Free speech goes to jail

© alexskopje - Fotolia.com

© alexskopje – Fotolia.com

If the first casualty of war is truth, the second is freedom to speak. Since the massacre at Charlie Hebdo, government repression of political speech has accelerated, and so have attacks on Muslims.

France arrested at least 54 people for “glorifying” or “defending” terrorism in the week after Charlie Hebdo — none of whom were even alleged to be connected to the attacks. Those arrested include French comic and satirist Dieudonné, who has previously been jailed for anti-Semitic comments. The New York Times reports:

“Those swept up under the new law include a 28-year-old man of French-Tunisian background who was sentenced to six months in prison after he was found guilty of shouting support for the attackers as he passed a police station in Bourgoin-Jalieu on Sunday. A 34-year-old man who on Saturday hit a car while drunk, injured the other driver and subsequently praised the acts of the gunmen when the police detained him was sentenced Monday to four years in prison.”

According to the NYT report, the man in Bourgoin-Jalieu went to jail for uttering these words:

“They killed Charlie and I had a good laugh. In the past they killed Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, Mohammed Merah and many brothers. If I didn’t have a father or mother, I would train in Syria.”

Not all the repression comes from the government. In an opinion article in Al Jazeera, Fariha Róisín writes:

“On Twitter, just after I confessed my unpopular opinion about Charlie Hebdo, a stranger tweeted at me that Islamophobia doesn’t exist because Muslims aren’t people.”

Vox reported that it got no threats from Muslims for publishing the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, but received numerous and violent threats for publishing articles about anti-Islamic bigotry:

“The most common states a desire that jihadist militants will murder the offending writer: a recent email hoped that Muslims will ‘behead you one day’ so that ‘we will never have to read your trash again.’ Some directly threaten violence themselves, or imply it with statements such as ‘May you rot in hell.’

“Others express a desire to murder all Muslims — one simply read ‘I agree with maher  Kill them all’ — also often implying the emailed journalist is themselves Muslim. One pledge to attack Vox writers begins, ‘Fuck you and any cunt who believes in allah.’”

Fox News, of course, gained notoriety with commentator Jeanine Pirro’s rant demanding that all Islamists be killed, but she is not an isolated voice. Anti-Muslim bigotry runs rampant in a wide swath of U.S. media.

Even before the Charlie Hebdo massacre and subsequent crackdowns on “pro-terrorist” speech in Europe, Glenn Greenwald documented the monitoring and criminalizing of online speech in the United States, Britain, and Scotland. His article featured a Tweet from police in Scotland that said: “Please be aware that we will continue to monitor comments on social media & any offensive comments will be investigated.”

An op/ed from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, also published before Charlie Hebdo, denounced repression of speech around the world, citing Saudi Arabia, Russia and Turkey, but also noting crackdowns in the UK and France.

“In the UK, a woman was recently sentenced to five years in prison for ‘promoting terrorism on Facebook.’ This news comes after promises from UK telecoms to block ‘terrorist’ and ‘extremist’ content on their networks. …

“A French anti-terror law passed this autumn provides harsher penalties for extremist speech posted online (as opposed to offline), raising concerns from civil liberties advocates in the country.”

Anti-Muslim Violence

Unsurprisingly, anti-Muslim bigotry escalated quickly into acts of violence post-Charlie, targeting Muslim businesses and mosques, from vandalism to bombing and grenade-throwing in France. Ajamu Baraka, writing in Common Dreams, said that the defense of Charlie Hebdo has roots in “a cross-class, transnational white identity,” noting that the “humanity and cultures of Arabs and Muslims have been denigrated in France for decades.”

In Germany, Pegida’s anti-immigrant and explicitly anti-Islamic marches in Dresden continue to draw huge crowds. Pegida stands for the Patriotische Europäer gegen eine Islamisierung des Abendlandes, which translates to Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West. While Pegida stands on the far right, anti-Islamic sentiment is widespread, with 52 percent of Germans in a recent poll saying that Islam does not belong in Germany. According to an article in Al Jazeera published before the Charlie Hebdo attack:

“Germany has joined the ranks of other EU countries, where Islamophobic populism and even terrorism have been part of the political landscape for more than a decade. PEGIDA claims to be peaceful, but its subtext is full of xenophobia and hatred. Some have already taken the rhetoric one step further: In rural Bavaria on Dec. 12 a home for refugees was firebombed. In France, Sweden and Belgium, mosques have burned.”

In the United States, Duke University canceled a planned use of the Duke University chapel bell tower for a Muslim call to prayer on Fridays, after receiving threats it deemed too serious to ignore. More than 700 Muslim students attend Duke, and they have prayed in the chapel on Fridays for years. In addition to security threats, the Washington Post reported:

“Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, called on donors and alumni to withhold support from Duke until the policy was reversed. The hashtag #boycottduke spread quickly, and many of the reactions on Twitter referred to recent terrorist attacks, and interpreted it as an anti-Christian move.”

Free Speech Hypocrisy

Jon Stewart rightly criticized world leaders who took part in the July 11 Paris march for freedom of the press and against terror, naming them as “journalist-punishing Russia, journalist-jailing Turkey, Palestinian cartoonist-jailing Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, a little out of breath, having just days ago flogged a blogger.” To that list, we can add the leaders of France, England, Scotland, Germany, and the United States whose defense of free speech is increasingly selective and limited.

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