June 10, 2014

After a few days of preparation, I have now started my comprehensive and critical look at the human right of free expression, through an analysis of the Dieudonné Affair. My main hub will be the National Library of France – François Mitterrand (BnF), which offers literally millions of valuable resources, but only if you can find them. In fact, the first thing I remarked while planning research away from Duke’s gothic campus was how much I take for granted our library system. Not only do we have easy access to the catalogue, but our online resources are incomparable. BnF has its own benefits, though, but more practice is needed to conquer the massive complex.

National Library of France

The exterior of the National Library of France. Most research takes place at the Ground level -where the trees are.

Similar to the Library of Congress in the United States, in that it carries at least one copy of every book published in France, it additionally has connection to online databases and journals. Through the library’s access to a database called Europresse, I have been able to search for all the media coverage of the Dieudonné Affair and its connection to other stories about anti-Semitism, racial violence, and liberty of expression. By first looking at all the media coverage, a process on which I am still working, I will have a more complete idea of not only the facts of the Affair, but also the general French perception of the events. In addition this will help me understand on what the average citizen made their assumptions as well as how intellectuals positioned this Affair in the current and historical judicial culture.

In the days to come, I plan use these media resources available at the BnF as well as their catalogue on legal rights of expressions and its limits. Eventually, when I have a rough draft containing structured theses, I hope to speak with the comedian and others involved in the Affair. This commentary will then hopefully make the research deliverables less hypothetical and more prescriptive.

More generally, resituating myself to the speed and other fascinating particularities of Parisian life did not take an exorbitant amount of time, as it has in the past, but still was exciting and thought-provoking as usual. Coming from the Outer Banks of North Carolina, the change from a small beach town to one of the most active cities on Earth always shocks me – but having made the change multiple times now, I find some peculiar enjoyment in the transitory space between two incredibly different cultures.

the Palais de Justice

The Palais de Justice at the very center of Paris, where most trials take place.

While too many differences exist between the cultures in general, I would like to highlight two important features of French culture in general which impact my research: France’s history with anti-Semitism and its diversity with relation to colonialism. More generally I am continuously repositioning my perspective of contemporary France to include the fact that World War II took place on this soil not too long ago (highlighted by the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion this past week). Specifically, when I research media stories on anti-Semitism, I must always remind myself that it was here, in this city, that Jewish citizens were deported – a fact that will always be part of France’s history. Therefore, from an American perspective, we might not judge it a crime to make a joke based on the Holocaust. But for the French, the more serious ties to the tragic history might in fact do just that. There is even a law in France which, while not necessarily banning this humor, seems to have been satisfactory justification to some for the banning of the Dieudonné’s performances. Indeed, the confrontation of the memory of the Holocaust, the potential for more racial violence, and the West’s dedication to the freedom of expression is the thematic core of my research.

Secondly, the history of colonialism and exploitation will also always be attached to France’s identity. While the colonies per se no longer exist, many of those that lived under colonial rule still do. In addition, this colonization is still the root of many problems in the ex-colonies – a point which merits much more discussion than is available here. With many immigrants from ex-colonies moving to France and becoming French citizens, this history takes an even more interesting and poignant center-stage. Therefore and finally, as I try to understand French perspectives on news stories, or look at how judges have interpreted certain legal rights, I must always take into account these everlasting memories and their unique role in French society.

Daniel Stublen

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