Dieudonne, a French comedian who was charged for posting “I feel; like Charlie Coulibaly” in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks and summary Je Suis Charlie propaganda, has been convicted of a crime. It was “glorifying terrorism.”
After this historic march, what do I say…? Legendary. Instant magic equal to the Big Bang that created the universe; to a lesser extent (more locally) comparable to the coronation of Vercingétorix. I finally returned home. You know that tonight as far as I’m concerned I feel like Charlie Coulibaly.
That’s all it takes to be convicted of glorifying terrorism in France. The actual crime is “incitement of terrorist acts,” but few governments and police forces live up to the letters of their laws. He clearly did not incite any terrorist act.
In fact, Dieudonne explained that he felt like Coulibaly not because he supported the terrorist attacks. Dieudonne testified in court that he unequivocally condemned the attacks. He simply related to the isolation that Amedy Coulibaly must have felt. Dieudonne knows what it is like to be censored by the state, to be persecuted, or, as he put it, to be treated like a terrorist.
This falls into the general theme of othering the enemy. In George Orwell’s 1984 the daily Two Minutes Hate exemplifies what the Je Suis Charlie movement was to many. Every day citizens are required to watch, watch and be incensed, at some state depiction of the enemy. You can imagine how anyone who refused, or tried to empathize with, the enemy might be treated in the world of Orwell’s narrative.
Isn’t that the crux of what we have here? Anyone who expresses the ability to relate with or empathize with the enemy, with a bad person, is condemned by society. And by the law, too, in this case. Yet isn’t that exactly what the epitome of empathy – real empathy – is? It’s easy to empathize with the victim, the persecuted. It’s exceptional to empathize with the victimizer, with the doer of evil. You could even say Biblical: “Love your enemy.”
The same is true for hate. Anyone who refuses to condemn the outcast is put in a similar light. Dieudonne shouldn’t have to qualify or justify his statement. He shouldn’t have to say that he condemns the attacks; he shouldn’t have to make a statement one way or the other on his opinion. What was on trial was his own ability to relate to the feelings of a terror suspect. It’s the same when we’re forced to qualify any discourse when a police officer gets injured, the September 11 attacks, or similar events.
This is a second layer of censorship. We’ve got the first layer, in the French case – Dieudonne gets a criminal charge for relating to the bad man. That’ll shut him up, or anybody else in France who had the same idea. The second layer is the socially-compelled need to qualify discourse on specific events, and in doing so expressing an opinion on those events. When a scientific article, for example, on a violent event starts by saying, “On that fateful day, the tragic events of…” it sets a trend. It isn’t sufficient to discuss the event, without first expressing some form of condemnation mandated by polite society.
And if polite society doesn’t mandate, the law will.