In the week following the Paris shootings in January, French police arrested 54 people in a nationwide crackdown on racist “hate speech,” anti-Semitism and statements defending or threatening terrorism.
Among those detained by the state was French comedian Dieudonné, who allegedly made statements sympathetic to Amedy Coulibaly, said to be responsible for three of the shootings.
Exhibit A: this January 11 Facebook post (since deleted) in which Dieudonné wrote that he felt like “Charlie Coulibaly” – a combination of “Charlie Hebdo” and “Amedy Coulibaly.”
In a separate post he wrote an open letter to France’s PM Manuel Valls, pleading his case:
“Whenever I speak, you do not try to understand what I’m trying to say, you do not want to listen to me. You are looking for a pretext to forbid me. You consider me like Amedy Coulibaly when I am not any different from Charlie.”
Alas, the crime of nameplay is serious – in March, Dieudonné was found guilty by a Paris court of “apologising for terrorism,” for which he received a two-month suspended sentence.
PM Valls clearly didn’t get the message.
Earlier this month, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that freedom of speech does not protect “racist and anti-Semitic performances.” Judges rejected an appeal by Dieudonné, who was fined €10,000 in 2009 for giving a platform to a well known Holocaust denier at a show at the Zenith theatre in Paris.
Dieudonné argued the fine amounted to an infringement of his freedom of speech. Defending himself in court, he said his act was “very funny.” French prosecutors disagreed, ruling that it had “crossed very far over the line of what is acceptable in humour.”
Well, that clears that up.
By decree of an enlightened few in Strasbourg, Dieudonné’s taste-free brand of comedy has fallen outside the realm of otherwise free speech, neither “satire nor provocative” but “a demonstration of hate and anti-Semitism.” Today, he faces a two-month prison sentence for comments he made at a show in the Belgian city of Liège in 2012.
Is this what the French mean by “Je Suis Charlie?” Or have we pinned our ideals on just another meaningless slogan?