A French teenager who was accused of insulting Islam last year is getting 30 hate-filled messages per minute a year on. That is 43,200 messages every day. Her lawyer, Richard Malka, told The Times that the girl, only known as Mila, has had to go into hiding and study from home, where she is under police protection. He said 50 social media users who have sent the teenager death threats have been identified by the police. In October, authorities sentenced a 23-year-old man after he shot a video in which he mimicked cutting the girl’s head off.
What is the Background?
Last January, the girl reportedly got into an argument with an Instagram user during a live stream. A Muslim user called her a "dirty lesbian" (Mila’s profile is adorned with an LGBT flag) and a "dirty w**re". To that she replied:
"The Koran is... full of hate... Islam is a s**t religion. That’s what I think".
After the video went viral, Mila began receiving death and rape threats, as well as accusations of racism.
She recorded a video in response in which she dismissed the allegations and said she hated religion in general.
“I am not racist, not at all. I don’t have any issues with saying what I think. I hate religion. I said what I thought, you will not make me regret it”.
However, the threats didn’t stop and the teenager had to quit her school in the city of Lyon and move to a military-run boarding school.
Despite the fact that her principal prohibited her from using social media, last November she took to TikTok, where she again criticised Islam. A month later, someone leaked messages she had sent to her friends where she revealed the school where she studies. According to her parents, she was then expelled, but the French Ministry of Armed Forces said she was told to return home for her safety and the safety of her peers.
Mila's lawyer criticised the government of Emmanuel Macron for failing to protect the young girl as well as freedom of speech in the country. Richard Malka said France has given up on "trying... to teach freedom of opinion and of expression" and abandoned the values of the republic, "for fear of wounding people".
Mila appeared once on television where she reiterated her stance:
"I absolutely do not regret what I said, it was really what I thought. I don't have to hide for this reason. I don't have to stop living for this".
However, the girl said she felt a little bit sorry for people who practice religion in peace and whom she "might have hurt" with her comments.
How Has President Macron Responded?
When the video went viral last year, the French president defended the girl, saying the country’s law clearly states that one has "the right to blaspheme, to criticise, to caricature religions”.
"The republican order is not a moral order… what is outlawed is to incite hatred and attack dignity", Macron said. "In this debate we have lost sight of the fact that Mila is an adolescent. We owe her protection at school, in her daily life, in her movements".
The president also said that by finding the girl a new school the government had "fulfilled its responsibilities".
France, the country with the largest Muslim minority population in Europe, is guided by the laïcité principle (state secularism). Among other things, it does not allow curbing freedom of expression to protect the feelings of a particular community, as this would undermine the country’s unity.
The development comes at a time when France is engaged in a debate about the freedom of speech and freedom of expression. The longstanding issue sprung up again after a Muslim migrant beheaded a schoolteacher after the latter showed satirical caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad during lessons dedicated to freedom of speech. Islam's holy book, the Quran, doesn't say anything about depictions of Allah or the Prophet Muhammad; nevertheless, many Muslims oppose portrayals of the prophet because it may lead to a temptation toward idol worship, while satire about the religion is considered blasphemous and in some countries is punishable by death. Macron’s support for Samuel Paty and the caricatures caused a wave of indignation among Muslims across the world.
Commenting on the situation with the French teenager, Abdallah Zekri, general delegate of the French Council for the Muslim Faith (CFCM), said:
"This girl knows exactly what she has done. They who sow, reap". Zekri added that the girl’s comments were not covered by freedom of expression, but were insulting.
The head of the CFCM, Mohammed Moussaoui, said however that criticism of Islam has to be accepted and no statements justify death threats.
"We have to accept all the debates and refuse all violence", Moussaoui said.