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Terror in Europe

Charlie Hebdo, Jews And Muslims: A Double Standard For Freedom Of Speech?

In France, the sacrosanct freedom of speech is cited over the offensive images of Islam's prophet Muhammad. But the same standards have not always applied to anti-Semitism.

Jan. 11 protest in Paris
Jan. 11 protest in Paris
Julie Conti

PARIS — The first reactions after last week’s killings in Paris were horror and indignation. But even as the "Je suis Charlie" campaign took social media by storm, in France and abroad, dissenting voices soon started to emerge. Among those were people outraged at the way that freedom of speech was now being celebrated for Charlie Hebdo, and its controversial depictions of the Prophet Muhammad and other religious figures, while just a year ago, for example, French comedian Dieudonné saw his show banned by a state-appointed court after a media uproar over accusations that the show contained anti-Semitic elements.

There is a perceptible temptation to shrug off these people’s unease in favor of the show of solidarity that has moved the nation. But there are growing numbers of people ready to denounce a two-tier approach to freedom of speech.

"I’m deeply convinced that freedom of speech cannot be a concept of a variable geometry," says François Burgat, research leader at the Institute of Research and Studies on the Arab and Muslim World at Aix-en-Provence. "In France, we insist a lot on the universality of our values, but we have a recurring difficulty to apply them as such."

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