IN THE AFTERMATH of the London bombings perpetrated by homegrown jihadists, Europeans are rethinking their approach to multiculturalism in general and their tolerance for hate speech--especially the sermons of radical imams--in particular. In France, which has long had hate-speech laws, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy moved swiftly in July to announce the expulsion of a dozen radical imams, though only two have actually been deported. But even as public alarm grows about radical sermons another form of incitement common in France has gone largely unnoticed--namely, anti-French rap music.
During the mid-1990s, rap entered the mainstream of French popular culture. Since then, some of the most successful groups in French pop music have been rap bands made up mostly of French citizens of Arab or African descent. Among the most popular is NTM (which stands for Nique ta mère, "F--your mother"), a Sony Records group. NTM is famous for lyrics which attack France and especially the police. During a concert in 1995, NTM sang: "I f--the police, I sodomize and pee on the law! Our enemies are the men in blue" (French cops wear blue uniforms). This outburst earned NTM members a three-month prison sentence, later commuted to a fine (though NTM member Joey Starr has been in and out of prison for 15 years for drugs, assault, weapons charges, domestic-abuse, and for spitting on police).
By contrast, the popular rap band Sniper was recently handed a victory in a legal action brought against them in 2004 by Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy over incitement to violence and hatred in their song "La France." They sing: "We're all hot for a mission to exterminate the government and the fascists. . . . France is a bitch and we've been betrayed. . . . We f--France, we don't care about the Republic and freedom of speech. We should change the laws so we can see Arabs and Blacks in power in the Elysée Palace. Things have to explode."
But the kingpin of rapping French Francophobes is Mr. R. In his latest single--entitled "FranSSe," from the March 2005 album "PolitiKment IncorreKt"--he likens France to the Third Reich, singing: "France is a bitch, don't forget to f--her to exhaustion. You have to treat her like a whore, man! . . . France is one of the bitches who gave birth to you. . . . I am not at home and I don't give a damn, and besides the state can go f--itself. . . . I pee on Napoleon and General De Gaulle. . . . My niggers and my Arabs, our playground is the street with the most guns. . . . F--ing cops, sons of whores. . . . France is a lousy mother who abandoned her sons on the sidewalk. . . . My Muslim brothers are hated like my Jewish brothers were during the Reich"--at which point Mr. R's video shows footage of Hitler and of Nazi concentration camps.
The video borders on pornography. It shows violent acts supposedly committed by the French Army. France is represented by two naked white women called "Gauloises" (a reference to the ancient inhabitants of France) who perform lewd acts with the French flag while a group of blacks make an obscene gesture. As a disclaimer Mr. R says, "When I speak of France, I don't mean the French people but their leaders. They've been exploiting us for a long time, from slavery to colonization, and they're still jerking us around." Tellingly, in the last words of the song, "France" is replaced by "Europe": "Europe is a bitch, don't forget to f--her to exhaustion. You have to treat her like a whore, man!"--which suggests that the rapper's grievances extend past France to include much of the West.
French intellectuals, journalists, and music critics have taken all this in stride. Fnac, the largest French chain of music stores, selected "PolitiKment IncorreKt" as its top featured album. Fnac's fawning review of the CD says: "And what if the subversive spirit of rock had made its way into French rap? . . . Monsieur R: a revelation." On July 16, Mr. R was among the lead performers at the prestigious Francofolies music festival in La Rochelle.
Last month, Francois Grosdidier, a member of parliament from President Chirac's party, called on the minister of Justice to ban the broadcast of the video and take up legal action against Mr. R for "incitement to racism and hatred." The press reacted with outrage--against Grosdidier. The left-wing daily Libération denounced this harassment of rappers as futile. Mr. R, responding to the charge of anti-French racism, stuck to his guns: He's only talking about French leaders, he said, not the French people. As he told the newsmagazine Le Point, "I am not anti-French. I am a Belgian citizen."
Another outspoken defender of Mr. R is Olivier Besancenot, head of the Communist Revolutionary League and a rising star of the French left. In 2002 at the age of 29, Besancenot ran in the first round of the presidential election and came in eighth out of 16 candidates, with over 4 percent of the votes. He actually performs--raps--on Mr. R's latest album. He told Libération that criticism of the video amounted to an "infringement of the freedom of expression."
NTM, Sniper, and Mr. R are viewed as role models by many young French males of Arab and African descent who live in France's depressed ethnic suburbs. In such an environment, the anti-white riots which erupted last March in Paris should have come as no surprise.
With luck this new phenomenon might turn out to be a fad which peters out, the way anti-police, anti-white gangsta rap did in America after the early '90s. But in the meantime it will be interesting to see if the French will enforce their laws against racism and anti-Semitism--the toughest in Europe--against this homegrown anti-Western hatred.
Olivier Guitta is a freelance writer specializing in the Middle East and Europe.