According to Wikipedia, the books of the late Muslim preacher Ahmed Deedat are banned in France. This is surprising given that France is a democracy and book bannings are not supposed to be features of a democracy except in exceptional circumstances. It is even more surprising given French politicians' championing of absolute free speech, no matter how insulting or dangerous, in the aftermath of the Prophet Muhammad cartoons.

The Wikipedia article mentions antisemitism as a possible reason for the ban. Having once come across one of his books and read sections of it, this seems difficult to accept. It is even more difficult to accept in the light of the fact that Mein Kampf is not banned in France! Likewise the claim that the ban is due to being anti-Western seems difficult to square with freedom of speech.

Could someone, perhaps a French speaker, shed more light on what motivates this ban? If it is indeed due to his books being considered anti-Western, could someone explain how French politicians square this with freedom of speech? Or do they consider freedom of speech to only apply to pro-Western idea and works?

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    France does not have absolute freedom of speech. The European Convention on Human Rights does not guarantee absolute freedom of speech. The French Declaration of the Rights of Man says "Article X – No one may be disquieted for his opinions, even religious ones, provided that their manifestation does not trouble the public order established by the law." This question is based on a misapprehension of French constitutional law.
    – Stuart F
    Jan 30 at 10:56
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    @StuartF, I realise that France and most European countries have a weaker concept of free speach than America. That said, I still find the ban surprising given French politicians championing the right of freedom of speech whenever it comes to anti-Islamic material.
    – Ben Cohen
    Jan 30 at 12:14
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    @political_noob Before the multiple murders and attempted murders of the people at Charlie Hebdo, a number of French politicians criticised the magazine, including Jacques Chirac who said it shouldn't add fuel to the fire. However, so far as I know, they all believe people should be free to draw or publish cartoons without being murdered.
    – Lag
    Jan 31 at 14:20
  • @Lag, you comment is not that relevant to the question which is about why Ahmed Deedat's books have been banned. But given the comment you would of course agree that people should also be free to write books (even polemical works that support their religion) without them being banned?
    – Ben Cohen
    Feb 3 at 11:59
  • @political_noob there is no such thing as essentialized "French politicians". There is a die-hard right wing French politician from 30 years ago (Pasqua, see answers) who decided to ban a book in a context of tensions around radical islamism (FIS, GIA, see Fizz's explanation). With the current answers I believe you have enough legal and historical clues to understand what was at stake and why the decision was made. Also, 1990s France is not Charlie's 2015 France nor is it today's. Feb 9 at 16:14

3 Answers 3


TLDR: Freedom of speech ≠ freedom to incite hatred and violence

Basically, it is claimed that he incited violence in his book, and his publisher did not respond to inquiries. As he also explicitly supported the death sentence fatwa issued in 1988 on Salman Rushdie, concerns about the nature of his teachings do not appear entirely unfounded.

There is a vast difference between the - stupid - Charlie Hebdo stunt and incitation to violence. All the more bad taste not to understand that when one remembers the terrorist acts perpetrated @ Charlie Hebdo.

french wiki to start with

In 1988, he launched a violent attack on Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses, declaring: "I consider this to be the most unhealthy and vile individual I have ever met ".

Yeah, well, that reads a tad badly, seeing as Rushdie got fatwa'd.

That reads like an opinion and, rightly, got challenged in comments. So some more digging found this on Deedat's English wikipedia entry:

In 1988, following the publication of Salman Rushdie’s fictional work The Satanic Verses, Deedat supported the fatwā of the Ayatollah Khomeini calling for Rushdie's death. He said that Rushdie "is a hypocrite and has blasphemed holy personalities. He should not be pardoned."

So, yes, that corroborates my initial misgivings about his Rushdie statements and strongly suggests the ban is appropriate.

In September 1993, he was turned away at Roissy airport on the orders of Charles Pasqua, Minister of the Interior at the time, and his books were banned in France6.

Pasqua was somewhat of a (quite) right-of-center martinet (no, not "right wing" in 2020's terms, more a traditional right French politician, whose right credentials are more earned in immigration and culture wars-light than on the economic front).

He is mostly remembered for having pushed a series of anti-immigration laws (lois Pasqua), and for his declaration "we will terrorize the terrorists."[5][9]

With that said, Wikipedia FR goes on to say:

What's more, all Ahmed Deedat's books have been banned on French territory, including Deedat affronte le pasteur de l'Église de Suède, by decree of May 31 1984, "because of its violently anti-Western tone and the incitement to racial hatred it contains "14.

So, just googling it up (1994, not 1984) brings up the exact legal text banning it:

Orders of May 31, 1994 prohibiting the circulation, distribution and sale of books - Légifrance

By order of the Minister of State, Minister of the Interior and Town and Country Planning, dated May 31, 1994, considering that the publication entitled Ahmed Deedat entre Evangile et Coran, by Ahmed Deedat, written in Arabic, is a foreign publication, Considering that the circulation in France of this publication is likely to cause danger to public order due to its violently anti-Western tone and the incitement to racial hatred it contains, Considering the absence of any comment from the publisher, the circulation, distribution and sale of the publication entitled Ahmed Deedat entre Evangile et Coran, by Ahmed Deedat, published by Al Mokhtar Al Islami, Cairo, is prohibited nationwide.

I don't know if the contents of his books justify those bans. The cited wikipedia criticism lacks clarity on that. One comparing him to Jerry Fallwell is benign in making that comparison. Not so when it also compares him to Meir Kahane, who is banned in Israel. Is he a Fallwell? Or a Kahane? From supporting Rushdie's fatwa, I'd say he is an inciter of hatred.

In any case, that is the rationale given, as requested in the question. And, if there was any actual incitation to violence in them, I would agree with that ban, for the reasons given.

As far as them remaining banned, and not presupposing more about the ban being justified or not, there were 3 major terrorist attacks in France in 1994, 1995, 1996, linked to Algerian Civil War. So, at the time, no one would have stuck their necks out to get them unbanned, too politically risky. And, no, France is not always mindful of its own, and Western, principles of religious liberties when it comes to Islam - witness the hijab bans, so it is not impossible that the ban is unjustified. Yet, and not claiming here that Deedat fits the mold, there has certainly been a problem in Europe with extremists preachings so to dismiss all such restraints on free speech as hypocritical tyranny seems false outrage.

p.s. As far as Mein Kampf goes, there is, somewhat, of a public intest, as noted here, in having it available. Mein Kampf basically consisted of Hitler writing down all the crap he was going to do in 1924. Then he is ignored happily until 1939. No, 1941, as the Soviets apparently neglected to read about Slavs being Untermenschen with spare Lebensraum and were best buds all the way till Barbarossa. It is a fascinating case of what could have happened if governments had realized they were dealing with a homicidal maniac (not like 1934 didn't give them a hint of that either).

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    In fairness, in the USA or even in Canada, the standard for inciting would be much higher, particularly in the USA with its "clear and present danger" standard. I do not think this book is banned in either of those countries. Nor is it banned in much of Europe, despite most European countries having a more restrictive conception of freedom of expression. So the correctness of the French government's position here is not entirely self-evident.
    – Obie 2.0
    Jan 30 at 9:34
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    Even within French law, I wonder whether there's a basis there. The description of him on Wikipedia suggests that he was a bigot and a fundamentalist, but does not mention any calls to violence in his works, and his vocal hatred of other religions seems shared with many people—Muslim, Christian, and otherwise—whose books were not banned in France.
    – Obie 2.0
    Jan 30 at 9:43
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    Looking at the titles of his books, one [of Pasqua's mind] can easily interpret them as inciting to religious conflict between Muslims and Christians. Similarly critical stuff about Christianity might have been written by atheists though. I suppose the latter are harder to ban in France. Jan 30 at 11:49
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    I’d of course note that in the age of the internet all such bans are more or less irrelevant as anyone can download any book they like online. So at this point this is a mere historical relic. Jan 30 at 17:28
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    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica - That's a bit of a stretch. Salman Rushdie is not a bad person, in my opinion, but just because someone has a bounty on their head, that does not mean that they are not a "jerk," or that characterizing them as such is incitement to violence under French law.
    – Obie 2.0
    Jan 30 at 19:39

For more context, it was part of a series of bans on Islamic/Islamist books deemed extremists, done by Pasqua. Some of these bans were (successfully) appealed though, as this 03 May 1995 brief story recounts:

The Interior Ministry is to reverse its decree of last week banning an Islamic book which it said took an anti-Western tone and endangered public order, Le Monde reported. The decision followed an appeal by Dalil Boubakeur, rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris. The ban on The Licit and Illicit in Islam, by an Egyptian writer, Youssef Qaradhawi, had been called "idiotic" by an aide to the Interior Minister, Charles Pasqua, the newspaper said. The decision to reverse the ban was made after an appeal to the Interior Ministry by Dalil Boubakeur, rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris.

I'm not familiar with Deedat's writings myself, but judging by their titles, it's not hard to see how they could be interpreted as inciting conflict between Muslims and Christians.

And as the other answer says, one of the reasons they stayed banned is that the [Egyptian] publisher (in the Deedat case) didn't appeal.

These bans were also the background of the Islamist scare of 1994-1995, when France mobilized some 45,000 troops & police, and conducted round after round of deportations of Islamist activists, after four Algerian Islamists hijacked an Air France plane. Also, there was an inter-religious aspect to that too:

The hijacking incident ended several days later when French commandos stormed the hijacked jet in Marseilles, killing the four Islamists. In reprisal, the Armed Islamic Group (Groupe Islamique Armée -- GIA) killed four Roman Catholic priests and it was presumably the GIA that engaged in a sequence of violent acts between July and September 1995, leaving in all thirty-five French dead and more than two hundred were wounded in this jihad (sacred war).

That piece doesn't make the latter issue too clear, but the priests had been killed in Algeria [not France]. However, it stands to reason that French authorities were concerned that such attacks might also happen on French soil, and so banning literature that was deemed to encourage this (like books pitting Christianity vs. Islam) can be more easily understood in that context. It was also not the first attack like that in Algeria around that time; more [French and Spanish] Catholic clergy had been killed in May and October 1994, according to the latter [UPI] piece. I suspect the date of the ban of Deedat's book [31 May 1994] is non-coincidentally correlated with the reported May 1994 attack on Catholic clergy in Algeria. The first attack happened on 8 May 1994, on a French monk and a nun, so there was plenty of time till the end of May for the French authorities to react (with that book ban).

These events were mostly (but not entirely) related to the Algerian FIS [Islamic Salvation Front] and the concomitant election in that country from which a number of parties (inc. FIS) had been excluded though.

  • IDK how his books are, but judging but what can be easily found on YouTube, his public speeches sound impenetrably rambling to someone who's not well versed in Islam, but surely... somewhat aggressive, by his own admission. Jan 30 at 13:34
  • Also note that the "anti-Western" plank was pretty much a canned reason that was published/said by the ministry for their other bans, including the more famous one that was reversed: "cause dangers for public order because of its clearly anti-Western tone and ideas contrary to the laws and fundamental values of the republic." (Also Deedat's books and their ban were apparently obscure enough that the NYT didn't seem to know about them, when discussing the 1995 ban of Qaradhawi's book that was later reversed.) nytimes.com/1995/04/29/world/… Jan 30 at 17:53

To make it simple (I didn't read the book nor know his author, I just read his wikipedia article)

From the way you ask your question, I think you either come from a country which is very liberal towards religion or possibly a country with a state religion. France has an history of being against religion since the revolution, it's a bit long to explain but it resulted in a concept we call laicité, which can be compared to state enforced secularism. I suggest you dig into it to get a better understanding. Various things relative to religion are not authorised in the public space, like preaching, proselytism.

"French politician's championing of absolute free speech" not really, they are advocating for a right to criticise religion without religious people violently retaliating. That's the french way of working with religion and doesn't only work with Islam (if you think so I suggest you look for cover of Charlie Hebdo on other religions)

Since the terror attack of the 2010 years (that made around ~300 killed in ~5 years), there have been attempt to fight against foreign islamic influence in France. (rightfully or not, it's a controversial topic).

So with the points above, religions in general, and Islam have not a good press in France.

After reading the "Criticism" part of the wikipedia article, it may look like Ahmed Deedat is a little to controversial.

And relative to antisemitism, Mein Kampf has been unbanned so it can be studied and has fell into public law. Antisemitism is illegal in France and would make the book banned.

  • This answer doesn't make sense to me. You are saying that French value the right to criticise religion. Fine. Then why have Ahmed Deedat's books, which are centred on the criticism or religions (Christianity in particular), been banned?
    – Ben Cohen
    Feb 3 at 18:40

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