News / Europe

Analysts See Double Standard in European Free Speech Laws

Lebanese Army soldiers sit in their military vehicles as they are deployed to secure the area near the French embassy in Beirut, September 21, 2012.
Lebanese Army soldiers sit in their military vehicles as they are deployed to secure the area near the French embassy in Beirut, September 21, 2012.
Selah Hennessy
French embassies, consulates and international schools in 20 Muslim countries were closed on Friday after cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad were published earlier this week by a French satirical magazine. In response to the controversial caricatures, the French government has emphasized that freedom of expression is guaranteed in France. But some critics say in France and other European countries there is a double standard when it comes to free speech.

The French government has said those who are offended by the caricatures can resolve the issue in a court room.
 
At least one Muslim group has already reportedly filed a criminal complaint with prosecutors in Paris. Prosecutors have yet to decide if legal action will be taken.

Charlie Hebdo, the weekly magazine that published the cartoons, has previously won cases when it was taken to court for offending faith groups. Four years ago it won a case brought against it after it published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, which had previously been printed in a Danish magazine.

An unsuccessful complaint was also brought against it after it caricatured the Pope in 2008.

Pierre Guerlain, from Paris West University in France, says the caricatures would need to be found racist for the complaint to succeed. Religious grounds, he says, won’t suffice in France.

“Criticizing religion is a national sport," says Guerlain. "People in the English-speaking world imagine that France is a Catholic country, but it is a misconception. Most people are secular, agnostics or atheists. They don't have religious practices.  And traditionally, the French Left built itself around opposition to the Catholic Church.  So there is a long anti-religious tradition in France, which carries on to other religions.”

French authorities confirmed Friday that they have banned any protestors from demonstrating against the cartoons. The Interior Minister said prefects throughout the country had been ordered to crack down if the ban is challenged.

Guerlain says such a move by the government undermines free speech values.

“When you ban a demonstration in France, you always argue that there is a danger to public order," he says. "So the argument is that it is not speech that is banned, but it's a deed, an action. But in the case of this demonstration, if you restrict avenues for self-expression, I think you make the problem worse.”

In France, he says free speech is a complex issue. On the one hand, France is a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, which defends free speech.

But there are limits. For example, the Gayssot Act, which dates to 1990, prohibits any racist, anti-Semite, or xenophobic activities, including Holocaust denial.

Guerlain says exceptions to the free speech rule can create confusion.

“Because in France you have this "Loi Gaysott."  It means some categories of speech are protected, other categories are not protected, which gives a possibility for the far right or Islamic fundamentalists to claim that they are treated in an unfair way,” he says.

Matt Rojansky of the U.S.-based research group, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says France is not the only country in Europe where free speech has its limits - and it creates a sense of hypocrisy.

"Muslims in Pakistan, or Algeria, or where have you, are not unaware that there is a head-scarf ban," he says. "They understand that Europe is constraining free speech in some instances, but then they see that in other instances people can, in their view, commit grave violations with their speech by publishing cartoons or saying things.  Nationalist politicians say a lot of things, and those things are protected. So they feel that that is an hypocrisy, and I think that position is a logically viable position unless Europe hasn't resolved that contradiction."

He says laws in Europe that limit free speech often stem from a desire to create inclusive communities in countries with often large migrant populations.
 
Many European nations, Rojansky says, contain societies that have very troubling historical relationships - legacies of war, conflict, and occupation - and that has been part of the motivation for limiting free speech.

"It's understandable that political leaders want to keep a lid on some elements of speech and expression that could, in their view, provoke negative trends, whether it's violence or nationalist movements, secession, neo-Nazism, etc.  That's an understandable impulse. I still think it's wrong," he says. "And the reason it's wrong is that if you build your social-contract on the basis of hidden or off-limit zones, things that must not be spoken, those will always be vulnerabilities and sensitivities in your national project."

Charlie Hebdo published a series of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, including cartoons where he is depicted naked.

The magazine published the cartoons after global protests erupted over a video produced by a private film-maker in the United States, which depicts the Prophet Muhammad as a fraud, womanizer, and child molester.
 
U.S. President Barack Obama has publicly rebuked the video.

You May Like

Ukraine: Mysterious 'Roaming Tank' Reportedly Takes Aim at Smugglers

Ukraine's TV, print media, Facebook abuzz with reports a 'roaming tank' is on the loose, destroying vehicles of those involved in smuggling More

US Wildlife Service Begins Probe of Killing of Cecil the Lion

Minnesota man accused of killing beast is in hiding, has been asked to contact US officials; White House to review extradition petition More

Video Kerry Five-Nation Tour to Cover Security, Iran Nuclear Deal

Secretary of state will visit Egypt, Qatar, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam to discuss security issues, Iran nuclear deal, Trans-Pacific Partnership More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’i
X
July 29, 2015 9:34 PM
Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs