France: The Lock-Up Starts

Take a look: is this really a face only a mother could love? (I mean the guy on the left.)

He’s not getting much love in France right now. In fact, he’s under arrest. His name is Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala; his occupation depends on whom you ask. Avant-garde comic – or dangerous rabble-rouser. One thing for sure is that he is rather anti-Semitic in his views, and that has led in the past to cancellation of some of his shows. To name but another of his misdeeds, shortly after the beheading of James Foley by ISIL he posted a video making light of that event. (His controversial opinions also meant that he was denied entry into the UK outright – yes, which once provided exile to the likes of Karl Marx, back when it was known as the British Empire.)

But right now we’re still lingering in the Charlie Hebdo afterglow, and Dieudonné had to put his two cents’ worth in. I want to rely on this report from Rzeczpospolita in the first instance to get a little distance, a little impartiality: from this, it seems that all he did was use his Facebook account to make fun of the “Je Suis Charlie!” slogan, writing instead “I feel like Charlie Coulibaly,” using there the surname of the slain hostage-taker at the Jewish supermarket in Paris.

As I mentioned, as of yesterday he has been under arrest, for “praising terrorism.” In the French press there is a bit more detail, including a sequence of photos of his actual arrest in Libération. There is also a bit of the open letter to French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve that he had posted on his website:

Whenever I try to express myself, no one even tries to comprehend me, no one wants to listen to me. They look for some pretext to ban me. They consider me like Amédy Coulibaly when I’m no different than Charlie.

For what it is worth, it appears he even marched – or at least appeared – at the huge public demonstration in honor of the Charlie Hebdo victims, not the one in Paris but in the second-biggest that took place Saturday night, in Toulouse.

Once again those of us who want to lean against the hysteria unleashed by these terrorist attacks are placed in an awkward position: it’s true, this guy holds some pretty outrageous views, and is not loath to express them. But arresting him for writing “I feel like Charlie Coulibaly”? It’s really of a piece with that incident we saw a few days ago of some guy posting something stupid in Denmark, this time merely with a much more high-profile individual.

If he had been smart, of course, he would have kept his mouth shut – clearly, in the present hothouse climate the French authorities were only waiting for an excuse to make themselves acquainted with him again, and he duly provided it.

Make no mistake, it is still a hothouse atmosphere there in France:

“The PATRIOT Act, exceptional legislation with very mixed results.” For there have been French commentators recently asserting that that is what France needs now, it’s very own PATRIOT Act. This is all part of the meme that Charlie Hebdo was the equivalent of “France’s 9/11.”

All of this risks taking France down the same path of wasteful overreaction as the US pursued in the wake of that historic tragedy. Don’t just take my word for it; that’s a warning to France that you’ll see in quite a few places these days (like here and here).

The Le Monde piece actually does quite a good job in reminding French readers what that PATRIOT Act ultimately turned out to be all about: unconstrained and widespread surveillance; a new legal category, called the “enemy combatant,” with basically no civil rights; FBI “national security letters” demanding information, which were illegal to even talk about; and the like. Hopefully those French readers will pay attention.

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