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Najat Vallaud-Belkacem

Najat Vallaud-BelkacemNajat Vallaud-Belkacem, born on the 4th of October 1977 in Bni Chiker, Morocco is a French-Moroccan socialist politician, who was appointed Minister of Women's Rights and Government spokeperson in the Ayrault government on the 16th of May 2012. She was the spokesperson of Ségolène Royal's campaign during the 2007 French presidential election and again in 2009 for the 2011 French Socialist Party presidential primary. Since 2008, she has been a councilmember of the city of Lyon, responsible for major events, youth and community life. Second in a family of seven children, Vallaud-Belkacem was born in the Moroccan countryside in 1977 in Bni Chiker, a village near Nador in the Rif region. In 1982 she rejoined her father, a building worker, with her mother and elder sister Fatiha, and grew up in the suburbs of Amiens. She graduated from the Institut d'études politiques de Paris (English: Paris Institute of Political Studies) in 2002. At the Institut she met Boris Vallaud, whom she married on the 27th of August in 2005. She became a member of the Socialist Party in 2002 and joined the team of Gérard Collomb, Mayor of Lyon, in 2003. She led actions to strengthen local democracy, the fight against discrimination, promotion of citizen rights, and access to employment and housing. Elected to the Regional Council of Rhone-Alpes in 2004, she presided over the Culture Commission. In 2005, she became adviser to the Socialist Party and in 2005 and 2006 she was a columnist for the cultural programme C'est tout vu on Télé Lyon Municipale alongside Stéphane Cayrol.

Najat Vallaud-BelkacemIn February 2007 she joined Ségolène Royal's campaign team as a spokesperson, alongside Vincent Peillon and Arnaud Montebourg. In March of 2008 she was elected conseillère générale of the Rhône department in the cantonal elections with 58.52% of the votes in the second round, under the banner of the Socialist Party in the canton of Lyon-XIII. On the 16th of May 2012, she was appointed to French President François Hollande's cabinet as Minister of Women's Rights and spokeperson for the government. She is in support of having the French government force Twitter to filter out hate speech that is illegal under French law, such as speech that is homophobic. Regarding same-sex marriage in France, she has stated that its legalisation is a matter of "historic progress" and describes herself as a "non-practising Muslim". She once said she felt "wounded like all the Muslims of France" when her political opponent Fillon made remarks about the spread of halal food. Other countries in which the Twitter network is also present have a different conception of the manner of exercising freedom of expression and the protection of the dignity of the human person. We think that each of the legal traditions must be respected, as long as it is in line with the protection of human rights. She presents this demand for censorship innocently enough, prefacing it with examples of anti-homosexual, anti-Semitic and anti-negro Twitter hashtags. She doesn't say a word specifically about Islam, Muslims or even religion in the abstract. In fact, when citing the French law that criminalises incitement to hatred, she curiously omits religion from the list of "protected characteristics" even though the text of the law does clearly mention it:

Najat Vallaud-BelkacemIt is to France's credit that it has included in the Criminal Code the repression of incitement to hatred or violence towards a person or group of persons because of their origins, their membership or non-membership in an ethnicity, a nation, religion, and sexual identity or orientation. Of course, the dichotomy is that France is being colonised by North-African Muslims such as Vallaud-Belkacem and the French people are increasingly vocal about the distress this is causing them. In an article in the Gaurdian it was stated:

"Given that she so curiously fails to mention anti-Muslim behavior in amidst all the other carefully listed prejudices that, in her view, require repressive government action, some feel that it is reasonable for the casual observer to suspect that her real agenda is not out on the table."

Evidently the Gaurdian has its own agenda and felt the need to direct their negative commentary at Najat Vallaud-Belkacem. Whether she is a practicing Muslim or not is irrevelant and amounts to a cheap shot cast at the Minister of Womens Rights who has performed her duties admirably.

Like every other country in the European Union, France has a law that criminalizes incitement to hatred based on race or religion, such as the case against John Galliano, the fashion designer, who was convicted of "public insults based on origin, religious affiliation, race or ethnicity" after drunkenly ranting about his love for Hitler. Homophobic hate speech is also illegal in France and 11 other EU nations. So whether or not anyone is prosecuted, making the point that hateful tweets are illegal is not an extraordinary step.

Najat Vallaud-BelkacemBut Vallaud-Belkacem – one of the most highly visible ministers in France and a media darling, is being targeted because she doesn't just want to punish individual tweeters after the fact; she wants to reform the whole system by which Twitter operates and make them partly responsible:

"At a moment when the government is putting in place an action plan against violence and discrimination committed for reasons of sexual orientation or gender identity, I want to call upon Twitter's sense of responsibility, so that it can contribute to the prevention and the avoidance of misbehavior like this. I want us to be able to work together, along with the most important associated agencies, to put in place alerts and security measures that will ensure that the unfortunate events that we have witnessed in recent weeks will not occur again."

To that end, writes Vallaud-Belkacem, she wants Twitter to take steps to help prosecute hate speech, in line with laws already on the books. So long as they all respect universal human rights, she argues, each country has the privilege to strike its own balance between "free expression and the protection of human dignity". And Twitter, an international corporation, has to abide by each country's practices, rather than impose one standard one on all.

Najat Vallaud-BelkacemAs the beautiful minister observes, Twitter already has the capability to "remove manifestly illegal tweets, or at least to make them inaccessible so that the harm they have already caused to gay people does not continue." And indeed, Twitter recently did this in Germany. In October, the company censored the account of a neo-Nazi group after the German police informed Twitter that the organization was outlawed. If you visit the group's account from an American IP address, all its repulsive content is still there – but in Germany, all you'll see is a gray box and a statement that its content is illegal in that country.

Is free speech the privilege of citizens in some enlightened state, where all sides of an argument are heard and where the most noble view naturally takes precedence. Spoken expression now takes place in a digital mixing bowl on the internet, where the most outrageous messages are instantly amplified - with sometimes violent or adverse effects. But, what would be the next step? To issue tech entities like Twitter with badges, uniforms and weapons with which to control the unruly masses? I don't think this is anywhere near what Vallaud-Belkacem is suggesting. It seems as though the good Minister of Womens Rights may merely be suggesting that these internet companies who profit enormousely from this style of free speech may well have a bit of an obligation to assist in the proper discimination of what is deemed free speech, when at times it amounts to nothing more than crude, disrespectful, racist and inflammatory rants and raves.

Najat Vallaud-Belkacem



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