Freedom

We may not like what you wear, but we’ll defend your right to wear it… Oh, no, sorry, that’s not it… What was it? Oh yes… We may not like what you say, but we’ll defend your right to say it…

But only if we agree with you and if it’s especially insulting to people we don’t like, and if it helps inflame community tensions…  but not if it’s something sensible like suggesting that it’s wrong to threaten women with arrest if they don’t remove their tops…

In that case you can just shut up, because liberté, égalité and fraternité only apply to people who recognise the importance of wearing beachwear designed by a great Frenchman, who named his garment after a beautiful Pacific atoll, five days after the first of 23 nuclear weapons tests rendered it uninhabitable… And they claim the burkini is a celebration of explosive violence!

No, freedom of expression is not about minorities choosing what they wear or how they enjoy their beach holiday… Freedom of expression is about defending great European traditions like freedom itself, liberty, independence, privilege, unrestraint, indulgence, abandonment and, well, any synonym that takes our fancy on any particular day, which of course only free people can really, truly understand…

It is about being free to be free to be free, and that includes being free from being free if being free undermines freedom. Thus it is the right of the state and its authorities to force women to adopt the national uniform of beachgoers everywhere, in the name of freedom. It is the right of authorities to compel, coerce and oblige individuals to do not as they please, but as others please, in the name of freedom. Indeed that is the defence of freedom itself!

So say yes to racial slurs, to the targeting of minorities, to insulting the powerless, to criminalising the innocent, to colonial expeditions and jingoistic expressions of solidarity with the powerful. Send those third-generation immigrants back home. Bring the de-veiling ceremonies enforced in Algeria in the 1950s to the towns and suburbs of France. Rekindle all that once made France so great: the brutal supremacist violence of empire, the sneering and mocking voice of secular rationalism, the disavowal of anything sacred other than the beloved symbols of the Republic. Let the world taste this peculiar elixir of freedom!

If there is a clash of civilisations unfolding before us, it is not as our social commentators imagine it, for Daesh and French authorities are on the same side here, both telling women how they should dress, as if the private realm were the property of the state. If there is a clash, it is between ordinary people who cherish their individual liberties, and ideological states which wish to police them. ‘Freedom!’ they chant, with weapons charged. ‘Be free,’ they insist, as they trample on the freedoms of little people everywhere.

Freedom is about being free to be free to be free, which includes being free from being free if freedom is undermined by said freedom. This is a freedom which insists, “I do not care if you do not like what I have to say, but I’ll defend to your death my right to say it.” This is a freedom in which true freedom comes from conforming to the whims of the majority, from obeying the strictures of a freedom-giving ideology and from giving up self-determination.

In short, you will never be truly free until you have given up your faulty notions of freedom. Long live freedom!

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