There’s absolute free speech when it comes to attacking Islam and Muslims, but not when it comes to the President’s son
Charlie Hebdo, the French magazine, the first to reprint the Danish cartoons, has fired one its senior journalists, for alleged anti-semitism in a cartoon attacking the son of Nicholas Sarkozy. Below is the article.
A Scooter, a Sarkozy and Rancor Collide
PARIS — Deep in the muggy Parisian summer, when it seems the only people left in the city are tourists and those who serve them, there is a fine little scandal involving the president’s son, his wealthy fiancée, a much-beloved and scabrous magazine, a crusty cartoonist and humid charges of racism and anti-Semitism.
Like all French intellectual fusses, this one has roots in the past — as far back as the Dreyfus affair, not to mention Algeria. But it also touches directly on the reputation and power of Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, and his efforts to intimidate the press.
The result has been the firing of a radical left-wing cartoonist, Maurice Sinet, known as Siné, 79, from one of France‘s best (and most vulgar) satirical magazines, Charlie Hebdo, after allegations that he had indulged in anti-Semitic stereotypes while taking a shot at Jean, Mr. Sarkozy’s ambitious second son from his first marriage, who is now 21.
Much attention has been paid to Mr. Sarkozy’s third wife, Carla, her new album of love songs and the tranquilizing effect she has had on the hyperactive French president. But the French have also been following the career of Jean Sarkozy and his recent engagement to Jessica Sebaoun, daughter of Isabelle Maruani (née Darty) and Marc-André Sebaoun. Isabelle Maruani is an heir to the large electronics and technology company, the Darty group, a kind of French Best Buy.
Jean Sarkozy has risen fast. A taller, blond version of his father, the young Sarkozy has some of the sullen, sultry look of the actor Jean-Paul Belmondo, and though still a law student, he has already become the leader of his father’s party in his father’s old constituency, Neuilly-sur-Seine.
In some ways, his rise has been in the face of his father, who wanted to put a former spokesman in the mayoralty of Neuilly-sur-Seine. But the aide, David Martinon, proved unpopular, and Jean Sarkozy led a party putsch to replace him.
Jean Sarkozy has also been a beneficiary of his father’s power, it seems. When his motor scooter was stolen last year, the police recovered it quickly, even going to the extraordinary length of taking a DNA sample from his helmet. In 2005, he ran his scooter into the back of a BMW, according to a complaint brought by the car’s owner, M’Hamed Bellouti, who managed to catch the license plate number as the scooter sped away. The police failed to find the scooter, but the car owner’s insurance company did. Nevertheless, in a December 2007 trial, the complaint against Jean Sarkozy was dismissed.
Mr. Bellouti asked then: “Why is there a two-speed justice system? When they steal his scooter, they are full of zeal. When it hits my car, there is less zeal.”
All this was on the mind of the cartoonist Siné, who last month decided to write about Jean Sarkozy, whom he called “a worthy son of his father.” After Jean Sarkozy left his trial for fleeing the scene of the scooter accident “almost to applause,” Siné noted, “it’s necessary to state that the complainant is Arab!”
“And that’s not all,” the cartoonist continued. Jean Sarkozy “has just said that he wants to convert to Judaism before marrying his fiancée, a Jew and heiress of the founders of Darty. He will go far in this life, the little one!”
The column woke up a somnolent Paris, with the journalist Claude Askolovitch of Le Nouvel Observateur telling RTL radio that Siné’s piece was anti-Semitic for its conflation of Jews, politics and wealth.
The editor of the weekly, Philippe Val, 55, asked Siné to retract. The cartoonist — who was an anticolonial critic of the Algerian war, supports a Palestinian state, is a fierce atheist and spends a good part of the day on a respirator — said he would rather castrate himself.
Mr. Val fired him, then wrote a long explanation of why, asserting that Mr. Askolovitch was acting on behalf of “the entourage of Jean Sarkozy,” and that “a close collaborator of Jean Sarkozy contacted me to tell me that the families of Jean Sarkozy and his fiancée had been outraged and were contemplating a lawsuit.”
Nicolas Sarkozy has in the past had editors fired when their coverage has displeased him, and he is being criticized for trying to bring French public television more under his control. The family also denied that Jean Sarkozy was contemplating conversion.
Mr. Val, who had previously won much praise (and incurred Muslim wrath) for reprinting the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, ended his editorial by quoting Siné as telling a radio station in 1982, “I am anti-Semitic, and I have no fear of saying so.” Siné filed a defamation suit.
Siné has many defenders who deny the passage is anti-Semitic. Gisèle Halimi, a prominent lawyer, said a charge of anti-Semitism would not stand up in court, adding, “This operation is part of the ever more numerous witch hunts aimed at maintaining the psychosis of the persecuted Jew.” The magazine, she said, citing the Prophet Muhammad cartoons, “always posed as a champion of freedom of expression.” Now, she said, “I no longer want to read you or hear you.”
The cartoonist Plantu, in L’Express last month, depicted Mr. Val in a fascist uniform kicking Siné under a headline saying that Charlie Hebdo was the magazine “where everything is permitted — including firing a cartoonist.”
Luc Mandret, a well-known blogger, wrote that in June, in Charlie Hebdo, Siné had defamed Muslims more coarsely than he had insulted Jews, but those comments had produced no similar reaction. “Siné is a provocateur,” Mr. Mandret wrote.
There was heavier artillery used to support Mr. Val: a letter in Le Monde signed by 20 politicians and public intellectuals, including Elie Weisel, Bernard-Henri Lévy, Alexandre Adler, Claude Lanzmann and Bertrand Delanoë, mayor of Paris. Siné “has broken the barrier that separates humor from insult and caricature from hate,” they said. Mr. Lévy wrote further, “Behind these words, a French ear is unable not to hear the echo of the most rancid anti-Semitism.”
Jacques Attali, a former government minister writing in L’Express, summarized the complaint. “One can also read there, and not for the first time for this cartoonist, the return of the old anti-Semitic hymn: ‘The Jews are rich, so to convert to Judaism allows one to get rich.’ ”
As for Siné, he is entirely unrepentant. In a letter to Libération, he wrote: “Sorry to disappoint, but I am the author neither of ‘Mein Kampf’ nor of ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.’ I am only, for the last 60 years, an anti-imbecile of the first order (a euphemism destined to pre-empt any eventual refusal to publish this).”
Basil Katz contributed reporting.