Free speech vs Islamophobia: A teenager fuels debate in France
International desk || shiningbd
It all started with an Instagram broadcast on January 18 last year.
Mila, then 16, with a head of newly dyed purple hair, went on a rant against Islam, addressing some of her 10,000 followers who tuned in.
“The Quran is a religion of hatred. There is only hatred in it. Islam is s**t, your religion is s**t,” she said in her video, using crude imagery to refer to “your God.”
In the following weeks, as she defended her stance, she received about 100,000 hateful messages.
Soon, her legal case caught national attention and tested France’s new cyberbullying laws.
Last month, a French court convicted 11 people for harassing Mila online.
The case reignited a national debate about free speech, including the right to use blasphemy against religions, which is protected by French law.
Highly politicised in France, the justice system, police, mainstream media outlets, and major politicians all became involved in the Mila affair, as it has become known.
‘I said what I thought’
On February 3, weeks after her broadcast, Mila told French media how the situation escalated.
She told a TV audience that she was a lesbian. When asked who she finds attractive, she replied that “Blacks and Arabs” were not her type.
Then, the conversation switched to Islam.
“I am not a racist, not at all. You can’t be racist about a religion,” she said on Le Quotidien. “I said what I thought, I am completely in my rights. I don’t regret it at all.”
Mila, centre, was forced to change schools and accept police protection due to threats to her life in the wake of her first videos being put online in 2020 [Bertrand Guay/AFP]
After that appearance, she received tens of thousands of hate messages, including death and rape threats, across Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat.
She was urgently taken out of school, as its address was shared and her security deemed at risk.
Mila filed a lawsuit for the death threats, with Richard Malka as her lawyer. No stranger to big cases, Malka has represented the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo since the 1990s.
French politicians chimed in, defending free speech.
In a tweet, the far-right leader Marine Le Pen said, “The words of this young girl are the oral description of Charlie’s cartoons, nothing more and nothing less. We can find it vulgar, but we can’t accept that, for this, some people condemn her to death, in France, in the 21st century.”
President Emmanuel Macron told the newspaper Le Dauphiné Libéré that the law was clear. “We have the right to blaspheme, to criticise and to caricature religions.”