Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Policing Speech

The French crackdown on the crime of "apology for terrorism" has netted not only Dieudonné but an 8-yr-old boy who said "I'm with the terrorists." But when asked by the police to define terrorism, he said he didn't know. Clearly, the police protocols need some tweaking.


M. P. said...

I'd rather say this one law needs urgent scrapping! It's surreal to be jailing people (children, teenagers, drunkards, idiots) for words 2 weeks after the Charlie Hebdo massacre...

Anonymous said...

French kids can't be jailed until they're 16. He was likely taken to the police office.
Some French police officers recruited under "old" criteria were only required to have completed 9th grade, for instance. SO, not necessarily the most subtle and well-versed in nuances, context, etc.
Could also be an overzealous teacher... or parent!

Look at this, too:
(Teacher denies he even was at the "minute de silence" that he's accused of having disturbed)

I find it interesting that these incidents center on schools - where did the others take place?

Mitch Guthman said...

As I understood the article, the police brought the boy and his father before what I took to be some kind of court. In any case, it seems obvious thst none of these people has the common sense of a jackass. I don't know who is running this police department but he or she needs to be reassigned to something less intellectually demanding like writing parking tickets.

brent said...

What an odd thing: 4 million French congratulate themselves as they take to the street for "free speech." Meanwhile their government passes, and now aggressively enforces the "apologie du terrorisme" law, which specifically restricts debate on a crucial set of current issues, particularly those regarding Islam and the West. If 'justifying terrorism' is criminal behavior, then explaining it or understanding it can't be far behind, and questioning the government's efforts to suppress it will probably get you prison time as well.

Inciting or threatening violence (as opposed to justifying or contextualizing it) is criminal behavior that threatens the civil order. Telling a teenager that he can't express his resentment of Charlie Hebdo's tasteless, often racist and offensive sallies without risking the law makes a mockery of those strident Republican values the French think they are defending.

bernard said...

Clearly, your post needs some tweaking as you are apparently only partly informed.

8 year old children usually tend to repeat what they hear at home, which they may sometimes understand or more often don't understand.

It appears that the father was initially asked to come for a talk with the head of the school, whereby he threatened the head of school. In fact, the head of the school has as a result initiated legal proceedings against this father due to the threats. It is then entirely normal that the police would hear both the father and the son, although of course unlike in the USA where children of any age can and will be convicted (and tasered), in France an 8 year old cannot be convicted of anything, only be subjected to special education measures - this one is for those Americans who ignore both what happens everyday in the USA and are so prompt to shout tyranny where France is concerned. Contrary to all expectations, France is and remains a civilised country, having invented human rights.

In fact, the Education Minister has just given her whole support to local authorities in this matter. Given her name, Najat Vallaud Belkacem, one may surmise that she is not some racist red-neck and one might therefore suspect that there is a little bit more to this than has been reported on the basis of what the family lawyer said. Unfortunately of course, French law forbids releasing information regarding young children.

In other news related to this same family but totally unrelated to this affair, it coincidentally happens that two siblings, aged 3 and 4, are in the process of being placed under the department for the protection of children, something that usually only happens when children are victims of serious domestic violence.

This family may not be the wholly innocent victims of a police state as portrayed by their lawyer (he is doing his job quite effectively it seems.

Art Goldhammer said...

Yes, Bernard, I read that report in Le Monde too, but only after reading the Rue89 story I linked to, which was all I knew at the time. Am I irritating you for some reason? Your comments seem a little peevish of late.

Mitch Guthman said...


I had not seen the Le Monde article and became aware of it only after reading your and Art’s comments. I agree the additional background is significant and I thank you for directing attention to it.

Nevertheless, it does not change my opinion that the action against this child was a serious error in judgment by the authorities. Nothing in the Le Monde article justifies taking an 8-year old child before a court for writing that he “supports” Islamist killers. I do not see how dragging this boy before some kind of court will help him in any way. It isn’t likely to change his mind about what he hears at home, either.

If it is the case that the father had a confrontation with the teacher and others at the school, yes, that’s clearly a matter for the law. Likewise, if these parents are bad parents and are endangering their children, that’s certainly a matter for the State. But whatever the father’s sins may be, they shouldn’t be visited upon his child.

As for Najat Vallaud Belkacem’s expressions of support, I understand that she thinks the local authorities acted correctly but I have no idea why she thinks so. Again, even if there’s an issue with the boy’s father, I don’t see how this justifies acting against the boy in any way and Mme. Vallaud-Belkacem makes no effort to justify the action on the merits; she simply is saying that she generally supports the authorities.

bernard said...


You carry a lot of intellectual influence in the USA, rightly so. It is thus even more important to be careful in this kind of quick reporting and to apply some rules of thumb:

1. sensational "news" are, well, sensational;
2. France is not a police state, neither will it become one; Incidentally for Mitch, that child was not of course brought to some court, neither will he be. He was simply interviewed, most likely by an officer specialised in hearing young children, not some jackboot wearing madman.
3. Surprise, surprise, general hostility against Islam has fallen significantly for the past two years, by a whopping 20 points since 2012. And the latest survey was run after the early January attacks. Coincidentally, Sarkozy is not president since 2012, Hollande is;
4. Hollande's economic policies can be criticised, and in fact I myself have my doubts although I support this government.
5. There is no basis however to criticise his national security policies which have been essentially correct and supportive of democracy and human rights. Thus it is unfair to suspect him of planning to alter these policies and reduce liberties in France (and I get peeved when you appear to do so). Another rule of thumb: people aged 60 rarely change profoundly.

Now, I tend to comment brutally, apologies for that. But that is because your blog is so interesting and thoughtful most of the time. And influential. Cheers.

Art Goldhammer said...

Bernard, I try to represent France fairly, and I take your point about reacting too quickly to "sensational" news. I'm an academic blogger, which means that I try to bring some perspective to the news, but I also report the news. I would have reported the story of the child's interrogation differently if I had waited. On the other hand, I think most of readers can be trusted to know that France is not a police state. Neither is the United States, but in the wake of the terror attacks here we became overzealous. Perhaps I, too, have become overzealous in seeking signs of a similar overreaction in France. There are more than a few of them, most of which I ignore because it's too early to differentiate between short-term overreacting and long-term changes of policy. Unlike Mitch, I think that if the facts as reported by Le Monde are accurate, the police were warranted in questioning the child's father. I'm not sure that Le Monde's version, which is the official version, is any more objective than the parents' lawyer's version, but we can wait to sort things out. On the whole, I think Hollande and Valls have been fairly restrained, while Sarkozy is pushing for more securitization, but he's a candidate, not the president, so we make allowances for exaggeration. The post-terror discussion in France has been quite robust and, I think, healthy. One thing it reveals is that the integration of Muslims is making progress, as you note. I also think that Valls' "apartheid" remark has galvanized fresh concern about the remaining social question. I hope it will soon lead to concrete action.

Mitch Guthman said...


Yes, the convoqué was by the police but makes me feel even more uncomfortable than if that’d dragged him before a magistrate. Thinking about it, making the boy come to a police station to be confronted by armed representatives of the State does not improve the situation. Quite the contrary.

Children don’t belong in police stations. I’ve spent enough time in such places to know that they can be very scary to a child. It doesn’t matter who interviews him—he was forced to come to a police station because he said something that offended these people with guns and power. Surely this cannot have been a positive experience for a child and it was petty and absurd to force him to endure to it.

So, to begin with, what was the point of dragging a 8-year boy to a convoqué with the police? Why was it necessary to interview him at all? The police are in the business of investigating and preventing crimes. In what sense, could the police have been legitimately investigating a threat emanating from this boy? And, one might ask, what crime was it that they were investigating?

Then, too, I would be grateful if Mme Vallaud-Belkacem could explain how giving this child an early start on a lifetime of humiliating and pointless identity checks and petty confrontations with the police (contrôle au faciès) help to integrate him into French society? Or to contract this negative view of France that he evidently gets at home? Involving the police in such a matter trivializes the situation that confronts France and makes the State look silly.

Interviewing this boy was a mistake. Refusing to acknowledge that obvious point is an even bigger mistake.

FrédéricLN said...

Hello, I read the post on 29th likely, and did not even jump to comments, as I found the post was perfect and needed no additional word.

Now I read some serious discussion… Dear friends! Maybe there IS an issue with the child, and maybe with the family, and maybe the teachers have difficulties to handle him. I read (did not double check) he was type I diabetic — you need to be strong to handle that at 8.

Maybe there is an issue, ok, but I would not consider the police as the appropriate institution to deal with this issue. It is just not about terrorism.

Anonymous said...

@FrédéricLN The education minister herself made very clear in a radio interview (where she strongly backed the school principal) that the police had been called by the school because the boy's father had become violent and abusive on the premises. Police took them both off to get to the bottom of the boy's remarks. The school has also called-in social services over fears of parental maltreatment of the boy and his kin. The father, a Muslim immigrant, was said to speak very poor or no French.

FrédéricLN said...

@Anonymous : "Police took them both off" … and asked the little boy, all sources confirm.

And here is the case of another boy, 9 years old, also heard by the police (with his father), not after a report by teachers or professionals, but after a report by another child. And the report is about him saying "God is great", in Arabic ;-), during the "minute de silence" at school restaurant…

This does sound much more like Orwell's "1984", as like fighting against islamist terror networks.

Sure, it's not the way France as a whole handles the terrorist threat. But it looks to me like fever blisters at some point of our society.