France: Who Wants to Be Mila?

Liberté, Liberté chérie, combats avec tes défenseurs !

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Who is willing to “die” today for Mila’s freedom of speech? (Photo: Flickr)

“Liberté, Liberté chérie, combats avec tes défenseurs“, reads a stanza from La Marseillaise, which is probably the most iconic and fearless anthem in the world (just… deal with it). However, in the 21st century, defenders of liberty are shy, modest, and tepid. And this is true for everyone, including les enfants de la patrie who, brave, once wrote the Rights of Man, but today fail to defend a 16-year-old girl who, like so many of her contemporaries, has been tempted to share too much of her life on Instagram (but what, after all, is a teenager without a touch of excess?).

Mila (the young lady in question) is a lesbian, talks about her sexuality openly, answers questions about it, and interacts with other Instagram users, discussing this and many other issues. In this context, one of her followers commented, “I don’t like French women of Maghrebi origin” (the original term is “rebeu” or “beurette,” passable only in spoken language), and the teenager replied, “Neither do I, it’s not my style.” A third person, a male, began to insult the two female interlocutors, accusing them, among other insults, of being racist. Predictably, the tone of the conversation escalated, and the three young internauts found themselves debating religion. In response, Mila shared a video in which she claimed to “hate religion,” adding that “there is nothing but hate in the Koran; Islam is shit.”

A scandal broke out. After numerous threats of rape, torture, murder, Mila doesn’t feel safe enough to go to school. The judiciary then opened two cases: one for incitement of hatred (which was shelved, as it was deemed that the young woman’s remarks did not constitute provocation, but rather a personal opinion with no other intentions) and the second for death threats and harassment directed at the young girl. Mila has been at home for more than ten days, doomed to ostracism.

Amid the controversy, the hashtags #JeSuisMila and #JeNeSuisPasMila (“I am Mila” and “I am not Mila” respectively) became popular on Twitter and Instagram in a display of approval and rejection. The political class reacted rather unenthusiastically (except the usual ignoble radicals, who use any misfortune for their own advantage), and the whole episode reached the mainstream media sooner rather than later. What about freedom? Why are there political and social actors who are afraid to pass themselves off as racists by defending a 16-year-old gamine (younger than Greta, gentlemen, younger than Greta) and instead, choose to remain silent? What are we? Cowards? Hypocrites for whom freedom is useful if it is “measured,” and violence is reprehensible depending on the identity of its promoter? Where are the feminist organizations? Where did all the sorority go? Where are the LGBT groups? For whom or what are they marching today? Which other cause seems to them more urgent, more just, more solemn than freedom? I accuse the silent ones; I accuse the fainthearted ones; I accuse the bien-pensants.

French society (like so many others) has revealed, over the last few years, its flaws, its most aggressive impulse. No, even in the worst of disagreements, no one should get death threats, let alone a minor. No, you shouldn’t walk around with the head of a democratically elected president (whose administration I’ve defended and defend, but that’s not the point today) on a spike. All of these crude actions should be confined to the realm of the unthinkable, especially in a free (free!) country that grants all the tools to express disagreements in respectful, civilized, republican instances.

Voltaire never said that “I don’t agree with what you say, but I will defend to death your right to say it.” It was, in fact, the very British Evelyn Beatrice Hall, in an attempt to sum up the thoughts of the remarkable Gallic writer and philosopher. Be that as it may, who is willing to “die” (politically or symbolically) today for Mila’s freedom of expression? Who has, may the reader forgive my willful tactlessness, the balls to be Mila?

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