France is jailing people for the crime of irony

charlie-hebdo-cest-de-la-merdeA 16-year-old French high school student was taken into custody last Thursday for posting a cartoon on his Facebook page “representing a person holding the magazine Charlie Hebdo, being hit by bullets and accompanied by an ‘ironic’ comment.”

French newspapers haven’t reprinted the cartoon, but the description fits the cartoon above, which was taken from the Facebook page of the French comedian Dieudonne.  He has been arrested meanwhile for a different comment he made on his Facebook page.

The caption reads “Charlie Hebdo is crap.  It doesn’t stop bullets.”

The irony in the cartoon is that the Charlie Hebdo magazine is the July, 2013, issue, whose cover mocks Egyptian protesters who were killed in Cairo.  The Hebdo cover caption reads “The Koran is crap.  It doesn’t stop bullets.”


I think mocking the victims of murder is in bad taste in both cases, but bad taste shouldn’t be a crime.  I can’t think of any principle that forbids the one cartoon and tolerates the other.

In France, there are fences around free speech.  It is illegal to deny that the Nazi Holocaust of the Jews occurred or that the Turkish massacre of the Armenians occurred.  It is illegal to incite racial hatred or to glorify terrorism.

Anti-semitism is considered a form of racial hatred, I suppose because Jews are an ethnic group as well as a religion.

A Charlie Hebdo staff member, Maurice Sinet, was fired in 2009 for mocking Jean Sarkozy, the son of France’s president, who was rumored (falsely) to be converting to Judaism after marrying a wealthy Jewish heiress.  Sinet also was charged with “inciting racial hatred.”  He was acquitted of that charge and also won damages for wrongful dismissal.

But blasphemy is permitted, so attacks on Christians and Muslims are all right, as are attacks on French politicians and bankers.

I don’t think that the peaceful expression of any opinion should be suppressed by the government.  Forbidding people to deny that the Holocaust occurred, for example, will only make people wonder what facts the government is afraid to let them learn.  The best cure for falsehood is truth, and that can best be accomplished be free and open debate.


France begins jailing people for making ironic comments by Ali Abudimah for the Electronic Intifada.  This is where I found the cartoons.

Who’s a Charlie?  France cracks down on free speech in order to defend it by Ali Abudimah for the Electronic Intifada.

Paris unity march: Which world leaders are really committed to press freedom? by Peter Walker, Gary Blight, Armil Hecimovic and Jo Blas for The Guardian.

The Long History of Satire in the Middle East by Samar Tamar Seeman for Pacific Standard.

Lost in Translation: Charlie Hebdo, free speech and the unilingual left by Leigh Phillips for Ricochet.

Charlie Hebdo: “Je suis white people” by Margaret Kimberly for the Black Agenda Report.

Je suis Juif: An American Jew in France on the terrorist attacks by M. Expat for naked capitalism.

 Je suis americaine by Thoreau for Unqualified Offerings.


It shouldn’t be necessary to add this, but nothing I write should be taken to justify or excuse the Charlie Hebdo murders.  Two wrongs don’t make a right, and the pot does have a right to call the kettle black.

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One Response to “France is jailing people for the crime of irony”

  1. Vincent Says:

    Yes, if you live amongst devout Muslims, as I do, you’re careful what you say or write. They can be touchy, and word gets around. As for holocaust denial, various types of “-phobia” etc, the idea is that thuggish persons will feel encouraged to attack synagogues and so on.

    I believe we have here a law against hate speech. A few years ago in our market square, one of those half-crazy street preachers was arrested and held for several hours. Waving the Bible, he had proclaimed its authority that homosexuality is an abomination, and a mischievous member of the public had “taken offence”.

    Absurd, but much of today’s concern for avoiding offence, and regulations for health and safety, is to avoid lawsuits or possible violence.

    Speech ought to be respectful except against egregious evil. I’m grateful to still have freedom of thought.

    Liked by 1 person

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