After the controversial magazine Charlie Hebdo was targeted by Muslim terrorists, all of France (and most of the world) got together to champion free speech, even of the most inflammatory, controversial variety. Following such an outpouring, France has made a historic decision to punish French homophobes for inflammatory speech. Double standard?
In what a major French LGBT rights group called a “significant victory”, three people were convicted in a Paris court this week after they accompanied tweets with hashtags including “let’s burn the gays on…“ or “#brûlonslesgayssurdu).”
During the same period in August 2013, “#Lesgaysdoiventdisparaîtrecar”, or “gays must die because…”, was also trending.
French LGBT charity Comité Idaho, which organises the nation’s International Day Against Homophobia, brought the case to court after it filed a complaint against the users for inciting hatred and violence on the basis of sexual orientation.
Could Charlie Hebdo have been punished under the same rules? Probably. Their controversial cartoons certainly incited hatred and violence on the basis of religious orientation. But that was allowed. An article by the Intercept outlined some of the hypocrisies of the French free speech debate:
The day before the Charlie Hebdo attack, I coincidentally documented the multiple cases in the west – including in the U.S. – where Muslims have been prosecuted and even imprisoned for their political speech. Vanishingly few of this week’s bold free expression mavens have ever uttered a peep of protest about any of those cases – either before the Charlie Hebdo attack or since. That’s because “free speech,” in the hands of many westerners, actually means: it is vital that the ideas I like be protected, and the right to offend groups I dislike be cherished; anything else is fair game.
This is unfortunately true. Calling for the eradication of religion is permissible. As long as it is the right religion.
I have no desire to defend radical religionists, homophobes, racists, or any of their ilk. But if you want to defend free speech, you must take the good with the bad. Anything else is not really free. Any number of things could be pegged as inflammatory speech that could incite violence. The radical homosexual movement has been making extremely inflammatory remarks for years—calling for violence, civil punishment, and the like. But homosexuals get a free pass. So do people who decry theistic religions.
I think this double standard is basically inevitable. But let’s not be so quick to pat ourselves on the back as champions of freedom when our hypocrisy is so glaring.