The personal freedom of Europeans suffered three severe blows in the past two weeks, and each is highly instructive. Together, they show that America is divided from Europe by much more than opinion. In fact, the divide that separates us from our European "cousins" is because they no longer value freedom as we do. There is nary a whimper from them as their governments -- and the EU pseudo-government -- chip away at their most fundamental rights. Consider what the Frog courts have done to La Bardot.
Brigitte Bardot -- sixties sexpot now in her late sixties -- was fined $6,000 by a French court for inciting racial hatred. From what the French court said about her book, A Scream of Silence, you'd think it was the Frog equivalent of Mein Kampf. The court said that "Mme. Bardot presents Muslims as barbaric and cruel invaders, responsible for terrorist acts and eager to dominate the French to the extent of wanting to exterminate them." (Exterminate the French? Just don't go there. Be good. Pay attention.)
Whether what she says in her book is right or not doesn't matter. It's her opinion and in a free country she'd have the right to voice it. She isn't inciting violence against anyone. She isn't selling secrets to an enemy of her country. (That's Chirac's job.) So what gives? France has taken political correctness and turned it into criminal law. Freedom of speech in France is yours only as long as you don't offend anyone the government either likes or is afraid of.
Freedom of speech isn't just a freedom to be polite and objectively correct. It's also the freedom to be unreasonable, bigoted, pigheaded, stupid, and even French. The only boundaries our Constitution allows are libel, creating danger, and treason. France is well on the way to becoming what the Soviet Union was, if you take away the cheap vodka and replace it with cheese, cigarettes, and a sneer.
WHILE FRANCE SURRENDERS freedom of speech, in Britain freedom of the press is eroding.
Let's give a big "harrumph" to Britain's "Office of Communication," a government bureaucracy whose mission it is to "balance the promotion of choice and competition with the duty to foster plurality, informed citizenship, protect viewers, listeners and customers and promote cultural diversity." Last week "Ofcom" scolded Fox News Channel's John Gibson for accusing the BBC of lying and "frothing-at-the-mouth anti-Americanism." Gibson's broadcast had struck a nerve with twenty Brit whiners who complained to Ofcom when he attacked the Beeb's Andrew Gilligan for his wildly false reporting during the 2003 Iraq campaign. Gilligan -- most famous for making up the charge that the Blair government had "sexed up" the intel on Iraqi WMD (and thus lied the UK into war) -- had been proven false by a formal investigation. When David Kelley -- Gilligan's supposed source -- killed himself after denying saying that to Gilligan, the whole mess was investigated. The report by Lord Hutton found that the Beeb, not Blair, had made things up. I remember Gilligan's reports from Baghdad and its outskirts. They could have been (and possibly were) written by Baghdad Bob. None of those outrages was enough to wake Ofcom up.
Now, Ofcom has puffed itself up to chastise Gibson who, predictably, reacted by using one of his opinion segments to tell Ofcom to stuff it. He was much too polite. The Beeb is relentlessly anti-American, anti-war, anti-Bush, and anti-everything else that doesn't fit neatly into its own far-left view of the world. Just ask the sailors of HMS Ark Royal, who voted to ban it from the ship during the '03 fighting because of its bias. But forget the Beeb. Its biases are too blatant to even worry about. The real problem is the overreach of Ofcom.
Ofcom has no regulatory authority over American television except as it is broadcast in Britain. They won't ban Fox from the UK because they have neither the power nor the guts to do so. To that suggestion, Fox would surely say, "make my day." The problem with Ofcom is that it's part of a foreign government arm interfering -- or in this case attempting to -- in the content of American broadcasts. That offends me much more than the whining libs of the BBC. Brit freedom of the press has always been less than we have here. Now their bureaucrats want to bring the same reduced press freedom here. As Tony Soprano would say to them, "fuhgeddaboudit." And that's not nearly the worst of it. The worst -- as always -- comes from the European Union.
IN THEIR SUMMIT last week, the EU nations' leaders finally agreed on a constitution for this new sort-of-nation. It needs to be ratified by all its members by the end of 2006 and at least eight nations, including Britain, are planning to hold referenda on it. But on what?
Most Europeans apparently don't care. In the EU parliament elections, they stayed home in droves. In their delightfully descriptive phrase, the agreed draft is now going through the "toilettage" process, by which scores of bureaucrats and translators will try to interpret its 333 pages into the more than a dozen languages of the member nations. Better they should flush the whole thing. From several reports, I gather that the new document bears the marks of artful dodging. It's the process lawyers call "vaguing it up."
Tony Blair went to the EUnuchs' summit with a theatrical chip on his shoulder, demanding a veto of tax and foreign policy initiatives, and defending other vestiges of British sovereignty. He came home claiming victory. But just what his victories consist of has yet to be seen. The EUnuch lawyers have fiddled and diddled with the language in a manner reminiscent of the U.N. One of my pals -- a former U.N. deputy ambassador himself -- explained the difference in how the U.S. and the Europeans conduct diplomacy.
In any U.N. resolution there will always be something vagued up. When the Europeans see something vague, if only one of the interpretations is the one they want, they vote in favor and claim victory. If only one interpretation is contrary to the United States' interpretation, we vote against it and label it a defeat if it passes. Segue to the U.S. Constitution.
Remember that little sentence, part of which reads, "Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech or of the press…"? Pretty simple and clear, ain't it? The rights enshrined in that sentence are worth everything. There's nothing that clear in the new EU constitution. If I were you, my European friends, I'd be worried. Real worried.
TAS Contributing Editor Jed Babbin is the author of Inside the Asylum: Why the U.N. and Old Europe Are Worse Than You Think.
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