A Tale of Two Women: The Vilification of Brigitte Bardot and Oriana Fallaci
Freedom of speech, suppression of dissent
A process of thought and speech control relying on the strategic use of law has emerged in Europe and the U.S. Variants of the crimes of heresy, blasphemy and vilification are regaining force as effective means of suppressing dissent through criminal offense and civil sanction. New forms of these traditionally religious offenses are being used by governments and private interests that collectively have attained a degree of power that justifies placing them in the position of a secular or religious "church" - depending on the particular interests involved. Whether through the use of direct government power or informal but well-organized private collective action, these interests are intimidating critics into silence and punishing those who will not bow to their will. Both the Left and the Right use this strategy to seize power, stifle opposition and impose sanctions on anyone who does not bow to their preferences. Controls on speech are a core part of the strategy, and this is reaching disturbing levels in Western societies.
This brings us to the vilification of Brigitte Bardot and Oriana Fallaci. Brigitte Bardot wrote A Cry in the Silence to counter what she perceived as the cowardice of European society, particularly France, that produced an unwillingness even to consider what she felt were dangerous impacts of extensive immigration into France of millions of people whose values and traditions not only differed radically from those of French culture but often explicitly rejected that culture. She was criminally prosecuted, convicted and fined for her comments. Oriana Fallaci authored The Force of Reason and several other works as a clarion call following the 9/11 tragedy. Her intent was to warn about what she considered the dangers of Islam for European society. Fallaci was recently charged in Italy with the criminal offense of "vilification."
As the experiences of Brigitte Bardot and Oriana Fallaci indicate, the expanding limitations on what constitutes allowable discourse in the European Union and its members augurs forebodingly for freedom of expression. This is a dangerous time in Western society. It is a moment when the desire of governments to react to the threat of militant Islam produces responses that can destroy the essence of the Rule of Law. The problem is that it is easy to justify restrictions on speech due to the crisis psychology created by the fact we are in an unofficial state of quasi-martial law unfolding within an undeclared guerrilla war. My foundational principle is unsurprising and simple. No one and no institution should be insulated from political criticism in a democratic society. A free speech advocate remarked in admittedly crude terms that, "no one is [or should be] immune from being called an [expletive deleted]." This principle of allowing and encouraging free, open and even insensitive communication is nothing new in a democratic society where the constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of speech, association and religion are core values instilled in the structure of our law and deepest beliefs. Oddly - given the mounting state and private pressure against freedom of speech, thought and conscience - democratic society needs to recommit to these core values more than ever. Unfortunately, we have most likely passed the "point of no return" in the degree to which we have corrupted our social discourse through inhibition and intimidation. At a minimum we must confront the extent to which we have suppressed free speech in the name of admirable causes. We must recapture the willingness to be insulted and to "call a fool a fool" or even to be one.
David R. Barnhizer, A Tale of Two Women: The Vilification of Brigitte Bardot and Oriana Fallaci, SSRN Cleveland-Marshall Legal Studies Paper No. 05-116 (September 2005)