“I may disagree with what you have to say, but I shall defend to the death your right to say it.”
That maxim attributed to Voltaire was among those most invoked by the marching millions in Sunday’s mammoth “Je Suis Charlie” rally in Paris.
This week, in the spirit of Voltaire, French authorities arrested and charged Cameroonian comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala and 54 others with “hate speech.” Dieudonne’s crime? He tweeted, “I am Charlie Coulibaly,” the last name of the killer of four innocent Jews in a kosher market.
And what are now the limits of free speech in France?
Prime Minister Manuel Valls lists four. “There is a fundamental difference between the freedom to be impertinent and anti-Semitism, racism, glorification of terrorist acts and Holocaust denial, all of which are crimes, that justice should punish with the most severity.”
With regard to the “glorification of terrorist acts,” Menachem Begin, Nelson Mandela and Yasser Arafat all were credibly charged with acts of terrorism in their liberation struggles. All three won the Nobel Prize for Peace.
Even before the Paris march, Valls had declared “war against terrorism, against jihadism, against radical Islam, against everything that is aimed at breaking fraternity, freedom, solidarity.”
But does not the renewed publication of cartoons that insult the Prophet Muhammad undermine the fraternity and solidarity of French Muslims? Has Charlie Hebdo really helped to unite the West and the Islamic world in the “war … against jihadism, against radical Islam”? Or has it divided us?
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, our ally who ousted the Muslim Brotherhood, killed hundreds and imprisoned thousands, just issued a decree allowing him to ban foreign publications offensive to Islam. Why might President Sissi regard Charlie Hebdo as toxic?
According to a 2013 Pew Poll, 80 percent of Egyptians favor the stoning of adulterers and 88 percent approve the death penalty for apostates. The figures are comparable for Afghanistan, Pakistan, Jordan and the Palestinian territories.
What do these polls tell us?
First, if we insist that freedom of the press means standing behind the blasphemies of Charlie Hebdo, we should anticipate the hatred and hostility of majorities in the Islamic world to whom faith and family are everything — and our First Amendment is nothing.
Second, the idea that by sending armies of Americans into that part of the world for a decade or two, we could convert these peoples — steeped in a 1,500-year-old faith — was utopian madness.
Third, as Islamic peoples grow in number and militancy, Europe will have to adapt to Muslim demands or face endless civil and cultural conflict.
In welcoming the return to the newsstands of Charlie Hebdo, with a cartoon mocking the prophet on its cover, French President Hollande said, “You can murder men and women, but you can never kill their ideas.”
True. And anti-Islamism is an idea. As is the “radical Islam” against which France has declared war. And which one of the two ideas appears today to have more adherents willing not only to march for it but to die for it?
Pat Buchanan is the author of the new book “The Greatest Comeback: How Richard Nixon Rose From Defeat to Create the New Majority.”