Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Vive La France - The Lady Doth Complain

It may seem a strange pretext upon which to launch into a discussion of the issue of freedom of speech, to cite the sentiments of one of the 20th Century's most notorious cinematic "sex kittens"--Brigitte Bardot--regarding political issues in her native France, but history, and politics, can make strange bedfellows.

In America, our Constitution, by way of the First Amendment, ratified in 1791, has framed the debate on this side of the Atlantic for over 200 years. 

In France, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, passed by the National Assembly in 1789, and article #11 states "The free communication ideas and opinions is one of the most precious of the rights of man. Every citizen may, accordingly, speak, write, and print with freedom, but shall be responsible for such abuses of this freedom as shall be defined by law."   

In America, abridgments of the right of free speech have been cautiously considered, and seldom passed into law. Censorship, based upon community standards, has been aimed primarily at pornography. Attempts by states or communities to censure speech on the basis of content, because it constitutes "hate speech" have been deflected by the Supreme Court, relying on the "imminent danger" principle. In other words, you can say anything you want to or about a person, as long as it doesn't constitute an imminent threat to their person or reputation. Many colleges and universities in the U.S. have attempted to formulate and enforce "speech codes" designed to protect not just individuals but groups from discriminatory content. When challenged, such speech codes have been found to be unconstitutional. In America, free speech remains a strong principle, and we tend to be extremely vigilant in protecting it. 

In France, however, the principle is weaker. The so-called Law on the Freedom of the Press of 1881 prohibits anyone from publicly defaming or insulting, or inciting someone to discriminate against, or to hate or to harm, a person or a group for belonging to an ethnicity, a race, a religion, a sex (or sexual orientation), or for having a handicap. Individuals or media may be prosecuted for such crimes, and imprisoned or fined. The public prosecutor may initiate criminal proceedings against a violator upon its own, and a victim may bring a civil action against a violator as well.           

For those readers too young to know, Brigitte Bardot was in her youth a French film actress, who became a potent sex symbol during the 1950's and 1960's, for her nude and semi-nude scenes. Her notoriety for her unashamed sex appeal was legendary, and she became synonymous with a certain aura of permissiveness in Europe and America during the post-War period. Following her retirement from professional acting at age 40, she has maintained a public presence as an advocate of animal rights, lobbying against animal cruelty. 

In her role as head of the Brigitte Bardot Foundation for the Welfare and Protection of Animals, she has used her notoriety and personal fortune to pursue protections for various animal species throughout the world, directly appealing to governments and heads of state to desist from killing or maiming animals. 

Consistent with her views on animal cruelty, she has spoken out about the ritual Muslim practice of killing goats by slitting their throats. 

Historically, France has been the most accommodating and liberal country in Europe, tolerating large numbers of Muslim immigrants inside its borders. The flow of North African and Arab immigrants into Europe during the last quarter century has accelerated. Muslims now make up as much as 10% of the French population. This has caused a good deal of civil strife. As Muslim numbers have grown, so has its influence. There are many who believe that the growing Islamic influence inside Europe will have dire consequences for the political and religious traditions which have guided French culture for two centuries. Islam has an intolerant character, uniting religious, political and cultural practices into a single unified style of life. 

Christianity and Islam have been in conflict with one another for centuries, and will probably continue to be so for a long time to come. Recent expressions of radical Islam--the terrorist attacks, the resurgent expansionist tendencies both in the Middle East and abroad--have shown that there is a legitimate concern in Western nations about the growing presence and influence of Muslims in their midst. Of greater concern than terrorism, is the threat that Islam may pose to democratic institutions of personal freedom, particularly those of women. 

As the wife of an espoused political conservative, Bernard d'Ormale, former adviser of Jean-Marie Le Pen, former leader of the conservative Front National party, Bardot has openly expressed her negative feelings about the growing presence of Muslims in France--

"Over the last twenty years, we have given in to a subterranean, dangerous, and uncontrolled infiltration, which not only resist adjusting to our laws and customs but which will, as the years pass, attempt to impose its own." 

The Front National has maintained a steadfastly committed position against immigration, particularly Muslim immigration from North Africa, West Africa and the Middle East, seeing this as a threat to the secular value system of the Republic. Though Bardot's initial pretext for criticizing Muslims was their ritual slaughter of goats--a practice which occurs under unsupervised conditions, in private yards, or in the street--she was not shy in expressing her distaste for Muslims. She has been convicted no less than five times in French courts for violating France's "hate speech" laws, the last time in 2012 (being fined $25,000). 

In America, such a case, originating from the justice system itself, would seem quite extreme. But in France, the atmosphere of political correctness has progressed a good deal farther. It might seem tame here to complain about the ritual slaughter of farm animals in private homes and neighborhoods, or about the probable danger to society from the spread of a religion whose traditional teachings and practices are antithetically opposed to our western principles of freedom. But in France, such outspokenness and frankness are suppressed.

What are the consequences of preserving the inviolability of an invasive sect, whose religious and political principles are antithetical to our own? Islam is notorious for its fanatical, arrogant intolerance of other religions and ways of life. And yet it's being protected and sheltered by a nation which is itself under threat from the very groups it's harboring. 

It's an ironic absurdity that the pride and dignity of France must be upheld by an old sex siren of a quarter century back. That Bardot's purely political comments should be treated as "hate speech" is a commentary about how far off the spectrum our institutions have strayed, in a futile attempt to appear "fair" and "unbiased"--when the reality is that freedom of speech is being suppressed to suit the interests of a religious cult that preaches violence and strict adherence to an archaic set of backward beliefs and superstitions, which threaten the very freedoms it now enjoys.


Kirby Olson said...

She's a half century back. I wish we had more women like her here. Jane Fonda has been a terrible advocate for PC, and for allowing Vietnam to fall into the hands of rank communists. The Front Nationale has been hard at work for at least a quarter century trying to push back the Muslim menace in France. Jean Marie Le Pen and now Marine Le Pen have finally scored with the voters as most of us have had just about enough from the primitive peoples arriving at a better place only in order to try to make it move backwards in many respects. Hate Speech in Europe is a very bad set of laws.

We have it much better here, but many throughout the universities and even in the White House would like us to be more like Europe. Donald Sterling caught hell for saying something in the privacy of his bedroom with his mistress which she sneakily taped and released. It cost him 2.5 million dollars. How much was that per word? About a hundred grand?

We are arriving at a de facto police state where words are punished very severely. In Italy there has been a powerful set of journalists trying to wake up the country. Here, all we have is Fox News, and a handful of Republicans who are guarding our boundaries and trying to preserve the Constitution. Meanwhile, Libya, Egypt, most of Syria, as well as Iraq and Afghanistan, are falling into the ranks of hard liners, as is much of Africa, including portions of Sub-Saharan Africa. In Nigeria, Christian teenagers are routinely kidnapped by Islamic bandits and sold into sex slavery.

Our president golfs on.

Curtis Faville said...

I wouldn't go so far with respect to the issue of free speech in America.

If Bardot lived in America, she would probably be taken less seriously, but wouldn't on the other hand be censured and fined.

Imagine if Barbara Streisand were to make some disparaging comments about Muslims in America. I'm sure she would never do such a thing, but if she did, I doubt that she would be sued by an American Imam.

Another interesting footnote is the influence of Islam on African Americans. Is this because Islam is critical of American values and policies?

Conrad DiDiodato said...


I will take what will be probably be seen as an unreasonably 'tolerant' view of the matter, and say (in the words of Santayana) that "Diversity, when it is not contradiction, irritates only unreasonably dogmatic people". And it is surely false to say that growing Muslim numbers in Western nations constitute a threat to our liberties and freedoms. Immigration and perceived threats to our personal liberties are not contradictory terms in this debate. The claim that they are is even ridiculously and patently absurd.

I'll even make the claim that it's nations, like France, England and the US, most staunchly 'nationalistic' in terms of their own fervid sense of history, constitutional prestige and cultural superiority who are most likely to feel threatened (in whatever form cultural, religious and linguistic threat appears) by the 'other'. This imagined threat of the 'other' is (as I see the matter) actually a colonialist mindset that fears, more than anything else, the type of healthy dialectical play (enlightened give and take of discourse and reasonable accommodation)that will lead to a tolerant and just society (such as I believe Canada to be, for example).

It's actually ironic (though not surprising) that the Republic founded on the purest ideals of egalitarianism and dignity of the person should be the making the most noise about this need for implementing a "strategy of surveillance, subjection and inscription" (Homi K. Bhabha) in the face of growing immigration.

Curtis Faville said...


Thanks for commenting.

I welcome discussion, and your viewpoint is always valued.

My post here covers a number of issues--not all of which could be explored in any depth.

Primarily, I was interested to note the different attitudes displayed in France and America regarding permissible kinds of speech.

I am certainly not in favor of "hate speech".

But I do see a disturbing trend towards political correctness, being used to silence the expression of those whose views are either out of the mainstream, or contrary to a prevailing assumption.

Censorship is not a friend to an open society, one in which contrary attitudes and views are not suppressed.

This was what struck me about Bardot's criminal convictions.

From the quotations of hers I was able to find online, her assertions sounded pretty tame to me, and certainly didn't rise to the level of hate speech--even assuming that one believed that such speech should be suppressed in the first place.

It is clear that the kinds of freedoms that Muslims enjoy in France, and in other Western countries, are not available to them in their countries of origin. And yet the newcomers invariably attack their hosts for not being tolerant and generous enough. This may be ironic or infuriating, depending upon how much stake one has in the situation.

In the abstract, tolerance and diversity may seem comfortable principles; in reality, sudden and unplanned-for movements of people across borders or regions are always disruptive, expensive, and painful. "Diversity" is just a name we give to the difficulty of coming to terms with incompatible cultures. And there is more than enough incompatibility between Western and Middle East cultures to fuel resentment and prejudice for generations to come. One can hardly blame "nationalists" for wanting to preserve the harmony of their own world.

Curtis Faville said...

The notion that one can lump all kinds of sects, groups, races and nationalities into a single mass, and call this "diversity" is one I find bogus.

Our planet is entering a phase in which actual diversity--cultural, racial, etc.--which proponents find so attractive--is in the process of being broken down.

Before the era of exploration and the growth of technology, earth was an incredibly diverse place of vast, isolated locations, in which separate groups of humans existed in relative isolation from one another, in different conditions of life. As the Western push towards exploration, exploitation and colonization progressed, that diversity began to be broken down.

Today, we're in the midst of a great depletion of the exotic, and can foresee a time when people will become more and more like one another, and more and more homogeneous.

This trend is one I find sad on many levels. The beauty and strangeness of different cultures is gradually giving way to universal, stereotypical prototypes. Encouraged by economic forces, the inertia of population growth, and efficient new kinds of exchange and interaction, people everywhere are being forced to relinquish their centuries- or millennias-old cultural traditions, their distinctive appearances, their languages, all in the name of some amorphous "better" future in which we will all be jostling together in a crowded, concentrated mass, made to conform and subscribe to a single, identical set of beliefs.

I don't see multi-cultural diversity as an ideal state. I see it as a temporary, expedient necessity forced upon humanity by its own relentless expansion.

In this context, the tolerance demanded of those who have no choice but to embrace "diversity" is simply an expedient attitude. It is perfectly understandable that people would resist being forced to join the melting pot, to give up everything they once understood as their birthright.

Ironically, the very qualities we now ascribe to "diversity" are being lost at an unprecedented rate. Obviously, we can't turn back the clock. But it might be wise to consider whether the direction we are headed is one we really desire. Treating all our decisions as somehow unavoidable or "inevitable" given our relentless expansion, is a recipe for disaster, IMHO.

Ed Baker said...

"Today, we're in the midst of a great depletion of the exotic, and can foresee a time when people will become more and more like one another, and more and more homogeneous.

This trend is one I find sad on many levels. (etc)."

we can just put "it-all"on a computer... on the Internet
- The Net

and everybody in our over-populated world... this polluted Mother Earth... then we'll ALL hold hands,
form a Circle Jerk.... and sing Kumbuyugh !

so? tell me... between the two extremes ... life and death.... what "freedoms" are we-all guaranteed or
speaking to/of.... or "protecting": all the innocent people ... what 120,000 what do we call them "collateral damage" (etcs)

oh well... "praise the lord and pass the ammunition"

Curtis Faville said...

Not sure what you're gettin' at here, Ed.

Who are the "120,000" you refer to?

I'm nostalgic for the days before cars and jets and trains and everything else.

When it was all so difficult to travel long distances and snoop into the most remote corners of the Unknown.

Those days are gone. Today, there are people everywhere, and soon they'll all be watching the same situation comedy.

Is that what all our technology and relentless drive to explore and unearth has brought us to?

Ed Baker said...

speaking to this:

the-way-of-the-world to over-population....
and "save the world for democsee "

speaking of technology AND education....

here in Montgomery County, Md... Big Education..
what used to be first or second BEST in our nation

well, latest math/algebra tests revealed that about 45 % of the kids in 7 th grade flunked. so what did the school board do ? They ADDED 15 points to EVERY kids Algebra score so's more would pass !

now that's something, eh ? dumbing down is what "democracy" is ? what do they call it ... "leveling the 'playing' field " ?

well as Borges said when asked : "why is soccer so popular?" ..... he replied:
"because stupidity is so popular."

same applies to all of this: Stupidity Rules".... but, we all 'sound' so damn intelligent... and mouth the same "crap" ?