Freedom of speech lasted a matter of days

D.J. Webb

It was fascinating to see the Western leaders throw their weight behind the idea that freedom of speech is core to Western values. Of course Charlie Hebdo has the right to publish cartoons that mock Islam and Muslims.

But libertarians have long been aware that commitment to free speech has been very patchy in the West for quite some time. Today we read that a French comedian, Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, has been arrested for a Facebook comment in support of some of the recent killings.

The particular focus of M’bala M’bala’s comments was (apparent but vaguely expressed) support for the killings of the people in the kosher supermarket that followed the Charlie Hebdo killings. This is anti-Jewish, and presses all the relevant buttons.

I have to say that no libertarian could support any of these killings. Support for killing Jewish people in a supermarket has to be condemned. But freedom of speech is freedom of speech. Our commitment to free speech seems to have lasted all of five minutes.

M’bala M’bala’s comments were not a vicious diatribe calling for racial murder. They weren’t even clearly anti-Semitic. The BBC reported that he had written “Know that this evening, as far as I’m concerned, I’m feeling Charlie Coulibaly”. This combines Charlie from Charlie Hebdo with Coulibaly, the surname of the killer who killed the Jews in the kosher supermarket.

“I’m feeling Charlie Coulibaly” does not really have a clear meaning. Yet theoretically he could get up to seven years in jail for this. (I should add that this case is unlikely to go anywhere due to the unclear nature of the remarks; a seven-year sentence would be more likely for clearer “hate speech”.) Time for the next issue of Charlie Hebdo to satirise our hypocritical lack of real commitment to free speech, I feel.

The BBC states the reaction of the French prime minister:

Er… where do I begin? Freedom of speech is freedom to say whatever you like — and yes, it does include all of those things, or at least potentially. If someone says something “offensive”, that is not an abuse of free speech, but rather a genuine exercise of free speech that can only be countered by argument (or satire or ridicule), and not a prison sentence.

The BBC continues:

But French daily Le Monde pointed out that freedom of speech was limited by French law, and did not extend to incitement to hatred or racism, anti-Semitism and homophobia.

Er… it is true to say that French law does claim the right to limit free speech along those lines, but then why shouldn’t Islamic radicals argue that free speech should also be limited to prevent offence to Islam? If we are already in the business of preventing offensive free speech, the Muslims only wish to add a further detail to the types of speech proscribed.

All speech should be free, “Incitement” is a weasel concept and is only valid in the context of a direct incitement to an immediate action (e.g. “kill this person now”) and should not refer to generally offensive speech.


  1. Actually the French government did not even support the right of the magazine to publish the cartoons – it was actually trying to bankrupt the magazine (with various legal actions). The whole “I am Charlie” stuff from French politicians (or political leaders elsewhere) is lying hypocrisy.

    As for murdering Jews – well the French “comedian” will need to hurry up if that is his aim, as Jews have been leaving France for years (more Jews left France last year than left any other European nation). Of course the “comedian” could go to Israel and try to kill some Jews – but as many Jews are armed in Israel, it would be a one way trip for him.

  2. Well Paul, I can’t help but note that organised Jewish activists have been relentless supporters of multiculturalism, apparently based on the naïve idea that only Europeans can be racists and anti-semites, and thus the dilution of the European peoples automatically makes our countries safer for Jews. And now ordinary Jews are having to flee multiculturalised societies because that is not true.

    It is certainly true that many individuals Britons have and no doubt are to some degree anti-Semitic. But we have no history (within meaningfully recent history) of pogroms and genocide, and while bignose jokes are no doubt offensive, they are not fatal. Thanks to multiculturalism, we now have a growing cohort who genuinely hate and would kill Jews, and Jews themselves have been largely responsible for this catastrophe. (For instance, the Runymede Trust was founded by Jews. It invented the silly slogan “Islamophobia”).

    Many years ago when I used to live in London, long before 9/11, working in theatre and socialising afterwards I used to get minicabs home a lot, and would chat to the driver. I remember one chilling ride where we got talking about Islam (and bear in mind that I was not then a rightwingextremist, but a follower of PC, to some degree). The driver calmly and cheerfully- as if discussing the weather or sports or something- explained to me that, when the caliphate comes, I as a Christian will be allowed to convert, but the Jews would all have to be killed because- as God’s chosen people who denied his prophets Jesus and Mohammed- they have turned their backs on God and are beyond redemption.

    This was just an ordinary cab driver, not some famous rabble rousing cleric. Some time in the 1990s, when my own knowledge of Islam consisted of little more than minarets and the Sheikh of Araby. It still chills me to think of it.

    The Jewish Left have been extremely naïve.

  3. On the main posting by David; yes, the stench of hypocrisy is sufficient to empty the strongest stomach.

  4. It was always clear to me that none of the states involved in the supposed support of ‘free speech’ ever had any real inclination to any kind of true support for it. It was also clear that any kind of political response to the killings was going to be a convenient way of continuing the agenda in the opposing direction, as well as to increase the level of domestic surveillance.

  5. The modern progressive elites consider freedom the way a dog considers a lamp post. They are very glad it is there, so that they know where precisely to relieve themselves.

  6. Disgusting hypocrisy, however a cause has been found to demonstrate peoples continuing commitment to the right kind of free speech, the Irish Blasphemy laws. Since 1855, there has been one (failed) prosecution under these.

    So instead of getting rid of some actual repressive laws that have been enacted and used in our lifetimes, we are treated to this pathetic piece of tokenism.

  7. If freedom of speech means anything at all, it is surely the freedom to say nasty, unwelcome, jarring and hurtful things. This does not mean such things +should+ be said, merely that it should not be a crime to do so.

    Sadly this concept of free speech has long been deprecated in western democracies. I remember an old joke from the days of the USSR that is perhaps not quite so funny any more. It goes something like this:

    Frustrated by Soviet censorship, an American in Moscow turned to a Russian acquaintance and said: “Look, I can criticise my government any day of the week.”

    The Russian replied: “So can I.”

  8. Free speech is what it is and not inclusive of additional things. For example, if I hire a hit man to kill my wife [I am still single, by the bye] then it is not just speech but my money too. Similarly, if Al Capone told one of his henchman to kill someone then that would not be only free speech. It would also be money and/or authority too that adds to his mere speech acts and that can harm others where mere speech alone cannot.

    Speech is not free if it is imposed. An atheist has no right to tell Christians that there is no God in the middle of their church service.

    Private property usually sorts out where we can speak freely, as it does most civil liberties.
    Presumably, only free speech can support nothing. Most imagine that arguments can support but the sceptics refuted that idea 2500 years ago. But most people do not like that fact.

    Political Correctness [PC] is against free speech as its main aim, of course. The mass media today follow this creed to a man and they made that clear in the last week too, so it is not quite true to say they have recently adopted free speech, if only for a few days. They would need to repudiate PC to do that, but instead they have affirmed it as often as ever.

    Yes, the Muslims can ask, and they have been asking, for PC privilege for decades, and “islamophobia” is the PC jargon that they recommend. It has even been partly adopted by the mass media, despite the creed being anti-PC in itself, even in the rejection of that sacred cow of democracy itself. Indeed, the creed rejects the sacred PC ideal of equality.

    It is no more than the Jews have had for decades for the Muslims are right that the privilege of “islamophobia” getting accepted fully by PC is not very different from “Anti-Semitism” accept that there are less Jews in the UK than there are Muslims, so most people see the Jews as less of a threat to the UK establishment. The Jews have no opportunity to take over but with Islam it is a race between Muslim population growth and the normalisation of Islam being transformed as Christianity was from 1550 to 1950, where it is a mere personal rather than a political, or proactively coercive or illiberal matter. There is no such thing as free politics.

  9. An excellent piece David, thank you. Though I do wonder why you said, “Our commitment to free speech seems to have lasted all of five minutes,” when neither my commitment to free speech, nor as far as I know yours, has wavered at all!

    My BS sensors on this matter were tipped off when (a) I read some US “libertarians” praising Hollande, (b) the rally in Paris was for “unity,” not for free speech.

    What the establishment have been saying is along the lines of:: “I’m all for free speech if it;s politically correct, but the politically incorrect have no right to say anything, so let’s prosecute them (or worse).”

    Plus ça change?

  10. Ian – I agree that the “Jewish left” have been extremely foolish. The whole leftist project (mostly NOT Jewish) of supporting Islamic immigration to Europe has been foolish – indeed insane. The forces of Islam were never going to just attack “conservative Christian society” – they were going to attack everyone. One does not invite in the Daleks or the Cybermen to attack people one dislikes – because such “allies” are not really allies at all.

    However, some of the remaining Jews in places such as Sweden (most sensible Jews have already left) still make multicultural noises – there is no limit to the lack of common sense among some highly educated “intellectuals”, the forces of Islam in Sweden make no secret of their genocidal intentions – yet the “clever” people refuse to see the obvious.

    As for the foolishness of “activism” generally……

    This was made obvious in the United States – when the Jews in the Civil Rights movement were astonished when the black activists turned on them. Demanding quotas in the professions, and the universities (guess who loses from such quotas – the people who always lose from them).

    Lower down the social scale, Jewish business people were specially targeted by black activists in the cities in the 1960s – the Jews who had risked their lives in the Civil Rights movement were astonished by this as well.

    Of course the primary target of Black activist groups such as the Black Panthers were BLACK people (local businessmen, conservative ministers of religion – and so on).

    The minority (and they were a minority) of Marxists in the Civil Rights movement understood all this very well (it was their plan all along) – but the social democrat (“liberal”) types, did not have a clue.

    They thought, they really believed, that the goal was for everyone to be happy and go to the prom arm-in-arm.

    Sadly they still do – they have learned nothing.

    Some “liberals” have been “mugged by reality” – but most have not, they cling on the ideology that everything is the fault of “oppression” and “white privilege”.

    See the example of the absurd “Jon Stewart” – a man who refuses to see the truth in the fires of Ferguson (does not understand that someone like Michael Brown would tear him to pieces), and clings to the illusions he was taught at school and university.

    Non Marxist socialism (such as that of Norman Thomas – the hero of Jon Stewart) is absurd – it wants the ends of socialism, collectivist “Social Justice”, without the means (millions of people exterminated).

    What does Jon Stewart think would happen to him and his family if his side won?

    A millionaire white man?

    He and his family would be lucky if they were given a quick death.

    Alas – Jon Stewart (and the others) are too “educated” to see this.

  11. The bottom line on free expression is that you either have it or a range of permitted opinion. Once it is admitted that free expression is not absolute then anything may in principle be banned. Without free expression democracy cannot exist because by definition any policy cannot be forbidden. .

    Absolute free expression requires an acceptance by all to whom the privilege is granted that they will play by the rules of free expression and accept that it is something which extends to everyone who agrees to play by such rules. That means one class of person, the only class of person , should be denied free expression, namely, the class of those who would deny it to others. That is not a denial of their right to free expression because they have absented themselves from the class of those who will tolerate free expression.

    Only those who have no confidence in their cause wish to censor. Milton had it aright four centuries ago:

    ‘And though all the winds of doctrine were let loose upon the earth, so truth be in the field [and] we do injuriously by licensing and prohibiting to misdoubt her strength. Let her and falsehood grapple; who ever knew truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter…’ [Milton – Areogapitica].

    Milton’s words perhaps contain more significance than he realised, for a society only becomes wholeheartedly tyrannical when censorship allows no effective opposition. To take a most dramatic instance, if the Nazis had been forced by frequently expressed contrary public opinion to explain their policy of genocide to the German people, it is highly improbable that the whole grisly business would have been mooted, for we know that even without any serious public opposition the Nazis went to considerable lengths, in the midst of a most tremendous war, to persuade the mass of Germans that Jews were simply being resettled or, at worst, used as forced labour.


  12. As for the President of France – he would not be President if it were not for the Islamic vote, he got over 90% of it.

    Sorry, well not sorry at all actually, to bring up the cynical political point.

  13. I don’t know what you people are complaining about – haven’t you all read “1984” and the essay on Newspeak? What I can’t understand is why the cartoons weren’t already banned as “hate speech” or somesuch. I assume the government decided it can get some useful mileage out of Muslim outrage to implement more restrictions on privacy, etc., and they’ll eventually be banned when some other demon is causing alarms and excursions.

    “When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

    ’The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

    ’The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.”

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