Words have always killed. Either by the harm that insult and defamation can inflict. Or by the incitement to physical violence it can cause. Some people who had been insulted or harassed at work or in private have taken their own lives. People whose heads are placed on a spike and paraded around, and against whom we encourage the use of force to make them leave power that they conquered democratically, are not far from the same situation: political harassment is never good for democracy.
We are at this point today, in many countries.
In Great Britain, Italy, the United States, Spain, and so many other countries, verbal violence is reaching insane proportions. The hallucinating words of the President of the United States and his supporters are sparking fuses. At the other extreme end, some environmental extremists are calling for an end to the human race, because human beings had always planned to subjugate nature. In a completely different context, the hate speech of the fundamentalists has preceded their action; against women, infidels, their own co-religionists, and those who put forward the principles of secularism.
Social networks add to this liberation of speech. Hate is everywhere. Death threats, usually anonymous, are on the rise. It is as if these people were using the pretext of not being heard, within the framework of institutions, to shout louder and louder. It will not stop with just politics. This language will become the language of everyday conversation, and the threat will no longer be just there or virtual. This is where “the Banality of Evil,” a philosophical concept envisioned in 1963 by Hannah Arendt about Adolf Eichmann, takes on a whole new meaning.
The return of verbal violence, a prelude to physical violence, is particularly worrying in France, a country that has never accepted the idea of undertaking reforms, and that moves forward through revolutions only. So much so that revolutions, or coups d’état, have somehow given birth to our five republics.
The behaviour of the former senior management personnel of France Telecom, which drove many of the firm’s employees to suicide, is in line with the hallucinating speeches of the leaders of France Insoumise (Unbowed France), who call for breaching the laws and inflicting physical violence against the President of the Republic and the elected members of his party. Furthermore, these political leaders, who have the support of a few trade unionists and civil society organizations, and backed by certain suicidal media entities, had even organized torchlight retreats: anyone with a little culture can see that it is a reminder of the great fascist and Nazi parades. And even if they claim that it refers to the first 14th of July event, this reminder of the French Revolution focuses, above all, on the horror of the Terror, symbolised by the abject silhouettes of Emmanuel Macron’s head placed on the end of a pike.
All of this serves only Marine Le Pen, who, in principle, differs from everything that the far left-wing represents. Yes, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who was a great minister and who remains a cultured man, is becoming the stepping stone of the extreme right. He would not be the first person on the French left-wing to have made this journey. There is no doubt that Mr Mélenchon is doing this, at least unconsciously, to help defeat the person who is bothering him because that person has succeeded in democratically conquering in six months the power that he, Mr Mélenchon, had been dreaming about for 40 years.
I am saying this without specifically targeting an elected representative. Or to defend a particular President of the Republic. Or to support reforms that I do not agree with in all the details. Rather, the institutions are at stake. That is what must be defended. And in particular, the freedom of opinion, the press and trade unions, which will be the first victims of what these gravediggers believe they are defending.
They must be stopped as soon as possible.
Firstly, by applying the laws of the Republic with rigor, particularly the laws that condemn this type of behaviour, even if the perpetrators are representatives of the people or trade unionists: more public responsibilities we have, more we must set an example.
Then by denouncing and discrediting those who make such remarks, even when such remarks are not unlawful per se. They must understand that insulting and shouting is not an argument and does not convince anyone. They must understand that, by their very political functions, their role is to mediate the people’s concerns and anger, not to exacerbate them.
The Republic is our common good; and with it, tolerance, secularism, and many other treasures. Let us be proud of that. Let us not trample it. By making words the allies, not the enemies, of freedom.