World of Defamation

From The Guardian:

A French appeal court has found the editor-in-chief of Le Monde and the authors of an opinion piece in the paper guilty of “racial defamation” against Israel and the Jewish people.

The offending paragraphs:

The first passage read: “It is hard to imagine that a nation of fugitives born of a people who have been subjected to the longest persecution in the history of humanity, who have suffered the worst humiliation and the worst contempt, should be capable, in the space of two generations, of transforming themselves into a people sure of themselves and dominating (of others) and, with the exception of an admirable minority, a scornful people that takes satisfaction in humiliating others.”

The second continued: “The Jews of Israel, descendants of an apartheid named the ghetto, ghettoise the Palestinians. The Jews who were humiliated, scorned and persecuted humiliate, scorn and persecute the Palestinians. The Jews who were the victims of a pitiless order impose their pitiless order on the Palestinians. The Jews, scapegoats for every wrong, make scapegoats of Arafat and the Palestinian Authority.”

The authors, Edgar Morin (who is Jewish), Daniele Sallenave, and Sami Nair, claim that the two paragraphs were taken out of context. Morin’s lawyer added that:

The court made plain that it found the text as a whole constituted a very potent critique, but a perfectly tolerable one given the complexity of the situation…It was just those two passages that were picked out. All it means is people are going to have to re-read their copy a bit more carefully; be very careful not to talk about ‘the Jews’, for example, but about ‘some Israelis’.

Sound editorial advice, although whether it should be the law is debatable. The ruling can be seen as a response to the current climate in France; Fernanda Eberstadt reported last year in the New York Times:

Most European intellectuals insist on a distinction between even the fiercest criticism of Israel and an endorsement of anti-Semitism. Recently, however, this distinction has blurred. During demonstrations in May 2002 organized by France’s mainstream antiracist organizations, protesters shouted anti-Semitic slogans and tried to attack a couple of passers-by whom they believed to be Jewish.

One question, though: how does Le Monde’s offence – supposed defamation not just of Jews in general but of Israel in particular – compare with describing the population of Pakistan as the “living damned”? Over to William Dalrymple’s 2003 review of Who Killed Daniel Pearl, by French philosopher Bernard Henri- Lévy:

Throughout his book Lévy shows an intermittent disdain for Islam, and something approaching hatred for Pakistan. He rightly criticizes Pakistanis for their anti-Semitism, and for regarding Israel as evil incarnate, but then goes on to use the same prejudiced language about Pakistan. It is “the Devil’s own home,” “drugged on fanaticism, doped on violence,” a “silent hell, full of the living damned” and their “nightmare mullahs.” Karachi is worse still: “a black hole,” full of “the half-dead,” where “fanatic… long-haired dervishes with wild, bloodshot eyes” howl outside “the house of the Devil.” Lurid comments are stacked up to support this picture of national delinquency: one cabinet minister is “amiable in the extreme,” but when he thinks BHL [Henri- Lévy] is not “looking, a gleam of murderous ferociousness would shine through.” The ordinary people of Pakistan are portrayed as fanatical Orientals who “scowl” as Lévy passes and “narrow their eyes” with a “tarantula-like stare.” One man, “his smile venomous,” actually issues a snake-like “hiss.”

…Lévy makes no distinction between secular Pakistanis and their Islamist rivals, between the military and the democrats, or between the dominant, tolerant, Sufi-influenced Barelvi form of Islam and the newly resurgent, more intolerant Wahhabi and Deobandi forms of the religion which are now spreading rapidly…

No court cases there yet…