Ramin Mazaheri – Paris
Popular French humorist Dieudonné Mbala Mbala has been convicted and fined 30,000 euros for “supporting terrorism speech” in a decision which many say exemplifies the often discriminatory and two-tiered nature of France’s legal system.
Following the recent terrorist attacks in France, Dieudonné, as he is widely known, posted on Facebook that “Je me sens Charlie Coulibaly” (I feel like Charlie Coulibaly), an apparent reworking of the global “Je suis Charlie” campaign. Coulibaly refers to Amedy Coulibaly, the terrorist responsible for four deaths at a Kosher supermarket in Paris.
The court rejected Dieudonné’s claim that he is a satirist in the same vein as Charlie Hebdo, the French weekly which has sparked worldwide protests on multiple occasions by publishing sacrilegious pictures of Prophet Mohammed.
Both Dieudonné and Charlie Hebdo defend their actions by saying they insult any and all religions, ethnicities and politicians, with plenty of evidence available on the Internet to support their claims.
While Charlie Hebdo has been exonerated for its previous cartoons of Prophet Mohammed, as well as for insulting former French President Nicolas Sarkozy and the neo-fascist National Front Party, Dieudonné has been repeatedly fined for remarks deemed to incite racial hatred and anti-Semitism, both of which are explicitly banned by French law. Dieudonné and his entourage have been taken to court some 80 times in recent years, and just this week Dieudonné was convicted and forced to pay a fine of 4,000 euros for calling current Prime Minster Manuel Valls a “Mussolini with half Down’s Syndrome”.
Many claim that the lack of a law to ban Islamophobic speeches or the insulting of Islam reflects a state-sanctioned double-standard, and there is little political support apparent to create such laws. That has led to widespread complaints from France’s Muslim community, estimated at 5 to 10 percent of the overall population.
Where Dieudonné and Charlie Hebdo differ greatly is in their favored target: For more than a decade Charlie Hebdo has been openly anti-Palestinian and Islamophobic, while Dieudonné is openly anti-Zionist. Many also believe that Dieudonné satirizes France’s politicians much more forcefully, as Charlie Hebdo’s editors have increased their ties to the conservative UMP party in recent years.
This helps explain Dieudonné’s vast popularity among the youth, Muslim and immigrant communities, as reflected by the hundreds of Dieudonné supporters present at the Palais de Justice in Paris.
“Dieudonné is the same as Charlie Hebdo, except that Dieudonné attacks our society’s ‘untouchables’,” said Enzo Columba, 23, outside Dieudonné’s trial. “In France, you can attack the Blacks, the Arabs, the Muslims, but not the ‘untouchables’, and that’s why Dieudonné is treated differently by the media and the law,’” said Columba.
“He is so popular because he is like us: He is the son of immigrants, he grew up around Paris, and, like so many French youth, he is anti-Zionist,” added Columba.
France has not released updated arrest totals for “supporting terrorism speech” since January 20, when 117 arrests were acknowledged. People have been accused, tried, convicted and sentenced to multi-year prison terms in just 3 days, causing widespread accusations of “hysteria” and “witch-hunts”.
Among the convicted have been alcoholics, homeless people and the mentally ill. Critics contend that the wave of arrests is intended to have a “chilling effect” on all criticism of the government’s policies, as well as to intimidate the Muslim community.
“I’m here to support the liberty of expression, like we had in the past,” said Madame Lamarque, an interested citizen who also awaited the verdict outside the courtroom.
“I think we are losing this freedom, and I don’t understand why,” said Lamarque. “I do not think Dieudonné has been treated like other humorists.”
France made global news this week when an 8-year-old boy was interrogated for 30 minutes by police for allegedly making remarks supporting terrorism. Ahmed, whose last name has not been released, could not even explain what “terrorism” was, and his teachers and school principal have been sharply criticized for involving the police.
“The manner in which this was handled and became so overblown is totally unbelievable,” the head of the French Communist Party, Pierre Laurent, told Press TV.
“We cannot expose a child of 8 years to such a trauma,” said Laurent. “It’s the opposite of the mission of education: To care for and protect children, not to place them under the media’s glare and render them fodder for the public’s judgment.”
Ahmed is in the third grade in the southeastern city of Nice, an affluent region which is also a stronghold of the neo-fascist National Front party.