Fear, hatred, and the limits of law : a critical analysis of French political discourse following terrorist attacks

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Genevey, Moana
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Regarding counter-terrorism and Islamophobia, many scholars highlight the law-makers’ responsibility in the creation and implementation of laws negatively affecting Muslim communities. Few, however, provide an in-depth analysis on how political discourse on terrorism can, by itself, create, convey and reproduce anti-Muslim prejudices. Being key actors of liberal democracies, politicians are expected to exercise their right to free speech for discussing socially valuable issues, such as terrorism. Nevertheless, when political discourses create prejudices and misconceptions about entire communities, they become potentially harmful for society. In this case, law can appear as a necessary tool for restricting dangerous speech. This thesis seeks to determine how political discourses on terrorism can create Islamophobia, and whether the law is an appropriate instrument to tackle this phenomenon. It is based on the elaboration of a Critical Discourse Analysis framework, rooted on the link between terrorism, Islamophobia and the notion of engineered moral panic. The framework is then applied to a selection of discourses, delivered by politicians from extreme-right and mainstream parties in France, following the two major terrorist attacks of 2012 and 2015. The findings of this analysis suggest that, while the political discourses selected are instilling fear regarding terrorist events and fueling hostility towards a wide spectrum of people held responsible for it, they are delivered in a cautious manner and do not constitute, per se, blatant examples of hateful speech directed towards national, ethnic and religious minorities. Since these speeches fall into a “grey area” as regards to hate speech regulations and free democratic deliberations, the judicial enforcement of hate speech bans would depend on rather arbitrary factors, and the legal implementation of further restrictions would be ineffective and dangerous for democracy. Consequently, grassroots initiatives appear to be a more appropriate response to these dangerous discourses.
Second semester University: Queen's University, Belfast.
hate speech, Islam, terrorism, xenophobia, France, policy