TELOSscope: The Telos Press Blog

Redeker as Rushdie

Robert Redeker’s essay on Islam and the Free World has been discussed here during the past two days. Its publication in Le Figaro on September 19 led to a wave of death threats against the author that have forced him into hiding. The advocate of free speech—the key theme of his essay—has lost his freedom. Here two documents characterizing recent developments: a letter by Redeker to André Glucksmann and excerpts from the editorial of Le Monde of October 1.

A Letter of Robert Redeker to André Glucksmann

Dear André,


I am now in a catastrophic personal situation. Numerous and very precise death threats have been sent to me, and I have been condemned to death by organizations of Al-Qaeda. The Anti-Terrorist Coordinating Force [UCLAT] and the Bureau of Territorial Surveillance [DST] are involved, but . . . I no longer have the right to stay in my home (the websites where I am condemned to death include a map describing how to get to my house to kill me; there is a photograph of me and the places where I work, with telephone numbers, along with the declaration of condemnation). At the same time, I have no place to go, I am obliged to wander, two nights here, two nights there . . . I am under constant police protection. I have to cancel all my planned talks. And the authorities oblige me to keep me moving. I have become homeless. A terrible financial situation results, since all these costs are my responsibility, including the possibility of having to rent somewhere far from here, the costs of two households, legal fees, etc. . . . It is terribly sad. I exercised my constitutional right, and I have been punished for it, on the very soil of the Republic. This affair is also an attack on our national sovereignty: foreign laws, decided by fanatic criminophiles, punish me for having exercised a French constitutional right, and even in France, I must suffer great damage.

In friendship

From Le Monde, October 1, 2006:

In the eyes of Robert Redeker, “Mohammed is a master of hate.” For having written that in the pages of “Débats” in Le Figaro, this professor of philosophy from Toulouse set off a wave of medieval intolerance. Faced with death threats via email, pilloried on jihadist websites which include his picture and his address, he has been forced to leave home and stay in hiding, under police protection.

The US press, including the NYT, presented him as a simple high school teacher. Le Monde gives a different account.

A member of the editorial board of the journal Les Temps Modernes, founded by Jean-Paul Sartre, Robert Redeker is, at 52, a prolific author, a pamphletist whose “papers,” published in numerous periodicals do not aim to please. [ . . . ]

The philosopher who is Robert Redeker certainly makes the distinction between Islam, the religion, and Islamism, an ideology. But this is not the register he chose. He is free to do so. Free, like the freedom of thought and the freedom of expression.

The editorial goes on to note how Redeker’s piece in Le Figaro was very quickly circulated throughout the world by new media in the context of globalization. This represents a new communications situation.

This change of scale does not justify any self-censorship, but proves one more time that everyone is heard if not necessarily understood everywhere, all the way to the limits of the global village. As the Redeker affair shows, one does not speak in one’s parish as one might to the crowds. This is what Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin wanted to say when he came firmly to the defense of the professor: “We are in a democracy, everyone must be able to express oneself freely, with respect, of course, for others. That is the sole limit which must be accepted to this liberty.” An extreme point of the liberty of expression, blasphemy was never without risk. But this in no way justifies the “fatwas” directed against the author.

One would feel more comfortable if de Villepin had been clearer in defining the “respect for others” which might limit the liberty of expression. If he simply means that one must respect the rights of others to similar freedoms, then he has adopted proper stance. Bravo. If however it implies that giving offense is improper, then it is surely a limited liberty which he claims to defend. Nonetheless, it appears that Le Monde, at least, has decided to take a strong stance in defense of liberty. The Redeker case is a disturbing symbol of the lability of free speech in Europe.

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