Terror-Struck: Freedom of Expression in France

Pierre Auriel et Charles Girard ont publié un billet intitulé  » Terror-Struck: Freedom of Expression in France​ » dans le Verfassungsblog.


Extrait de l’article : 

9/11 made a deep impression on French public opinion, altering perceptions of the threat of terrorism and the vulnerability of democracy. It was primarily, though, the jihadist attacks within the country in the 2010s that put freedom of expression to the test in France. Whether they were indiscriminate attacks on anonymous crowds – the simultaneous attacks in Paris and Saint-Denis on 13 November 2015; the lorry attack in Nice on 14 July 2016 – or murders targeting people because of their religion – pupils at Jewish schools in Toulouse in March 2012; customers in a Jewish supermarket in Paris on 9 January 2015; a priest in Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray in July 2016 – or of their function – soldiers and police officers on several occasions –, these events led to the enactment of anti-terrorism legislation that has redefined the balance between security and civil liberties, including freedom of expression.

Some attacks actually involved freedom of expression very directly: the massacre on 7 January 2015 at the editorial offices of the magazine Charlie Hebdo (which had published cartoons of the prophet Muhammad), or the beheading of teacher Samuel Paty in the middle of the street on 16 October 2020 (who had shown some of those cartoons to his pupils), were both presented by the perpetrators as reprisals to punish blasphemers. Coming as part of a long string of targeted killings worldwide that began with the fatwa against Salman Rushdie in 1989, these murders prompted new forms of self-censorship and revived controversies about the limits of freedom of expression in religious matters. The great emotional reaction stirred by these crimes was also exploited for political gain, with the defence of freedom of expression being hijacked by politicians in a paradoxical attempt to silence their opponents.

First-hand experience of jihadist terrorism has therefore summoned up a treble danger for freedom of expression: restrictions are advocated for the purposes of bolstering public safety, of avoiding causing offence to religious beliefs, and even of defending freedom of expression itself.