Juan Williams, Meet Luc Trullemans: All Too Frank Speech in Belgium Leads to Firing
In a case reminiscent of National Public Radio (NPR)'s 2010 firing of commentator Juan Williams, the Belgian television meteorologist Luc Trullemans has lost his job after posting angry and abusive comments upon his Facebook page concerning Muslim immigrants. Trullemans wrote the comments following threatening personal encounters with individuals from such backgrounds. His experience indicates once again the politically incorrect controversies concerning Islam in many modern Western societies and raises questions concerning the limits of free speech on these issues.
Trullemans's employer, Belgium's RTL television, suspended him until further notice on Friday evening, April 26, 2013, for a post on his Facebook page described in a 7 Sur 7 Belgian press account as having a "racist and Islamophobe character." RTL spokesperson Sophie Bailly explained that Trullemans's "racist words" were "unacceptable for RTL." As reported by the Belgian newspaper L'Avenir online earlier on April 26, Trullemans's posting was a self-professed "rant" circulating in the internet for some years accusing Muslim immigrants of being backward and deficient in assimilation. L'Avenir's story displayed as well various satirical photos posted within the last day by Trullemans to his Facebook page criticizing increased Islamic influence in Belgium and France.
The anonymous writer warned in the L'Avenir-linked French text that he "would not be delicate in my words" but rather would "speak like a true Walloon" from Belgium's French-speaking region. "I," added the writer, "will probably appear as a racist, but you know what? I DO NOT GIVE A DAMN!!!" The writer considered "it time to speak openly that which many think inside" and sought to defend "European values" as a self-professed atheist against Muslims. In particular, this atheist devoted several sentences to advocating an unapologetic societal celebration of Christmas traditions, something which he curiously defined as "not a religion, but an event."
The writer described Muslims immigrating because of "war, violence, hatred, and death" in order to receive from "OUR LAND ... everything" in social welfare for successful societal integration. According to such analysis, Muslim immigrant cultural expectations of "importing your crap [merde]" are a self-defeating and ungrateful response to such "hospitality." The writer had "ENOUGH" of such attempts "to change our traditions ... to restrict our rights ... because they are contrary to your religion," and "to treat us as racists because one does not like your manner of behavior." After all, the writer argued, those who did not respect Muslim norms were "subject to death in certain of your countries of monkeys!!!" The writer called upon Muslim immigrants to "throw your hijabs and niqabs in the trash ... forget your primitive demands," and "assimilate or take off!"
Meeting with L'Avenir reporters on the evening of April 26, Trullemans "took responsibility" for his postings condemning immigrants and Islam, yet by 11:00 pm that evening, L'Avenir reported that Trullemans had already reversed course. Gone from his Facebook page were the controversial postings, and in their place was a "personal" apology to the "Muslim community" quoted by L'Avenir and shown in the 7 Sur 7 story. Trullemans explained that "following an assault on a public way and under a fit of emotion in a state of great fatigue, I wrote this text seized by anger." Trullemans emphasized that he was "not a racist at all." Nonetheless, L'Avenir reported that RTL had suspended him shortly before midnight.
Trullemans later explained to 7 Sur 7 that while he was driving on April 26 at about 30-35 mph, a following car's driver found this speed too slow, as Trullemans had decelerated for an upcoming red light. The driver passed Trullemans and suddenly slowed down, prompting Trullemans to honk, whereupon the driver repeatedly made sudden fluctuations in speed. At the light, the occupants described by Trullemans as "people from the south clothed in traditional garments" exited the car.
These individuals told him in a "very aggressive" manner to exit his car as well and that he should not have honked. Remaining in his car, a fearful Trullemans stated that traffic regulations deserved obedience. The other car occupants then said that he could "not impose my rules" as a "little Belgian" upon them in "their" neighborhood, and one of them struck Trullemans's car. After the light changed, Trullemans drove on, followed by the other car until he arrived at the RTL parking lot.
In his interview, Trullemans reiterated again that he was not a racist and had indeed previously had a five-year relationship with an Algerian woman, who in turn confirmed that "Lucky" was not prejudiced. Indeed, Trullemans's Facebook page shows among his preferences various vintage African-American music stars like Sam Cooke. Further support for Trullemans has come from two Facebook pages -- one with 21,026 likes, the other, calling Trullemans a "victim of political correctness," with 7,686.
The Belgian lawyer Mischaël Modrikamen, son of a Polish Jewish immigrant who escaped the Nazis, has also taken up Trullemans's reinstatement claim as a matter of free speech. Modrikamen attributed to Trullemans' words a "political," not a "racist character," under assault from "thought police." Modrikamen, meanwhile, might say as much about the restrictive immigration policies advocated by the Parti Populaire led by him and by his past warnings against the "fascist aspects" of "political Islam."
Trullemans's experience indicates the considerable legitimate concerns many Europeans have with respect to Islamic immigration, however poorly expressed by him in the heat of passion. As the Belgian reactions showed, Trullemans's temporary postings dealt with popular controversies often linked to immigration in general and Islamic immigration in particular, such as disproportionate consumption of social services, deficient assimilation, and native/newcomer conflicts over societal norms. Only the single fleeting pejorative and literally dehumanizing reference to Muslim-majority lands as "countries of monkeys" in the "rant" (one wonders how carefully Trullemans analyzed this text before posting) would count as a purely prejudicial insult, possibly punishable in Belgium and elsewhere under various laws. As Modrikamen would argue, though, only through free speech can such passions find a proper venting, cold critique, and channeling into more fruitful long-term policy discussions.