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“Freedom of expression at all costs” – Emmanuel Carrère

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Emmanuel Carrère, the novelist, filmmaker and court reporter, has just received the 2021 Princess of Asturias Award for Literature. On the occasion of the award ceremony in Oviedo, Spain, he gave euronews an exclusive interview to discuss the trial of the November 2015 attacks and his future projects.

To watch the full interview of Carrère, click on the media player above.

In your latest book, “Yoga’, you mention the attack on Charlie Hebdo, it sort of interrupts your story. You perhaps also participated in, or at least followed the tributes paid to Samuel Paty, the teacher who was assassinated for showing caricatures of the Islamic prophet Muhammad in a class on freedom of expression. How can this almost holy concept of freedom of expression work with religious liberty, which is another very important right? Can one criticise a religion? Is it possible to blaspheme without insulting others?

Emmanuel Carrère:

“Ah! That’s a big question. Hold on… For sure, the right to blaspheme is an absolute part of our Republican and pre-Republican tradition. Voltaire mentions it for example. I tend to regard it as inalienable despite everything. The risk of offending people by it is part of it. You could say, of course, that we must respect freedom of expression whilst taking into account other people’s feelings, but despite everything, what I prefer between the two is the freedom of thought and expression. So of course I’m giving you a yes and no answer, but at the end of the day, I’m more on the side of freedom of expression at all costs.”

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You are now following the November 2015 attacks trial for a French weekly as a columnist. Is this the subject of your next book? If so, do you already know what it will look like? Would you dare to mix fiction or even use autofiction, like in your previous books, with the harsh reality of the Bataclan attacks which in some respects has become like a national scar? Could you make this narrative your own?

Emmanuel Carrère:

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“I’m not at all sure that this work will end up becoming a book, but it’s possible, as it’s already somewhere in the back of my mind. I haven’t the slightest idea what it might look like because we’re just at the very beginning, it’s a bit premature to discuss that now… Also, adding fiction or docu-fiction wouldn’t be… In reality, that’s something I’ve never done! When I wrote The Adversary, for example, there was no fiction at all!”

What have you retained from this first month of the trial, what general impression do you have?

Emmanuel Carrère:

“What is just about to end is a period, a very particular sequence, of testimonies from the civil parties, the survivors, the families of the victims. It’s all extremely emotional and intense. So this is taking its toll on all of us who are following the trial. When we go home sometimes, we have some kind of, I don’t know how to describe it, we burst into tears. We’re attending something truly terrible. It is terrible, but that’s not all it is. What I mean is, we’ve also witnessed moments of exceptional and admirable humanity. From the end of next week, and the one after that, we will start to see the defendants’ side. The defendants will be interrogated, so we will switch to a completely different phase of the trial. A trial like this is very surprising because you have the impression that it’s trying to unfold every part of what happened in a few hours of that night on November 13 and from every angle. So it is extremely trying emotionally but also constantly exciting.”

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What, if anything, do you expect from this trial?

Emmanuel Carrère:

“That’s funny because the question you just asked is what they’re actually asking the civil parties who are testifying. At the end, everyone answers the question: “what do you expect from the trial?” The answers, which I would say are my own too, are that justice must be served, meaning the sentences must be proportionate to the acts committed. With that in mind, the people who are in front of the judges are not the people who actually did the killings. That does not exonerate them at all, but they are not the guys who killed because those guys are all dead. It also means that justice must be done according to the norms of law. It’s as if the honour of this trial is to make sure that it goes well, that the defendants are defended, that they are defended well… Everyone is demanding this, including the people who have been the most hurt. There is also a desire to understand things a little better, so to prevent other attacks. I only half believe that is possible. Some people are saying, and deep down it’s perhaps what I’ve retained the most, is that they want to constitute a kind of collective narrative of this event. But maybe that’s a kind of professional deformation from me.”

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Yes, that’s the writer’s point of view…

Emmanuel Carrère:

“Yes, but it’s not only my point of view, it’s also that of many people who are testifying. They say that for them it’s one of the important aspects…”

To tell the story…

Emmanuel Carrère:

“Yes, because everyone so far has their own story to tell and to hear all the other stories is very important and very valuable. I mean, it’s not just my profession that makes this dimension so important.”

Last question, Lao-tzu would have said “The goal is not the goal, the goal is the path”. You know this quote.

Emmanuel Carrère:

“I know it and I totally agree with it.”

Where are you on your path?

Emmanuel Carrère:

“Well, let’s say I’m still walking and bumping and hobbling, that’s kind of our lot. That question brings us back to the beginning of this conversation, to the desire to improve things a little and by doing this, to improve the little things around us. It is an ambition that is both modest and immense.”

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