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

Obama: I Will Do 'Everything I Can' to Close Guantanamo

US president says prison continues 'to inspire jihadists and extremists around the world' More

Sierra Leone Educates on Safe Ebola Burials

Also, country is improving at rapid response to isolated outbreaks, but health workers need to be even faster, officials say More

Religion Aside, Christmas Gains Popularity in Communist Vietnam

Increasingly wealthy Vietnamese embrace holiday due to its non-religious glamor, commercial appeal 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.
US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubansi
X
Sharon Behn
December 19, 2014 9:34 PM
For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubans

For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Cuba Deal is Major Victory for Pope’s Diplomatic Initiatives

Pope Francis played a key role in brokering the US-Cuba deal that was made public earlier this week. It is the most stunning success so far in a series of peacemaking efforts by the pontiff. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.

All About America

AppleAndroid