ARTE aired another remarkable documentary last night (for the other one, see previous post), this on the uprising in Homs, Syria, and which was shot over a two-year period by Syrian filmmaker Talal Derki. It won the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize for best documentary at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival (English title: Return to Homs). It may be viewed for the next week on ARTE’s website here (90 minutes, version française).
Archive for the ‘en français’ Category
ARTE aired a fascinating one-hour documentary last night on Nikita Khrushchev’s visit to the United States—the first ever by a Soviet leader—in September 1959, “Khrouchtchev à la conquête de l’Amérique.” He spent thirteen days in the US—Washington, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, rural Iowa, and Pittsburgh. I of course knew about the visit but hadn’t seen the film footage. The documentary may be watched on ARTE’s website here. It’s absolutely worth it.
What is particularly striking is the hundreds of thousands of people—regular Americans—who turned out to see Khrushchev, lining the streets everywhere he went (and in the towns his train passed through between L.A. and San Francisco). One can hardly imagine that nowadays, of huge crowds spontaneously gathering to greet a visiting foreign leader—in the US, France, or just about anywhere. But that’s the way it was back then. For the anecdote, when Chou En-lai came to Somalia on a state visit in 1964 (I was living there at time), a significant portion of Mogadishu’s population—probably most—turned out to greet him (my memory of this is hazy, as I was a mere lad, but it’s there). Likewise with Nicolae Ceaușescu’s visit to Somalia in 1967. The following year, when Charles De Gaulle came to Ankara, Turkey (where I was now living), tens of thousands of people lined Atatürk boulevard to see him (standing up in the limousine). Ditto when the Apollo 11 astronauts (Armstrong, Collins, and Aldrin) came a year later (we got off school for that one). I wonder how many Turks turned out to greet François Hollande on his state visit there in January? Or Americans when he went to the US last month? Poser la question c’est y répondre…
France 5′s weekly news magazine “Le Monde en face” had a very good two-part documentary on Qatar two nights ago—on its transformation from an obscure patch of desert to a veritable regional power and with near global reach—, by investigative journalists Vanessa Ratignier et Pierre Péan, and which may be viewed on the France 5 website until next Tuesday: “Qatar: la puissance et la gloire – 1995-2008” (part 1) and “Qatar: trahisons et double jeu – 2008-2013” (part 2)—both 53 minutes and followed by a 15-minute discussion, “Faut-il avoir peur du Qatar?,” with two specialists of that accidental country and its megalomaniacal ruling family. The documentary touches on, among other things, the slave-like conditions afflicting the bulk of the mainly Asian labor force there, which was the subject of my post “Qatar: modern-day slavery” last September, in which I insisted on the utter unfitness of Qatar to be hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
À propos, The Guardian reported this week that “[m]ore than 500 Indian workers have died in Qatar since 2012,” and to which may be added the 382 Nepalese workers who have died there during the same period. The Qatari World Cup organizing committee announced last week that workers building the stadiums—but not those building other infrastructure—would be held to higher standards, but with the kafala system remaining unchanged. This is BS to mollify foreign critics. When it comes to the conditions of migrant labor, nothing will change there. Qatar needs to be stripped of the 2022 World Cup. Spread the word on Twitter and everywhere else: #StopQatar2022!
Jean Quatremer, l’excellent correspondent de Libération à Bruxelles, a posté, sur sa page Facebook, cet extrait d’une tribune de Philippe Sollers, publiée dans Le Monde le 28 janvier 1999, et qui a été très remarquée à l’époque—et qui a mécontenté plus d’un, à gauche comme à droite. Elle garde sa pertinence.
Elle était là, elle est toujours là ; on la sent, peu à peu, remonter en surface : la France moisie est de retour. Elle vient de loin, elle n’a rien compris ni rien appris, son obstination résiste à toutes les leçons de l’Histoire, elle est assise une fois pour toutes dans ses préjugés viscéraux. Elle a son corps, ses mots de passe, ses habitudes, ses réflexes. Elle parle bas dans les salons, les ministères, les commissariats, les usines, à la campagne comme dans les bureaux. Elle a son catalogue de clichés qui finissent par sortir en plein jour, sa voix caractéristique. Des petites phrases arrivent, bien rancies, bien médiocres, des formules de rentier peureux se tenant au chaud d’un ressentiment borné. Il y a une bêtise française sans équivalent, laquelle, on le sait, fascinait Flaubert. L’intelligence, en France, est d’autant plus forte qu’elle est exceptionnelle.
La France moisie a toujours détesté, pêle-mêle, les Allemands, les Anglais, les Juifs, les Arabes, les étrangers en général, l’art moderne, les intellectuels coupeurs de cheveux en quatre, les femmes trop indépendantes ou qui pensent, les ouvriers non encadrés, et, finalement, la liberté sous toutes.
La France moisie, rappelez-vous, c’est la force tranquille des villages, la torpeur des provinces, la terre qui, elle, ne ment pas, le mariage conflictuel, mais nécessaire, du clocher et de l’école républicaine. C’est le national social ou le social national. Il y a eu la version familiale Vichy, la cellule Moscou-sur-Seine. On ne s’aime pas, mais on est ensemble. On est avare, soupçonneux, grincheux, mais, de temps en temps, La Marseillaise prend à la gorge, on agite le drapeau tricolore. On déteste son voisin comme soi-même, mais on le retrouve volontiers en masse pour des explosions unanimes sans lendemain. L’Etat ? Chacun est contre, tout en attendant qu’il vous assiste. L’argent ? Evidemment, pourvu que les choses se passent en silence, en coulisse. Un référendum sur l’Europe ? Vous n’y pensez pas : ce serait non, alors que le désir est oui. Faites vos affaires sans nous, parlons d’autre chose. Laissez-nous à notre bonne vieille routine endormie.
La France moisie a bien aimé le XIXe siècle, sauf 1848 et la Commune de Paris. Cela fait longtemps que le XXe lui fait horreur, boucherie de 14 et humiliation de 40. Elle a eu un bref espoir pendant quatre ans, mais supporte très difficilement qu’on lui rappelle l’abjection de la Collaboration.
Pendant quatre-vingts ans, d’autre part, une de ses composantes importante et très influente a systématiquement menti sur l’est de l’Europe, ce qui a eu comme résultat de renforcer le sommeil hexagonal. New York ? Connais pas. Moscou ? Il paraît que c’est globalement positif, malgré quelques vipères lubriques.
Oui, finalement, ce XXe siècle a été très décevant, on a envie de l’oublier, d’en faire table rase. Pourquoi ne pas repartir des cathédrales, de Jeanne d’Arc, ou, à défaut, d’avant 1914, de Péguy? A quoi bon les penseurs et les artistes qui ont tout compliqué comme à plaisir, Heidegger, Sartre, Joyce, Picasso, Stravinski, Genet, Giacometti, Céline ? La plupart se sont d’ailleurs honteusement trompés ou ont fait des oeuvres incompréhensibles, tandis que nous, les moisis, sans bruit, nous avons toujours eu raison sur le fond, c’est-à-dire la nature humaine. Il y a eu trop de bizarreries, de désordres intimes, de singularités. Revenons au bon sens, à la morale élémentaire, à la société policée, à la charité bien ordonnée commençant par soi-même. Serrons les rangs, le pays est en danger.
[update below] [2nd update below]
Thomas Legrand had an excellent commentary on yesterday’s ‘Jour de colère’ in his political editorial on France Inter this morning. He absolutely, totally nails it. One may listen to or read the editorial here. For those who
are too lazy to don’t feel like opening the link, here’s the whole thing
Jour de colère : la manif “travail famille patrie”
C’était une manifestation, non pas d’exaspération envers une politique mais envers une personne, François Hollande. Pour ce qu’il représente pour eux, l’anti-France ! Pourtant on ne peut pas vraiment dire que François Hollande soit l’incarnation de la gauche “couteau entre les dents”. Ni que ses discours soient imprégnés d’idéologie sectaire, que son propos soit particulièrement “clivant”… Une autre partie de la population, beaucoup plus large, aurait même tendance à lui reprocher le contraire : sa mollesse, son absence de leadership ! Alors que leur a-t-il fait pour les mettre dans cet état là ? Le mariage pour tous ? Trop d’impôts ? La promotion des congés paternité qui “assexueraient” notre société ? Non, ces éléments avancés comme autant d’attaques invivables contre notre civilisation, ne sont, en réalité rien au regard d’un seul élément, toujours le même quand la gauche est au pouvoir : l’illégitimité. La gauche héritière de la Révolution française, la gauche régicide est toujours illégitime pour une petite partie de la droite la plus réactionnaire. Cette partie de la droite, depuis la Libération et les révélations de ses trahisons pendant la guerre, se taisait, se terrait dans quelques recoins de Versailles, dans l’ouest parisien, dans de vieilles familles du grand ouest, dans quelques belles demeures de province et églises intégristes… Mais bon, il ne faut pas non plus surestimer le potentiel révolutionnaire du Vésinet.
C’est vraiment une France très minoritaire que vous décrivez là !
Oui on l’avait vue ressurgir auprès de Jean-Marie Le Pen, avant que Marine Le Pen ne républicanise la façade du FN. Cette droite n’est pas le gros du bataillon de la droite politique UMP, ni même du Front National. C’est un petit noyau réactionnaire qui a trouvé, à l’occasion de la contestation du mariage pour tous, une caisse de résonance. Internet a fait le lien entre toutes les miettes vieille France éparpillées et qui avaient l’impression -avant de se voir les uns les autres- de n’être que la trace d’un monde qui s’en va. En réalité ils le sont mais l’amplificateur d’internet et la coagulation (momentanée) de leurs préoccupations avec celles d’une population beaucoup plus large et beaucoup plus modérée, au moment de la manif pour tous, ou des bonnets rouges, leur fait croire qu’une forme de restauration est possible. Il existe à gauche aussi une petite frange, héritière des sans-culottes, et qui considère que tout ce qui est de droite est fasciste ! Chacun des deux camps, droite et gauche ne peut se permettre de couper tout à fait les ponts avec ces deux franges qui regroupent tous ceux qui n’ont pas accepté, soit que la révolution ait eu lieu, soit qu’elle n’ait pas été assez loin. Il est quand même étonnant, après avoir vu les fleurs de Lys et les quenelles hier qu’un responsable de l’UMP comme Luc Chatel dise “comprendre les manifestants”. Car il s’agissait bien d’une manifestation factieuse. “Travail, famille, patrie” ! Que cette droite légitimiste soit rejointe par l’extrême gauche antisémite et populiste de Dieudonné et d’Alain Soral, et nous avons le cocktail anti républicain de la révolution nationale de la collaboration. La manif pour tous du printemps denier a engendré un petit monstre… Plus ridicule qu’effrayant… à l’image de Béatrice Bourges, martyre de la dictature Hollandiste et qui a décidé de faire une grève de la faim jusqu’à la démission de François Hollande ! Il faudrait prévenir la chef du printemps français que si le ridicule ne tue pas, la privation de nourriture : si !
On the bit about the “illegitimacy” of the left in power in the eyes of the hard right: I mentioned this in my post w/pics yesterday and made the parallel with the GOP right-wing in the US, which does not accept the legitimacy of Barack Obama’s victories (but didn’t with Bill Clinton’s either; and no doubt wouldn’t have with Gore or Kerry if they had been elected). If Rush Limbaugh’s ditto heads were transformed into Frenchmen and transported to Paris, a certain number would have found themselves in yesterday’s demo, c’est sûr.
UPDATE: Le Monde journalists Abel Mestre and Caroline Monnot have a must-read post on their ‘Droite(s) extrême(s)’ blog—and that seconds Thomas Legrand’s analysis above—on “La défaite politique de «Jour de colère».”
2nd UPDATE: Yesterday’s Le Petit Journal (Canal+) had a report on the Jour de colère, showing its journalists being aggressed and manhandled by demonstrators. (January 28)
Henri Guaino, sarkozyste du premier plan, had a full-page tribune on the Front National in Le Monde dated December 17th (voici le lien), explaining why, from his Gaullist standpoint, the FN’s world-view and political posture is antithetical to his, of why he feels no affinity whatever with this political party. Now I am not a fan of Guaino, to put it mildly. I have felt no affinity whatever with him over the years—and particularly during his five-year stint at the Élysée as Sarkozy’s right-hand man—and have made unkind statements about him on occasions too numerous to count. But giving credit where credit is due, I have to say that his tribune is excellent. As a principled man of the right, he nails what it is about the FN that renders it beyond the pale. The tribune merits being read in its entirety but here is one noteworthy passage
D’où vient alors ce malaise indicible que j’éprouve comme tant d’autres face à ce parti et qui m’empêchera toujours de pactiser avec lui ? Il vient du sentiment, dont je ne peux pas me défaire, qu’il y a dans sa conception du pouvoir quelque chose de monstrueusement inhumain et que le problème posé par le FN est dans ce que j’appellerais, au risque assumé de la polémique, son ADN. C’est une métaphore. Il ne s’agit nullement ici de biologie. Mais, j’y reviens, les partis comme toute collectivité humaine, comme les nations, ont une histoire, une expérience, une culture qui leur façonne une manière d’être et de penser.
Si avec les responsables du FN, il n’y a jamais de débat possible, seulement des affrontements, c’est parce que ce parti a encore et toujours besoin d’ennemis. Sa nature est d’être toujours l’instrument d’une colère ; aujourd’hui, l’immense colère qu’éprouvent tous ceux qui se sentant dépossédés de leur vie veulent dire non à tout parce qu’ils ont le sentiment que c’est l’ultime refuge, l’ultime expression de leur liberté.
Reading Guaino’s description of the FN’s DNA, I was reminded of the Tea Party GOP. The need to have enemies, to demonize part of society… For the anecdote, I mentioned Guaino’s tribune yesterday to two of my American students, which led to comments on American politics. One said that her mother, a lifelong Republican, was now calling herself an independent on account of the GOP’s right-wing lurch. The other said that her father, an investment banker and Republican, was so fed up with the party that he may vote for Hillary Clinton in ’16. As I’ve said before, the Tea Party GOP = FN. A not insignificant number of Republicans want nothing to do with the party if it is taken over by its extremist wing. And an even more significant number of principled French conservatives want nothing to do with the FN. Which is why the UMP will not, malgré tout, enter into any kind of formal alliance with the Frontistes, now or in the future.
This is a 3½+ hour, four-part documentary on the history of Jewish-Muslim relations—from the 7th century to the present—by French filmmaker Karim Miské. Parts 1 and 2 aired on ARTE last night and may be watched here (for one week at least). The documentary is quite good and with an impressive number of francophone and anglophone academic and other specialists interviewed. I noted in the credits that the film received the support of the cultural services of the US embassy in Paris. Parts 3 and 4 will air next Tuesday (and which will be on ARTE’s website linked to above).
Last year I linked to the Politest: le test pour se positionner politiquement, i.e. the test to see where one is situated politically in France (here, with questions translated into English). There’s a similar test—which I just learned about—, EU Profiler, that was devised for the 2009 elections to the European parliament, that tells which parties one is closest to in all European countries. To take the test, go here (on peut le prendre en français et d’autres langues européennes aussi).
Here are the parties in selected European countries that the EU Profiler informs me I am closet to:
France: PRG followed by PS (my Politest result was the other way around)
UK (England): Liberal Democrats
Italy: Sinistra Ecologia Libertà (don’t know a thing about them)
Spain: Iniciativa per Catalunya Verds (huh?) followed by PSOE
Greece: PASOK (ugh)
Turkey: Özgürlük ve Dayanışma Partisi (don’t know them but they sound sympathique)
For those interested in the EU, today’s New York Times has a must read article on the “Lobbying bonanza as firms try to influence European Union.” American public relations and law firms are heavily involved, and importing Washington/K Street practices to Brussels—and with all that that implies in terms of $$$ and legalized corruption.
On this precise subject, there is an excellent, must see 1½ hour documentary, ‘The Brussels Business‘, that has aired on television in Europe over the past year. It may be watched in its entirety on YouTube here. La version française peut être regardée sur la site web d’ARTE ici.
Alain Frachon, éditorialiste et chroniqueur du Monde, a eu une bonne analyse il y a dix jours de la puissance américaine—ou plutôt, de son absence—dans le Moyen Orient. Un passage clé
Barack Obama, le contraire d’un homme à la gâchette facile, s’apprête à sanctionner par la force l’emploi de l’arme chimique en Syrie. Au Proche-Orient, l’épisode renforcera dans leurs convictions tous ceux – ils sont nombreux – qui diabolisent l’Amérique : quoi qu’il arrive, coupable de tous les malheurs de la région !
Elle tirerait les fils des tragédies en cours. Cheftaine du monde occidental, elle manipulerait, corromprait, intimiderait ou séduirait les uns et les autres avec toujours le même sinistre et noir désir : priver les Arabes de la maîtrise de leur destin.
L’Amérique en éternelle puissance suzeraine du Proche-Orient ? C’est un mythe, une légende. Mais ils sont plus partagés que jamais.
Exemples. La presse du Caire accuse les Etats-Unis d’avoir propulsé les Frères musulmans au pouvoir pour mieux asservir l’Egypte – les éditorialistes ne précisent pas comment. La propagande de Damas affirme que Bachar Al-Assad est victime d’un complot américano-israélo-djihadiste – Washington, Al-Qaida et Israël coalisés pour en finir avec le seul régime qui tienne tête aux Occidentaux. Sur le Net, une rumeur incrimine l’hypocrisie prétendue de Barack Obama : le président américain, voyez-vous, n’attendait qu’un prétexte, celui de l’attaque chimique du 21 août, pour intervenir en Syrie…
La légende de la surpuissance des Etats-Unis – et de son président – ne s’embarrasse pas des faits. Elle les ignore. Elle est l’une des formes d’une maladie que l’Organisation mondiale de la santé (OMS) a oublié de traiter dans la région : la “complotite”.
La complotite : un dérangement psychologique, voire une maladie mentale. Je l’ai dit depuis longtemps.
Un passage sur l’Egypte
De même que la capacité des Etats-Unis à exercer une influence sur la situation en Egypte s’est avérée largement “surestimée”. A plusieurs reprises, les Américains ont mis en garde Mohamed Morsi contre sa dérive autoritaire, sectaire et suicidaire. Sans succès. Passé le coup d’Etat du 3 juillet, ils ont supplié le nouveau “patron” de l’Egypte, le général Abdel Fattah Al-Sissi, de ne pas aller à l’affrontement avec les Frères musulmans. Là encore, sans le moindre succès.
Aucune des pressions exercées par Washington n’a intimidé les généraux égyptiens. Pas même la menace esquissée, et restée en suspens, d’une interruption de l’aide militaire de 1,3 milliard de dollars accordée chaque année au Caire depuis 1979.
Le texte entier de la chronique se trouve ici.
A US intervention, that is. If it indeed happens, which is now looking uncertain in view of the current vote count in Congress. On verra. But if it does happen, what will be the reaction in the Arab world? On this, Marc Lynch has an important article in FP. Money quote
Despite the intense efforts by these Gulf states [Saudi Arabia, UAE] over the past two years to build public support for the Syrian opposition, Arab public opinion remains sharply divided over what to do about Syria and broadly hostile to American military intervention regardless of views on other issues. The one thing which seems to unite this fragmented and intensely divided Arab public is a rejection of American meddling. Forgetting Iraq may be one of the 10 Beltway Commandments, but Arabs have not agreed to move on. Arab leaders may harp on American “credibility” and the costs of not acting, but those sentiments likely do not extend far beyond regime circles. It is exceedingly difficult to find any trust in American intentions or positive views of America’s role in the region — and hard to imagine how U.S. military strikes would change those views for the better. As former Al Jazeera boss (and strong supporter of NATO’s Libya intervention) Wadah Khanfar put it, “this strong desire to eradicate the regime will never be translated into support for American military intervention.”
One may object that there was practically no opposition on the “Arab street” to the intervention in Libya, though to which one may counter that Libya was an exception in view of the universal hatred of Qadhafi across the Arab world, by regimes and peoples alike. And the Libya intervention had a clear—if not explicitly stated—objective and by which success could be measured—regime change—, and that could be accomplished by physically terminating the ra’is. Syria is different, obviously, as regime change is not the US goal—and could not be achieved even if it were—and the probability of a successful intervention, however “success” is defined, is minimal at best. And the US, which is already in a minority internationally on the question, is sure to be vilified ever more in the Arab world. So an eventual Syria intervention really is looking like a fool’s errand.
And then there’s the attitude of the US military, which will carry out the eventual intervention bien entendu. On this, Robert H. Scales, a retired Army major-general and former commandant of the U.S. Army War College, has an op-ed in WaPo, “A war the Pentagon doesn’t want.”
Also worth reading in WaPo is a post by Max Fisher on “A terrorism expert’s Twitter rant about how we get Syrian rebels all wrong.” The expert, who is no dummy, is Charles Lister, head Middle East analyst at IHS Jane’s Terrorism & Insurgency Centre. His bottom line: Syria is “immensely complex” and one must not forget this.
Columbia University’s Richard Betts has an article on the Foreign Affairs website—its most viewed at the moment—on “Pick[ing] your poison: America has many options in Syria, none are good.”
Continuing his campaign for a US intervention, Hussein Ibish has written an “Open letter to Congress on Syria,” in which he argues that “US credibility, not only in the Middle East, but globally, requires military action in Syria.” Peut-être.
Finally, I must link to this tribune in Le Monde of a week ago by the great Syrian intellectual Sadiq Jalal al-Azm, “Il faut une bonne fois pour toutes mettre fin à la dynastie Al-Assad en Syrie.” To my knowledge, al-Azm has never been exiled from Syria. Until now. With views like this, he probably won’t be going home anytime soon.
UPDATE: Marc Lynch posted on FP the other day “A Syria reading list,” offering “a selection of some of the most useful books [emphasis his] for making sense of what’s happening in Syria now and what might be coming.” Very useful. Lynch writes that
The very best book for all this is probably Patrick Seale’s sadly out of print The Struggle for Syria: a definitive, highly readable account of an earlier era of regional proxy wars over Syria. I’m shocked that it doesn’t seem to be available at an affordable price, but get your hands on it if you can.
I entirely agree. It’s a great book. I’ve read it twice—and touted it in a post last year.
That’s what Patrick Cockburn says it is, in an absolute must read piece in The Independent. The lede: “History teaches us that limited Western intervention can only inflame this complex war and will do nothing to bring peace.”
In a somewhat similar vein, Ignace Leverrier, in a post on his “Un œil sur la Syrie” blog on Le Monde’s website, says “Non aux frappes symboliques et de bonne conscience. Oui aux frappes utiles en Syrie.” Pour l’info, Ignace Leverrier is the nom de plume of a French ex-diplomat with extensive experience in the Arab world (and who is an arabisant).
Also en français, geopolitical commentator Bernard Guetta—whom I like, even if I don’t have to agree with him 100% of the time—informed his France Inter audience this morning (which included me) that “La messe syrienne n’est pas forcément dite.”
And if one didn’t see it, Vali Nasr had an op-ed in yesterday’s NYT—and with which Bernard Guetta would certainly agree—on “Forcing Obama’s hand in Syria.”
[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below] [4th update below] [5th update below]
Paris-based grand reporter Christopher Dickey has an “Open letter to President Obama” in TDB that has been making the rounds (on my FB timeline and email inbox), in which he cautions the president that “Syria is not our war.” The lede: “Assad has learned from history that what doesn’t kill him will make him stronger. President Obama, you need to understand that lesson too.” Dickey then enumerates the many US military interventions—limited and not—that have ended in fiasco or engendered perverse consequences, though covers his rear in acknowledging the few that have yielded positive results (e.g. Bosnia, Kosovo), but which he says were exceptions to the rule. There’s a certain amount of fallacious reasoning here, as the fact that Lebanon 1982-84, Libya 1986 etc etc didn’t work out as the US had intended does not ipso facto mean that such will be the case in Syria next week (or even later today, who knows). Every case is specific. There is no hard and fast rule. Iraq 1991 and Afghanistan 2001—”good” interventions in my book—were not Iraq 2003 (bad). And the West militarily intervening in Syria in 2011-12 (bad idea, I insisted) was not the same as Libya 2011 or Mali 2013 (good). And the latter two have worked out okay so far (oh, of course Libya is still a mess—how could it not be?—but the psychotic Qadhafi regime is gone, and for that alone the intervention was worth it).
But Syria 2013 may be different from 2011-12. I don’t know. I’ve been totally opposed to intervening there—and this is at least the 337th time I’ve said it—but, as I argued two days ago, the latest chemical attack may have changed the equation, that now something may have to be done, though I have no idea what that something should be. It has become tedious and boring to say that there are no good options in Syria and that a Western military strike—which will necessarily be limited—may not only not work but make things worse (not to mention go horribly wrong, by accidentally killing a lot of civilians). But the argument of Bernard Guetta (to which I linked on Thursday) and others that the costs of inaction may now outweigh those of a limited military strike—and with all its risks and uncertainties—is not one I can dismiss.
In regard to an eventual intervention, there are three issues that need to be laid to rest. One has to do with international law. David Rieff in TNR the other day asserted that a US intervention, in the absence of a UNSC resolution, would be “illegal.” Legality, shmegality. Or, to borrow from David Ben Gurion, um-shmum! Seriously, who gives a caca about the United Nations Security Council?! It is, of course, nice to have the green light from the UNSC when intervening militarily somewhere—to have the benediction of the “international community” (i.e. to have Russia and China in one’s corner)—but it hardly matters one way or the other, in that no state is going to forswear military intervention outside its borders in the face of a UNSC veto, nor will there be any legal consequences for that state if it does what it does against the wishes of the UNSC. And does anyone (in America or Europe) seriously argue that the US (and France etc) should have its action thwarted by a Russian or Chinese veto?
Secondly, on US congressional approval. I’m not going to get into a legalistic-type argument here—and US law, unlike international, is an important consideration for a president—except to assert that a president should not need prior congressional authorization for a limited military operation somewhere, particularly if it doesn’t involve ground forces. Generally speaking, Congress—or parliament elsewhere—should be consulted if the US (or UK, France, etc) plans a limited operation but must not have a veto (as was the case in the British House of Commons yesterday). On this matter—of foreign policy—, I am a longtime believer in the supremacy of the executive over the legislative.
For more on these issues, see U of Chicago Law School prof Eric Posner’s piece in Slate, “The U.S. has no legal basis to intervene in Syria: But of course that won’t stop us.” And on the British vote, see Alex Massie’s commentary in The Spectator, “On Syria, parliament has voted to have no policy at all.”
Thirdly, the question of public opinion. Those arguing against an intervention in Syria have been citing polls showing large majorities of Americans opposed to the idea. Likewise in France and the UK. It’s only normal that public opinion would be reticent on this score (there is no rhyme or reason for any middle American or citoyen lambda in France to favor bombing Syria). But presidents (or prime ministers) cannot be guided by polls when making such decisions. And while the public in its majority may have the right instincts on military interventions, it doesn’t always (e.g. polls in 2003-04 showed majorities supporting the Bush administration’s action in Iraq). A president (or PM) has to do what he thinks in the national interest, not what some polls tells him.
UPDATE: Fred Kaplan at Slate weighs in on “Obama’s gamble,” arguing that his “seeking congressional approval for his Syria strike was risky and right.”
2nd UPDATE: David Rothkopf at FP has an analysis—which I do not necessarily share in its entirety—of “The gamble,” in which he enumerates the “five big consequences of the president’s call to let Congress decide about America’s Syrian intervention.”
3rd UPDATE: On the French position, Hubert Védrine has a must read interview in the JDD, in which he asserts, entre autres, that “La pire des solutions à ce stade serait d’adresser un signal d’impunité au régime syrien, mais aussi à d’autres puissances et d’autres groupes dangereux.”
4th UPDATE: For more on the French position, see Yochi Dreazen’s piece in FP, “Paris Match,” in which he describes “how France became America’s favorite—and sometimes only—shooting buddy.”
5th UPDATE: Steven A. Cook, whose analyses I respect, has an op-ed in WaPo explaining why he no longer supports intervention in Syria.
It looks like it’s going to happen. Some kind of Western military intervention seems imminent. I have been resolutely opposed to the idea from the outset, though suppose they (the US-UK-France) now have to do something following the latest chemical attack. Bernard Guetta made the case in his commentary this morning on France Inter, “Pourquoi l’inaction ne serait pas une option en Syrie.” He makes four points: if the West does not launch some kind of military action now, the Syrian regime will interpret the inaction as a green light to employ CWs with impunity, the jihadists of Jabhat al-Nusra & Co will be reinforced in the face of Western passivity, the Iranian regime will lose all fear of the US and accelerate its nuclear program, and Vladimir Putin will feel vindicated in his dissing of Obama and the Europeans, and likely up the ante as a consequence.
Good points. Monsieur Guetta is likely correct. But I’m still thinking of Edward Luttwak’s op-ed in the Sunday NYT, “In Syria, America loses if either side wins,” in which he argues that American policy should be to continue the stalemate in Syria. Money quote
This strategy actually approximates the Obama administration’s policy so far. Those who condemn the president’s prudent restraint as cynical passivity must come clean with the only possible alternative: a full-scale American invasion to defeat both Mr. Assad and the extremists fighting against his regime. That could lead to a Syria under American occupation. And very few Americans today are likely to support another costly military adventure in the Middle East. A decisive move in any direction would endanger America; at this stage, stalemate is the only viable policy option left.
If/when Obama launches an attack, it will likely be in pursuit of this strategy: to send Bashar al-Assad a message by hitting him hard for a few days—as Bill Clinton did in Iraq in 1998—but not degrading the Syrian army enough to dramatically shift the balance to the Islamist-dominated armed opposition.
Will surgical strikes work? As reported in FP, “a former U.S. Navy planner responsible for outlining an influential and highly detailed proposal for surgical strikes…has serious misgivings about the plan”… Oh well.
On the dilemmas of what the US should do, George Packer has a great piece in The New Yorker, “Two minds on Syria,” that absolutely nails it.
So what should the objective in Syria be? Patrick Cockburn in The Independent says that “Only a peace conference, not air strikes, can stop further bloodshed.” I’m dubious that such is possible but hope that Cockburn’s plan will ultimately be pursued.
For his part, CUNY poli sci prof Rajan Menon, in a National Interest piece from April that’s back up on its website, offers his ideas of “How to end the war in Syria.”
And Hussein Ibish, whose views on MENA I invariably share—though not 100% always—, argues, in an essay in NOW, that America should “Go strategic in Syria.”
In a useful commentary on the European Council on Foreign Relations website, Anthony Dworkin et al of the ECFR enumerate and examine “Eight things to consider before intervening in Syria.”
Back to the question of CWs, Le Monde has translated into English its headline reportage of three months ago, “Chemical warfare in Syria.” À propos, Foreign Affairs has republished a commentary from April by Ohio State political scientist John Mueller, that carries the unfortunate title “Erase the red line: Why we shouldn’t care about Syria’s chemical weapons.” As the piece won’t be freely accessible on FA’s website forever, here it is
The rebels in Syria could be excused for wondering what U.S. policy toward them might be. At times, President Barack Obama has implied that the United States can’t do much to help them because none of them has been gassed. By threatening “enormous consequences” should the Syrian regime use chemical weapons, he seemed to be saying that the first chemical attack would bring the Americans running in, guns blazing. Although understandable, that is likely to be a substantial misreading of the message coming out Washington.
The notion that killing with gas is more reprehensible than killing with bullets or shrapnel came out of World War I, in which chemical weapons, introduced by the Germans in 1915, were used extensively. The British emphasized the weapons’ inhumane aspects as part of their ongoing program to entice the United States into taking their side in the war. It is estimated that the British quintupled their gas casualty figures from the first German attack for dramatic effect.
As it happened, chemical weapons accounted for considerably less than one percent of the battle deaths in the war, and, on average, it took over a ton of gas to produce a single fatality. Only about two or three percent of those gassed on the Western front died. By contrast, wounds from a traditional weapon proved 10 to 12 times more likely to be fatal. After the war, some military analysts such as Basil Liddell Hart came to believe that chemical warfare was comparatively humane — these weapons could incapacitate troops without killing many.
But that view lost out to the one that the British propagandists had put forward — that chemical weapons were uniquely horrible and must, therefore, be banned. For the most part, the militaries of the combatant nations were quite happy to get rid of the weapons. As the official British history of the war concludes (in a footnote), gas “made war uncomfortable … to no purpose.”
To be sure, some armies occasionally still saw a purpose. Iraq made extensive use of chemical weapons in its 1980-88 war against Iran (to little outside protest). Their effectiveness in killing in that conflict remains a matter of some controversy. According to Iranian reports, of the 27,000 Iranians gassed through March 1987, only 262 died.
Other episodes in that war — in particular, Baghdad’s chemical attack on the Iraqi Kurdish town of Halabja in 1988 — have been held up as examples of the extensive destructive potential of chemical weapons. It is commonly contended that 5,000 people died as a result of the gas attacks. But the siege on the city took place over several days and involved explosive munitions as well. Moreover, journalists who were taken to the town shortly after the attack report that they saw at most “hundreds” of bodies. Although some of them report the 5,000 figure, this number is consistently identified as coming from Iranian authorities, an important qualification that was often lost in later accounts. The Iranians apparently also asserted that an additional 5,000 were wounded by the chemical weapons, even though experience suggests that any attack that killed 5,000 would have injured vastly more than that. Iraqi forces also used chemical weapons on other towns in the area. In two of these attacks, the most extreme reports maintain that 300 or 400 might have been killed. According to all other estimates, under 100 died. And most of those accounts figure that the death toll was under 20.
Back in the West, as the Cold War came to an end, the phrase “weapons of mass destruction” was coming into vogue. Earlier, the term had generally been taken as a dramatic synonym for nuclear weapons or weapons of similar destructive capacity that might be developed in the future. In 1992, however, the phrase was explicitly codified into American law and was determined to include not only nuclear weapons but chemical and biological ones as well. Then, in 1994, radiological weapons were added to the list. (The 1994 rendering also brought explosives into the mix. As a result, under this law almost all weapons apart from modern rifles and pistols are considered weapons of mass destruction: Revolutionary War muskets, Francis Scott Key’s bombs bursting in air, and potato guns would all qualify.)
A single nuclear weapon can indeed inflict massive destruction; a single chemical weapon cannot. For chemical weapons to cause extensive damage, many of them must be used — just like conventional weapons. As a presidential advisory panel noted in 1999, it would take a full ton of sarin gas released under favorable weather conditions for the destructive effects to become distinctly greater than those that could be achieved with conventional explosives.
The muddling of the concept of weapons of mass destruction played a major role in the run-up to the 2003 war in Iraq. That campaign was mainly justified as a way to keep Saddam Hussein from obtaining uniquely destructive weapons. At least in the first instance, this meant chemical weapons, which Iraq had already shown itself capable of developing. Initial support for that war was impelled by the WMD confusion, and many analysts fear that alarm about chemical weapons could lead the United States into another disaster in Syria if they become the game changer that the Obama administration has proclaimed them to be.
Those fears are probably misplaced. The Iraq War, like the war in Afghanistan, was a response to 9/11. In the decade before those two wars, U.S. policy toward conflicts around the world had been primarily humanitarian. The United States did get involved sometimes, but rarely showed a willingness to sacrifice American lives in the process. Policy, then, was a combination of vast proclamation and half-vast execution. In Bosnia and Haiti, for example, intervention on the ground was held off until hostilities had ceased. Bombs, but no boots, were sent to Kosovo, and in Somalia the United States withdrew its troops as soon as 19 soldiers died in a firefight.
Although 9/11 disrupted that pattern, in its wake the United States has returned to limiting its involvement in conflicts around the world. Overall, we have not really witnessed the rise of a new militarism in the last couple of decades, as some analysts have suggested. The intervention in Libya was strained and hesitant, and Washington has showed little willingness to do much of anything about the conflict in neighboring Mali that was spawned by the Libyan venture. It seems unlikely, then, that chemical weapons in Syria — however repugnant they may be taken to be — will notably change that basic game.
Aliaa, the nude revolutionary. This is a 52-minute reportage (en français; regardez ici) I watched on LCP (French C-SPAN) this evening on Aliaa Magda Elmahdy, the courageous—or maybe imprudent or reckless, depending on one’s perspective—Egyptian university student and blogger, who famously posed nude for her blog in October 2011, to make a statement about freedom and the status of women in her country. I’m not sure if her method was the right one but can only admire her attitude and spirit—and which is certainly more admirable than that of certain secular Egyptian intellectuals these days. It was pretty clear when she posted her pics that her days in Egypt were numbered and, sure enough, she is now living in Sweden, where she enjoys refugee status. It’s doubtful she’ll be going back to Cairo anytime soon. Triste Égypte.
Edhem Eldem, professeur d’Histoire à l’Université du Bosphore (Boğaziçi) à Istanbul, a une tribune dans Le Monde, daté le 30 juillet 2013, sur le premier ministre turc et sa politique. C’est l’une des analyses les plus pertinentes que j’ai lu dernièrement sur le sujet. On pense plus que jamais de la fameuse phrase prononcée par M.Erdoğan dans les années 90, quand il était maire d’Istanbul : “La démocratie est comme un tramway, il va jusqu’où vous voulez aller, et là vous descendez”…
Voici la tribune du professeur Eldem
La question de la laïcité – et par conséquent de l’islam – en Turquie n’est pas nouvelle, puisqu’elle remonte aux origines de la République. Toutefois, avec l’arrivée au pouvoir de l’AKP (le Parti de la justice et du développement) de Recep Tayyip Erdogan en 2002, elle a pris une nouvelle dimension ; depuis les récents événements de la place Taksim, on ne parle presque plus que de cela.
Ce discours comporte le risque de tout réduire à une fausse dichotomie entre islam et laïcité, d’autant plus que la laïcité turque se réduisait souvent à un contrôle étatique sur un islam sunnite tacitement reconnu comme religion nationale. Ce qui comptait surtout, c’était de paralyser le pouvoir politique de l’islam – notamment des confréries – et de maintenir les apparences d’une modernité occidentale jugée incompatible avec la plupart des signes extérieurs d’appartenance à l’islam, tel le voile.
Le coup d’Etat de 1980 changea sensiblement la donne ; la junte, inspirée par la politique américaine, s’imagina pouvoir mieux combattre les “rouges” en se servant (more…)
[update below] [2nd update below]
I’ve been intending to comment on the Trappes riot of last weekend (if one is not au courant, see here and here), which almost a week later continues to défrayer la chronique. What happened in Trappes more or less followed the same dreary scenario as almost all banlieue riots, as I discussed in my posts on the one in Amiens last August (see here and here; also see my post here on the London riots of August 2011, where one noted similar dynamics to those in France). I was going to spell out once again the utterly predictable unfolding of events but, as it happens, the latest issue of Le Canard Enchaîné (July 24 2013) has a front page piece that does precisely this (and in LCE’s trademark style). LCE has no website to speak of and one normally cannot find its content online, but I managed to do so with this one, so voilà, here it is (N.B. for those whose colloquial French is less than impeccable, poulets—in this context—and poulaga are argot for ‘cops’).
Et hop ! à la Trappes !
Tiens, ça s’est passé dans quelle banlieue, cette fois? Où ça? A Trappes. Ah, oui, la ville de Lilian Thuram. Non, pardon, celle de Jamel Debbouze et d’Omar Sy. Comme d’habitude, le même scénario, suivi du meme cinéma…
Scène un: le contrôle. Ou comment une étincelle, même la plus petite, suffit à embraser illico tout un quartier. A Trappes, donc, des poulets contrôlent une femme en burka et ça se termine en émeute devant le commissariat.
Scène deux: les versions. Famille burka : les flics ont déboulé comme des cow-boys et ont traité tout le monde de «sale pute». Famille poulaga : des fous furieux se sont jetés sur la police, qui faisait tranquillement son travail.
Scène trois: l’arrivée du ministre. De l’Intérieur, bien sûr. Roulement de caisse et petits muscles bandés: «C’est inacceptable!», «L’Etat ne les laissera pas faire et ne l’acceptera pas! », «II n’y a qu’une loi dans notre pays!» Bravo, monsieur Valls! On dirait (presque) du Sarkozy. Et le ministre (PS) de la Ville, François Lamy, n’est pas venu? Déjà en vacances? «Mon rôle n’est pas de réagir à l’évènement, mais de m’inscrire sur le moyen et le long terme (…). C’est d’abord un problème d’ordre public, à lui (Valls) de gérer», balaie l’intéressé («Le Parisien», 23/7).
Scène quatre: l’interpellation du ministre par une mère. Il y en a toujours une (généralement proche des émeutiers), et il lui répond toujours. C’est le clou du spectacle, le numéro d’acrobate le plus périlleux, mais le passage obligé dans la forêt de cameras et de micros. Valls s’est-il dérobé ? A-t-il bien répondu ? Mieux que l’ami du «karcher contre la racaille» de 2005 ? «Acceptez les lois de la République! Vous les acceptez, chère madame », a balancé Valls. Verdict: bof, peut mieux faire.
Scène cinq: la justice et la République implacables. Attention, les sanctions vont pleuvoir, les comparutions sont immédiates. Résultat, lundi 22 au tribunal correctionnel: débats sans fin, manque de preuves … Cinq prévenus dans le box et un embastillé (10 mois). Famille burka: scandalisée! Famille poulaga : scandalisée!
Sixième scène: les commentateurs. Récupération politique oblige, bon vieux refrain du retour au laxisme, à droite toute! Le patron de l’UMP, Jean-François Copé : «La violence monte d’autant plus que les messages gouvernementaux de laxisme se multiplient depuis un an.» L’ami des Auvergnats, Brice Hortefeux : le gouvernement «doit avoir le courage de faire preuve de sévérité face à des voyous qui ne respectent rien et qui insultent les lois de la République». Et merci surtout pour celle sur la burka : une belle loi électoraliste sous de sympathiques dehors laïcards, qui concernait trois pelés et deux barbus et qui, comme prévu, de l’aveu même des poulets sur le terrain, se relève inapplicable. Elle crée des situations de crise à tout-va, attise tous les fantasmes pro-islam et anti-islam, excite les réacs et déchaîne les mollahs. Elle a même réveillé quelques militants de l’habillé intégral qui s’amusent à cumuler jusqu’à 30 amendes à elles seules … Mais, pendant ce temps, toujours pas de grand «plan Marshall pour les banlieues», promis sous la droite comme sous la gauche.
Enfin, septième scène: municipales de Trappes, mars 2014. Tiens, le Front national est au second tour. Famille burka : “la France est raciste”. Famille poulaga: “ça devait finir par arriver…”
Le Canard absolutely nails it (though the last bit, about next year’s municipal election, is tongue-in-cheek, as the FN’s presence in Trappes is minimal, as is its electoral clout). A few remarks about the Trappes riot. First, Trappes really is la zone: spatially isolated—one only ventures into the town if one lives there or has an excellent reason to go—and with some two-thirds of its 30K inhabitants (heavily Maghrebi and African-immigrant origin) living in public housing (the tours et barres of the cités). If riots are going to happen anywhere in the Paris area, they’ll happen in Trappes. As far as banlieue-ghettos go, Trappes is one of the worst (though I shouldn’t dump on the place too much, as one of France’s leading social science specialists of political Islam is a Trappiste and feels that her town is unfairly stigmatized).
Secondly, this is the first riot that was set off by an encounter between the police and a woman wearing the niqab. In an April 2011 post on France’s “burqa” ban (here), I wrote that the police were strongly opposed to the law, as they dreaded having to enforce it (and saw it as unenforceable in any case). Well, now we’ve seen one of the perverse effects of the law—a law enacted to make a symbolic point and that has ended up creating more problems than those it was intended to eradicate.
Thirdly, in the conflicting versions of the initial incident—of the police vs. the couple whose IDs were checked—, the truth is likely somewhere between the two—as it invariably is—but, in this case, I instinctively lean toward the couple’s side of the story. Knowing how the French police act in such circumstances, the couple’s description of the cops’ behavior rings true. As for the barbu husband and niqab-wearing wife, who are manifestly extreme in their practice of Islam (both are converts), I wouldn’t put it past them to behave aggressively toward the police in turn, at least verbally. But as for the police assertion that the husband, named Mickaël, physically aggressed them first, I don’t buy it. Not in the absence of eyewitnesses.
The police were not obliged to stop the couple, check their IDs, and give the wife a ticket. Wearing face veils may be illegal but this is Ramadan, the weather is hot, and it’s Trappes. The police could have just let this one go. That they decided to stop the couple suggests that they were looking for a confrontation, as they certainly knew that the risks of an incident were high.
Fourth remark. It is striking the extent to which the media is giving play to those whose version of events contradicts that of the police. Husband Mickaël has even been on TV to give his side (here; also here and here). And there are new websites that track and expose the police in their acts (and lies), such as Copwatch (don’t worry, the site’s safe). A positive development.
Fifthly, it all comes back to the contrôle au faciès—police ID checks—, which I wrote about in June ’12. The new Socialist government pledged to reform the practice but then backed down in the face of hostility from the police unions. So long as this pratique à la française is not drastically reformed, relations between the police and a part of the French population will remain execrable. And with the certainty of more riots.
Here are a couple of good commentaries by gauchiste politicians (EELV): Noël Mamère on “Trappes, les musulmans et le racisme d’Etat” and Esther Benbassa (who is also an academic historian and specialist of French Jewry), “Trappes brûle-t-il?” And Carine Fouteau in Mediapart has an analysis entitled “À Trappes, les violences font écho à la montée de l’islamophobie.”
UPDATE: Political scientist Jacques de Maillard, who teaches not too far from Trappes, has an op-ed in Le Monde on the Trappes events and in which he critiques the police, “Le voile révèle les failles du pacte républicain.” In the same issue of Le Monde (dated July 25th) is an op-ed by Jean-François Copé expressing his (rather predictable) point of view on the matter. No link to that. The interested reader may look for it him/herself.
2nd UPDATE: Journalist Jean-Laurent Cassely has an informative article in Slate.fr on urban renewal in Trappes over the past decade, “Les nouvelles déchirures de Trappes la «recousue»,” that is progressively reducing the percentage of public housing units in the town.
This is my first post on the French gay marriage controversy—which is settled, it’s done and finished الحمد لله—and likely my last. I stayed away from the issue and generally avoided discussing it, as I was somewhat conflicted and it’s admittedly not an issue at the center of my preoccupations. I’m all for civil unions and strongly supported the PACS when it was enacted back in ’99 but wasn’t sure about gays marrying au même titre as heteros or, above all, adopting children—though having read some of the well-considered arguments for and against the mariage pour tous law I finally came down for it. I also felt that President Hollande was wasting time on what was mainly a symbolic issue (as the number of people directly concerned by it is very small); on this I agreed with Jean-Pierre Chevènement, who regretted that Hollande was distracting himself with secondary issues such as the mariage pour tous when there were, objectively speaking, far more important matters at hand and of much greater concern to French people in their majority (i.e. the economy and unemployment).
I have found a couple of aspects of the controversy interesting. One was the opposition to the mariage pour tous of a not insignificant minority of people on the left—including in my personal entourage, and younger as well as older—, which I cannot imagine in the US (the virulence of my numerous lefty American friends—personal and FB—on the gay marriage issue is striking, plus students who are not necessarily on the left). It reminds me of the Islamic headscarf issue and the 2004 French law; American liberals and leftists almost unanimously oppose the law when it comes up in discussion and are surprised, indeed stunned, to hear French leftists strongly defend it (I’m recounting personal experience here).
À propos, David A. Bell of Princeton University has a good article on the Foreign Affairs website, “Liberté, Égalité, but Not Homosexualité: Why French Feminists Are Fighting Gay Marriage,” on the opposition in France to the law and how the arguments differ from those in America. It begins
The only thing clear right now about the U.S. Supreme Court’s pending decision on the Defense of Marriage Act — the law that bars the federal government’s recognition of same-sex marriages — is that Americans will read the verdict as the latest salvo in a long-running culture war. But it is worth remembering that this is a culture war that is increasingly being fought internationally — and often in terms that do not line up with the debate in the United States. Americans have become accustomed to thinking of the argument against gay marriage as being motivated by religious conservatism. But that is not necessarily true elsewhere.
France offers an instructive example. Although 60 percent of the public supports gay marriage, the country has been beset by vitriolic protests since the National Assembly narrowly passed a marriage equality law last spring. From a distance, the hundreds of thousands of people who took to the streets may have seemed little different from the evangelical activists often seen at similar demonstrations in the United States. But Americans would be surprised to discover how different their motivations often are.
…opponents of marriage equality in France’s mainstream parties have mostly kept their distance from religious groups. Relatively few of the street protesters interviewed by reporters talk of God, wave the Bible, or have verses from Leviticus tattooed on their arms. (Which should come as no surprise, given that France is a largely secular place, where barely half the population even still identifies itself as Catholic and regular religious attendance does not even reach ten percent.) Indeed, the most prominent opposition has come from the ranks of professional groups such as law professors and psychoanalysts, whose U.S. counterparts generally favor marriage equality by large margins. A considerable number of public intellectuals have also expressed loud opposition to the law, including the essayist Alain Finkielkraut, the novelist Jean d’Ormesson, and the philosopher Sylviane Agacinski (the wife of former Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin)…
…in truth, the extent of opposition to marriage equality has at least as much to do with the vexed and tortuous story of a quintessentially modern phenomenon: French feminism.
Americans often think of France as a country well disposed to feminism, thanks to the pioneering writings of Simone de Beauvoir and others. And the reputation is not without reason. Abortion has been legal in France since 1975, and French women enjoy paid maternity leave and subsidized child care. In June 2000, the French Parliament passed a law without parallel in the United States (although quickly watered it down) mandating that political parties designate women as half of all their candidates for elected office.
Feminist issues have also divided the French intellectual world, however, and the disputes have strongly influenced how the marriage equality issue has played out. An important current of French thought, which has no real American equivalent, has maintained that while women deserve equal rights, these rights must not entail the supposed erasure of sexual difference. Historians and philosophers such as Mona Ozouf and Philippe Raynaud have seen a particular threat in American-style protections against sexual harassment, which they have labeled “sexual Stalinism.” The sociologist Irène Théry has called for a féminisme à la française that acknowledges the “asymmetrical pleasures of seduction.” The philosopher Sylviane Agacinski goes so far as to call sexual difference the true basis for sexual equality in law. The “parity” in elections demanded by the 2000 law, in her view, reflected the natural division of the human race into complementary male and female halves. Other feminists countered that the law should pay no attention to gender beyond guaranteeing equal rights for all…
This strong emphasis on the complementary roles of men and women has had a remarkable effect on the French marriage debate. Unlike in the United States, most opponents of marriage equality have had relatively little to say about the morality of homosexual sex acts, or about threats to the “institution of marriage” in general. Instead, they speak above all about children, insisting that a psychologically healthy family life rests on the union of a man and woman. Back in 1999, when the French Parliament approved a form of civil union, much of the opposition centered on this issue.
This spring, precisely the same concerns have dominated the manifestos against “marriage for all” issued by groups of law professors and psychologists. And interviews with ordinary protesters have shown just how effectively the arguments of philosophers have filtered down to street level, with one figure after another explaining their opposition to the reform in the same way. To quote a popular protest banner: “Un père et une mère c’est élémentaire” (“A father and a mother is elementary”). And the 60 percent support for same-sex marriage has not changed the fact that a majority still favors banning child adoption by homosexual couples. In short, although religion and homophobia obviously fed into the recent protests, the rhetoric employed by the opposition has trickled down from the intellectuals (as one might, indeed, expect in France)…
A second aspect of the gay marriage controversy I found interesting was the significant number of young people who were involved in the social movement it spawned on the right and the massive street demonstrations that were organized (and demos not being a part of French right-wing culture). The April 18th Le Monde had an article on this, “Une génération de droite se construit contre le mariage gay.” The lede: “Pour beaucoup de jeunes manifestants, le mouvement est un acte fondateur.” Here are passages I underlined
Pour Carol [Ardent, candidat à l'agrégation de lettres, et responsable du blog Le Rouge et le Noir], si les jeunes sont si mobilisés, c’est d’abord parce que leur génération est touchée par les divorces des parents. «Beaucoup d’entre nous ont souffert de l’absence d’équilibre père-mère et nous sommes conscients des dégâts que cela peut causer.»
The (right-wing) demonstrators got a little taste of the French police and the way they go about their job
La violence ? Il faut la chercher du côté de la police : «J’ai vu des jeunes filles de 22 ans, tout au plus, menottées violemment alors qu’elles étaient inoffensives, raconte Louis-Joseph Gannat, devant l’Assemblée nationale. Il ne faudra pas s’étonner si le mouvement se radicalise après ça.»
Ha! So now right-wingers—some of them, at least—know what it’s like to be manhandled by the police and treated poorly, even when one hasn’t broken any law…
And then there’s this, from a 22-year old law student, who denounces
une atmosphère «cathophobe» et affirme avoir perdu beaucoup d’amis «qui ne sont pas ouverts au dialogue» depuis son engagement tardif, en janvier.
Un sentiment revient en boucle : les jeunes opposants au mariage pour tous n’acceptent pas de voir leur engagement «caricaturé», réduit à une démarche violente et homophobe par les politiques et les journalistes. «On nous dénigre, estime Clémence Grosjean, jeune professeure d’histoire-géographie. Il y a un ras-le-bol de ne pas être pris au sérieux. On nous a traités de fascistes mais je n’ai pas envie de mettre fin à la République ou à la démocratie !»
A “cathophobe”—i.e. anti-Catholic—atmosphere. Earlier this year a student (French, bright) in one of my Master’s courses spoke emphatically during a class discussion—on the culture of French laïcité—of what he considered to be a strong anti-Catholic sentiment in France, with practicing Catholics being stigmatized. He said that this was even true for students in private Catholic schools, with those who opt to take catechism—an elective class in schools sous contrat—being made fun of by their peers. He was seconded by a couple of other students, one an Italian, who recounted his own story of what he felt was a prevailing anti-Catholicism in France. Very interesting. As I tend not to frequent regular church-going people (or regular mosque or temple-going), I had no idea.
The Le Monde article concludes with a quote from a student about how the anti-mariage pour tous movement has forged a new generation of activists on the right, in much the same way as the anti-CPE movement did for young people on the left (and the anti-FN movement of the 1990s). One thing is for sure: the right in France is more mobilized these days than is the left. And will likely continue to be in the coming two or three years.
UPDATE: Richard Posner has a good essay in TNR on “How gay marriage became legitimate.” (July 24)
Le Monde’s latest ‘Culture and Ideas’ supplement has a very interesting interview with Canadian journalist Doug Saunders, entitled “Dense cities are those where migrants succeed the most.” Saunders is the author of a couple of books on immigration: Arrival City: How the Largest Migration in History is Reshaping Our World and The Myth of the Muslim Tide: Do Muslims Threaten the West? On the problems of immigrant integration in continental Europe, he cites, entre autres, cumbersome laws and regulations on launching small businesses and opening shops (Belgium, France, Germany), and restrictive legislation on citizenship acquisition (Germany). Here’s the interview, which is absolutely worth reading
Le journaliste Doug Saunders travaille pour le quotidien canadien The Globe and Mail, basé à Toronto. Pour écrire Du village à la ville. Comment les migrants changent le monde, il a sillonné durant des années une trentaine de banlieues de la planète, avec l’appui de chercheurs spécialisés. Entretien, alors que l’Assemblée nationale vient de débattre, jeudi 13 juin, sur la question de l’immigration professionnelle et étudiante.
Quand on parle d’immigration, on a souvent en tête l’idée d’étrangers allant de pays pauvres vers des pays riches. Selon vous, il faudrait d’abord considérer ces migrants comme des personnes allant de la campagne vers la ville. Pourquoi ?
Les gens se font de fausses idées. Ils imaginent que tous les Polonais émigrent vers le Royaume-Uni ou que les Mexicains migrent en masse vers les Etats-Unis. En fait, des personnes originaires de régions spécifiques de certains (more…)
Voici quelques tribunes publiées dans Le Monde ces derniers jours par des grands spécialistes et connaisseurs de la Turquie.
“Le jardin Gezi occupé voit refleurir la liberté” par Nilüfer Göle.
“Le parti au pouvoir divisé” par Riva Kastoryano.
“Je veux siroter mon raki sur le Bosphore, monsieur Erdogan !” par Nedim Gürsel.
“Un mouvement à la Mai 68 s’est emparé de la société civile” par Pinar Selek.
“‘Ras le bol’ des caprices du premier ministre !” par Ahmet Insel.
“Gezi Parki, un lieu symbolique de la liberté” par Vincent Duclert.