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The "Mila affair"

February 2020, the "Mila Affair"
At the beginning of the year 2020, an incident occurred on social networks, sparking a short but intense national debate.
It started with the words of a teenage girl, Mila, against Islam and Muslims. The girl, who poses as a lesbian, rejects the advances of another teenager in an exchange on her Instagram account. He then insults her in a racist and homophobic manner. As the threats have taken a religious turn, Mila publishes a message affirming her rejection of all religions. This prompted a wave of messages from Internet users furious at this "insult to religion". Mila then posted a video online in which, in very crude terms, she affirmed her rejection and contempt for Islam.
As a result, the teenager received a barrage of insults and threats, including death threats, from thousands of users of Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat. Her personal information, name, address and phone number, was made public. Her high school officials said that it would be better, under these conditions and for her safety, if Mila did not attend her school in the following days. Mila will later have to find another high school to attend.

Abdallah Zekri, the delegate general of the French Muslim Council (CFCM), made a statement on Sud Radio that provoked strong disapproval, saying "He who sows the wind reaps the storm". Shortly afterwards, CFCM president Mohammed Moussaoui eased tensions by tweeting that "nothing can justify death threats against a person, no matter how serious the remarks made. It is the justice system that must pronounce the sanctions provided for by law if there is provocation and incitement to hatred." He will add in a press release : "We must accept that Islam be criticized even in its principles and foundations. [...] Freedom of expression is fundamental. It is a source of enrichment and progress through the dissemination of ideas and opinions that it allows. It is the foundation of our democracy and the bulwark against all forms of alienation."
Several political figures expressed themselves on this subject. Justice minister Nicole Belloubet attempted to support Mila, saying death threats are unacceptable in a democracy, but had the awkwardness to say that, "insulting religion is obviously an attack on freedom of conscience". This is contrary to French law, as lawyer Richard Malka will point out: "the basis of freedom of conscience is not to prohibit criticism or even insult but to protect freedom of expression".

The President of the Republic Emmanuel Macron will in turn reaffirm the right to blasphemy and to criticize religions (see for example Le Monde).

The affair has been widely covered by the media. Numerous Internet users have also expressed their views on the issue, some condemning Mila’s comments with the keyword #JeNeSuisPasMila (I am not Mila), others declaring their support for him with #JeSuisMila.
In this, they illustrate the results of a survey by the IFOP institute, The French, the Mila Affair and the right to blasphemy, which reveals a country split in two on the possibility of criticizing religions : 50% of the interviewees said they were in favour of the right to criticize religion without limits, the other half were opposed to it. (See FranceTv info.)
Two variables are of particular importance: age and religion. Thus, 59% of 18-24 year olds and 51% of 25-34 year olds believe that insulting religion is an infringement of freedom of conscience, while this opinion is in the minority among those over 35 years of age. 68% of Muslims equate insulting a religion with an infringement of freedom of conscience, of which 46% "strongly agree".
Opposition to criticism of beliefs and dogmas is strongest among 18-24 year olds: only 41% defend "blasphemy" (compared to 31% in other age groups). This can be seen as an influence of the American way of looking at things; the importance of young people in Muslim religious affiliation probably also plays a role.
According to the IFOP survey, 30% of French people would agree with Abdallah Zekri’s statement ("He who sows the wind reaps the storm"), 44% with the Minister of Justice ("insulting religion is obviously an attack on freedom of conscience").

As a result of this case, two investigations have been opened: one against Mila, for hate speech, will be closed without follow-up. According to the public prosecutor, the remarks broadcast expressed a personal opinion about a religion, but without any intention of inciting hatred or violence. The other complaint, for calling for murder, is pending.

The substantive issue raised by the Mila case, as did the cartoons of Mohammed and the terrorist attack on the newspaper Charlie Hebdo (as well as other older and perhaps less high-profile cases, such as a 1998 Volkswagen advertisement for the Golf by the DDB Paris agency, or the Benetton advertisement showing two male religious leaders kissing on the mouth), is that of what is called the right to blasphemy. The term is improper, since in fact only believers can evoke blasphemy, and also because this notion no longer exists in French law. It is the right to criticize religions, their symbols or beliefs, even in an extreme and shocking manner. It would appear that in France there is far from unanimity on this issue.

To be consulted on this subject
- newspaper articles: Francetv info, Marianne, 20 minutes, Le Monde.

- The IFOP survey, February 2020, Les Français, l’affaire Mila et le droit au blasphème (The French, the Mila Affair and the right to blasphemy).

A book :
#JeSuisMila #JeSuisCharlie #NousSommesLaRépublique, 50 personnalités s’expriment sur la laïcité et la liberté d’expression, Seramis, 2020

D 31 March 2020    AAnne-Laure Zwilling

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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