The far-right National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, a perennial presidential candidate, was given a three-month suspended prison sentence for saying that the Nazi occupation of France was “not particularly inhuman” and that “excesses” were inevitable. The Paris court ruled that he had denied a crime against humanity and that he was complicit in justifying war crimes, and fined him $14,500. The charges stemmed from comments he made in 2005 in a right-wing weekly.That’d be 10,000 Euros.
And that’d be wrong.
OK, the guy’s a nut-job. He’s got some really screwed-up ideas, and he keeps trying to become president and turn his screwed-up ideas into public policy. He’s a xenophobe. He’s the sort of person you’d like to keep out of politics, the sort of person whose mouth you’d like to stuff a sock into in order to shut him up.
But you can’t. We can’t. Because even though no one with any sense wants to listen to the crap that Jean-Marie Le Pen spews, shutting him up sets a precedent for shutting others up, and before you know it, it’s not just Le Pen: you and I can’t speak our minds any more. Freedom of speech is gone.
Of course, France doesn’t have the First Amendment; that’s in the U.S. Constitution. They do have freedom of speech, mostly, but it’s not codified in the same way as it is here. It’s not inviolate, as it is here.
Here, we can speak out at campaign rallies without fear.
Here, we can take photographs in public places and not put ourselves under suspicion.
Here, we can speak other languages, and we’re pleased with the diversity that represents.
Yes, France ought to be careful about punishing free speech. There’s no telling where things might go from there.