Newspaper article International New York Times

Speech and Anti-Semitism in France

Newspaper article International New York Times

Speech and Anti-Semitism in France

Article excerpt

The government has a duty to defend its core values and combat terrorism.

The decision in France to put the provocative comedian Dieudonne M'bala M'bala on trial for a hateful comment about a Jewish journalist has inevitably and unfortunately raised cries of hypocrisy and a double standard after the national outpouring of support for journalists murdered by Islamists, who were angered by their irreverent depictions of the Prophet Muhammad. To many French Muslims, the juxtaposition speaks to an official green light for attacks on their religion but a red light for anti-Semitism.

There is, in fact, a distinction between the cartoons and Mr. M'bala M'bala's comment under France's complex laws on freedom of expression, which protect attacks on ideas or religions but ban various forms of blatant anti-Semitism and other racist and threatening speech. Still, it is understandable that the difference may be lost on the country's large Muslim population, which often feels itself the victim of a selective application of laicite, France's rigorous brand of official secularism, and of laws like the one banning conspicuous religious garb and other religious symbols in schools, which was unmistakably intended to bar Muslim girls from wearing head scarves. The sense of unfair treatment has been reinforced by the arrests of dozens of people in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre on charges of what French law calls inciting or apologizing for terrorism. And now comes the trial of Mr. M'Bala M'Bala.

A majority of people in France do not see it that way. Laicite has historical sources in fierce republican opposition to the role of the Roman Catholic Church, with a resulting militancy in the separation of church and state that goes far beyond the American model. …

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