Saturday, December 11, 2004


French comedians, worried that they might be out of a job, sided with freedom-of-speech advocates yesterday after Parliament passed a law that makes it an imprisonable offence to insult homosexuals and women. Jokes about blondes, La Cage aux Folles — the hit show and film about camp gays — and even the Old Testament could be banned under the law, suggested critics who said that political correctness was running riot in France. “We are plunging ever more into le politiquement correct,” Laurent Ruquier, a star television comedian, said, using an expression imported in the 1990s from America. “You are not allowed to mention anything or anyone,” Ruquier said, noting that he is himself gay.

The unease is being felt on both the Right and the Left as France follows the US and Britain down the path of trying to stamp out the potential for causing offence to minorities of any kind. In Britain the comedian Rowan Atkinson has joined the fight against government plans to criminalise incitement of religious hatred, arguing that comics must be free to lampoon religion and religious leaders. The Catholic church opposed the new French law and some critics on the Left said that the State was resorting to the methods of the Thought Police of George Orwell’s 1984.

Meanwhile, France Soir warned its readers to avoid the most common French insults: “Calling a woman mal baisée (sexually frustrated) or uttering a homophobic enculé (a***hole) could cost you six months’ jail.”

Last month the National Human Rights Commission urged the Government to abandon the Bill that outlaws sexist and homophobic insults. “If it is adopted, we will face difficulty defining insults and will thus have to condemn words. Certain films, books and even the Bible could come under its terms,” said the state body. The centre-right Government of President Chirac ignored the advice, redrafting the Bill but leaving in place the maximum six months in prison and £15,000 fine for “defaming a person or a group of persons on account of their sex or their sexual orientation”.

In a stormy parliamentary session, rebel MPs from M Chirac’s Union for a Popular Majority (UMP) inserted the handicapped as another protected minority but this is likely to be dropped by the Senate. The new law, which also includes penalties for incitement, puts sexual insults into the same framework as longstanding laws against racist and anti-Semitic speech and denying the Holocaust. The Bill also creates a high authority for combating all “discriminations”.

Homosexual and feminist groups welcomed the law, which the Government drafted in an attempt to regain credit with gay and women’s groups after it opposed homosexual marriage last spring. One of the first steps planned by SOS homophobie, a campaign group, is the prosecution of football supporters who chant pédés (queers) at players who do not meet with their favour. According to Les Chiennes de Garde (Guard Bitches), a feminist group, the law would act as a brake on the physical abuse of women “by first outlawing verbal violence

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