Free Speech 1, Islamophobia 0

(Illustrative photo: Jeremy Brooks/Creative Commons)

In a victory for free speech and a setback for Islamophobia lobbies and their appeasers, a French court rejected civil and criminal complaints filed against a French historian by an Islamist lobby group.

In 2016, the Committee Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF) filed complaints for incitement to racial hatred against Georges Bensoussan, an expert on 19th and 20th century European cultural history.

The complaint was motivated by a 2015 interview on Radio France, during which Bensoussan referred to a TV documentary by Algerian sociologist Smaïn Laacher whom he paraphrased as saying that “in Arab families in France… anti-Semitism is breast-fed to children.”

Laacher denied having uttered the words “breast-fed,” a term which Bensoussan was using as a metaphor to indicate that anti-Semitism was an attitude transmitted to children by their parents. In that sense, Bensoussan’s summary of Laacher’s viewpoint was true in a figurative, though not in a literal sense.

Here is the exact quotation by Saacher that Bensoussan was referring to:

“This anti-Semitism is already present in the household… and almost naturally deposited on the tongue… one of the insults that parents use against their children when they want to chastise them is to call them Jews… All Arab families know that. It is a monumental hypocrisy not to see that this anti-Semitism is primarily domestic…”

The second statement made by Bensoussan linked anti-Semitism to the growth of Islamic radicalism:

“Today we are in the presence of a population within the French nation who are causing a number of core democratic values to be rolled back… There will be no integration so long as we do not rid ourselves of this deep-rooted anti-Semitism that is shrouded in silence.”

The CCIF immediately seized this opportunity to attack Bensoussan, describing his statements as Islamophobic. They encouraged their supporters to complain to the CSA, the French media watchdog, and on December 15, 2016, the CSA issued a warning to Radio France describing Bensoussan’s statements as “likely to encourage discriminatory behavior.”

The trial took place at the Paris Criminal Court on January 25, 2017 and the judgement was handed down on March 7. Bensoussan was acquitted of all charges.

At the trial, a group of distinguished witnesses testified in favor of Bensoussan. Eminent philosopher Alain Finkielraut warned the judges that “an abusive anti-racism movement is asking the court to criminalize a legitimate concern, instead of combating what gave rise to that concern. If the court bows to that demand, it will be an intellectual and moral catastrophe.”

The attorney general asked the court to impose a €1500 fine on Bensoussan, but the judges rejected the demand. “The incriminated words of Bensoussan were uttered in a specific context, in the course of a heated discussion. The quotation from Smaîn Lacher is not rigorously accurate, but the idea expressed is practically identical to that formulated by Georges Bensoussan. Above all, the crime of provoking hatred, violence or discrimination presupposes an intentional element.”

The judgement goes on to say that Bensoussan deplored the existence of two populations in France and, far from calling for the rejection, banishment or eradication of the group of people presumed to have seceded, pleaded instead for its re-integration into the French nation.

Since the accused rejected any idea of fatality or essentialization, he could not be taxed with trying to provoke feelings of hostility or rejection against Muslims, let alone the commission of specific actions against them. In conclusion, the court rejected as unfounded the claim of the CCIF to be an injured party to the proceedings.

This judgement is a resounding victory for free speech and a setback for the Islamophobia lobbies and their spineless appeasers.

Leslie Shaw is an Associate Professor at the Paris campus of ESCP Europe Business School and President of FIRM (Forum on Islamic Radicalism and Management).