of the locals.  Unfortunately this is what is happening.
      But do not worry, no matter who in the end will win, they will make the same predictable statement: "The true civilization has prevailed."

      JE comments:  Eugenio's last statement gives me plenty of cause for worry.  Doesn't it sound like the Clash of Civilizations is headed for a winner-take-all showdown?

      The "when in Rome" of the subject line was my idea, but who knows the origin of the saying?  The answer can be Googled in about six seconds, so I'll be the spoiler:  St Ambrose of Milan, 4th century.  Wikipedia tells us he was an ardent persecutor of Arians, Jews and Pagans--but not, apparently, while in Rome.

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    • France, a Country of Exclusion? (Timothy Brown, USA 01/11/15 12:07 PM)

      For four years, I was a United States Consul General responsible for its three departementes in the Americas, Martinique, Guadeloupe and French Guiana. Earlier I was Deputy Director of European Political/Economic in the State Department and in other positions was in and out of Paris dealing with the IMF, OCD and NATO matters. More recently, I was a founding director of CIR ET/A VT, the Paris-based think tank of Yves Bonnet, former Director of France's DST. Despite all of this, I do not consider myself an expert on inter-social relations in France. I can, however, comment on what they were like in my three departments.

      All three, Martinique, Guadeloupe and French Guiana, had Afro-French majorities, small Haitian minorities and, in French Guiana, a small but very influential Chinese
      minority. Adding to the mix, the French half of the island of St Martins was English-speaking, St. Barths was almost entirely European, and there were Hong tribal villages, native American Paramecia and tiny settlements of Bosh and Bonnie in French Guiana.

      Were there racial tensions, clashes of identities and religious differences? Of course there were. But by and large relations between and among them were more respectful and tolerant than in any other country where I served.

      JE comments:  Respect and tolerance were took the center stage during today's march in Paris.  Stay tuned for comments from Carmen Negrín and David Pike.

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    • France, A Country of Exclusion? (Carmen Negrin, France 01/12/15 1:47 AM)
      I hope Massoud Malek (11 January) doesn't misunderstand me. All I was saying is that Charlie Hebdo is not worse with one religion or another. They have all complained against Charlie and, as far as I know, they have always lost. Charlie can indeed be considered vulgar (although I am not very sure where vulgarity starts or how it can be universally defined), but its form of provocation is an eye-opener. Nobody has to buy it. The matter is not vulgarity or even blasphemy; it is freedom. Charlie was going broke. Now it will live.

      And yes, these three murderers did more harm to their religion than Charlie has ever done. The attacks on the Mosques have been criticized, are worrying, and are probably just a first direct consequence.

      As for the problem of the veil, it is no different in France than it was in Turkey until recently, and with more flexibility since the application of the law has been left to the discretion of Deans and school Directors. The result is that you do have veils in state schools and universities.

      JE comments:  How do you define vulgarity?  It's time to dust off Potter Stewart's classic phrase:  "I know it when I see it."  Justice Stewart gave us this brilliant, if enigmatic, definition of pornography in 1964.  Somehow we let its fiftieth anniversary pass without comment.

      "Nobody has to buy it":  Carmen Negrín reminds us of a profound truth.  Had the jihadists simply ignored Charlie Hebdo, the magazine may have folded on its own.  Now they have created a martyr.

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      • Potter Stewart and "I Know It When I See It" (Robert Whealey, USA 01/13/15 5:29 AM)
        In response to John Eipper's response to Carmen Negrín (12 January),
        Justice Potter Stewart's comment on pornography was a good joke, but it
        was essentially an escape from the Supreme Court's duty to draw some
        lines on pornography and vulgarity. Before Stewart sat on the court,
        when I was 18 in 1948, Hollywood had its own censorship board called the
        Hays Code.

        About 1963 Lyndon Johnson got Hollywood to appoint Jack Valenti to be
        the new censor. He set up the X-rating, as well as the G, PG, PG-13 and R
        for all movies and videos. Those standards became looser and looser
        over time. Henry Miller was censored in the 1930s in the US, wrote
        pornographic novels and had them published in France. They were smuggled
        into the United States and the Post Office department controlled
        vulgarity and pornography.

        After the invention of the Internet, vulgarity and pornography was
        censored for kids under 18 in the school libraries. At the college
        level, there will always be some clever students who can hack into
        anything. I think that the Chinese and Middle Eastern societies writing
        on military affairs are far more significant than the perennial,
        childish debate on vulgarity. I refer again to one of my favorite books
        by John Burnham, Bad Habits: Alcoholism, Smoking, Drug Taking, Sexual Misbehavior, Gambling, and Swearing.
        I've never had the energy to read his chapter on swearing. But common
        sense would indicate that the use of four-letter words by Catholics,
        Protestants, Jews, and Muslims in a multicultural society where people
        are living side by side would create new terrorist incidents. After the
        November 2014 election, the Republican Party will probably crack down on
        the consumption of drugs and publicity about homosexuality.

        JE comments:  Swearing causes terrorism?  Perhaps, but...

        anyone give us the Quran's take on swearing?  I know nothing about
        this, but is a distinction made between blasphemous swearing and the
        other register, the bodily-function type?  Spaniards are the world's
        most proficient swearers, and they often combine the two genres in a single utterance. 

        Perhaps Vince Littrell can shed some light on Islam and swearing.

        the history of our age is written, it will note the cultural shift in
        developed societies towards the near-universal acceptance of same-sex
        marriage.  In the US this is no longer a partisan issue:  look at last
        year's court decisions in die-hard Red States Oklahoma, Utah, and
        South Carolina.  Likewise, the legalization of marijuana, unthinkable
        ten or even eight years ago, is now increasingly common:  Washington,
        Colorado, and Uruguay come to mind.

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    • Educational Level and Suicide Bombing (Henry Levin, USA 01/12/15 9:16 AM)
      The social science research does not support the assumption of some WAIS correspondents and the US media that support for terrorists comes typically from those excluded from the educational and economic mainstream. Research studies have found that support comes more heavily from the middle-class, those with more education and income than average. For example, see the following study:

      Education, Income, and Support for Suicide Bombings: Evidence from Six Muslim Countries

      M. Najeeb Shafiq

      Indiana University, Bloomington, USA

      Abdulkader H. Sinno

      Indiana University, Bloomington, USA


      The authors examine the effect of EDUCATIONAL attainment and income on support for suicide bombing among Muslim publics in six predominantly Muslim countries that have experienced suicide bombings: Indonesia, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Pakistan, and Turkey. The authors make two contributions. First, they present a conceptual model, which has been lacking in the literature. Second, they consider attitudes toward two different targets of suicide bombings: civilians within the respondent's country and Western military and political personnel in Iraq. The authors find that the effect of educational attainment and income on support for suicide bombings varies across countries and targets. The findings therefore draw attention to the difficulties of making generalizations about Muslim countries and the importance of distinguishing between targets of suicide bombings.

      JE comments:  See also this item from Indiana University:


      While at first glance the authors' findings seem counterintuitive, they line up with the model for the "traditional" revolutionaries of 20th-century Latin America, Asia, and Europe.  It's the disenfranchised middle class, those who have enough knowledge to realize what they don't have, who are most inclined to choose revolution. 

      Still, writing treatises à la Lenin is one thing; blowing yourself up is quite different.

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