September 24, 2023

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French scholar who pointed out Muslim antisemitism prosecuted for "hate speech"

This is surreal. From JTA:

One of the world’s leading historians on the Jewish communities in Arab countries is being prosecuted in France for alleged hate speech against Muslims.

The Morocco-born French-Jewish scholar Georges Bensoussan, 64, is due to appear next month before a Paris criminal court over a complaint filed against him for incitement to racial hatred by the Collective Against Islamophobia in France, the group recently announced on its website.

The complaint, which leading French scholars dismissed as attempt at “intimidation” in a statement Friday, was over remarks about anti-Semitism by Muslims that Bensoussan, author of a definitive 2012 work entitled “Jews in Arab Lands,” made last year during an interview aired by the France Culture radio station, the Collective said.

The Collective based its complaint on two remarks by Bensoussan.

“Today, we are witnessing a different people in the midst of the French nation, who are effecting a return on a certain number of democratic values to which we adhere,” read the first quote flagged.

The second quote cited read: “This visceral anti-Semitism proven by the Fondapol survey by Dominique Reynié last year cannot remain under a cover of silence.” Conducted in 2014 among 1,580 French respondents, of whom one third were Muslim, the survey found that they were two times and even three times more anti-Jewish than French people as a whole.

“Besides, with the animosity toward the French nation, there will be no integration as long as we will not be rid of this ancestral anti-Semitism that is kept secret (…) as an Algerian sociologist, Smain Laacher, very bravely said in a film that will be aired on France 3, ‘it’s disgraceful to keep in place this taboo, knowing that in Arab families in France and beyond everybody knows but will not say that anti-Semitism is transmitted with mother’s milk,” the quote continued.

Neither of those quotes are anything close to hate speech.

But people who want to shut down free speech in France have a powerful weapon:

[H]ate-speech indictments are “quasi-automatic” in France when police receive complaints of defamation, according to the L’Express news website.

So anyone can prosecute anything that they consider offensive. This absurd rule is completely incompatible with free speech. Hate speech indeed should be prosecuted, but a system needs to exist to vet the complaints in order to stop its abuse, which is clearly the case here.

The criteria should not be difficult to create: Hate speech encourages hate actions. No one is going to attack Muslims because an intellectual notes that Arabs generally hold antisemitic views or that their cultural influence on France is at odds with traditional French values.

Three prominent French thinkers, Jacques Tarnero, Yves Ternon and Michel Zaoui,  issued a strong condemnation:

These approaches are now part of a strategy of intimidation aimed at the censorship of all lucid speech, of all critical expression. The new thought police seeks to use the weapons of democracy to constrain it. That they are adorned with the feathers of the antiracism does not change the case. The accusation of “Islamophobia”, equated with a racist discourse, is itself part of a strategy of deviating from the meaning of words aimed at disqualifying any lucid analysis of the present situation.

Let us not deceive ourselves: today we are facing an all-out attack aimed at setting up cultural and political norms foreign to democracy and the spirit of the Enlightenment in the French and European landscape. This model seeks to act against our historical cultural order . This strategy is in line with the other aggressions which France and Europe have been the victim of for a number of years. This cultural terrorism complements the physical, murderous terrorism.

The trial is set for January 25.

(h/t Ronald)

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