Au Revoir Freedom, Bonjour Hatred
Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states that:
"Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."
Similarly, Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) states:
1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.
2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.
3. The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:
(a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others;
(b) For the protection of national security or of public order, or of public health or morals.
France voted in favour of the UDHR along with 47 other nations back in 1948 and ratified the ICCPR in 1980. So why, then, did France recently ban Muslims in France from protesting peacefully against both the anti-Islamic film, 'The Innocence of Muslims' and offensive cartoons published by satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo?
Similar protests took place not far from France, here in the UK, around 1,000 protestors staged a protest right outside the US embassy in opposition to 'The Innocence of Muslims'. Surely if the Brits can allow and manage a protest of that size the French can too?
The idea of a limit on freedom of expression or speech, is not the issue here either. If France can respect Charlie Hebdo’s right to freedom of expression, it should ensure parity by respecting the rights of those wanting to protest against Charlie Hebdo too.
The contradiction is clear for all to see, whilst the French state actively defended Charlie Hebdo’s right to publish the cartoons by citing freedoms of expression and press were fundamental rights of Charlie Hebdo’s, the French contradict themselves by then denying French-Muslim protestors their fundamental right of freedom of expression by threatening them with imprisonment and/or a fine, in the case of protest. A bizarre case of double-standards.
The move by the French resulted in unrest in other countries directed towards its embassies and other facilities, forcing them to close and bringing in added security – all which could have been avoided had they respected the rights of French-Muslims to free expression. (Though that is not to justify the acts of aggression.)
And to those who defend Charlie Hebdo’s right to an unhindered freedom of expression should understand that freedom of expression is not one which is absolute. France are signatories to the ICCPR which clearly states that, “The exercise of the rights provided for…carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary: (a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others.”
If the freedom was absolute then no so called 'extremists' would go to prison for inciting others to go for violent Jihad either here or abroad. There would be no restriction on the far-right using racist terms to instil fear into ethnic communities or to gain votes. And there would be no ban on hate speech directed towards gay people. An unhindered freedom of expression serves nobody.
A further result of the French move to ban French-Muslim protestors allows Charlie Hebdo and others the opportunity to offend with virtual impunity. Selectively applying the fundamental right to free expression can only have negative consequences in the long run and shouldn’t be the behaviour of a mature liberal democracy.