France’s momentary appearance on the world stage as a champion of free expression, after the execution of the beloved Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, made for a break in her relentless culture of repression of free speech, which she shares with most of Europe. Aside from a handful of exceptions—Charlie Hebdo’s Muhammad cartoonsnow being the most famous—official France and its media have for years done all that they could to prevent journalists, essayists, and fiction writers from questioning Islam and immigration policy, or drawing attention to the rising antisemitism and anti-Christian feeling that had driven so many French voters into the arms of the once-out-of-bounds National Front. Just the month before, Eric Zemmour, France’s most popular political commentator, had been fired by his major TV outlet and threatened with prosecution for inciting hatred. Targets for persecution ranged from the notorious to the recherché: Renaud Camus, an aesthete devoted to art, literature, his sensational diary, 20 volumes of it so far, and his eccentric political party of one, le Parti de l’Innocence. When he threw the featherweight of his party’s support to the National Front’s Marine Le Pen in the 2012 presidential contest, his longtime publisher told Camus he would no longer publish his books.
The very issue Charlie Hebdo was preparing to print when it came under murderous assault on January 7 was to be an attack for his supposed Islamophobia on the current hate figure of the French left, the highbrow novelist Michel Houellebecq, whose new novel Submission was published on that dark day. Just days before, a journalist for France24, a government-owned TV channel, fretted about the novel, which describes a France of 2022 that elects a Muslim president: “The book’s publication could not come at a more sensitive time as France is currently undergoing a fierce debate on Islam and national identity.” A former friend, Sylvain Bourmeau, whose interview with Houellebecq in the Paris Review was widely published across Europe, announced to the readers of his blog that Submission “is dangerous: contributing like so many things, large and small, and always ugly, to make life in France a little more unpleasant for anyone with an Arab name or black skin.” (Critics, by the way, have noted that Submission is by no means dystopic, and that its imagined Islamic French state is presented as an attractive, humane place.) The Paris Review interview is a reeducation course for the novelist in racism, Islamophobia, and the correct way to view France. Bourmeau suggests to Houellebecq that perhaps it were best that his novel had never been written: “Have you asked yourself what the effect might be of a novel based on such a hypothesis? . . . You don’t think it will help reinforce the image of France . . . in which Islam hangs overhead like the sword of Damocles, like the most frightening thing of all?”
When something goes terribly wrong in France, its media elite tend to blame it on someone who has said the wrong thing. After an at-first-unknown shooter attacked a Jewish day school in Toulouse in 2012, killing three children and a teacher-parent, Bernard-Henri Lévy knew whom to blame: the extreme right, as if the killer would inevitably turn out to be a neo-Nazi, instead of the jihadist he in fact was:
A word of advice to the pyromaniacs of the defense of “national identity,” perceived as a closed entity, nervous and jittery, feeding on resentment and hatred: it is the social contract that is the victim of assassination in a bloodbath of this kind; it is the very foundation of our common existence that vacillates and gives way when such madness explodes. There can be no worse blow to French culture, to the soul of our country, its history and, when all is said and done, its grandeur than racism and, today, antisemitism.
A skinhead National Front member may not have killed the Jewish children, but for the glory of France you must hold your tongue.
The jihadists responsible for the most successful terrorist attack in France in decades hunted down cartoonists. They did not target a significant historical landmark, such as the Eiffel Tower, or any well-known French politicians. They did not seek to maximize civilian casualties in a suicide bombing, a trademark of previous attacks. Instead, they methodically killed Stéphane Charbonnier, the editorial director of Charlie Hebdo, and other members of the French magazine’s staff. This was deliberate.
After the recent massacre by Islamic terrorists at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, people around the world took to social media to declare “Je suis Charlie,” or “I am Charlie.” Solidarity is a nice sentiment, and journalists in particular are fond of uttering self-soothing words about their commitment to free speech at times like this. But “Je suis Charlie” is just another lie that the media tell themselves.
In the wake of today's massacre in Paris, there has already been a lot of preening about journalistic bravery. Much of it has come from people who, it can be shown, don't have the guts to work in Charlie Hebdo's newsroom. Preening about free speech may be reassuring at times like this, but what we need are apologies from those who haven't done enough to defend free speech, as well as a real desire to hold those journalists and politicians who have undermined free speech accountable. As a smart academic on Twitter put it, "Today, as journalists 'bravely' voice support for Charlie Hebdo, ask them for their piece calling on Yale to publish the Muhammad cartoons."
The other day a unanimous Supreme Court ruled that a First Amendment challenge to an Ohio law should be heard in the lower courts. While the decision may have seemed a minor one, it represents an important advance for freedom of speech.
The question that the Court answered in the affirmative, with Justice Clarence Thomas writing, was whether Susan B. Anthony List, a pro-life advocacy organization, has standing to challenge an Ohio statute that prohibits false statements made during a political campaign.
Last week, George Will wrote a column about how progressive politics have fomented "rape culture" on college campuses. The column was not well received by some, or even, as a great many of the histrionic responses would indicate, well understood.
Looking for issues to push in this year’s congressional elections, Senate Democrats are proposing a constitutional amendment that would enable government at the federal and state levels alike to heavily regulate campaign contributions and expenditures. The effort is driven by the Democrats’ intense disagreement with Supreme Court decisions on campaign finance. The amendment likely will fail, as it certainly should. As in so many areas of governance these days, liberty—here the freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment—is at stake.
Last week in these pages (“Unfree Speech”), editorializing on the shamefully canceled commencement addresses of Condoleezza Rice and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Philip Terzian noted, “Both are identifiably conservative, and therefore, so far as the left is concerned, persona non grata. . . . But as it broadens and proliferates, as this culture of bigotry takes root and wields power, such campus intolerance will become a problem for the left as well.”
Yesterday, THE WEEKLY STANDARD reported on the New York City human rights commission's dubious case against seven business owners in the Hasidic community Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The commission alleged that these Jewish stores were guilty of religious and sexual discrimination for posting dress code signs requiring "No Shorts, No Barefoot, No Sleeveless, No Low Cut Neckline," and the stores were facing $75,000 in potential fines. The commission had already been slapped down last year by an administrative judge for alleging that the posted dress code was an attempt by the Orthodox Jewish business owners to impose their religion on others—after all, no one disputes that similar dress codes in courtrooms and other private establishments are acceptable.
Ted Cruz has sparked a Republican civil war. He has done the bidding of the GOP fringe, in a self-aggrandizing crusade. And while he has enhanced his own position in the conservative fantasyland he seeks to rule, the practical effect of his quixotic campaign to defund Obamacare has been to elevate the president and jeopardize the 2014 elections for his own party.