French police patrol outside a school in Paris

There are many cures for a hangover, but the French have the simplest one: keep drinking the next morning. Wake up late, throw down a triple espresso, then blither your way through the morning until you can make it to your two-hour lunch break at noon, and start throwing down rose.

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The #jesuischarlie crowd may well want to try it, metaphorically and literally, as the post-Hebdo cause of free speech slides from being a farce to … I dunno. What describes a farce lacking any dividend of pleasure, wit or pleasing absurdity? A farce by Andrew Bovell, perhaps.

Two days after more than a million Parisians — including god-knows-how-many Front National supporters — marched behind the Saudi and Egyptian ambassadors, the Russian Foreign Minister, and the rest, for “Unity” around the issue of free speech and not being changed by fear, we have been shown what it means:

• UK Prime Minister David Cameron has announced that he would like to ban all end-to-end data encryption. This will have at least one victim of cybercrime cheering: Senator Stephen Conroy, who is now officially no longer the dumbest politician in the world regarding matters digital. Quite aside from the impossibility of banning encryption, and the certainty that “black hats” would benefit from such a push given it’s encryption that protects your personal details when you bank online etc, and the likelihood that large sections of the financial sector would relocate to Switzerland — where you can keep a bag of gold teeth in your vault, no questions asked — there is the stupidity of it even as some sort of political national security move. If it is a desperate attempt to create an election front, it’s going to backfire immediately. Genuine stupidity and panic appears to be behind it.

• Two days ago, French parliament, after a minute’s silence, burst into song with La Marseillaise, rallying against hate speech and racism with the stirring words:

“Aux armes, citoyens/Formez vos battalions/Marchons, marchons!/Qu’un sang impur/Abreuve nos sillons!” (to arms, citizens, form your battalions, let us march, let us march, let impure blood water our furrows).

They didn’t even do this after the defeat of the right-wing OAS brought mass death to the Paris streets in the 1960s, killing anyone arguing for Algerian independence, and coming close to knocking off then-president Charles De Gaulle himself. Clearly, it’s not how red or blue you are that makes you an enemy of the Republic, but how brown.

• The next day, French authorities arrested more than 50 people on “hate speech” charges, on charges of anti-Semitism and justifying terrorism — all speech crimes carrying prison sentences of up to seven years. Hate speech: the laws that make it safe for someone to ridicule and scapegoat Muslims and their beliefs. Sounds reasonable.

• Also arrested, for a Facebook post, in this drive to protect free speech was the stand-up comic Dieudonne — a Holocaust-denier, whose huge live shows have attracted, and worked up, very menacing crowds of young men (Muslim and non-Muslim) in the past and whose shows had been banned last year for anti-semitism, and for use of the “quenelle” gesture, a downward pointing fascist salute. Dieudonne posted that he felt like “jesuischarlieCoulibaly”, combining “charlie” with the surname of the killer of four customers, all Jews, at the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket. Dieudonne’s full post, addressed to President Francois Hollande, read:

“Whenever I speak, you do not try to understand what I’m trying to say, you do not want to listen to me. You are looking for a pretext to forbid me. You consider me like Amedy Coulibaly when I am not any different from Charlie.”

Which suggests that it is now a crime to protest against hypocrisy.

The Australian’s desperate attempt to restart debate over the 18C legislation took them into an area of genuine moral depravity, with Planet Janet Albrechtsen arguing an equivalence between 18C supporters and the killers:

“Section 18C is a direct hit on free speech in Australia … The only difference is the terrorists opted for guns, rather than laws. The means is different. The aim is the same.”

This was typically morally obtuse, an inability to see discursive and dialogic politics as qualitatively different from political terror. Planet is genuinely too stupid to see such a point. But given that supporters of 18C include all Australian Jewish community peak bodies, suggesting that they and the killer of four Jewish customers in a kosher supermarket (a killer associated with the Hebdo killers) had anything in common at all is simply disgusting, a measure of News Corp’s deranged whining narcissism.

• Prime Minister Tony Abbott said that he wouldn’t re-examine the 18C laws, unless they were actually used, in which case they would be re-examined, which is … I can’t even — who can? Can you even? No, me neither, nor anyone. Since Abbott had argued that 18C should stay in place because it created community unity in the face of the renewed global threat of Islamic State operatives, it would appear that the PM too — along with the Executive Council of Australian Jewry — is, per Albrechtsen, on the side of the terrorists, and differs only in method.

All this, and eh, mon dieu, it’s only Thursday with le weekend too far away. Salut! There’ll be a fresh crop of “free speech” stupidities tomorrow. Doubtless, a lot of people in Europe are having a political hangover. But I suspect there’s a few in Australia who jumped on this #jesuischarlie nonsense who are now feeling the same. Wouldn’t it be genuinely useful, and genuinely brave, if they were to publicly admit how conned they were, and detail how it happened?

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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