from the all-mixed-up dept
We're going to have to repeat this until the point sinks in: advocates of free speech don't get to pick and choose what speech is free based on whether that speech is likable or not. It might seem cruel to continue hammering France in particular on this point, given their most recent experience with Islamic extremists using terror tactics to try to silence protected parody, but the point will be made, cruel or not. The wake of the attacks on a satirical magazine saw many in the world come to France's aid in solidarity behind the ability to speak freely and offensively, even as France also arrested a controversial comedian for his speech and Paris announced it would file suit against Fox News for their very-Fox-News-y claims about so-called "no-go Muslim" areas in the city. Those types of actions don't necessarily negate the solidarity the world showed our European neighbors, but it sure doesn't help.
And it gets more problematic with each new example of France's hypocrisy when it comes to free and open speech. The most recent example is a French court convicting three assholes for spewing homophobic crap on Twitter.
A French court has handed out convictions for anti-gay hate crimes on Twitter for the first time, after three people used the hashtag “let’s burn the gays”. In what a major French LGBT rights group called a “significant victory”, three people were convicted in a Paris court this week after they accompanied tweets with hashtags including “let’s burn the gays on...“ or "#brûlonslesgayssurdu).” During the same period in August 2013, “#Lesgaysdoiventdisparaîtrecar”, or “gays must die because...”, was also trending.Here's where proponents of free speech get put to the test and too often fail on the merits. It's quite easy to pat ourselves on the back in the West by saying that a political magazine should enjoy the freedom to mock a world religion, because that lines up nicely with secular values. Far more challenging is saying that homophobic idiots who aren't actually inciting real-life violence should be allowed to spew bigotry, because that doesn't line up with most of our values. It's more difficult. Too bad, do it anyway. Because if we're really going to claim that a stupid hashtag is grounds for conviction, someone had damned well better be scouring Twitter in the days following the terrorist attack and arresting anyone who called for violence against Muslims. Who wants to actually bet that such sentiments weren't expressed? Either speech is free, or it isn't. There's no middle ground.
And that's a lesson that my friends in French LGBT organizations probably want to learn pretty quickly, because while acceptance is more in vogue now than ever before, that can change over time.
Yohann Roszewitch, president of SOS Homophobie, an LGBT association which also reports on homophobic tweets, told the website: "We’re positive that this will send out the message that the internet is not a place with no rules where you can do whatever you want."Yohann, the thought experiment you want to be doing right now is to ask yourself why those words can't be expressed against your group should those that don't like you find themselves in power in the future. "We've arrested several homosexuals for espousing their dangerous thoughts on Twitter in order to send a message to other homosexuals that they aren't allowed to speak freely." It's a statement that probably couldn't be made in France today, but progress isn't made with nary a step backwards. The best defense of a group's freedom to speak openly is the defense of everyone's freedom to do so. Please learn this lesson already, France.