The recent events unfolding in France show us the importance of free speech as well as its limits in society. The importance of free speech is often talked about without prejudice and with an apparent sense of untouchability. However, in recent times this aspect has been challenged in Western countries and more specifically when it comes to offending or insulting certain groups of people (e.g LGBT community, religious minorities, etc.)
Having grown up in Qatar, freedom of speech was never a focal point of the domestic policies of the country to say the least. However, for all ex-pats living there, a certain amount of respect and adherence to the rules and regulations of the country was present. These rules have been in place for decades and the strict adherence to these rules is what is keeping the societal structure in one piece, in spite of our western conceived notion of freedom of speech. Outrage and civil disobedience is limited when you know you can end up in prison for it.
On the other hand, the recent events in France seem to show an inherent double standard when it comes to what can and cannot be said. The very controversial case of the french comedian Dieudonné, found guilty of antisemitism suggests that some speech cannot be tolerated by the French courts and strict limitations have to be placed on the notion of “freedom of speech”. The current uprising in France seems to underline the double standard shown in favor of censoring speech that contradicts France’s agenda over speech that is in line with it.
Alexandre Yunus Mahe
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