French elite branded cowards for deserting girl who insulted Islam
Adam Sage, Paris
France’s left-wing elite have been accused of cowardice for failing to speak out in favour of a teenager facing death threats for insulting Islam.
The 16-year-old girl, identified only by her first name, Mila, has been told by police it is too dangerous for her to return to her sixth-form college in southeast France, and she is struggling to find another willing to take her.
Richard Malka, her lawyer, said that her plight had been ignored by feminist and left-wing groups, which are usually quick to defend women subjected to verbal and physical violence. “It is the left that traditionally defends secularism in this country. It saddens me that it has not done so in this case,” he told The Times.
L’affaire Mila has divided the country and fuelled anguish in governing circles, highlighting France’s troubles in reconciling ethnic minorities with a state that has no official religion, no offence of blasphemy and no time for the Anglo-Saxon concept of multi-culturalism.
Mila became a target after an outburst in a video broadcast live online. A row with a Muslim whose advances she had rebuffed led to her saying: “I hate religion. The Koran is . . . full of hate . . . Islam is a shit religion.”
She received an avalanche of insults and threats to kill and to rape her, prompting police to advise her to go into hiding.
“She has been stuck at home for two weeks without being able to go to school. She is only a teenager and the sky has fallen on her head,” Mr Malka said. He added that her family was working with the local education authority to find a school that would “guarantee her security”.
Ministers were too fearful of upsetting France’s five million or so Muslims, said Mr Malka, who claimed that their inaction amounted to a betrayal of the values laid by Voltaire, the 18th-century enlightenment philosopher who was the champion of free speech.
“No human rights association has protested or expressed solidarity with the girl whose life has suddenly been plunged into hiding,” he said.
The row escalated when Abdallah Zekri, director of the French Council of Muslims, said that Mila had “reaped what she had sown”. His words provoked fury, forcing the council to issue a retraction.
Right-wing critics say the government’s response has been exemplified by Nicole Belloubet, the justice minister, who said that Mila’s comments breached “freedom of conscience”. When it was pointed out that no such concept existed in French law, Ms Belloubet apologised and said that her remark had been a “mistake”.
Franz-Olivier Giesbert, an influential right-wing commentator and former editor of Le Figaro, accused her of appeasing Islamists and compared her actions to those of the Vichy regime that collaborated with Hitler. “Is France still France?” he asked. “Some days you wonder.”
In an editorial for Le Point news magazine, he wrote: “In Islamic republics such as Pakistan or Iran [Ms Belloubet’s comments] would be normal. But they are not normal in France, the country of the Enlightenment where there is a right to blasphemy.”
The prosecutor’s office in Vienne, near Lyons, has opened a criminal investigation in an attempt to identify the people making the threats. But it said that it had dropped a second inquiry which was intended to determine whether her comments amounted to incitement to hatred, explaining that French law authorised criticism of a religion.