No Respect

The other day I ran across an item from the Boston Herald about a jihad-related kerfuffle in France. The story is about a high-school teacher named Robert Redeker, who has been driven into hiding after publishing an essay in Le Figaro suggesting — how dare he! — that Islam is trying to impose its cultural will upon Europe.

According to the story in the Herald,

Redeker accused Muslim fundamentalists of trying to muzzle Europe’s democratic liberties. Authorities in Tunisia and Egypt seized copies of Le Figaro containing the article, titled “In the face of the Islamist intimidations, what is the free world to do?”

Now the article is certainly strong stuff; it castigates Mohammed and his teaching in blunt terms as hateful and violent. (You can read the original French version here, or an English translation here.) And obviously this man oughtn’t to feign surprise; he must have known very well what the effect was going to be. But we are going to see more and more of this, I think, as people begin to see the need to stand up to such bullying, rather than cowering in timorous appeasement.

But what really got my attention was a comment by French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin. The Herald reports:

Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin called for vigilance so that “respect for the opinions of others is total.”

“We are in a democracy,” Villepin said on RMC radio. “Each person should be able to express himself freely while respecting others.”

To his credit, M. Villepin was defending the right of this man to express himself. But he is also expressing a strange idea that has taken deeper and deeper root over the past decades: the idea of radical tolerance. (This trend is related to a number of other misguided notions that have gripped Western liberal culture recently, in particular to the view that assuring equality of opportunity is no longer sufficient, and that what society must guarantee is equality of outcome.) The idea expressed by Villepin — that “respect for the opinions of others” should be “total” — is, if this is really what he meant, absolutely insane. Perhaps he was misquoted; one can only hope.

To be sure, as citizens of a free society we should respect the right of others to express their opinions — that right is one of the great blessings of liberal democracy, and as such is amply deserving of our deepest respect — but what he says here seems to be that we should feel obliged in all instances to respect the content of those opinions, which is absurd. The same goes for any prejudicial compulsion to “respect others”, at least at any level above the very basic respect — a generous habit of our culture — that we accord them, provisionally, as fellow human beings. Why should I respect a man who saws the head off a helpless prisoner who is pleading for his life? Why should I respect someone who sees all infidels as subhuman trash, fit only to be converted or slaughtered? Respect must be earned, or the word means nothing. It cannot be compelled. And tolerance of the lethally intolerant is not just folly, but suicidal folly.

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8 Comments

  1. Kevin Kim says

    Here’s a French article (your pardon– I quote it in its entirety) about Villepin’s condemnation of death threats, which includes the “respect/total” remark. My translation follows the article:

    Villepin condamne les menaces de mort contre un enseignant
    29/09/2006

    Dominique de Villepin juge inacceptables les menaces de mort visant un professeur français de philosophie, auteur d’une tribune critique sur l’islam dans Le Figaro et contraint de vivre sous protection policière.

    Le Figaro condamne, de son côté, “avec la plus grande fermeté les graves atteintes à la liberté d’expression que cette affaire a provoquées”.

    “Nous considérons que, au-delà de l’information, le rôle d’un journal est de fournir à ses lecteurs tout ce qui peut leur permettre d’analyser en profondeur l’actualité”, écrit le journal dans son édition de vendredi.

    “Or, pour comprendre notre monde, pour se faire une opinion, il faut aussi savoir regarder ceux qui vivent autrement et écouter ceux qui pensent différemment”.

    Des menaces de mort ont été proférées contre Robert Redeker, 52 ans, professeur dans un lycée de la banlieue toulousaine, à la suite d’une tribune publiée le 19 septembre dans Le Figaro.

    Pour le Premier ministre, “c’est inacceptable, cela montre bien que nous vivons dans un monde dangereux, qui est trop souvent fait d’intolérance, et à quel point nous devons être vigilants”.

    “Vigilants pour que le respect de l’opinion d’autrui soit total dans la société qui est la nôtre. Nous sommes dans une démocratie, chacun doit pouvoir s’exprimer librement, dans le respect des autres. C’est la seule limite qui doit être acceptée à cette liberté”, a-t-il souligné sur RMC Info..

    “Cela montre aussi à quel point il faut se battre à l’échelle internationale pour que cette dimension de respect, de tolérance, de connaissance entre les civilisations se développe”, a-t-il ajouté.

    “MENACES PRECISES”

    L’enseignant, qui n’assure plus ses cours depuis une semaine, a été placé sous protection policière et vit dans un lieu tenu secret, dont il change tous les deux jours, a-t-il dit sur Europe 1.

    Il avait déjà souligné dans la Dépêche du Midi avoir reçu des menaces sur son répondeur téléphonique et par courrier. “Ces menaces sont précises et visent ma vie”.

    Robert Redeker a expliqué ressentir “de l’angoisse” et de la “tristesse” car “ce qui m’est fait correspond tout à fait à ce que je dénonce dans mes écrits : l’Occident se retrouve sous surveillance idéologique de l’islam”.

    Jeudi, l’extrême droite a reproché au ministre de l’Intérieur, Nicolas Sarkozy, qui s’est rendu le soir-même à la Grande mosquée de Paris pour partager pour la première fois le repas de rupture du jeûne du Ramadan avec des musulmans, de pousser à l’organisation de l’islam en France.

    “Cette situation incroyable dans la patrie ‘des droits de l’homme et du citoyen’ prouve qu’il existe aujourd’hui dans notre pays une menace fanatique organisée qui n’hésite plus à passer à l’acte afin de réduire au silence celles et ceux qui osent la dénoncer”, a déclaré le secrétaire général du FN.

    Pour Louis Alliot, ces menaces, après la polémique suscitée par les propos du pape Benoît XVI, “démontrent que l’organisation de l’islam en France prônée par Nicolas Sarkozy est un échec et un danger potentiel”.

    De son côté, Guillaume Peltier, secrétaire général du Mouvement pour la France de Philippe de Villiers, a salué sur le site internet du mouvement “la lucidité” des propos sur l’islam du professeur menacé.

    “Robert Redeker, qui écrit que ‘l’islam tente d’obliger l’Europe à se plier à sa vision de l’homme’ a le courage de décrire la réalité telle qu’elle est.”

    TRANSLATION (all errors are mine):

    Villepin condemns death threats against a teacher
    9/29/2006

    SUBTITLE:

    Dominique de Villepin deems unacceptable the death threats against a French philosophy teacher, author of a piece that is critical of Islam in Le Figaro, and [now] obliged to live under police protection.

    ARTICLE:

    Le Figaro, for its part, condemns “with the greatest firmness the serious attempts against freedom of expression that this affair has provoked.”

    “We believe that, beyond the news, the role of a newspaper is to provide its readers [with] everything that can allow them to analyze current events in depth,” the newspaper said in its Friday edition.

    “However, to understand our world, to have an opinion, it is also necessary to know how to view those who live otherwise [from us] and to listen to those who think differently [from us].”

    Death threats were made against Robert Redeker, 55, a professor at a high school in a Toulouse “banlieue,”* following a piece published on September 19 in Le Figaro.

    For the prime minister: “This is unacceptable. It clearly shows that we live in a dangerous world too often marked by intolerance, and to what extent we must be vigilant.”

    “Vigilant such that respect for others’ opinions in this, our society, is total. We are in a democracy; all should be able to express themselves freely, while respecting others. That is the only limit we should accept on this freedom,” emphasized Villepin on RMC Info.

    “This also demonstrates the extent to which we must struggle on the international level so that this degree of respect, tolerance, and knowledge among civilizations is developed,” he added.

    “PRECISE THREATS”

    The teacher, who has not been teaching for a week, was placed under police protection and lives in a secret location that changes every other day, he [the teacher] said on Europe 1.

    He had already indicated in La Dépêche du Midi that he had received threats on his answering machine as well as via post. “These threats are precise and target my life.”

    Robert Redeker said he feels “anguish” and “sadness” because “what has been done to me totally reflects what I denounce in my writings: the West again finds itself under Islam’s ideological scrutiny.”

    On Thursday, the far right took to task the minister of the interior, Nicolas Sarkozy– who went that very evening to the Grand Mosque of Paris to take part in a Ramadan fast-breaking meal with Muslims– for his push to organize Islam in France.

    “This unbelievable situation in the homeland, ‘of the rights of man and citizen,’ proves that there exists today in our country a fanatical, organized menace that no longer hesitates to take action to silence those men and women who dare to denounce it,” declared the secretary general of the FN [Front National, ultra-right group].

    For Louis Alliot, these threats, after the furor caused by the words of Pope Benedict XVI, “demonstrate that the organization of Islam in France advocated by Nicolas Sarkozy is a failure and a potential danger.”

    On an online forum called “Lucidity,” Guillaume Peltier, secretary general of the Movement for Philippe de Villiers’ France, hailed the beleaguered professor’s words on Islam.

    “Robert Redeker, who writes that Islam ‘is attempting to force Europe to bow to its vision of man,’ has the courage to describe reality as it is.”

    ______________________

    *Technically, “banlieue” means “suburb,” but I’m leaving this untranslated because nowadays the meaning is more along the lines of “apartment project or tenement district primarily occupied by non-white immigrants.” “La banlieue” is the source of most angry French rap.

    [END TRANSLATION AND NOTES]

    Kevin

    Posted October 3, 2006 at 8:28 am | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    Thanks, Kevin, both for the spadework and the translation.

    The demographics are slipping fast in Europe, and it may not be too long before in certain regions, fundamentalist Muslims will be able to achieve democratically what they are unable to by the sword.

    Worth a post of its own, though I shall have to be careful not to come across as the hard-hearted xenophobe and reactionary imperialist that some seem to have come to see me as lately.

    I should probably spend a few weeks writing about martial arts, geology, and oysters, just for balance.

    Posted October 3, 2006 at 10:08 am | Permalink
  3. Kevin Kim says

    There’s a whiff of liberal bias in the above-quoted article. Who seriously quotes a Front National source? That’s the party of Jean-Marie Le Pen, and he’s a scary bigot who’s been agitating for the expulsion of all the ethnic minorities he doesn’t consider “truly French.” That is, in fact, one of my concerns regarding France: an eventual clash between two equally virulent strains of rightist thinking: the culturally and religiously conservative Islamists and the primarily white, conservative FN.

    Stuff I’d change in my translation:

    1. References to “professor” should be translated “teacher”; in French, “prof” can refer to either a professor or a teacher, but Redeker is a high school teacher, so “professor” is probably inappropriate.

    2. “He had already idicated in La Dépêche du Midi” — obviously, I’m missing an “N” in “indicated.”

    re: your apparent xenophobia

    Yeah, I’ve been reading these exchanges with morbid fascination.

    Kevin

    Posted October 3, 2006 at 11:28 am | Permalink
  4. Malcolm says

    Hi Kevin,

    Corrected as requested.

    Yes, morbid fascination is a good way to put it. I’m always tempted to keep on arguing and rebutting, but beyond a certain point there’s no use, and it can get pretty draining.

    I’m actually a pretty swell guy, you know — big-hearted, love mankind, etc.

    Posted October 3, 2006 at 11:46 am | Permalink
  5. Excellent post, Malcolm. I couldn’t agree more. The distinction between respecting the right to form and express opinions and respecting the content of opinions is a crucial one.

    Posted October 3, 2006 at 7:14 pm | Permalink
  6. the one eyed man says

    “I should probably spend a few weeks writing about martial arts, geology, and oysters, just for balance.”

    What about the chess tournament? I mean, is that wacky, or what?

    Posted October 3, 2006 at 8:00 pm | Permalink
  7. duncan says

    I think you may be overstating M. Villepin’s statement here. [Kevin] you’re not, however, overstating the importance of noting that the FN is quoted in a news piece, which (from what I can tell) is carried under the reuters banner.

    There’s a old saw about “I detest what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it” or something along those lines that’s often attributed to Voltaire. I think this is the sense that Villepin is using: he’s saying that we will not accept your actions, but we will give you a forum to speak. In that sense, I think this is actually correct; there’s a line at which tolerance ends. But it’s not at speech, however distateful or hateful. That’s why Nazis can march in Ohio. It’s not because we _permit_ them to march; it’s because _everyone_ is allowed to march, so long as they’re not breaking the law. Those guys are going to be nazis whether or not they march, and quite frankly, we’re better off knowing about it than not knowing about it.

    The real danger here is the fetishizing of speech to the extent that anyone can say whatever they want, and it’s “protected” by a lack of criticism or qualification. And this is the reason that it’s noteworthy that the FN is quoted – because a few years ago, Reuters or Le Monde or anyone else would have followed up a quote from FN with a qualification about their politics. (“Touchez-pas la France, mon Pote!”).

    Posted October 3, 2006 at 10:49 pm | Permalink
  8. Malcolm says

    Hi Duncan,

    Well as I said, I was hoping that I was misunderstanding Villepin. The attitude is real enough, however, and is particularly visible in the free pass from critical examination that religious beliefs are routinely given. To press anyone on such beliefs, even when their widespread acceptance has real consequences for society, is pretty much taboo everywhere.

    Posted October 3, 2006 at 11:30 pm | Permalink