#JeSuisCharlie was never about freedom of expression

It was clear, by the moment that the leaders of the Western European powers had flauntingly joined with braced arms to march alongside representatives and heads of state of some of the world’s most explicitly oppressive regimes, that the Je Suis Charlie campaign was never really about freedom of expression. It was just another good ole political sham to justify anti-Muslim propaganda and the censorship of those ideas that the West deems outrageous.

It is only necessary to look at all the suppressive steps that the Western governments represented in that infamous march have taken since the Charlie Hebdo attacks to understand just how naive it is to even think that they were actually concerned with freedom of expression in the first place. Nonetheless, trying to go through the entire list of oppressive measures taken since January by all the Western governments represented in that caricature of a march for “freedom of speech” would prove to be a much more extensive enterprise than what this platform allows. So, for the purposes of brevity and concision, let’s just focus on the country that would appear to have the most vested interest in protecting free speech after 12 of its famed cartoonists were killed because they expressed themselves as they saw fit. I am referring of course to the birthplace of human rights and the land where Voltaire famously said “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to death your right to say it”: France.

Government logic: “How to honor our killed comedians? Let’s criminalize another comedian!”

Following the brutal and barbaric terrorist attacks that a group of violent individuals perpetrated as an attempt to censor the expression of views and images that they deemed to be the most nefariously monstrous of all, the French government dealt with the situation in perhaps the most laughably ironic way possible: they started doing everything in their power to do exactly what the terrorists that attacked Charlie Hebdo attempted to achieve, to censor those views that they deemed to be vilest of all. On March 14th, just 48 hours after hosting the big rally-like march for
“free speech”, the French government had reportedly opened up 54 criminal investigations on people who were allegedly defending or inciting terrorism (a number that went up to more than 70 people on January 25, and that has consistently risen since then). The most notorious of these
arrests was the one of Mr. Dieudonné M’bala, a comedian who, much like Charlie Hebdo, has a particular proclivity for controversy. This time, he got in trouble because of this simple declarative sentence he posted on his Facebook wall: “Tonight, as far as I am concerned, I feel like Charlie Coulibaly (one of the terrorists that attacked Charlie Hebdo).” A simple declarative sentence for which he was facing up to seven years in prison.

In the midst of the national shock and mass hysteria, the French government took that sentence to mean that Dieudonne was serving as an “apologist for terrorism.” While Dieudonné claimed he was just trying to express the fact that he is constantly vilified by the media as if he was a terrorist.

It is ridiculous to even think that Dieudonné was actually trying to condone terrorism as he posted that statement just after returning from a march against violent extremism, but even if he was in fact condoning the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, like the vast majority of the other arrested people,
the measure is incredibly extreme and hypocritical. Saying something like: “I think that the attacks on Charlie Hebdo were justified because the French government has been systematically killing and oppressing Arab people in its recent history” is exactly as awful as saying “I think that the
drone program is justified because we need to kill terrorists no matter if innocent people get caught up in the blast.” But of course France only criminalizes one of those opinions: the one they don’t agree with.

“Censoring the internet is only bad if Russia or China do it”

After the arrests, came the censorship of websites. On March 16th, France blocked five websites accused of supporting terrorism working under the frameworks of a law approved by Parliament on November 13th 2014, which basically allows the Ministry of Interior – among other things – to unilaterally block a website that defends, supports, condones, or incites to online terrorism (whatever that means) without absolutely any review by a judge or another agency. Yeah, much like how the Communist Party of China blocks any website that does not fit the state’s agenda.

“Terrorism is only cool when we do it”

In defense of the website blocking measures, Bernard Cazeneuve, the French Minister of Interior, said: “I make a distinction between freedom of expression and the spread of messages that serve to glorify terrorism. These hate messages are a crime.” Criminalize messages that glorify terrorism? Well then we’d have to start with all the NATO war mongers who publicly praised and hailed the Western coalition of air strikes in Lybia that directly killed 74 civilians in 2012 and helped bring the nation to the state of chaos and savagery it currently finds itself in. We’d have to criminalize anyone who publicly defended the Gaza strip massacre perpetrated by the Israeli government in 2014, whose death toll, by the Israel Defense Forces estimates, was about 1000 or so Palestinians, grand majority of which were civilians. Ah but we can’t do that now can we? No because that would mean that we’d have to arrest former President Nicolas Sarkozy who was among the first who hailed the airstrikes in Libya as a beacon for spreading democracy (one bomb at a time). We’d have to put the Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve himself on trial, for indirectly defending Israel’s massacre by putting a ban on pro-Palestinian protesters in Paris when they were trying to peacefully condemn Israel for its brutal genocide against the Palestinian people, which by the way made France the first country in the world to ban protests against Israeli action in Palestine.By that logic we’d have to criminalize virtually anyone who has actively supported, defended or condoned the war of terror perpetuated by the allegedly “more civilized” countries of the West.

“Express yourself, unless you are Muslim or do not agree with us”

And that’s the problem with these policies that criminalize any kind of speech: that they are most likely going to be used against people who express views that go against the state’s ideology or the state’s agenda. That is an ultimately dangerous slippery slope to step on, because as shown with the case of Dieudonné M’abala, these measures are also susceptible to be used against people who are not even trying to defend terrorism. That essentially gives the government a carte blanche to go after innocent people that the government dislikes, i.e minorities, i.e Muslims. With these measures, the French government is basically saying: “Yes, yes we do believe in freedom of speech absolutely… As long as you are polite, eat pork, and do not wear head scarves.” That is not freedom speech at all, that’s pure tyranny. A government that owes its own existence to a revolution that literally overthrew the powers of state oppression and made the world aware of the unyielding principle that is the freedom of a people to express themselves as they think, be it a good, a bad, a decent or indecent opinion, should indubitably, most definitively know better.

Written by Sebastian Jimenez

Avatar photo

Sebastian Jimenez was born and raised in the Dominican Republic, did his senior year of high school in Miami and is now a soon to be Sophomore in New York University studying Politics, Economics and Public Policy.