Now Who Should We Root For?

The Guardian has an interesting piece on the war of words between the French rap group Sniper and French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy:

A rap song which calls on fans to “screw France” and “exterminate” government ministers has so enraged the interior minister that he has threatened to take legal action against the band responsible.

But the group, Sniper, has responded in kind, threatening to sue Nicolas Sarkozy for defamation for calling them racist and anti-semitic.

I’ve listened to their “work” (and I use the term loosely), and there’s plenty of reason to believe they are racist and anti-Semitic. They are certainly disgusting, advocating the murder, rioting, and hatred of Jews. As the article continues:

Critics have denounced their music as anti-women, anti-French, anti-European, anti-semitic and anti-police. The lyrics of La France, a tirade against the inequalities of French society, triggered Mr Sarkozy’s anger. The song describes France as a “bitch”, and suggests that the only way for disaffected young people with “hatred running in their arteries” to get their voices heard is to go out and start “burning cars”.

Another song on the band’s latest album Stone Throwers attacks the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians and suggests that “carnage” is a logical response to destruction of homes.

However, the French government is hardly worthy of praise either, especially Sarkozy:

This year Mr Sarkozy pushed through a bill which made “offending the dignity of the republic” an imprisonable offence

Think of the ramifications of that. In France it is illegal to criticize the government. Sarkozy is also the one largely responsible for the French government’s censorship of Yahoo!’s auctions and news groups in France. Yet the French think we live in a police state. The French Constitution does not have an analogue to the First Amendment which protects freedom of speech. The Napoleanic Code of laws used in France does not have basic protections like habeas corpus that have existed in the US Constitution from the beginning. France hasn’t necessarily become a police state, but it is hardly a bastion of free speech. It’s somewhat hypocritical to read the French press criticize the Bush Administration for the PATRIOT Act when the French government has a system that does not have the same fundamental protections against government excess as the United States.

In the United States, there are plenty of people who have disgusting and morally reprehensible ideas but are not censored. From the Klu Klux Klan to Michael Moore, anyone who doesn’t create a clear and present danger to public safety can speak freely. There’s no law that states that speech that is “offending the dignity of the republic” is a prosecutable offense. While people have been criticized for saying stupid things (see the Dixie Chicks), they haven’t gone to jail from it. Usually they’ve made a large amount of money and getting free publicity in the process. Some, (see Noam Chomsky) have made a career out of slandering the US for years. If anyone tried to pass such a law in this country they’d be thrown out of office.

The fact is while Sniper is a group of anti-Semitic and terrorist-supporting slimeballs, a free society should not be threatening people with jail for speech, even if it’s disgusting speech. On the other hand, Sarkozy is right that threatening violence against government ministers is unacceptable and reprehensible.

Some days you just don’t know who to root for.

(As a sidenote, if “offending the dignity of the republic” is illegal, why haven’t Jacques Chirac and Dominique de Villepin been arrested yet?)

6 thoughts on “Now Who Should We Root For?

  1. With what’s going on with the Patriot Act these days, are we really that far from the things you’re saying “never gonna happen”? Perhaps you’re right that public outrage would reach critical mass in this country more than France if the Bush-Ashcroft team push things too far, but the voices have been alarmingly restrained thus far.

  2. French Rappers are often the source of trouble. Supreme NTM (consisting of the portugese Kool Shen and cape verdean Joey Starr) spent time in jail for hate speech after using lyrics calling for the murder of police officers at a concert a week after a female paris police officer was brutally gangraped by north and west african youths on a metro train. On the other hand the likes of MC Solaar (senegalese origin), Akhenaton (italian origin), Menelik (cameroonian origin), Passi (congolese origin) and Stomy Bugsy (martinique) have been fairly positive social artists and quite creative. I respect French Rap and R&B for its sheer number of artists (over 100 professionals- makes it the largest rap movement outside the united states). It does however mainly represent France’s West African and West Indian communities as Arab and ethnic minority european rappers (italians, portugese, etc) are becoming more rare. In such it is not the unitng voice of the suburban youth it once was, but tends to be more a voice of France’s 3-5% black population. I can’t think of that many prominent Arab rappers outside Fonky Family (Les Princes de La Ville, Sat and Rocca are not nearly as mainstream). I guess my point is that Sniper is not indicative of mainstream French Rap, and that as such while I condemn them, I am not willing to side against the French Rap movement as a whole (I would have to throw out one/fourth of my CD’s).

  3. Yeah Jay, you are totally right my friend. Mr Sarkozy is just a fascist, and all the laws he recently passed to counter-attack the extrem-right movement in France have only one goal: get their voices back in the moderate right-wing party for the next election. While part of the population feel released that sanctions are taken against young immigrants raping cops, I think that he just forgot about democracy, and that while punishing these kids is logical, the new laws against prostitution, drugs and cars control are going way too far. Data and privacy protection are worth nothing if the police is looking for you. But sometimes, the police is looking for you only because some big corporate interest says so (P2P for example!)

    After saying that, you must know 2 other things about our beloved minister:
    -After being the first fan of Chirac for 15 years, he betrayed him two months before the elections in 1995 because Mr Balladur had better chances to win. That tells you a lot about his morality(he got locked in a closet 4 years!!)
    -he never said anything on the Irak War because…he strongly admires and supports Bush!!

    So if you’re wondering where does Nicolas Sarkozy find all these unbelievable ideas to kill democracy, look at the White House!

  4. O/T, but this is almost (though not quite) as ironic as the fact that the US is insisting on a huge part of central London being closed down during Bush’s visit, since we broke away from Great Britain because they were hindering the exercise of our rights to such things as, oh, I dunno…speech and assembly.

    Interesting side note: the term being used by both American and British officials to describe the proposed area to be closed in London is “exclusionary zone,” though it is in no way different from what we Orwellianly call a “First Amendment zone.” That ACLU lawsuit is looking stronger by the minute.

  5. Nikolas Sarkozy is one hardline hungarian (well of hungarian origin). I am not sure that banning “passive soliciting,” loitering in stairwells and booing the national anthem at soccer games is what France needs to get tough on law and order. Instead focus on how to deal with Corsican Nationalist and Loyalist terror groups, Breton terror groups, and ETA’s presence in the French Baque region. After recent links were exposed between a Breton Nationalist group and the Real IRA, I think we see that France has a growing problem with extremism amongst its cultural minorities.

  6. I don’t know French, so I don’t know about racism, anti-Semitism or cop-killin’, but the stuff has nice production and a wicked beat. And the rappers have nice flow, too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.