On 18 November 2022, the Brussels Court of First Instance condemned an Internet user, considering that his comment published on the social network Facebook seriously called into question my honour and reputation, which are rights guaranteed by Article 8 of the European Court of Human Rights. The court found that the comment called into question my ethics and my competence as a teacher “by imputing to her a subjectivity and xenophobia that would not allow her to give exams without an assessor by her side”, without presenting any verifiable factual elements.
The court therefore concluded that these insulting remarks amounted to an ad personam attack and not to the constructive criticism that a general interest debate allows, and were therefore not protected by freedom of expression.
This judgment can of course be analysed from the point of view of freedom of expression, which, according to the Handyside judgment, “applies not only to information or ideas that are favourably received, or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also to those that offend, shock or disturb the State or any section of the population. This is what pluralism, tolerance and openness, without which there can be no democratic society, require.”
And in this case, the court considered that it was not a question of ideas, however disturbing they may be, but of attacks, in this case on me.
However, in this case, what seems to me to be most worthy of interest is the disease of which it is a symptom: the endless confusion between secularism and racism, including among many “progressives”.
This is indeed what it is all about, since a campaign of bashing, threats and harassment against me began the day after the assassination by decapitation of Samuel Paty. My attackers – for there were many of them, and this one is only the first to be condemned – had in common that they reproached me for my secular positions, which they considered to be in reality a sign of xenophobia, racism, and ill-concealed “Islamophobia”. To establish this amalgam, they based themselves on one thing: my opposition to the wearing of the Islamic veil.
Indeed, as a secularist, I believe that the wearing of any sign of conviction is incompatible with a public office, whatever the level. As a feminist, I deplore the fact that so many women of the Muslim faith feel obliged to display their Islam and/or to preserve their modesty and virtue, thus voluntarily limiting their freedom. As an atheist, I despair that in the twenty-first century a religion, again whatever it may be, is still able to exert such power over individuals that their lucidity is singularly affected. Finally, as an anti-cleric, I see with concern the growing popularity of the political demands made by the most radical fringe of my fellow Muslims.
For this is the most fascinating thing: conservative, not to say Islamist, Muslim demands find an extraordinarily favourable echo among many people claiming to be “on the left”, who would never have shown the same complacent benevolence towards the retrograde religious conceptions of traditionalist Catholics.
Of course, one may not share my analysis of what the Islamic veil means today, nor my conception of what the neutrality of the state should be. These are complex issues, to which I have devoted several books, which are found alongside dozens of others on the shelves of bookshops.
But whatever one’s opinion, the debate must remain possible between people of good will, who sincerely seek to ensure that we can live tomorrow, even more than today, in a peaceful society, where each person recognises the right of the other to think differently, to live differently, to believe in something else – or in nothing.
But what do we see?
That among those who are proud to defend an “inclusive”, “open” and “tolerant” society, many actually have nothing but anathemas in their mouths, if not worse, for all those who have the great mistake of not sharing their vision of what our society should be. That violence is not on the side of the secularists, the so-called “intolerant” who refuse to accept differences, but on the side of those who, convinced that they are in the camp of the good, allow themselves all kinds of violence against their political opponents. Violence which is immediately relativised, excused, even denied: it is said to have touched the “sacred” of our Muslim compatriots, by criticising their veil, their prophet, their method of slaughter or whatever… Odious provocations, to which “injured” Muslims would only respond.
But why so much empathy for these allegedly injured Muslims? In other words, why is it that conservative Islam attracts more loving indulgence than its Catholic counterpart? And by what strange phenomenon does this conservative Islam seem so often more sympathetic than firm secular positions, to the point that many “progressives” ally themselves more easily – infinitely more easily even! – with activists with proven Brotherly affiliations than with secular universalists who are always suspect from the start?