Remember Monty Python’s satirical film, Life of Brian, in which they poked fun at Christianity? It was hilarious. The year was 1979. Fast forward to 2013 and Monty Python actor, Michael Palin: “Religious sensitivities have increased so much since my comedy days that it would now be impossible to make Life of Brian in which we satirized the life of Jesus.”
In 1979 they poked fun at everyone from the Establishment to Christianity. But thanks to the threat of “heavily armed fanatics”, Palin admits there is one comedy taboo he is too scared to break: Islam.
“We all saw what happened to Salman Rushdie and none of us want to get into that. There are people out there without a sense of humour and they’re heavily armed. You can’t parody Islam.” In 1989, Mr Rushdie was forced into hiding after the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa calling for him to be killed in revenge for his novel, The Satanic Verses.
The right to blasphemy and the Mila affair
“God does not exist.” In France, this sentence can be said without running the risk of death or imprisonment. An individual can even go further and disrespect religion in general or one in particular. The offense of blasphemy, which existed until the Revolution, was abolished throughout the country in 1881 (except for the Alsace and Moselle regions, I have no idea why.)
The Mila affair is a French media and judicial case, relating to freedom of speech, Islam and cyberbullying.
In January 2020, “Mila”, a 16-year-old female singer in Eastern France made a live-stream with followers and talked with them about their love life and other topics. A man hit on her inappropriately and she rejected him. The man responded with a series of misogynistic and homophobic insults in the name of “Allah”, including “dirty whore”, “dirty lesbian” and “dirty racist”. Mila later made a story (available for 24 hours) on social media stating that “there’s nothing but hate in the Quran. Islam is shit.” The video was copied and widely shared on social media.
After her video clip went viral, she received over 100,000 hate messages, including death and rape threats, edited videos of her being hurt in various ways; the haters also published the address of her school. She and her family were consequently forced to live under 24-hour police protection as per the decision of France’s interior minister.
This sparked a nationwide debate on the freedom of expression and the right to blaspheme (definition: to say something offensive, specifically towards a religion.) Blasphemy is not criminalized in France, and the initial police investigation against the girl’s online comments was found to be without merit.
A month later, President Emmanuel Macron had to wade into the brouhaha and defend the 16 year old girl’s right of freedom of speech.
“In our country, freedom of expression is protected. In this country, and there are few in the world, the freedom to blasphemy is protected, as is the freedom to criticize, and that is a treasure.”
Jean-Luc Mélenchon, another politician on the left, stated that “In this country, we don’t threaten to kill people because they have an opinion we don’t like.”
However Abdallah Z., an executive officer of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, said “You reap what you sow” and that Mila had to “Bear the consequences of what she said.”
Of course we can criticize religion, but not the religion of Islam. Soooo…how tolerant does that make it?
According to Islamic law, mocking, disparaging or criticizing the Prophet and/or the Quran is an intolerable crime. The punishment for blasphemy in Muslim-majority countries is death by hanging or beheading, imprisonment, flogging, stoning or, if you’re lucky, a fine.
Apostasy (renouncing or leaving one’s religion) is also a crime.
Why am I blogging this?
The beheading of Samuel Paty
Two days ago, on Friday October 15, most schools throughout France observed a minute of silence in remembrance of Samuel Paty, a teacher whose attempt to illustrate free speech to his students led to his beheading a year ago by an Islamist fanatic, an 18-year-old Chechen named Abdouallakh Anzorov.
A salient point that stands out for me is that France granted asylum to the Anzorov family. Persecuted in their native Chechnya, they sought refuge in France (and received it.)
Social media and Facebook also played a role in Paty’s death.
It was revealed that a girl who was allegedly in Paty’s class told her father a false version of what had taken place in the class and prompted the online frenzy that led to Paty’s grisly murder. She later admitted to not being in the class at all. But the girl’s father, with the help of a radical imam, filed a legal complaint against the teacher anyway and began a social media hate campaign based on his daughter’s false account. He identified Paty and the school in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, west of Paris.
The false story became a cause celèbre on radical Islamic sites on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and school parents received as many as 10 messages day, some from Algeria and other Islamic countries, calling Mr Paty a “criminal”, a “thug” and a “paedophile” and demanding that he should be sacked.
Abdouallakh Anzorov, the young Chechen — who was in communication with a jihadist in Syria — caught wind of this and decided to get his hands on a cleaver and murder Paty. He decapitated him in the street near the school.
Emmanuel Macron paid homage to Paty saying that the teacher had been slain for representing the secular, democratic values of the French Republic.
“Islamists want to take our future,” Macron said. “They will never have it.”