I don’t write much about “hate speech” laws in other countries, although many have them (even in Europe), for I simply don’t know much about their history, or how they’re enforced. But, as in the U.S., I don’t think that they’re justified in any democracy, for democracy depends vitally in freedom of speech. We know that it’s vile to kill cartoonists who offend people, but in France and Germany, it’s okay to prosecute people for verbal or written “offense”.
And in France right now, according to the Gatestone Institute and to the Israeli paper Haaretz, a respected French scholar of anti-Semitism is being prosecuted by the state for claiming that Arabs culturally promulgate anti-Semitism to their families. Well, that may be true for many French Arabs, but you can’t say it, for that constitutes “incitement to racial hatred”: a crime. (Yes, dismiss the news based on the sources, if you wish, but you can find the same reports elsewhere.)
The data: George Bensoussan, a French cultural historian specializing in anti-Semitism, Zionism, and related issues, is going on trial for the following statement made on a “France Culture” radio debate. Gatestone reports:
“An Algerian sociologist, Smaïn Laacher, with great courage, just said in a documentary aired on Channel 3: It is a shame to deny this taboo, namely that in the Arab families in France, and everyone knows it but nobody wants to say it, anti-Semitism is sucked with mother’s milk.”
The documentary that Bensoussan was referring to was called “Teachers in the Lost Territories of the Republic,” and was aired in October 2015, on Channel 3. In this documentary, Laacher, who is a French professor of Algerian origin, said:
“Antisemitism is already awash in the domestic space… It… rolls almost naturally off the tongue, awash in the language… It is an insult. When parents shout at their children, when they want to reprimand them, they call them Jews. Yes. All Arab families know this. It is monumental hypocrisy not to see that this anti-Semitism begins as a domestic one.”
Because of Bensoussan’s statement in bold, several French anti-racist orgniazations, including the the Collectif Contre l’Islamophobie en France, SOS Racisme, Mouvement Contre le Racisme et Pour l’amitié Entre les Peuples, and even the Jewish LICRA (Ligue Internationale Contre le Racisme et l’Antisémitisme), which had an honorable history opposing anti-Semitism, joined in a complaint against Bensoussan.
But why was what he said so offensive, while what Laacher said was not? Gatestone reports:
No complaint was filed against Laacher. But as soon as Bensoussan, in the heat of a radio debate, referred to Arab anti-Semitism as “sucked in with mother’s milk”, CCIF, followed by all anti-racist associations, brought Bensoussan to supposed justice. Their accusation was simple: “mother’s milk” is not a metaphor for cultural anti-Semitism transmitted through education, but a genetic and “essentialist” accusation. It means: “all Arabs are anti-Semitic” — in other words, Bensoussan is a racist.
Well, to my understanding what’s “imbibed with mother’s milk” means something culturally inherited. (I once heard someone describe the late biologist and activist Richard Levins as having “gotten his Marxism with his mother’s milk.”) Perhaps that’s not what the phrase means in France, but I doubt it. Nourishment from the mother is a cultural benefit—food—and has nothing to do with the transfer of DNA, even though nursing is certainly a product of kin selection and other useful chemicals come with the milk.
Remember, too, that this isn’t the first time France has prosecuted “hate speech”:
With the leading Islamist CCIF stalking “Islamophobia”, intellectual intimidation is the rule. Complaints are filed against everyone not saying that Muslims are the main victim of racism in France.
In December 2016, Pascal Bruckner, a writer and philosopher, was also brought to court for saying in 2015, on Arte TV, “We need to make the record of collaborators of Charlie Hebdo’s murderers”. He named people in France who had instilled a climate of hatred against Charlie: the entertainer Guy Bedos, the rap singer Nekfeu, anti-racist organizations like The Indivisibles, or the journalist Rokhaya Diallo and the supremacist movement for “people of color” known as Les Indigènes de la République (“The Indigenous of the Republic”).
It was not the first time that Islamists filed complaints against people they dislike. Charlie Hebdo was twice brought to court by Islamist organizations. Twice, the accusations of Charlie’s Islamist accusers were dismissed.
But with the Bensoussan trial, we are entering in a new era. The most venerable, the most authentic anti-racist organizations — some of them are older than a century — are, shamefully, lining up with Islamist organizations.
In the U.S., the accusation of “hate speech” is used to intimidate people, but nobody can be prosecuted for it. Only hate crimes can be prosecuted: as add-ons to criminal acts, and I object to those, too. Of course it’s free speech to accuse people of “hate speech”, and you have every right to say that; but, as I always note, if you’re going to level such accusations, the onus is on you to define exactly what “hate speech” constitutes, and to stipulate who has the right to decide what constitutes “hate speech” and what constitutes merely strong criticism.
Nobody can make that distinction, because for me criticism of religions, including Islam, is valid speech, but to many Muslims it’s not only hate speech, but an offense punishable by death. When that kind of speech, including Bensoussan’s statement about the cultural inheritance of anti-Semitism, suddenly becomes a prosecutable offense, then the chilling effect is more than doubled. Who wants to spend money, time and energy defending themselves in court?
The recourse to what Bensoussan said is to use the press, not the courts. And if you’re going to maintain that no French Arabs teach their children hatred of Jews, well, you’re going to have a tough case to make.