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How far can ‘free speech’ go?

Jan 22,2015 - Last updated at Jan 22,2015

A chorus of Western commentators is defending the right to freedom of speech and the press in the West. They all seem to take it for granted that it is a sacrosanct and absolute right that should have no limitations in a “democratic” society.

John Lloyd of Oxford University wrote on January 14: “In attacking Charlie Hebdo, the murderers attacked the values of free speech and freedom of the press, fundamental to a democratic society…. The rights to speak, read and watch freely, the right to mock — all are embedded in the European psyche.”

But do European laws actually allow their citizens to practise those rights “embedded in their psyche”?

Do laws allow them to mock women, homosexuals, blacks, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs etc.? If that, indeed, is the case, then why did the French authorities arrest the comedian Dieudonné, and why did the prosecutors launch an inquiry on potential charges of “glorifying terrorism”?

Why was he charged with anti-Semitism? Why has he been repeatedly fined for hate speech in France where authorities in several towns banned his shows as a threat to public order?

If French laws ban anti-Semitism, why not ban anti-Islamism too?

French authorities seem to have fallen prey to the Zionist propaganda ploy of conflating Zionism with Judaism, so that if one denounces or criticises Zionism, or Zionist policies, he is liable to be accused of anti-Semitism.

If anti-Semitism is considered “a threat to public order”, haven’t authorities discovered yet that anti-Islamism is an even more dangerous threat to public order?

If Dieudonné could face up to seven years in jail and be fined 5,000 euros for “glorifying terrorism”, why are Charlie Hebdo cartoons not seen as “hate-mongering”, having repeatedly led to acts of terrorism?

But then, it seems perfectly natural for a commentator like Lloyd to glorify the hate-mongering cartoons of Charlie Hebdo; “The weekly paper, run by journalists with the real courage of their convictions, has done more than its duty for freedom of the press.”

This is a highly dangerous and irresponsible brand of rhetoric. Lloyd seems totally unaware of the possibility that the same statement can be made by Muslims who were outraged by the offensive cartoons about terrorists, for “the courage of their real convictions”.

Does this insistence on the publication of cartoons, obviously offensive to Muslims, not constitute incitement to hatred? Are the French and other Europeans really unaware of the violent outcome of the so-called “freedom of the press”? Or are the “democratic” European laws applying a double standard?

Does not incitement to Islamic- Christian hatred engender an inevitable and particularly vicious spiral of religious conflict that could engulf the world?

Does not this incitement to hatred provide an invaluable opportunity to any party to take advantage of such a dangerous mixture of religious and political conflict in the already highly charged and volatile situation in the Middle East?

Wissam Zahawie,

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