Saturday, February 16, 2008


Le Pen avoids the pen

News from France:

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 wear t-shirts that say anything we want, such as “Give Peace a Chance”.

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.


lidija said...

I agree with you, Barry. But I don't think France is the only European country where this happens. Hate speech is a lot less tolerated in most of EU countries at least, and is by no means protected. I believe that the threshold is a bit lower, especially when it comes to the Holocaust deniers - it is almost all emotional and it is very emotional most places. I believe most of Europe went through major legal changes after 2nd World War and, well, that's traceable. Their constitutions are built after that fact, just like the US Constitution is built after the US war for independence, by the people who were persecuted for their beliefs etc. I also don't know other countries that hold their constitutions immutable as the US does... would love to ponder on that more sometime.

scouter573 said...

It does seem to be a European sensibility that Americans haven't taken up. The Canadians seem to have a prior-restraint sort of system, too - they can gag reporters about court proceedings, for example. From their point of view, the Europeans are only a generation or two from having fallen under the spell of a gargantuan liar, while we have been more separated from those consequences. Sadly, the Russians and Chinese are still struggling to escape the legacies of their political demons. We Americans just don't seem to have been burned badly enough by hate-speakers, and we have 200 years of practice that allow us to avoid their excesses, but even we still have our neo-Nazis and racial nut-jobs. David Duke, anyone? In the end, we depend on the wisdom of the masses to avoid such hate-mongers.

In case it's not clear - I believe in free speech but I worry about those who fall prey to fancy talkers.