In order to Discuss Islam and Anti-Semitism Candidly, France May Need a First Amendment

January 31, 2017 | Michel Gurfinkiel
About the author: Michel Gurfinkiel is the founder and president of the Jean-Jacques Rousseau Institute, a conservative think-tank in France, and a Shillman/Ginsburg Fellow at the Middle East Forum. His “You Only Live Twice,” on the contemporary situation of European Jews, appeared in Mosaic in August 2013.

France, unlike the U.S., offers no formal guarantees of its citizens’ right to freedom of speech, in part because this right is deeply ingrained in French politics and culture. But, argues Michel Gurfinkiel, two recent instances in which Jewish intellectuals were sued for writing about Islam suggests that this needs to change. Take, for example, the case of Georges Bensoussan:

Bensoussan, sixty-four, is a French academic of Moroccan-Jewish origin, specializing in the history of modern Judaism, anti-Semitism, and the Holocaust, and the author of several seminal books on these issues. . . . During a debate aired on France-Culture (France’s cultural government-run radio station) on October 15, 2015, Bensoussan remarked that anti-Semitism was deeply rooted in the family culture of French Muslims. [Paraphrasing the work of] an Algerian sociologist, Smaïn Laacher, . . . Bensoussan . . . used a colloquial French expression: “in Arab families, . . . anti-Semitism is being ingested with the mother’s milk.”

Many politically correct intellectuals or organizations charged Bensoussan of using “biological,” meaning inherently “racist,” vocabulary. Interestingly enough, no Muslim, North African, or anti-racist group formally sued Bensoussan in court. Chances are that lawyers warned about the paucity of the charges. However, one group, the Collective against Islamophobia in France (CCIF), “signaled” the matter to the public prosecutor’s office at the very last moment. And it is the public prosecutor’s office—which, under French law, belongs to the government’s judiciary branch—that resolved to prosecute Bensoussan. . . .

Bensoussan’s trial started on January 25. [The] French League for the Rights of Man, a venerable human-rights advocacy group that evolved over the years into a left-wing group, decided to join CCIF against Bensoussan. So did SOS Racisme, an anti-racist organization with strong ties to the French Socialist party founded in 1984. . . [M]aybe a French First Amendment will be a necessity after all.

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