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Ambassadørens tale
5/10 2023

Frankrigs ambassadørs, Christophe Parisots, tale ved Rahbeks ytringsfrihedssalon torsdag den 5. oktober 2023 hos Berlingske Media:


Ladies and Gentlemen,


Three years ago, Samuel Paty, a history and geography teacher in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, was murdered by Islamist terrorists in a most brutal way. The emotion aroused by this barbaric act was profound. The pain was intense because, once again, a life had been taken away, away from its family, from its loved ones and causing a national trauma. But this cowardly assassination went far beyond that. This barbaric act targeted the person, but also the function. It was not the first time, unfortunately, that Islamist terrorism had struck my country. But it was the first time it targeted a teacher, who was working every day to raise our children's awareness and understanding of the world, so that every day they become more than adults, they become citizens. This is why Samuel Paty's death has made him, in spite of himself, a symbol. A symbol of the struggle for knowledge against ignorance, for tolerance and respect against hatred, for freedom against oppression.


In France and Denmark, we are fortunate to live in societies where freedom of expression is guaranteed by the constitution. This freedom has been hard-won. In France, it stems from the philosophy of the Enlightenment, and enshrines the rising of humanism, a notion that places human development at the heart of the political project. It is featured in the articles 10 and 11 of the Declaration of the Rights of the Man and the Citizen of 1789. It allows to express free will, the freedom to believe or not to believe, and freedom of conscience. It means making a fundamental distinction between what is linked to mankind, which must be protected, and what is linked to ideas, which can be criticized. It is freedom of conscience that allows debate to take place, allows arguments to be expressed, and allows the choice of convincing or being convinced through dialogue. It allows beliefs, religious or not, to be criticized. It also enshrines respect for others and rejects violence.


Yet this freedom is attacked by those who prefer ignorance and hatred and want to destroy what we are. Those whose political project can only flourish through terror and lies. Those who do not accept that we can fight against their ideas, whether through debate or humor. In 2015, you all remember the attacks on the newspaper Charlie Hebdo. The impact of this murder was all the greater in Denmark, which had exposed itself in the same way by publishing cartoons a few years earlier. Freedom of expression was shaking, targeted by barbarity. But this attack made us collectively aware of the need to fight for it, to better understand it, and better defend it. And we decided that we would carry on with our right to express opinions, and to caricature.


In France, the notion of laïcité (which is partially translatable in secularism) is often a debated subject. This notion is sometimes wrongly seen as an attack on religion, but it’s in fact quite the opposite. In France, and I’m mentioning this as we’re precisely in the Nobel week, it was championed by teacher and pedagogue Ferdinand Buisson, winner of the 1927 Nobel Peace Prize. Laïcité is the right to believe or not to believe, and not to be discriminated against by the state based on one's beliefs. This notion is inseparable from the notion of neutrality of the State with regard to religious matters, which stems from the separation from the Church in 1905. This is why France guarantees the right to wear religious symbols to everyone. There are only a few limitations: 1/ firstly, in the interests of public order, which makes it compulsory to have a visible face in the public space for safety reasons; 2/ secondly, in order to respect the principle of neutrality that I just mentioned, which applies to public officials in the course of their duties; and 3/ lastly, in schools, where we believe that minds are not yet sufficiently formed to resist external pressures, hence the need to create neutral spaces that favors learning.


Each country has its own organization, and the application of freedom of expression necessarily takes into account local particularities. The only thing that doesn't change is the universality of these values, which are the foundation of our democracies and enable the elevation of mankind. Denmark is the country of Grundtvig, who also defended them. It's a fine heritage that contributed to the cohesion and prosperity of this country. These values are also those that France and Denmark defend abroad and in international forums, and we must continue to teach and promote them to protect our democracies. 


For the past years, we have been receiving anonymous tributes outside our embassy on various anniversaries of terrorist attacks. I'd like to say thank you to those who keep the Enlightenment alive with their flowers and candles and show that we can rally behind our shared values despite our differences of opinion. It's a message of hope for the future. And I'd also like to thank the teachers in every country who pass on these values to the younger generations. They are demanding, but they deserve it, because they bring out the best in all of us. As French philosopher Honoré Mirabeau said in 1776, education and freedom are at the core of human prosperity.


I'd like to end this speech with an optimistic message: a quotation from Amin Maalouf, the Franco-Lebanese writer who has just been elected Secretary General of the Académie Française, and who, in his essay "Les identités meurtrières" (Deadly Identities), said that it's the way we look at others that often locks them into their narrowest allegiances, and it's also the way we look at them that can set them free. 


Thank you.

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