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?)