Monday, February 20, 2006

France v. the US - the 'Cartoon Issue' and National Politics.

It is worth noticing a major political difference between France and the US – whereas “freedom of expression” is mostly defended by cultural icons of the left in France (think of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, or Libération, or even Le Monde), it is the conservatives in the US – and particularly the Christian conservatives who tend to support the publication of the cartoons. They see any refusal by the media to do so as a form of dangerous "appeasement," that will only bring more violence and weaken Western values. And that goes with their view of the media as the enemy.

So whereas most religious groups in Europe – including the French catholic and Jewish leaders - tend to sympathize with the offense felt by many Muslims, the American Evangelicals see militant Islam like communism during the Cold War - the greatest global threat. They have also clearly taken pro-Israeli stances, shifting from anti-Semitism in the 70s to Christian Zionism in the 90s. This stance from the conservatives also comes from their attempt at making economic freedom equal to other freedoms. (see here, here and here)

In France, it is historically the anti-catholic tradition of the left (Catholicism was against separation of church and state and against the Republic for years in the late 19th and early 20th cent.) which explains their strong pro-secular stance and their opposition to censorship based on religion – a view also shared by a great number of Europeans.

So it is interesting to see how regional history and political ideology shape the treatment of this highly sensitive issue. It also shows how hard it is to have ideas that are not just products of our environment and be able to go beyond that.

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