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The power of words and ideology

Is preaching of Nazi-like ideology a human right?

Friday 28 July 2017, by Marieme Helie Lucas, siawi3

Source:, July 20, 2017

The power of words and ideology

Is preaching of Nazi-like ideology a human right?

Marieme Helie Lucas

This Introduction was prepared for the International Conference on Freedom of Conscience and Expression, held during 22-24 July 2017 in London.


Since the times of the French Revolution, there were two different views regarding freedom of speech : advocating for total freedom of speech, or limiting it in certain circumstances.

We must remind those who speak up for total freedom of speech that, whether it was with the physical elimination by the Nazis and Fascists of those they called the ‘untermensch’, or whether it is with the physical elimination by Daesh, Taliban, Al Qaaeda, Boko Haram, Shebab, GIA, etc… of those they call ‘kofr’, the prior dissemination of their ideology, over several years, played a crucial role in allowing for the unchallenged implementation of the genocides they perpetrated. It is through the idea of a superior ‘race’ or a superior ‘creed’, whose representatives are invested with the right and duty to eradicate those who don’t fit and don’t meet their criteria for deserving to live, that these ideas spread into the population to the point that only a tiny minority dare stand against them, to the risk of their lives.

Throughout the nineties in Algeria, when the FIS/GIA attacked the population to the extent there were about 200 000 victims at the end of the decade, anti-fundamentalist women - in particular - kept denouncing the fact that it was not enough to denounce the violence committed by armed fundamentalist non state actors in the name of Islam; as long as one would not stop fundamentalists from propagating their ideology, one would not even start tackling the problem. Now that Muslim fundamentalism has spread over practically all continents and that extermination wars against people are waged by Muslim fundamentalists in so many locations, one should listen to the Algerian women’s warnings.

Throughout this period of time, we were endlessly countered and betrayed by international human rights organisations who supported freedom of speech for fundamentalists and helped them to further express their views, and to publicly advocate for theocracy (the a-historical unchangeable law of their god – as interpreted by reactionary clerics) against democracy (the laws of the people, voted and changeable by the will and vote of the people) ; these human rights organisations refused to make the link between ideas and actions. (However, they never extended to Algerian democrats the support to express their views publicly that they granted fundamentalists; and this indeed sheds a cloud on their pretence to being a-political)

Even today, many intellectuals continue to pretend that there should not be any censorship at all, that all ideas have equal right to be made public. How can intellectuals grant so little power to words, to ideas ? Why then would they continue writing if those were so unimportant, so de-linked from reality ?
Do we really believe that Nazi and Facist ideas are harmless, that they cannot shape and inspire the worst policies, actions, movements ? History shows just the opposite.

During the 1789 French Revolution, Saint Just, the youngest member elected to the National Convention to represent the people, stated : ‘No freedom for the ennemies of freedom’. Why ? It was not paranoïa : to the newly acquired freedom of the Republic, hardly won against the allied powers of the King and of the Church supported by other European Kingdoms, there were many ennemies, both inside and outside the country. When freedom is still fragile, and in danger, then one cannot make any compromise.

Are we in the same situation today ? To what extent are the ennemies of freedom of thought and freedom of expression threatening us today, even at the heart of Europe ? Is their ideology gaining ground ?
Our stand on freedom of expression is directly linked to our response to this question. Depending on our analysis of the present situation, we will decide whether we are strong enough to challenge efficiently the rising extreme rights, - not only the traditional xenophobic one, but also the new fundamentalist extreme right -, or whether keeping at bay the enemies of democracy, of freedom, of free choice for the people now requires limiting their propaganda.

We are perfectly aware of the long term dangers, for democracy itself, of such a choice. But having seen in the past 40 years the growth and rise of traditional extreme rights throughout Europe, as well as the unchallenged ideology of Muslim fundamentalists spreading on all continents, engendering wars against people, genocides, attacks and atrocities perpetrated by them against democrats, women, religious or ethnic minorities, gays, atheists, secularists, etc… i believe the question of whether or not there should be a limit to freedom of expression – and how and when - is a valid and a timely one.
Had this question been raised in time when Hitler was elected to power, history may have been changed and many lives spared. We do not want, moreover in the name of human rights, another Munich.