Confinements of freedom of expression

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So here we are… the second containment, announced months ago. Some people predicted: « We won’t cut it, we are not disciplined enough, we are not like the Germans… ». But now all the European nations are reconfining, including Germany, perhaps with a sense of having been overtaken by the virus once again. Admittedly, this second confinement is a little more flexible than the first, which was brutal, unprecedented and arbitrary, but it still reveals cruel inequalities of treatment, depending on our professional and social situations. I propose to explore different points of view.

First of all, the virus. This one had to go home wisely, as all the usual viruses do. After a resounding first world tour in the spring, his producer offers us a triumphant fall comeback . Cold weather is favorable to it, as is the winter flu. The question now is no longer  » When can we get back to normal?  » but  » When will we finally be rid of this virus? What was supposed to last a few weeks or months may well take several years. The provisional takes on the appearance of the definitive, as we know so well how to do in France. So under these conditions, we can question the future. For example, will we see the disappearance of two very strong social rituals: the handshake and the kiss? What will become of the place of the body in our societies marked by this distance between bodies? The virus attacks the old, the poor, the handicapped… but not the children (here are my 4 categories of excluded from Progress(1)). It does its job of natural selection, and brings out the differences in national treatment: it is less good to be poor in Trump’s America than in Europe.

From the point of view of degrowth and ecology, we could say that  » the virus is doing a good job « : a significant reduction in air travel and mass tourism, less car travel, and probably a predictable annihilation of the annual consumerist highlight: Christmas. « Fewer goods » certainly, but fewer connections as well.

From an economic point of view, the inequality of treatment appears again, in favor of GAFA (Amazon remained open for a long time in France, while the local bookstores were closed), and to the detriment of independent businesses. God forbid that I should think of a conspiracy… could there be a global plan, the Great Reset of the WEF (World Economic Forum) for example, which would be there to clean the world economy of all its archaic actors — such as local booksellers, drugstores, cobblers — as is done with the technical control aimed at eliminating dubious automobiles, the cars of the poor? Or on the contrary, as the founder of the WEF, Klaus Schwab, claims: to reduce social inequalities and inequalities between countries, in order to reduce social tensions and the risks of violence and wars?


And here is that violence is again mediated by the Spectacle. Saturday, October 17, while getting gas at a highway rest stop, I hear on the radio that a teacher was  » beheaded by his students  » for having illustrated the issue of freedom of expression with the Mohammed cartoons.

A week later, as luck would have it, I found myself in spite of myself among the crowd gathered in the central square of Moulins, the city where the professor, Samuel Paty, was from. The emotion was of course there. But what about thought? In this period of individualistic and consumerist withdrawal, this period of confinement, what place can allow today to speak and think about such a subject? By digging a little(2)In this article, we learn that the teacher had disputes with a student, regularly absent, excluded from school, absent the day of the presentation of the cartoons in class, who then took revenge by complaining to his father, who in turn spread false information on social networks. Instead of being respected, the intimacy of school classes is manipulated and broadcast on the net, a chamber of amplification of violence. From there, how can we be surprised by such confusion and outbursts? We learn that this information spread on the internet motivated the killer, a radicalized Islamist, to choose his target. So it was not the students, contrary to what was reported early on by Autoroute Info. The principal of the school received the student’s father, accompanied by a dubious preacher. What confusion! And instead of supporting Samuel Paty, provoking a confrontation with the parents, or considering police protection, the principal and the rectorate used the usual  » Especially not wave « , the policy of administrative cowardice, distributing emails written in novlangue, which have not found any application in the facts. All over France, tension is growing between unruly students, parents who are victims of social or ethnic exclusion, and teachers, authority figures, who are disowned and exposed to popular vindictiveness on social networks. Unfortunately, this national affair comes shortly before the celebration of the birth of the Prophet Mohammed on October 29, a popular holiday for the Muslim world. As a result, the Paty affair took on the proportions of an international controversy, provoking numerous anti-French declarations abroad, to the point of endangering our embassies and nationals, to the point that our President took to the stage and explained himself (skillfully or awkwardly?) on the Al Jazeera channel, and found himself personally threatened by Al-Qaeda. Right to caricature, versus the right to kill anyone who insults the Prophet(3).

Unfortunately in this case, we will neither see the trial of the public school — unable to guarantee the privacy of classrooms, protect teachers, and manage the relationship with parents of students — nor the trial of asocial networks, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. The moderation is very weak on these hosting platforms, giving free rein to the mortifying impulses, and serving as correspondence training for future jihadists, from the province of Idleb, in Syria. Comments left on the internet show that many students and their parents do not understand the difference between a website that publicly discloses private information and the reality, where private information remains private. Asocial networks seem to them to be a natural extension of reality. Why should we be surprised when language today is reduced to an infantile babble of  » That’s cool « ,  » Too good  » or  » Not even scared « ? We are reaping what we have sown: the generalization of communication tools favoring images and short texts, which support emotion and impulsivity, to the detriment of places of speech and moderate confrontation, giving their place to thought and discernment. As Jean Dutourd wrote,  » The infantile humanity of the IIIrd millennium has the insufficiencies and vices of children: credulity, amorality, cowardice, ignorance, taste for violence, herd spirit, etc.(4)  »


The subject that interests me is freedom of expression. If there is one place where we care, it is here, in the lines of Kairos. So, is it a question of freedom of expression? Of freedom of the press? Or rather the freedom of the dominant press, the press that has made the cartoons controversy to sell? Can we force a freedom of expression on people who do not want it, and do not want to hear about it? The ministerial program aims to provide moral and civic education to 4th grade students (approximately 13 years old), by addressing the « fundamental freedoms »: freedom of conscience, association, expression and press. But are these morals, this civic-mindedness, these freedoms always shared with families? This program was developed under undemocratic conditions, under the influence of lobbies, and is not adapted to reality. Gymnastics, music, drawing, history… become dangerous subjects. To illustrate freedom of expression to preteens, why did you choose this subject, cartoons, which challenges religious beliefs and is more about political and media power than about individual freedom of expression?

In 2005, during the revolt of the suburbs, following the police provocations and the policy of the Minister of the Interior, Nicolas Sarkozy (who was already preparing his candidacy for the presidency), a small collection had been published, A revolt in all logic(5)in which middle school students spoke out and tried to share their understanding of the events. It was smart, with small group work and feedback. I thought it was a good example of pedagogy and freedom of expression. Samuel Paty chose to illustrate freedom of expression by projecting in class cartoons of Mohammed, stemming from a long-standing media controversy, even if it meant suggesting to the students that they look away or leave the room during the projection. He had probably not measured the impact on the parents of the students, who were apparently more shocked than their children, interpreting the class trip as a discriminatory exclusion, or the representation of nudity as pedophile exhibitionism. Who could have imagined that this pedagogy would turn out to be deadly? The entire teaching profession can tremble today. The slightest mistake and you are the target of a Fatwa? However, as we know, when words no longer circulate, it is violence that takes over and makes the weapons speak. The student’s father, apparently unable to educate his daughter, refused to meet with the teacher, calling him a  » thug  » and  » sick « . The father and daughter, summoned for an audition at the police station, also refused to appear. Refusal of the word, refusal of the Other, refusal of the Law. Brahim C. is now incarcerated. The preacher and several other people are under investigation for  » complicity in terrorist assassination « .

As Patric Jean already showed in 2003 in his film La raison du plus fort, the republican school functions at two speeds, depending on whether one is in the poor suburbs or in the well-to-do neighborhoods that have access to culture. Compulsory schooling in France came from Jules Ferry’s colonialist project: at the time, it was necessary to educate white children in order to supervise the dominated peoples in the colonies; it was necessary to anticipate the rural exodus and train civil servants. What about teaching today, in a France where management positions are disappearing or remain only bullshit jobs, close to automatable tasks? After all, why offer freedom of thought to omega(6) children who will be destined to accompany GAFA robots and should learn to hate the smell of roses rather than read Ronsart?  » It’s giving pearls to swine ‚ » my grandmother would have said. But no, France is stubborn. It looks at its past and still wishes to offer an equal treatment, an ideal of a citizen who decides whether or not to take what the republic offers him. France is generous, idealistic, and at the same time contemptuous, entangled in its contradictions, and its state incompetence, its administrative incompetence.


True to its editorial line, Charlie Hebdo republishes the cartoons of the prophet (September 2020). Why reheat this awful polemic, which reanimates a very heavy semantic network:  » Denmark, Mohammed cartoons, Charlie Hebdo, Islamist attack « ? By detailing a little more: the notorious racism of the Danes (and the Swedes); the media controversy of the Mohammed cartoons, published in France by Charlie Hebdo, widely taken up by the dominant press; and the editorial staff of Charlie Hebdo, victim of an appalling attack (2015), because it had been abandoned for a long time by the political-media system… according to a survivor, Philippe Lançon, in his novel The flap(7).

We can situate this progressive abandonment since the appointment of Philippe Val the tyrant as director of the newspaper (2004), the cartoon affair (2006), and the abusive dismissal of Siné(8) (2008). We note in passing the eagerness of Philippe Val(9) to flatter the Prince, and as a reward obtain his appointment to the direction of France Inter (2009). But if we look at the details, why was Siné fired by his editor who had approved his paper? Because Siné had the impudence to criticize the Prince and to ironize on his son, Jean Sarkozy.  » He has just declared that he wants to convert to Judaism before marrying his fiancée, a Jew and heiress of the founders of Darty. He will go a long way in life, this little(10)! « Is it a coincidence that President Sarkozy has opened up the possibility of advertising on TV to the brands of large-scale distribution, which had been forbidden to them since the 1970s (and which has since given us crappy ads that rival each other in their vulgarity)? Just a return of the favour? We can make fun of Muslims and tickle them on a sensitive subject, their iconoclasm, the prohibition to represent the prophet in graphic form (that’s why there are no religious paintings or sculptures in mosques, unlike our churches), let alone in the form of caricatures…, but we can’t touch certain subjects. Dieudonné did it with the Israeli settlers, Siné did it with the Darty family and with the Sarkozy son. We have seen what it costs.

So, if we want to address the issue of free speech in schools, why not work on topics that challenge the hegemonic discourse? And using the feeling of shame as a philosophical engine: the media treatment of shameful affairs (the suburban revolt in 2005, the Yellow Vests), or shameful periods of French history: the Dreyfus affair and the Paris Commune (1871)?

But is this possible in the 4th grade?

Olivier Rouzet
Essayist and psychotherapist

Notes et références
  1. Olivier Rouzet, Panne d’ascenseur dans le social, Libre & solidaire, Paris, 2019.
  2. Ilyes Ramdani et Matthieu Suc, « Conflans : le récit des 15 jours qui ont conduit à la tragédie », Mediapart, 27 octobre 2020.
  3. « Al-Qaida menace Macron et appelle à tuer quiconque insulte le prophète », L’Obs, 2 novembre 2020.
  4. Jean Dutourd, Le Siècle des Lumières éteintes, Plon, Paris, 2001.
  5. Collectif États d’urgence, Une révolte en toute logique. Des banlieues en colère. Novembre 2005, Association L’Archipel des Pirates, 2005.
  6. Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, Chatto and Windus, Londres, 1932. Traduction Le meilleur des mondes, Pocket, Paris, 2013.
  7. Philippe Lançon, Le lambeau, Gallimard, Paris, 2018.
  9. On lira avec plaisir le recueil de Sébastien Fontenelle (PDF gratuit), Même pas drôle, de Charlie Hebdo à Sarkozy, Ed. Libertalia, Paris. <‑boulets-rouges/Meme-pas-drole>
  10. « Charlie Hebdo condamné pour le licenciement abusif du dessinateur Siné », Monde, 10 décembre 2010.

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