On the 7th of January, three Islamic gunmen stormed the offices of left-wing satirical mag Charlie Hebdo, killing eleven staff members in the ensuing bullet shower. The magazine had previously made an international name for itself by printing the Mohammed cartoons of 2006, and continuing to satirise Islam on its pages after being firebombed in 2011. Prior to all that, the magazine had secured a decades-old niche as France’s answer to Private Eye.
The following Sunday, a legion of “leaders” came together in Paris to express their solidarity with those slain. Key figures from fifty of the world’s nations joined a substantial number of Parisians, taking to the streets to declare their fealty to the principle of free speech. Je suis Charlie, nous sommes le monde, and all that.
How I wish I’d been there amongst them – to spit on their fucking faces.
As things stand, I’ll settle for the next-best option: kindling the Inferno.
The public outpouring following the massacre really brought forth many of the issues discussed here under the heading ‘Halal & Hypocrisy’, illuminating the marked gulf between rhetoric and reality when it comes to civil liberties in the West. Deliciously, the narrative of these nation-state notaries standing with the French for freedom fell apart under the sustained squeeze of the press, with some all-too-revealing pics exposing the limits of their solidarity.
More damningly and beautifully, one Daniel Wickham made the news for his listing of the various ways each of the figurehead’s nations violated the liberties of those in their jurisdictions, effectively making the phenomena of free-speech hypocrisy especially salient in the public consciousness. I even had to take my hat off to Anjem Choudary, opportunistic scoundrel though he may be, for his part in perforating this mendacious establishment narrative.
Following in their stead, and the most Infernal of traditions, here’s a bit more on the ways the Western governments represented at this shitshow fuck up when it comes to the principle of free expression.
As much as those running la République talked up a grand game in the face of abdullah aggression, their record on upholding their lip-serviced liberté, has proven pretty fucking abysmal. As much as Hollande preens about presiding over “a free country”, where folk get to“defend one’s ideas” sans state molestation, his words amount to a load of old couilles; as well as the headwear bans I’ve, erm, covered in previous episodes, the French citizenry find themselves subject to sanction for a variety of speechcrimes. Take movie icon Brigitte Bardot, who repeatedly found herself in the dock and out of pocket for “inciting racial hatred” via a series of impolitic opinions on immigration, particularly of the Muslim variety; most recently, she got hit with a €15,000 fine in 2008 after receiving her fifth conviction for the offence. I guess it says something when even her prosecutors tire of the tributes she pays to the Republic (and self-appointed victim lobbies) for the safeguarding of her civil liberties.
Other celebrity casualties of the Gallic gavel include Brit fashion designer John Galliano, fined €6,000 for unleashing a racist tirade at fellow restaurant diners in 2011; and the controversial comedian Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala, whose Hebrew-baiting earns him regular court convictions and performance bans from the Council of State. Not one to be dissuaded from delinquency, Dieudonné now finds himself in court on an “apology for terrorism” charge for signalling Facebook empathy with one of those behind the Paris kosher shop murders following the Charlie Hebdo attack.
In the grand scheme, however, Dieudonné’s but one of many subjected to trumped-up “terror” charges; in predictable fashion, the French state saw fit to slam the sobbing jackboot of suppression down on anyone expressing sympathy with the Muslim murderers. Within a week of the bloodshed, courts across the country had thrown the tome at those “condoning terrorism” a whopping 54 times, making the presence of France’s new Anti-Terror Act very much felt.
Even the publication at the heart of last month’s condolences failed to escape the French state’s schizophrenic approach to free expression. Back in 2006, the then-editor of Charlie Hebdo found himself forced to answer for his choice to publish three of the notorious Mohammed cartoons; brought before the gavel by the mewling of both the Paris Grand Mosque and the Union of French Islamic Organizations, Philippe Val faced a potential €22,500 fine and six-years imprisonment; that the judge saw fit to spare him from such penalties hardly excuses the possibility existing in Hollande’s “free country”. Val would not extend the same grace to ex-employee Maurice Sinet, fired in 2008 after refusing to apologise for an “anti-Semitic” column linking Jewishness to social success. The hapless cartoonist would find himself wrapped up in a court-case clusterfuck over the contentious column.
Since I’m back on the subject of “anti-Semitism”, the lazy conflation of Holocaust revisionism with Hebrew-hatred also ensures the former’s exclusion from the realm of la liberté d’expression. Introduced in 1990, the piece of special-pleading legalese known as the Gayssot Act makes it a crime to question key aspects of the official Holocaust narrative; yet even before that, prominent revisionist Robert Faurisson regularly lost lunch money to the French courts for going about his scholarly business. The years following 1990 would only see his (mis)fortunes continue, his most recent conviction and extortion taking place in 2006. When not putting the squeeze on Faurisson, l’Etat française validates the special-interest pigpiling of amusingly named revisionist websites, preventing them from being accessed on Gallic grounds.
All that said, singling out France for this free speech fuck-up seems a little unfair, what with the Teutonic territories all too eager to replicate the repression. As much as Merkel may condemn the attack on “freedom of opinion and of the press, (an attack on) a core element of our free and democratic culture”, German legislators seem more than happy to throw in their own jabs. Steeped in war guilt following their defeat in the last global Conflict Without Heroes, Deutschlanders have made a legalistic art form out of overcompensation; as such, no new edition of Hitler’s Mein Kampf has seen print since 1945, thanks to the Bavarian government sitting on the copyright; laws against spreading Nazi ideology plus the machinations of ministers make it unlikely that a new edition will see the light of German skies once the copyright expires later this year – at least not without extensive state doctoring.
Of course, given all this historical guilt, the expected prohibition on revisionism stands firmer in Germanic countries than it does in France, with those who transgress given more than a fine for challenging the law and the narrative. Ask Germar Rudolf or Ernst Zündel, imprisoned in Germany for their perspectives and publications; or the Swiss-incarcerated Jurgen Graf; or, most infamously, the historian David Irving, thrown into an Austrian jail back in 2006 for his own historical heresies.
With similar prohibitions in Belgium, Poland, Romania, Hungary, Luxembourg, Slovakia, Israel, and the Czech Republic — nations all represented in the photo-op fiasco — I suspect similar intrigues take place in those parts.
As regular Inferno readers know, whilst the UK offers a respite from the pervasiveness of criminalised inquiry in mainland Europe, it slides further and further into the shit when it comes to free speech in general. A land where folk get locked up and/or fined for poppy-burning, obnoxious rants on public transport, swearing at police, and internet trolling cannot be said to be governed by those who “stand squarely for free speech”, at least not by anyone possessed of a working brain cell. Little wonder, then, that those words fell from the gob of David “Cammy Boy” Cameron in his condemnation of the Paris attackers. “These people will never be able to take us off those values, ” he said, just weeks after his government outlawed the production of certain flavours of consensual pornography.
The outrage at the Paris massacres makes for the perfect Trojan horse pretext to further erode what Cameron claims to preserve. No doubt the Home Secretary Theresa May, ever eager to slip her talons into the web, will use this as further justification for the “snooper’s charter” project she spent the last year talking up:
May confirmed her plan to tackle non-violent extremists: “I want to see new banning orders for extremist groups that fall short of the existing laws relating to terrorism. I want to see new civil powers to target extremists who stay within the law but still spread poisonous hatred. So both policies ‚ banning orders and extremism disruption orders ‚ will be in the next Conservative manifesto,” she said.
A Tory briefing note made clear that the banning orders, which can include denying access to the airwaves and to the net, would be targeted not just at so-called hate preachers but also those who sought to “disrupt the democratic process” and “undermine democracy”.
May said the banning orders were part of a widening of the government’s counter-terrorism strategy, saying in the past preventive measures had focused only on the “hard end of the extremism spectrum. So the Home Office will soon, for the first time, assume responsibility for a new counter-extremism strategy that goes beyond terrorism.”
She said the measures would be overseen by the Home Office and would aim to eliminate all forms of extremism‚ including neo-Nazism and Islamist extremism. In particular, it would confront the “culture of bullying and intimidation” found in schools in Birmingham: “We must not sleepwalk into separation, segregation and sectarianism,” she said.
In her speech, May said Muslims in the UK were free to exercise their right to freedom of conscience, thought and religion but must realise that living in the country came with a responsibility to respect British values. She said: “You don’t just get the freedom to live how you choose to live, you have to respect other people’s right to do so too and you have to respect British values and institutions – the rule of law, democracy, equality, free speech and respect for minorities. These are the values that make our country what it is. These are our values. There is no place for extremism here.”
Yeah, Cammy Boy – Mrs May “stand[s] squarely for free speech”, doesn’t she? That excerpt doesn’t read like dissonant dicksplash coughed out by a conflicted, cuntish control freak, at all.
I could go on and on with this, citing the Netherlands muzzling paedophilia advocates, Israel’s jailing of Palestinian cartoonists, general European curtailment of Islam-bashers, and the life sentencing of a Stateside rapper for “gang conspiracy” album sales (happily overturned – thanks, Obama!), but I think I’ve more than made my point about the pitiful “freedom of expression” offered by lip-servicing Western(ised) governments. As much as folk caught in the grip of vicarious existential dread tremble before “barbarians at the gate”, it strikes me that the worst barbarians have posed as the gatekeepers for far too long.
In the words of the arresting Ann Sterzinger, “if governments are going to curtail free speech, then who are politicians to weep crocodile tears when independent operators follow their example?”