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The Therapy Sessions
Saturday, January 24, 2004

Freedom of Speech?

PARIS - A well-known French comic will be prosecuted for on-air antics that included dressing up as an Orthodox Jew and decrying an "American-Zionist" axis, the Paris prosecutor's office said Friday.

Dieudonne M'Bala M'Bala's performance, which drew criticism from the French prime minister, came during a prime-time TV show, "On Ne Peut Pas Plaire a Tout le Monde," ("You Can't Please Everybody") on Dec. 1.

As part of the skit, the comic raised an arm and shouted "Isra-Heil!" — a reference to the Nazi slogan, "Heil Hitler."

Prosecutors opened a preliminary investigation Dec. 24 into whether the comic's skit and "incriminating comments" constituted racial defamation.

Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin has said he was "shocked" by the performance, and the show's host, Marc-Olivier Fogiel, apologized for the episode. Several Jewish groups complained.

On Thursday, Justice Minister Dominique Perben said that "justice would be inflexible" if racism is proven.

Well, while it is very interesting that such idiocy can pass for humor in France, one has to wonder where this hate crimes business is going.

I think I'd sum up the American view like this: The man has a right to his opinions - as stupid as they are - and he has a right to voice them in whatever venue he chooses. In the US, this case would go nowhere, and I doubt anybody serious (and that means outside a US academic institution) would prosecute it.

But basic American human rights don't apply in Paris, and the definition of "human rights" is one of the key differences between the US and France.

Whether racism can be "proven" is purely a matter of who does the judging. In some people's opinion, I'm certain that things I say on this website could be considered racist.

I once said - and I still believe - that I would have qualms about taking my seriously ill child to a black doctor. From a purely technical standpoint, I said, I'd prefer an Asian.

I was taken to task by a reader who said that he would be become violent if anyone had uttered such racism in his presence.

So we argued.

I said that I based this observation on my time teaching chemistry at the college level. Many blacks had been obviously hurried along academically. I even admitted doing this myself: I simply wanted them to succeed more than I wanted others to succeed. And I saw this manifesting itself when it came down to subjective analysis of their answers on tests. I was more likely to give a nice black student points for effort, in effect saying "I know what he meant to do here."

It is my opinion that this "moving the goalposts" is common in academia, and that its pervasiveness explains the two-tier academic system we have: black students are, on average, just not as good as their white and Asian counterparts. I doubted that this ended in college, in medical school or in the workplace.

And I had noticed that a good black student was more likely to go to medical school than an excellent white one.

My reader was unpersuaded. I had already committed racial heresy, and now I was trying to justify it!?

I could do nothing to persuade him. In the end I even produced a study (JAMA (1994) Vol 272:9:pgs 674-679) in the Journal of the American Medical Association lamenting the problem: in 1988, black medical school graduates were failing their medical board tests at four times the rate of their white and Asian counterparts.

I repeated myself: if my child's life was threatened, I'd want the hands treating him to be white or yellow. I don't consider this any different than consulting Consumer Reports before buying a car, and finding that one model, on average, requires more repairs than a competitor.

My reader sulked off into the dark recesses of cyberspace. I haven't heard from him since.

I'm certain that my bluntness offended him, but I don't apologize for it. I believe in my heart that all people are equal, but I also know that professionals are made, not born. And the process of making them - in this case, medical school - has confused equality of opportunity with equality of result.

The process has become political: schools say that want to graduate so many black doctors, and they decree it to be so. Behold, we have black doctors!

Unfortunately for the PC police, people like me don't buy it. I think that test results speak for themselves. I don't buy arguments that some people really know test answers, but are just too nervous to put them down on paper.

Will their nerves of steel suddenly appear when my child's life is on the line?

If I still worked for a university, I could be fired for writing those words. These words would be considered hateful, hurtful or derogatory. It is ridiculous, and universities are on a collision course with the Constitution.

Hate crimes laws are more subtle. In the US (unlike in France), a person can not be easily tried for something he says (there are exceptions made in cases of libel, threats and incitement).

But hate crimes laws try to treat people differently based on their views. It is end run: If a racist commits murder, he does extra time for his unpopular views, if it can be proven that he killed because of his bigotry.

Of course, only a scrupulous person would be troubled by that "if" clause. Fortunately, there are many of them.

Who can judge what is in a man's heart when he commits a crime?

For the sake of argument: A KKK member comes home one day to find his wife cheating on him. The angry husband kills her lover with a shotgun. He is certainly guilty of murder. Does it make any difference if he killed a black man or white one ? Who can look into his mind and KNOW he would have spared a white man he caught in bed with his wife, while killing a black man in the same situation?

No one can know these things.

Hate crimes advocates argue these are quibbles for special cases.

But every legal case is a special case. That's why we have lawyers.

There is a reason why justice is protrayed as blindfolded woman holding scales: it should not make such value judgements. After all, murder is murder. There can be extenuating circumstances (like adultery) that may explain a person's behavior, and they may justify a more lenient penalty. But we can't read people's minds.

Hate crimes give the mob the power to persecute criminals for their unpopular ideas. Aren't criminals entitled to same protections of the law as everyone else? My liberal friends are fond of reminding that they are.

I do wish they would speak up for a criminal's freedom of thought, because France is not too far away from where we are now: The French don't just stop with criminals.

They have given the mob the ability to prosecute ANYONE for their unpopular ideas.

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