Opinion | Columnists

Hypocrisy of a myopic social order

Going by the latest ruling by a court on Twitter comments, it seems Jews are the only bona fide recipients of fair play when it comes to French laws

  • By Tariq A. Al Maeena, Special to Gulf News
  • Published: 20:00 January 26, 2013
  • Gulf News

  • Image Credit: Luis Vazquez/©Gulf News

I don’t know about the rest of you, but every now and then a news item flashes by that causes me to sit up and take note. Perhaps it is the audacity of the subject or the underlying hypocrisy — whatever be the reason, it does indeed raise questions and a few eyebrows.

For instance, take a news item that appeared last week involving Twitter, the social networking site. A French court has judged that Twitter must disclose all data regarding anti-Semitic users or those who post comments deemed offensive by Jews. The ruling was a result of the country’s main Jewish students’ union which petitioned a Paris court to demand that Twitter divulge information and details about users who post anti-Semitic comments.

Last October, the Union of French Jewish students demanded from Twitter that they remove tweets from some popular hash tag sites which they deemed offensive. The posts concerned a barrage of tweets that appeared on the site and were seen as culturally insensitive messages about people of the Jewish faith. The students’ union threatened it would sue Twitter if it did not comply with their demands to remove the tweets and to disclose the identities of users who had posted them.

Twitter’s response at the time was that it “does not mediate content. If we are alerted to content that may be in violation of our terms of service, we will investigate each report and respond according to the policies and procedures outlined in our support pages”. Twitter also made it clear that as it was an America-based company and operated under US law, it would not hand over information relating to the identities of users unless forced to do so by a judge. The company then affirmed its stance by declaring that it would only accept a judgement from a US court. According to its operating standards, Twitter does not delete tweets, but “does allow for content generated in breach of rules to be suspended”.

Later on, Twitter did remove some of those tweets.

However, the Jewish union wanted more. Enlisting the assistance of other groups such as International Action for Justice, SOS Racism, the International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism and the Movement Against Racism and for Friendship Between People, they demanded that the company go further by revealing the identities of the authors so that they could be prosecuted under France’s tough laws on racism and anti-Semitism.

And now, the French court’s ruling commands that Twitter disclose the identities of those who composed the tweets on top of having removed all tweets deemed offensive by the group. The intent, according to a spokesman for the group, is “to prosecute those who tweet any anti-Semitic messages”.

A French attorney and internet law expert, Merav Griguer, commented that European laws regarding freedom of speech fall under stricter government regulation than the speech laws in the US. Speaking to an Israeli paper he said: “In France, one’s freedom ends where another person’s freedom begins. French law does not promote censorship, but instead bars abuses of free speech to protect other fundamental rights.”

The French court also demanded from Twitter that they establish an “easily accessible and visible” system on the French Twitter site that would permit users to bring to attention to the site administrators any posts which “apologise for crimes against humanity or incite racial hatred”. The court has given Twitter 15 days from the time of the ruling to comply or it will be fined 1,000 euros (Dh4,944) daily.

Government spokesperson Najat Vallaud-Belkacem also demanded that Twitter monitor its content to comply with French law. She said: “Twitter should find solutions so that messages sent from our country, in our language and destined for our citizens do not violate the principles we have set.”

This brings me back to the feelings I disclosed at the beginning of this column. How are the French so passionate about upholding laws that protect their people against racial hatred? And yet, where were the courts or government spokesmen when cartoons depicting the beloved Prophet (PBUH) were released earlier this month in a weekly on Paris’s streets — caricatures that offended the religious sensitivities of all Muslims and not just those living in France?

And where was their sense of indignation when they allowed an offensive video clip of the Prophet (PBUH) that caused so much global upheaval last year to be shown, citing “freedom of expression”. French courts rejected efforts by Muslim groups to ban such offensive depictions citing freedom of speech. Their impotency to enforce their so-called anti-racism and anti-hatred laws following the furore over the video clip which insulted Muslims was magnified when the French government stepped in and assured the British royalty that Kate Middleton’s revealing photos would not appear in the press. Anti-racism laws and violations of principles indeed!

The doctrine of collective guilt so craftily perpetuated by international Jewry against western nations for past crimes appears to make Jews as the only applicable recipients of fair play when it comes to French laws. The recent rulings by the French court are so steeped in hypocrisy that walking away without a comment is difficult. And that is why I have written this column in the first place.

Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. You can follow him at Twitter.Com/@talmaeena

Comments (1)

  1. Added 14:09 January 27, 2013

    Hi Tariq, I appreciate your well-written article and agree with much of what you say. The right to free speech and the right to wear attire usually regarded as symbolic of a persons religious view, should be an inalienable right, to my Western-educated mind. At the same time we don't allow people to express their right to free speech to extend to standing up in a crowded theatre and yelling, "FIRE!" for obvious reasons. People could get trampled and possibly die, because someone wanted to play a prank. Therefore, as distasteful as it is, there must be some amount of control over free speech and religious attire. Here in the Vancouver, Canada area we have a thriving Sikh community -- one which contributes generously to local charities, they manage thriving businesses and can boast of a low per-capita crime rate among their group. Some male Sikhs like to wear religious clothing and may wear a kirpan (a short curved, ceremonial knife) as part of their attire. When I get into an elevator with a kirpan-wearing Sikh, I am not the least bit concerned as their community has an excellent reputation here. Are non-Sikh Canadians allowed to wear a short curved knife? No. Which seems counter-intuitive until you look at the stats. Sikhs have a microscopic crime rate as regards knives, while the white, 20-50 year-old males here have a much higher per-capita knife crime rate. So the answer must be that the government allows this dichotomy, as the threat from knife-wielding Sikhs is low, while the threat from knife-wielding non-Sikhs is higher. Therefore, the rights of some citizens in Canada are restricted while the rights of other citizens are enhanced. Nobody bats an eye about this here. (If it's not broken, don't fix it) In Canada, any religious wear is allowed and it is hardly worth comment as the right to wear what you want is quite accepted and frankly, taken for granted. From here, France seems to be doing it wrong. Restricting women from wearing the burka, or other clothing (incorrectly) identified as 'Muslim' religious wear, is ridiculous. As is restricting people from wearing crucifixes, turbans, religious cloaks, etc... France, where Liberty supposedly began (if you would believe French textbooks) should be ashamed of it's conduct in this regard. And citizens of France should be rioting in the streets over the government taking inalienable rights away from citizens and visitors. Shame on the French citizens for not protesting, everyday, until this ridiculous and divisive set of laws are upended. Rather than looking at the Jewish population as the favoured (or worse, as the enemy) other religious groups in and out of France should be enlisting the Jewish population in the battle for freedom to wear what one chooses, the freedom of speech and the freedom of association. If any group in the world understands a creeping loss of rights inside one country, the disastrous results of it and how to combat that evil, it would be the Jewish people. Rather than the present discussion -- "In France, the Jewish people have more rights than us" -- it should be changed to -- "Civil rights (the right to wear any religious attire in France) are under attack, and that threatens all of us, equally." It is a slippery slope towards total government control over the population. Restricting what people can wear is (historically) almost always the first step, next comes a creeping loss of freedom of association and then, when it is far too late to do anything about it, a loss of freedom of speech. This state of being, is known as a fascist police state. It is in the best interests of all French citizens, especially minority groups such as Jewish, Muslims, Christians and Sikhs (and others who wear religious attire) to work together, protest together and support each other to have these ridiculous laws overturned. It is a time to band together to fight for rights and to support each other -- not to allow the government to continue to succeed at divide and conquer in the attempt to further weaken all religious faiths in that country. This is a clear case of the secular establishment against the clerical establishment. Religious people fighting or arguing amongst each other, only strengthens the hand of the seculars.

    Anonymous, Vancouver, Canada

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