An opinionated 16-year-old girl has created a national debate in France over the line between freedom of speech and incitement against a religion. Her statements about Islam on social media prompted outrage, death threats, and eventually forced her to move schools. It all started with an Instagram livestream on January 18th in which the girl, known only as Mila because of her age, was showing how she does her make-up:
Recounting the events to the host of the popular chatshow Le Quotidien on Monday, Mila said: “A guy was hitting on me heavily during the live, telling me ‘you’re beautiful, you’re hot, what age are you?”.
She duly informed those watching that she was lesbian and that “blacks and Arabs” were not her type.
Cue a stream of insults and threats, followed by her now infamous response, spoken directly to camera.
“The Koran is a religion of hatred, there is only hatred in it. Islam is shit, your religion is shit,” she said, describing in lewd terms what she would do to “your god”.
The Guardian report is more specific saying that after Mila announced she was a lesbian, someone who identified themselves as a Muslim called her a “dirty lesbian” and a “dirty whore.” She responded with the statement about Islam and that set off a firestorm of death and rape threats against her. Her home address was published online and she was kept out of school for two weeks for her own safety:
The video was widely shared on social media, where it elicited more threats, including of death and rape.
Fearing for the girl’s safety, the regional education board told Mila to stay home from school, where she remains two weeks later.
“You reap what you sow”, a senior member of the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), Abdallah Zekri, told French radio, arguing that the youngster had “asked for it” (the threats).
In her one television interview earlier this month, Mila argued that criticizing Islam is not the same as criticizing a race of people:
“I am not racist. You cannot be racist towards a religion. I said what I thought, you’re not going to make me regret it.”
Marine Le Pen praised Mila saying, “This young girl is braver than the whole political class in power over the past 30 years.” But some government figures suggested Mila had gone too far with her criticism:
French justice minister Nicole Belloubet also waded into the controversy, saying that death threats against the teenager were “unacceptable”.
However, Ms Belloubet herself was criticised after arguing that an attack on religion was “an attack on freedom of conscience”. French Senator Laurence Rossignol gave Ms Belloubet “0/20 in constitutional law”, saying that in France “it is forbidden to insult the followers of a religion but one can insult a religion, its figures, its symbols”. Ms Belloubet later said her comments had been “clumsy”.
Earlier this week, it was announced that Mila would be moving to a new school. And today, French President Macron weighed in on Mila’s side saying blasphemy was no crime:
“In this debate we have lost sight of the fact that Mila is an adolescent. We owe her protection at school, in her daily life, in her movements,” Macron said in an interview with Le Dauphiné Libéré newspaper.
The president added that in finding a new school for Mila, “the state has fulfilled its responsibilities” and that children needed to be “better protected” against “new forms of hatred and harassment online that can be destructive”.
“That necessity is separate from the criticism of religion. The law is clear: we have the right to blaspheme, to criticise, to caricature religions. The republican order is not a moral order … what is outlawed is to incite hatred and attack dignity,” Macron added.
When all of this started in France, people quickly made a connection to the 2015 Charlie Hebdo attack which took place just over five years ago. In that case, two brothers killed 12 people because they were angry over the paper’s publication of cartoons of Muhammad. Back then the hashtag #JuSuisCharlie was trending in support of the magazine. This month the hashtag #JeSuisMila began trending. Here’s FRANCE 24’s recent look back on the Charlie Hebdo attack five years ago.
Finally, if you want to see Mila’s appearance on French TV, here it is. If your French isn’t very good you can turn on the closed captioning and have Google auto-translate it to English. The translation isn’t great but it’s enough that you can follow the discussion. This is queued up to the actual interview. If you want to see a video presentation of the ongoing debate that led up to the interview just scroll back: