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Archive for the ‘Immigration’ Category

yema-affiche

My previous post was on three worthy Moroccan films I’ve seen of late. Moroccan cinema has become quite good, probably the most interesting in the Arab world at the present time. There’s also some good stuff coming out of Algeria, including two films I’ve seen in the past three months. The most recent one is ‘Yema’, which is set at an undetermined moment during Algeria’s army-led regime vs. Islamist insurgents sale guerre and entirely in a small farm on a remote hillside (somewhere in the petite Kabylie). I’ll let Variety’s Jay Weissberg—the anglophone world’s premier critic of Maghrebi cinema—describe the pic

Algeria’s fratricidal battle between the government and fundamentalists is played at the micro level in Djamila Sahraoui’s three-hander “Yema.” Designed as a Greek tragedy, the telegraphic story is set in a stunning landscape where a mother grieves for her soldier son, killed by Islamic insurgents affiliated with his brother. Beautifully lensed by Raphael O’Byrne (“The Portuguese Nun”), “Yema” (meaning “mother”) has all the trappings of the ancient classics, yet feels equally antiquated; it’s worthy without transcending a static iconicism…

Like a grieving Virgin Mary, Ouardia (helmer-scripter Sahraoui, “Barakat!”) prepares her son Tarek’s body for burial. She’s confined to her home and environs by a one-handed guard (Samir Yahia), taking orders from his superior (Ali Zarif). Gradually it’s revealed that the superior is Ouardia’s younger son, a mujahideen fighter she blames for Tarek’s death. The younger brother also stole the elder’s wife, further embittering their disconsolate mother. Everyone is wounded emotionally and physically by the country’s conflicts, and only Ouardia’s dogged cultivation of her garden produces life from the parched soil. Visuals further the sense of an epic tale recounted on a human scale.

There’s not a lot of action in the film but it’s absorbing. I recommended it (particularly for Algeriaphiles and those interested in the dynamics of civil wars). Another review is here, French reviews (good) here, and trailer here.

The other Algerian film seen lately—actually a French film with Algeria theme—is ‘Né quelque part’ (literally, “born somewhere,” but given the unsatisfying English title ‘Homeland’), by first-time director Mohamed Hamidi (from the Paris area, a founder of the well-known banlieue-themed Bondy Blog, and who normally teaches economics and management for a living). This is a comedy (or perhaps a dramedy) for le grand public, about a 26-year-old Parisian law student named Farid (actor Tewfik Jallab) from an Algerian immigrant family, who’s asked by his ageing father to go en catastrophe to the family’s village (near Tlemcen), to deal with the local authorities’ intention to raze the house the father had built there for his retirement. So Farid has no choice but to drop everything and go to Algeria, where he had never set foot. Now this wasn’t too credible—immigrant families who periodically return to the bled invariably take the kids with them—, nor was it credible that he wouldn’t understand a word of Algerian darija, but that’s okay. At the airport he’s met with open arms by relatives he’s seeing for the first time, one a cousin played by comic Jamel Debbouze—who is hugely poplar in France (and in my family)—, who take him to the bled, where he encounters the whole range of wacky, offbeat characters. And the rocambolesque story takes off (in short: Farid intends to stay only a few days but, against his will, is retained there for considerably longer). The movie is quite funny—indeed hilarious—, particularly if one knows Algeria and Algerian humor. Immigrés vs. blédards dynamics are naturally a theme. Algeriaphiles will definitely appreciate it. So despite a few contrivances and implausibilities I give it the unreserved thumbs up. I was thoroughly entertained. Review in English is here (the film showed at Cannes), French reviews (good) here, and trailer here.

ne-quelque-part-affiche

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Multicultural wordle

I want to give some publicity to this fine new blog on the public square, the tagline of which is ‘Working site on citizenship and multiculturalism issues’. The blog’s animateur is Andrew Griffith, who, in addition to being a personal friend, is a former Canadian civil servant and diplomat, and, most recently in his career, the Director General of the Citizenship and Multiculturalism Branch, Citizenship and Immigration Canada. Andrew has worked on these issues for many years and has a book coming out this fall on the subject, and that I will certainly write about.

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o-TRAPPES-RASSEMBLEMENT-facebook

[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…”

C. N

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.

Interior minister Manuel Valls in Trappes, July 22 2013 (photo: François Guillot/AFP)

Interior minister Manuel Valls in Trappes, July 22 2013 (photo: François Guillot/AFP)

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La Cage Dorée

la-cage-doree-affiche

This was the hit light comedy in France this spring, seen last weekend at our neighborhood cinoche (held over by popular demand). It’s a comedy à la portugaise, about a Portuguese concièrge in an upscale building in Paris’s tony 16th arrondissement (quartier Passy)—where she has faithfully served the haut bourgeois propriétaires for thirty years—, her (skilled) construction worker husband, and their two children—high school and university age—, who, having grown up in France, are more French than Portuguese. The film begins with the couple learning that they have unexpectedly inherited property and a tidy sum of money in their home village in Portugal but that requires them moving there within three weeks, otherwise it will all be donated to the local parish. They naturally decide to take early retirement and do so but their haut bourgeois tenants pull out all the stops so that they stay—finding good concièrges these days is not easy—, plus the husband’s boss, who considers him irreplaceable. And the matter is further thickened by the romantic involvement—initially unbeknownst to the parents—of the bourgeois boss’s son with the immigrant worker’s daughter. Again, it’s a light comedy. Un bon divertissement. An inoffensive crowd pleaser. Some of the scenes are quite funny, e.g. when the immigrant couple invite the boss and wife—and future in-laws—over to dinner. It’s the first film I can think of that focuses on the Portuguese community in France—and makes light of clichés about Portuguese immigrants—, which has been the single largest immigrant community in the country since the 1950s (and which is sizable in Paris’s eastern banlieues, out where I live). Maghrebis and Africans, who are now well-covered in French cinema, aren’t the only significant immigrant population in this country. The immigrant characters are all played by Portuguese-origin actors—though they mainly speak French in the film, which they wouldn’t in real life in talking among themselves—and with director Ruben Alves dedicating the film to his family (so it’s his personal story too). My wife particularly liked that the film showed real working people, which she insisted French films rarely do (I’ll have to think about that one). The film also depicts a profession—building concièrges, such a fixture in France—that is fading, as condo owner associations are increasingly contracting with outside cleaning and maintenance companies once the concièrge retires (and as ours has done). Reviews of the film were good and with Allociné spectators giving it the thumbs way up. A crowd pleaser, like I said.

On the subject of crowd pleasing French films, one I saw recently—on DVD—was Guillaume Canet’s ‘Les petits mouchoirs’ (English title: ‘Little White Lies’), which was a big box office hit in France in 2010 but that I paid no attention to at the time. It’s a French version of ‘The Big Chill’—and that Canet said inspired the film—, about a group of mid 30ish friends from Paris, all bobos, and their annual summer vacation together in Cap Ferret on the Atlantic coast, and with all their interpersonal dramas and histoires—and with the backdrop the terrible motorcycle accident of one of the members of the group who was to be with them. French reviews of the film ran the gamut and American were mixed (though Roger Ebert liked it), but Allociné spectators gave it the thumbs up. And as I always say, the Allociné spectators are invariably right. Trailer is here. The film is not flawless and, at 2 hours 20 minutes, is long for what it is—and the length was one of the reproaches of the critics—, but I didn’t think this was a problem. The cast is A-list, the acting good, and it’s an all-around engaging film (and, after all these years, I will finally assert that Marion Cotillard is beautiful; yes she is). I saw it with several people—American, French, and German—and we all liked it (and I liked it more than I did ‘The Big Chill’). So if one is looking for weekend evening entertainment, this is a safe choice.

les-petits-mouchoirs

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Brick Lane, London E.1

Brick Lane, London E.1

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…)

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Marseille 1973

Marseille 1973

In 1973. Before I get to that, a few words about a story that has been all over Israeli and (mainly right-wing) Jewish websites the past three days, of an apparent physical aggression perpetrated against Israeli filmmaker Yariv Horowitz on Thursday in Aubagne—just outside Marseille—, where he was attending a film festival (and where his film ‘Rock the Casbah’ won an award). The apparent aggression occurred at an ATM and, so reported Israeli news sources—including Haaretz, Ynetnews, and The Times of Israel—, was committed by a group of “Arabs” and who knocked Horowitz unconscious. Ynetnews headlined its Facebook post of the dispatch with one word: Anti-Semitism.

Sounded bad except that I was immediately dubious about the story, not that something didn’t happen—I didn’t imagine that Horowitz would have made it up—but of the details as reported in the Israeli media. First, there was nothing at all on it in the French media, which would not have ignored the incident—au contraire—had it happened the way the Israelis were reporting it. It would have been a news story, and likely a big one. Secondly, I wondered how Horowitz—who did not report the alleged assault to the police or even seek medical care—and his friend knew that the assailants were Arabs (or of Arab origin, as they were most certainly French). Thirdly—and regarding the inevitable mention of anti-Semitism—I rhetorically asked (a) how the alleged assailants could have known that Horowitz was a Jew and (b) why the latter assumed he was attacked for this reason. In the news reports there was nothing to suggest that the incident had a Jew-hating character.

But now we have more information on the incident, via the Aubagne film festival organizers and as reported in the Marseille daily La Provence. Nothing happened the way the Israeli websites reported. Horowitz received exactly one punch, but which did not seriously hurt him. The perpetrator was a minor and whose ethnic identity—as if it matters—was undetermined. There was no indication that he was of Arab origin and the incident clearly had nothing to do with Horowitz being Jewish. This was not a hate crime. Horowitz quickly rejoined the festivities. The incident should have never been the subject of a news story, let alone one with such incendiary allegations. I was going to do a longer post on it but see that blogger Ali Abunimah—who knows the French language, or has a collaborator who does—has already done the spade work and rubbished the story (here and here) as it was reported in the Israeli media. So will the Israeli websites that spread the disinformation—and particularly Haaretz, from which one expects higher professional standards—retract and apologize to their readers?

As for the title of this post—which is not entirely irrelevant to what I’ve written above—, the website Oumma.com has a post with a 55 minute documentary that aired in 2006 on Canal+, “Marseille 1973: les ratonnades oubliées.” In English: ‘Marseille 1973: the forgotten ratonnades‘. There is only one way to translate ratonnade, which is “pogrom against Algerians.” The etymology of the word: raton means ‘little rat’,which was one of the racist terms for Algerian Muslims during the French colonial era, and during which time Europeans settlers and soldiers periodically carried out bloody ratonnades. In the summer and fall of 1973 there was a wave of racist attacks on the sizable Algerian immigrant community in Marseille—with eleven murdered at random during the month of August alone—, culminating in the December 14th terror bombing in front of the Algerian consulate (causing four deaths and dozens injured—many seriously—among the Algerian immigrants waiting in line outside). Only one of the murderers was arrested and tried—receiving a five-year suspended sentence… All the other murder cases were classé sans suite, i.e. closed with no further action. Marseille at the time—and it was hardly unique in that part of France—had a significant population of repatriated pieds-noirs—a certain number of whom had been in the terrorist OAS (the KKK of Algérie française in its dying days)—, as well as military personnel who had served in Algeria during the war. Revanchists of Algérie française—with their violent hatred of Algerian Muslims—were present in force in the city’s institutions, and notably the police, judicial system, and right-wing press organs (most of the racists were on the right—including the recently founded Front National—but some were in the local Socialist party). Marseille was akin to a Mississippi town during the Jim Crow era, and with Algerians and other Maghrebis as the Blacks. What happened in Marseille in 1973 was a pogrom, even if the murders were committed by small groups of men and not rampaging mobs. There is no other word to describe it. I knew the history of this well but hadn’t seen the documentary. It’s very good. Do watch it.

It is, among other things, a reminder that the greatest victims of racist hatred in France over the past six decades have been Maghrebis, not Jews. Anti-Semitism was, of course, a scourge in France through the mid 20th century—and culminating in the collaboration of the French state with the Nazis in the deportation of Jews to the death camps—but it must be mentioned for the record that, with the exception of the Nazi occupation, not a single Jew in metropolitan France, from the Dreyfus Affair to the present day, suffered violent death in a manifest hate crime (in fact, I am not aware of any Jews being killed even in the unoccupied zone in the 1940-42 period). Such has not been the case with Algerians, needless to say. During stretches of the 1960s Algerians were murdered in hate crimes somewhere in France at the rate of almost one a week. And it didn’t end with the Marseille ratonnades of 1973. Just a historical reminder. Again, if one’s French is up to it, do watch the documentary.

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Mohamed Merah sur France 3

[mise à jour ci-dessous] [2ème mise à jour ci-dessous]

France 3 a eu un bon documentaire hier soir sur l’Affaire Mohamed Merah, et qui complémente celui de M6 du novembre dernier. Voici le synopsis

Le 22 mars 2012, la France est sous le choc, effarée par les tueries commises par un certain Mohamed Merah. En pleine campagne présidentielle, les Français découvrent avec stupeur que le monstre, tueur d’enfants, est un jeune de la banlieue toulousaine, à peine âgé de 23 ans.

Qui est-il vraiment et comment en est-il arrivé à tuer sept personnes de sang-froid?

Pendant plus de six mois, les auteurs de ce film ont rencontré des dizaines de témoins de l’affaire, proches de l’enquête. Ils ont eu accès à des documents exclusifs pour tenter de comprendre ce qui, dans l’histoire de ce petit délinquant de banlieue, a pu provoquer un tel passage à l’acte.

Pour la première fois, sa famille et ses amis ont accepté de participer, permettant de mieux cerner la personnalité de Mohamed Merah.

Ainsi, les auteurs ont pu reconstituer, année après année, les différentes étapes de sa vie : la cité, la prison, les voyages, qui ont pu le mener à commettre ces atrocités.

Ces crimes sont-ils l’oeuvre d’un fou ou bien celle d’un fanatique religieux? Quels étaient ses liens avec la mouvance islamiste ? Quel rôle a joué sa famille ? Etait-il un “indic” manipulé par les services de renseignement?

Autant de questions auxquelles ce documentaire tente de répondre à la suite d’une enquête minutieuse et d’une investigation sociale, dévoilant les failles d’un système judiciaire et les “loupés” de la police (DCRI + PJ) qui ont empêché de neutraliser Mohamed Merah plus tôt. Les révélations contenues dans ce film vont souvent à contre-courant des versions officielles.

De Toulouse au Pakistan, en passant par le Moyen-Orient, ce documentaire retrace tout l’itinéraire de Mohamed Merah, depuis la petite enfance jusqu’aux meurtres de 2012.

On peut regarder le documentaire ici.

MISE À JOUR: Oumma.com, site un tantinet orienté, a publié un “décryptage” du documentaire.

2ème MISE À JOUR: Voilà la une du Monde aujourd’hui (10 mars) : “Mohamed Merah a été repéré par les renseignements dès 2006.”

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My blogging consœur Victoria Ferauge has posted an annotated bibliography of recent scholarly works she has read of late on international migration, immigration, and citizenship. It will be useful for those interested in the general subject.

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In my last post I discussed Tariq Ramadan, the charismatic Egyptian-Swiss philosopher who has authored a slew of books on Islam and being a Muslim in Europe, and with a target audience of youthful European Muslim post-migrants. More interesting-looking—for me at least—is some new social scientific scholarship out on Muslims in Europe, which is reviewed in this fine essay by Timothy Garton Ash in the November 22, 2012, NYRB. The new books are Robert Leiken’s Europe’s Angry Muslims, Jonathan Laurence’s The Emancipation of Europe’s Muslims, Martha Nussbaum’s The New Religious Intolerance, and Paul Scheffer’s Immigrant Nations (this one looks particularly interesting), plus the Open Society Foundation’s report on Muslims in 11 EU cities. To these one may add anthropologist John R. Bowen’s Blaming Islam, which is reviewed in this essay in Qantara.de. Bowen has authored two major recent works on Muslims and Islam in France—both first-rate—, so this one will certainly be worth the read.

nyrb112212

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Tariq Ramadan (Photo credit: Sia Kambou / AFP)

Photo credit: Sia Kambou / AFP

In my January 27th post on France’s Mali intervention I linked to a tribune by a Senegalese academic, Bakary Sambe, who skewered Tariq Ramadan for his opposition to the said intervention, and where I referred to the celebrated Egyptian-Swiss philosopher as an “overrated bloviator.” I am not a fan of the très médiatique Ramadan, needless to say, though used to have a positive image of him, taking him to be a moderate, modernist Islamic thinker based on numerous op-ed type articles he published over the years in the French press, plus flattering portraits of him that appeared here and there (I never did bother to read his books, which mainly focus on Islamic thought, not a subject of great interest to me and who has the time?). I also did not (and do not) care for some of Ramadan’s high-profile detractors in France and the US (e.g. Caroline Fourest, Paul Berman, Daniel Pipes), who have been engaged in an obsessive vendetta against him for years. And I considered indefensible his temporary banning from France in the mid ’90s—over which I initiated a letter of protest by MESA to then interior minister Jean-Louis Debré—and exclusion from the US during the Bush administration.

But after seeing TR up close—for the first time some five years ago, in a classroom talk—and exchanging a few words with him, I decided that he is a slick, smooth-talking self-promoter, who wows audiences with his affability, eloquence—he can give a one-hour talk in flawless English, with no notes and without skipping a beat—, and dapper good looks but ultimately says little of substance. And his answers to questions on politics and social issues during a Q&A are for the most part langue de bois (e.g. I asked him to give his assessment of the AKP government in Turkey—which had been in power for five years—, to which he responded something to the effect of “What is happening in Turkey is very interesting and we need to follow it closely and see where it’s going”… Not terribly deep or enlightening). He’s a friendly fundamentalist, adapting his discourse to the circumstance. He does not, however, merit the demonization to which he has been subjected by Fourest, Berman et al—he’s not significant enough—, but nor does he merit the celebrity he’s attained beyond his following among youthful pious European Muslim post-migrants (and notably by European policy makers anxiously seeking European Muslim interlocutors). Intellectually and politically speaking, TR does not impress me.

And I do find his apologetics for the Muslim Brotherhood disturbing, not to mention his views and equivocations on a host of other issues.

I bring all this up as I read just the other day a review essay in TNR, dated October 1, 2012, of Ramadan’s latest book, in which he offers analysis and commentary on the so-called Arab spring. Reviewer Samuel Helfont, a Near Eastern Studies Ph.D. candidate at Princeton, was not impressed, taking to task Ramadan’s “problematic views,” “sloppy analysis and inconsistencies,” and “contorted arguments and anti-imperialist platitudes,” all of which are quite simply “not serious.” Very good. Couldn’t have said it better myself, even though I haven’t read the book (and have no intention of).

While I’m at it, here is a tribune I also read recently, by the Franco-Tunisian intellectual Abdelwahab Meddeb—a political and philosophical enemy of TR’s (the two have publicly crossed swords)—, “Towards A Global Network of Liberal Muslims,” that was first published three weeks ago in a Bangladeshi newspaper. Excellent initiative.

I mentioned Daniel Pipes as one of TR’s detractors. Pipes is no dummy when it comes to subjects of which he is a specialist but is politically reactionary and a crackpot on a number of issues (e.g. flirting with Obama birtherism, obsessively trying to “prove” that Obama is a Muslim, situating himself well to the right of Netanyahu on the Israeli political spectrum). I generally don’t touch him with a ten-foot pole. Which is not to say I don’t read him every so often. The other day I came across an interview with him in the current issue of The American Spectator, on “Islam and Islamism in the Modern World,” and which is surprisingly unobjectionable for the most part. I give it the green light.

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La Pirogue

La Pirogue

This is one of the better films I’ve seen over the past couple of months. It’s from Senegal, about a major, real life subject, which is migration—irregular, clandestine—from sub-Saharan Africa to Europe: in this case, of the treacherous 1,500 km passage in pirogue fishing boats from Senegal to the Canary Islands in Spain (see the map here), which African migrants determined to reach Europe began to take toward the middle of the last decade, and that peaked in 2006, when some 30,000 came ashore in the Canary Islands. As the islands couldn’t cope with the influx, most of the migrants were transported to reception centers on the Spanish mainland, at which point they were home free—to move on to their destinations on the continent (mainly France)—, which the well-informed migrants knew would happen. The pirogues were piloted by Senegalese fisherman driven out of their waters—and into unemployment—by big fishing trawlers, mainly from South Korea. And the voyages—which have for the most part ended due to concerted international action—were organized by unscrupulous traffickers.

The film—which is an homage to the thousands of migrants who perished at sea (some 6,000 in 2006 alone)—reenacts, in documentary-like fashion, the journey: of the recruitment of the pilot by the sleazy trafficker in a coastal village outside Dakar, the assembly of the 30 migrants—native Senegalese and Peuls from Guinea—on the beach, the crossing to the Canaries on the high seas, the dynamics among the passengers—who are divided by ethnicity and language—, their contrasting reactions when they come across a pirogue whose engine has failed and is packed with desperate migrants (Guinean Peuls), and then what happens when things start to go wrong with their own boat. The portrayal of all this is no doubt totally accurate. It’s quite a powerful film for this reason, but above all because it shows the migrants as real, flesh-and-blood individuals seeking to better their lives—and at huge risk to their lives—and not as statistics, some faceless mass, or objects of phantasms and fear stereotyped by European public opinions and demagogic politicians. Seeing the film increases one’s revulsion—well, mine at least—toward the anti-immigrant demagoguery in immigrant-receiving countries. Not that Europe (or the US) should throw open the doors to unfettered immigration—which no one is proposing—, but that policy responses to the issue must involve respect and consideration for the migrants, that we’re talking about real people and who, again, seek nothing more than to better their lives. The film should be required viewing for anyone expressing a decided viewpoint on the issue, not to mention politicians and policy-makers engaged with it. Variety gave the film a good review, as did French critics. Pierre Haski of Rue89 had a nice essay how “the African boat people finally have their film.” Trailers are here and here.

On the subject of irregular immigration to the European continent, I saw a small Italian film a few months ago, ‘Io sono Li’ (English title: ‘Li and the Poet’; en France: ‘La Petite Venise’), on a young Chinese undocumented immigrant who works in a bar-restaurant in Chioggia, on the Venitian Lagoon, where she was sent by the Chinese trafficker who brought her into the country, initially to work in a clandestine textile factory near Rome. The story is of her effort to accumulate enough money to bring her young son from China to join her—while still owing money to the trafficker—, of her isolation in Chioggia, and the friendship she develops with a retired Slovenian fisherman, who has lived in the town for many years—he’s nicknamed “the poet” and is a regular at the bar—but, as an immigrant, is also an outsider. The review in Variety, which called it “a gentle pic,” is here. French reviews, which were positive, are here.

io sono li

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Almanya & Kuma

almanya----willkommen-in-deutschland-poster

Reporting on more films I’ve seen in recent months, these two, on Turkish immigrants in Europe, are worth noting. The first, ‘Almanya – Willkommen in Deutschland’, by Turkish-German director Yasemin Şamdereli, is “a delightful, charming comedy,” as one review accurately put it, about a three-generation Turkish immigrant family in Germany and the trials and tribulations of integrating into German society. The film flashes back between the present day and the mid 1960s, when the father, played by Vedat Erincin—the acting is very good overall—, arrives in Germany with his wife, as a clueless Gasterbeiter. The reconstitution of the era is well done and with some funny, indeed hilarious, scenes. The light-hearted portrayal of present-day family dynamics, with the younger generation far more culturally German than Turkish, is also good, and particularly what happens when they take their big family vacation back home in Turkey (in the Izmir area, so far as I could tell). Variety and Hollywood Reporter liked the pic, as did French critics. Trailer is here. So thumbs up to this one.

The other film, ‘Kuma’ (titre en France: ‘Une seconde femme’), by Turkish-Kurdish-Austrian director Umut Dağ, is more serious—not to mention less joyous—, about a conservative Turkish immigrant family in Vienna that recruits, as it were, a “kuma” (a second wife), in the family’s village in eastern Turkey, for the aging father—played by Almanya’s Vedat Erincin—, whose wife is dying of cancer and instigates the affair. The unsuspecting 19-year old village girl thinks she’s marrying the son but discovers the truth when she arrives at the family’s home in Vienna. The movie is what happens to her and the family—which is rather less integrated and provokes fewer laughs than the one in ‘Almanya’. I thought it was quite a good film, absorbing, well-acted, and no doubt anthropologically accurate. Hollywood press reviews are here, here, and here. French reviews are here. And the trailer is here.

kuma

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would you have sex with an arab

Continuing from my previous post—on recently seen films on Israel-Palestine—, this is an original and not bad documentary I saw earlier this fall,

in which Israeli Jews and Arabs are brought face-to-face with their own prejudices, grudges, and unexpected desires.

Several filmmakers have tackled the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But few have approached the thorny subject quite like French Jewish filmmaker Yolande Zauberman and her Lebanese writing partner Sélim Nassib: through the prism of sex.

In their new documentary “Would You Have Sex With an Arab?”, Zauberman and Nassib take to the streets of Tel Aviv at night, prowling bars and clubs, cafés and underground soirées, in search of Israeli Jews and Arabs willing to answer a startling question: Would you have sex with a member of the other community?

The responses, ranging from militant refusal to candid confessions of illicit one-night stands and longterm love affairs ending in heartbreak, are funny, surprising, confusing, and sometimes quite moving.

“Would You Have Sex With an Arab?” never aims to dissect the historical or political twists and turns of a bitter conflict. Rather, it is a wistful portrait of a damaged society in which human dynamics are often far more complex than we are led to believe – and in which deeply buried reserves of desire and regret are coaxed toward the surface, thanks to one single provocative query.

A well-put synopsis (from France 24‘s website, which has an interview with director Yolande Zauberman). In addition to young Jews and Palestinians Zauberman encountered and interviewed—I was particularly intrigued by the Palestinian women—are appearances by Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy and half Palestinian-half Jewish playwright Juliano Mer-Khamis, who was murdered by Palestinian extremists in Jenin last year (the killers are still at large). Variety give the pic the thumbs up, as did most French critics. Variety Arabia has a piece on Zauberman and the making of the film. Trailer is here.

On the theme of taboo love, I saw a French film last month called ‘Rengaine’ (English title: ‘Hold Back’), by Franco-Algerian-Sudanese director-actor-novelist Rachid Djaïdani, who has authored novels about immigrant life in the cités des banlieues and acted in films and TV series about them. He’s all cités and banlieues, Monsieur Djaïdani. The subject of the film—his feature-length directorial debut—is miscegenation between blacks and Maghrebis. Big taboo, and particularly between black guy and Maghrébine (it’s okay with regular white French, so long as there’s conversion—of the guy—to Islam). Here’s the synopsis from Indiewire

In present-day Paris, Sabrina (Sabrina Hamida), a young North African woman, falls in love with Dorcy (Stéphane Soo Mongo), a black Christian trying to make ends meet as an actor. They plan to get married, but when rumour gets out about their engagement, Slimane (Slimane Dazi), the eldest of Sabrina’s 40 brothers, is disgusted that his Arab Muslim sister would consider such a union. He is determined that Sabrina should stay faithful to familial and community traditions, and traipses the city in search of her. From this starting point, the first full-length feature from French novelist and actor Rachid Djaïdani develops into a provocative, freewheeling analysis of attitudes to race and religion in modern-day France that’s pertinent and relevant beyond the country. Presented in an appealingly raw style that nods to John Cassavetes, Hold Back is fearless, inventive filmmaking featuring frequent moments that surprise and disarm.

A compelling subject. I was looking forward to seeing the pic, particularly as the reviews in the Paris press were tops and it premiered at Cannes. Hollywood Reporter also gave it a fine review, though Variety‘s was rather more tepid. Well, I go with Variety and then some. The pic, which is set entirely in the city of Paris, was made on a near zero budget—which I can totally believe—, apparently took nine years to shoot and with 200 hours of rushes, and all for a 1 hour 15 minute final product that is so amateurish and on every level: the irritating, hand-held camera work, the underwhelming acting, underdeveloped characters, the screenplay (or lack of one), et j’en passe. That Sabrina has “40 brothers” indicates right away that the film is a fable, which enabled director Djaïdani to do whatever he wanted with it and take it wherever (which was perhaps inevitable, as by the time he finished the pic for this year’s Cannes festival he’d probably forgotten what he intended to do with it back in 2003). The love affair is not convincing—and Dorcy is no Romeo, that’s for sure—and contrivances abound. In short, the film does not work. Not for me, at least.

rengaine

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[mise à jour ci-dessous]

Le magazine d’information “Enquête exclusive” de M6 a eu un reportage exceptionnel dimanche soir sur l’affaire Merah. Voici le synopsis

Le 21 mars dernier, la France découvre avec stupeur le visage du tueur au scooter. En quelques jours, à Toulouse et Montauban, Mohamed Merah a tué sept fois. Ses victimes : trois militaires, un professeur et trois enfants devant l’école juive Ozar-Hatora. Avant d’être abattu par les policiers du Raid, Mohamed Merah se dira lui-même « envoyé par Al-Qaeda ». Mais qui était vraiment Mohamed Merah ?

Ce jeune toulousain de 23 ans, né de parents algériens, était connu depuis longtemps de la justice, de la police et même des services de renseignement. D’abord pour des faits de délinquance, puis pour sa proximité avec les milieux islamistes radicaux.

Grace à des témoignages inédits et des documents exclusifs, nous avons reconstitué l’itinéraire de Mohamed Merah. Son enfance chaotique dans une famille violente et déstructurée, son parcours de délinquant, sa radicalisation en prison. Contrairement à ce qui a été dit au début de l’enquête, Merah n’avait rien d’un « loup solitaire ». Son environnement toulousain explique en grande partie sa dérive djihadiste. Tout comme ses voyages à la recherche de ses « frères » en Syrie, en Égypte, en Afghanistan et au Pakistan.

L’arrestation ces derniers jours des membres d’une cellule terroriste, responsables d’un attentat à la grenade dans une épicerie cachère de Sarcelle, montre que Mohamed Merah n’est pas un cas isolé. De religion musulmane ou convertis, plusieurs dizaines de jeunes Français sont aujourd’hui attirés par les thèses djihadistes. Combien sont prêts à basculer dans le terrorisme ?

L’enquête de Mohamed Sifaoui, spécialiste du terrorisme et de l’islam radical, apporte de nombreuses révélations sur l’affaire Merah.

Il faut absolument regarder le reportage—qui dure 1h 25m—et du début jusqu’à la fin. Le voici.

Le témoin-clé du reportage, Abdelghani Merah—le frère aîné de Mohamed—, a écrit un livre (avec Mohamed Sifaoui), qui sort demain.

MISE À JOUR: L’émission d’information “28 minutes” d’ARTE a reçu Abdelghani Merah sur le plateau ce soir. (13 novembre)

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Today’s Journal du Dimanche has an interesting interview on the events of October 17, 1961, with Constantin Melnik, who was the coordinator of secret services at the Matignon at the time

Melnik : “Une responsabilité collective”

Le coordinateur des services secrets à Matignon de 1959 à 1962, Constantin Melnik, revient sur la répression sanglante du 17 octobre 1961.

Quand avez-vous été alerté cette nuit-là?
J’ai reçu un coup de fil du directeur de la sûreté la nuit même, me disant : “Il se passe quelque chose de sinistre à la préfecture de police”. Mais c’était du ressort du préfet, Maurice Papon. Moi, je m’occupais alors des négociations avec le FLN algérien. J’ai longtemps été accusé d’avoir participé à cette effroyable répression. Mais je suis complètement vierge. J’ai même été le premier à révéler le massacre.

Comment l’avez-vous su?
Chaque matin, je recevais la liste des musulmans retrouvés morts à Paris. En général, on en avait 5 ou 6. Mais après le 17 octobre, c’est devenu 20 à 30 par jour. J’ai convoqué le directeur de cabinet de Maurice Papon pour avoir des explications. Il m’a répondu qu’il s’agissait de “noyés par balles”… J’ai compris qu’il s’était passé quelque chose d’inadmissible. J’ai tout de suite demandé un rendez-vous avec le Premier ministre Michel Debré pour l’avertir. Il m’a lancé qu’on ne faisait pas d’omelette sans casser des oeufs.

Combien de victimes?
Le FLN a annoncé 69 morts au cours de cette soirée. Mais comme il n’y a pas eu d’enquêtes, on ne connaît pas le nombre exact de victimes, ni le détail. Des gens ont vraiment été massacrés : certains tués par balle et jetés dans l’eau. D’autres battus à mort. Ou noyés, comme la plus jeune victime, âgée de 17 ans. Comme le FLN ne connaissait pas forcément tous les manifestants, j’estime qu’il a dû y avoir une centaine de morts.

Pourquoi ce déchaînement de violence? 
C’était une ambiance de guerre. Depuis des mois, les policiers étaient la cible d’attentats commis par le FLN. Ils étaient mal formés. Certains venaient de faire leur service militaire en Algérie. Ils se sont laissés emporter par la haine et le racisme. La personnalité du préfet de police, Maurice Papon, a également joué. Cet homme, qui avait été super-préfet de Constantine, était rompu aux méthodes brutales pratiquées en Algérie. Régulièrement, il encourageait ses agents, avec des discours du type : “Pour un coup reçu, nous en rendrons dix” ou : “Je vous couvrirai”.

Qui est vraiment responsable? 
En premier lieu, Maurice Papon. Le 17 au soir, il était dans la salle de commandement de la préfecture. Il était au courant des événements, mais ne pouvait rien faire : la police était incontrôlable. C’est aussi une responsabilité collective. Car il a fallu réquisitionner les bus de la RATP pour embarquer les manifestants, réquisitionner le Palais des Sports pour les parquer. Le ministre des Transports, le ministre de l’Intérieur, le Premier ministre et le président de la République étaient forcément au courant. Mais je ne crois pas que le général de Gaulle ait été informé du massacre. La preuve : dans les archives de la police, j’ai vu une lettre du secrétaire général de l’Élysée demandant des explications à Maurice Papon. Enfin, la fédération de France du FLN, qui avait appelé à manifester, a aussi une part de responsabilité. Ses dirigeants ont ensuite admis, en privé, qu’il fallait que le sang coule pour renforcer leur situation au sein des indépendantistes. Pour eux, c’était un acte de guerre.

Pourquoi l’affaire a-t-elle été étouffée? 
Tout le monde a fermé les yeux. D’abord, parce qu’à l’époque, la population était hostile à l’idée de laisser les Algériens défiler dans Paris. Si Maurice Papon avait laissé cette manifestation se dérouler, il aurait été immédiatement révoqué ! Là, il a poursuivi une belle carrière. Ensuite, le gouvernement avait besoin de sa police. Il devait lutter contre l’OAS, qui était un véritable danger pour la stabilité du pays. Moi-même, je n’ai pas demandé d’enquête. Mais j’avais un poids sur la conscience : le gouvernement que je servais avait commis puis couvert une infamie. Le président François Hollande a raison de rendre hommage aux victimes

Marie Quenet – Le Journal du Dimanche
dimanche 21 octobre 2012

There’s also this in the JDD

17 octobre 1961, de 30 à 170 morts

Ce jour-là, 20.000 à 30.000 Algériens manifestent contre le couvre-feu. Plusieurs dizaines d’entre eux sont tués par la police. Mais le mystère demeure…

Ce devait être une manifestation pacifique. Ce 17 octobre 1961, les Algériens de la région parisienne défilent contre le couvre-feu imposé par le préfet de police, Maurice Papon, aux Français musulmans d’Algérie. Tous ont reçu la même consigne : n’apporter aucune arme. Ils ont même été fouillés à leur arrivée. Vers 19 heures, 20.000 à 30.000 hommes, femmes et enfants convergent dans le calme, sous la pluie, à différents endroits de Paris. Mais bientôt, la répression s’abat…

L’objectif du FLN, organisateur de la manifestation? “Un des cadres de la Fédération de France du FLN m’a dit qu’il s’agissait d’un acte tactique”, affirme Georges Fleury, auteur de nombreux livres sur la guerre d’Algérie. “Le couvre-feu paralysait leur action. Ils ont donc forcé les gens à manifester. Selon ce cadre, ‘il fallait que le sang coule’ pour être entendu de l’ONU.” L’historien Benjamin Stora, commissaire de l’exposition “Vies d’exil” à la Cité nationale de l’histoire de l’immigration (jusqu’au 19 mai 2013), n’est pas de cet avis : “Croyez-vous que le FLN aurait fait exprès d’envoyer à la mort des femmes et des enfants? Personne ne s’attendait à cette violence. Et la majorité des immigrés algériens étaient favorables à l’indépendance.”

Quoi qu’il en soit, la situation dérape. “Plusieurs milliers d’Algériens se dirigent vers le pont de Neuilly. La police fait barrage, elle ouvre le feu. Des hommes sont jetés dans la Seine”, décrit Jean-Luc Einaudi, spécialiste du 17 octobre 1961. Des scènes de violences se déroulent également près de la Madeleine, de l’Opéra ou sur le boulevard Saint-Michel. Les arrestations sont massives, plus de 11.500. Les hommes sont embarqués dans des bus de la RATP, puis parqués dans différents lieux, notamment au Palais des Sports.

Papon en première ligne

Impossible de connaître le nombre exact de morts. “Trois”, selon le bilan officiel de l’époque ; “40 à 50″ selon la commission Mandelkern en 1997. Pour sa part, Jean-Luc Einaudi compte environ 400 Algériens tués entre septembre et novembre, dont 170 à partir du 17 octobre. L’historien Jean-Paul Brunet, lui, estime qu’il y en aurait eu “entre 30 et 50, en y incluant également les morts des affrontements du 18 octobre, les blessés décédés par la suite et des morts dus à l’action de la police en dehors des lieux de manifestation”. “Il y a surtout eu beaucoup de blessés graves, notamment des traumatismes crâniens.” La répression a été d’une brutalité extrême. Les policiers se déchaînent à coup de “bidule”, des matraques d’un mètre de long. Un manifestant meurt écrasé, étouffé, dans un car de police, un autre est abattu deux jours plus tard tandis qu’il tente de s’enfuir…

Pourquoi ce déchaînement? À l’époque, la tension est à son comble. Depuis des mois, la police subit les attentats du FLN. Les commissariats sont protégés par des sacs de sable. Le ressentiment s’accumule. Et l’historien Jean-Pierre Rioux pointe également le nombre insuffisant d’agents sur le terrain le soir du 17 octobre.

Mais qui est responsable? Maurice Papon, le préfet de police, est évidemment en première ligne. En même temps, rappelle Jean-Pierre Rioux, “il n’était pas question pour le gouvernement et le général de Gaulle qu’il y ait une manifestation publique en faveur de l’indépendance de l’Algérie alors qu’ils négociaient justement avec le gouvernement provisoire de la République algérienne”. Ont-ils été informés de ce déferlement de violence et du nombre exact de morts? Seules les archives, en France et en Algérie, pourraient permettre aux historiens de s’approcher de la vérité.

Marie Quenet – Le Journal du Dimanche
samedi 20 octobre 2012

On the varying estimates of the number of people killed on during the events, see this run down by Pascal Riché in Rue89.

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Historian David A. Bell has an article in TNR on the contemporary politics of historical apology in France and what America could learn from it. On the 70th anniversary of the Rafle du Vél’ d’Hiv this past July 16th, President Hollande delivered a powerful address on the culpability of the French state and that went further than President Chirac’s words on that day in 1995 (the English translation of Hollande’s speech is here; my blog post on the anniversary is here). And this past Wednesday, on the 51st anniversary of the sinister events of the evening of October 17, 1961, in and around Paris (which I have posted on here and here), Hollande issued this brief but remarkable statement

Le 17 octobre 1961, des Algériens qui manifestaient pour le droit à l’indépendance ont été tués lors d’une sanglante répression.

La République reconnaît avec lucidité ces faits.

Cinquante et un ans après cette tragédie, je rends hommage à la mémoire des victimes.

Again, a remarkable, indeed historic, statement acknowledging the responsibility of the French state in the murder of scores of Algerian civilians—French citizens at the time—on French soil. The UMP, not to mention the FN, has reacted with expected indignation at Hollande’s words but they may be safely ignored. In discussing France’s admirable efforts to face up to and atone for the dark episodes of its not-too-distant past, Bell draws a contrast with America on this score, of how American attitudes have changed and not for the better

Not only has France apologized for some past actions, it has also stopped boasting of others. in 2005, the government of Jacques Chirac quietly but firmly refused to mark in any but the most restrained way the bicentennial of the Battle of Austerlitz—arguably, the greatest French military victory of all time, carried out by Napoleon Bonaparte against Austria and Russia. Modern France, it was explained, had no business celebrating a bloodbath carried out by a repressive, undemocratic ruler as part of a campaign of naked imperial expansionism.

In the United States, sentiments of this sort, apropos of the darker episodes in American history, are anything but uncommon in university classrooms. In politics, however, they have become virtually taboo. In the civil rights era, American politicians could speak frankly and eloquently about the ways that slavery and institutionalized racism stained the American past. In the 1980’s, Congress could pass legislation acknowledging the wrong of Japanese-American interment during World War II, and granting compensation to its victims. But in the past quarter-century, conservatives have successfully cast any attempt to discuss the country’s historical record impartially in the political realm as a species of heresy—“blaming America first,” as Jeanne Kirkpatrick put it as far back as 1984. A turning point of sorts came in 1994, when the Smithsonian Institution planned an exhibit of the aircraft that dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, accompanied by material that highlighted the human toll of the bombing,  inviting debate on its morality.  The outcry from conservatives and veterans groups was deafening, and few politicians dared to defend the Smithsonian, which eventually canceled the exhibit.

What has changed in the US? There’s no mystery: the Republican party has been taken over by elements that, in France, would find their natural home in the nationalist, no apologies Front National, or on in one of the hard right caucuses of the UMP that has few  programmatic differences with the FN and advocates electoral alliances with it. Bell—who does not precisely put it this way—concludes

in practice, denunciations of “apology” play much less well in France than in the United States. The [UMP government's] 2005 schools measure [on teaching “the positive role” of French colonialism] was widely ridiculed and soon repealed. François Hollande promised to recognize the 1961 massacre during the presidential campaign last year, and still handily defeated Sarkozy, who did not use the issue against him. Defenders of Hollande’s Vel d’Hiv speech have pointed out that the new President was following the precedent laid down by a previous apologist-in-chief, the UMP’s Chirac. And anyone who strikes an overly contentious nationalist pose in French politics risks association with the far-right National Front, whose founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, has predictably denounced Hollande, declaring that only God has the authority to recognize French guilt or innocence.

In France, in short, apologizing for your country can be good politics. It is in America where being a politician means never being able to say you’re sorry.

À propos, any bets on Romney accusing Obama of “apologizing for America” during next Monday’s debate?

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[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below]

How low can Jean-François Copé go? In his knock-down-drag-out fight with François Fillon for the presidency of the UMP—on which the 260K party members will vote on November 18th—Copé has scraped the bottom of the extreme right toilet in his denunciation of the supposed existence of “anti-white racism” in France, which figures in his just published campaign book, Manifeste pour une droite décomplexée (here and here). The title is more than apt, as the mainstream right has indeed lost its complexes. For the president of the major party of the parliamentary right—grouping neo-Gaullists, the droite libérale, and even centrists—to speak about racial categories in this way and adopt the most abject demagogic rhetoric of the Front National is something one would not have seen a decade ago—and the mainstream right has been lifting FN rhetoric on immigration since the 1980s, though with limits. Not even Sarkozy went quite this far. The UMP, like the US Republicans, is lurching hard right—and it’s the base of the party that’s pulling the leadership along, not the other way around. Marine Le Pen, who is exulting, is accusing Copé of copyright infringement, of stealing the Front’s discourse, though implicitly dividing French society into racial categories is, in fact, relatively recent for the FN. Racialist rhetoric has normally been associated with the Bloc Identitaire and other sulfurous groupuscules on the outer fringes of the extreme right. Until the past decade the FN would rail on against “le racisme anti-Français” among immigrants from the African continent, a formulation that accented the national, not the racial (though implying that the French were a race that one could be racist against).

Whatever the category, the notion that there is such a phenomenon in France—of “anti-white” or “anti-French” racism—is so laughably absurd that the UMP leadership—which has by-and-large been echoing Copé’s words today—cannot possibly take it seriously. It is a phantasm of the extreme right, existing only in its delirous imagination. In explaining what he means by “anti-white racism” Le Parisien thus quotes Copé

le «racisme anti-blanc» se manifeste «dans certains quartiers par un regard, une agression, une insulte, qui donne envie à un certain nombre de nos compatriotes de fuir le quartier où ils habitent parce qu’on leur fait comprendre qu’ils ne sont pas chez eux. C’est insupportable.» [Copé] ajoute : «Je me réfère au terrain, à ce que j’entends comme député-maire de Meaux. Je me dois de dire la vérité, de dire les choses comme elles sont.»

In other words, Copé is uncritically relating anecdotes of a few Français de souche in Meaux (his electoral fief), of how some immigrant-origin kids once said something rude to them. Ce n’est vraiment pas très sérieux. But, again, what is particularly disturbing about this is not just the inanity of the notion of an “anti-white racism” but the readiness of mainstream politicians to speak about French society in such racialized terms (and where Copé et al would presumably identify themselves as “blanc“). This is new in France. That the UMP would so shamelessly raid the extreme right’s ideological tiroir-caisse and break a taboo in the process is not only reprehensible but alarming as well. La France est sur une bien mauvaise pente.

UPDATE: A Master’s student named Yann Solle has a good tribune in Slate.fr, “«Racisme anti-blanc»: Jean-François Copé vide les mots de leur sens.”

2nd UPDATE: On the Nouvel Obs website Mohamed du Val d’Oise says “‘Racisme anti-Blanc’ : M. Copé, je suis Arabe, laissez-moi vous expliquer le racisme.”

3rd UPDATE: Academic specialist of Great Britain Olivier Esteves has a tribune in Le Monde on “L’énorme ficelle du ‘racisme anti-Blanc’.” (October 1)

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In my post yesterday on the Amiens riot I linked to a report from the ground in Mediapart, in which the residents of the cité pointed the finger at the police—specifically the BAC and CRS—and its behavior, but also contrasted this with the agents of the Gendarmerie Nationale, who earned praise from the residents—adults and youths—for their comportment during a recent two-week patrol of the cité. Now Le Monde, in a dispatch from Amiens, echoed Mediapart’s report, of the cité residents being angry at the police—BAC and CRS—and its “cowboy” behavior, and making favorable reference to the agents of the Gendarmerie. Here’s the report, with noteworthy passages highlighted

“Ce soir-là, ils sont venus nous provoquer comme des cow-boys”
LE MONDE | 15.08.2012 à 14h11
Par Faïza Zeroual

Dans le quartier de la Briquetterie à Amiens-Nord, les stigmates des violences des nuits des 12 et 13 août sont encore visibles. Les cadavres de poubelles fondues collent au bitume. La salle de musculation a été incendiée, tout comme l’école maternelle Balzac, dont les fenêtres sont condamnées par des planches. Ici et là, des voitures calcinées ou du mobilier urbain dégradé. Mardi 14 août, quelques habitants sont réunis autour du kiosque, sous les arbres, et la tension est palpable. Un adolescent trouble ce calme fragile en traversant l’esplanade sur sa mini-moto.

Le quartier est en ébullition depuis le début du mois d’août. Mais la situation s’est brutalement dégradée après des incidents survenus lors d’un repas de deuil organisé dimanche par la famille de Nadir, 20 ans, mort jeudi 9 août dans un accident de moto. Assise dans le salon familial, la soeur de Nadir, Sabrina, 22 ans, raconte comment cette cérémonie a été troublée par les forces de l’ordre :“Nous étions tous réunis sur la terrasse de la maison de ma grand-mère lorsque les CRS sont arrivés. Tout l’après-midi, ils rôdaient ici, mais nous n’avons pas fait attention à eux.”

Les policiers contrôlaient un jeune homme qui conduisait en sens interdit. “Le contrôle a été très agressif. Mon père et mon oncle sont sortis pour leur demander de partir et de respecter notre deuil. Puis ça a dégénéré, la brigade anticriminalité nous a gazés avec des bombes lacrymogènes alors qu’il y avait des femmes et des enfants.”

L’un des invités montre sa blessure à la tempe, une bosse rouge et bleue, à la suite, assure-t-il, d’un tir de flash-ball. Les allées et venues des amis, de la famille, sont incessantes dans cette maisonnette au milieu des tours. Tous confirment la version de la famille. Fatma Hadji, la mère de Nadir, ne décolère pas. “Avec les gendarmes mobiles, tout se passait très bien. Ce soir-là il n’y avait pas lieu de faire un contrôle. Ils sont venus nous provoquer comme des cow-boys.”

DIALOGUE DE SOURDS

Les quartiers d’Amiens-Nord sont fragiles, ce qui a justifié leur classement dans les quinze zones prioritaires de sécurité, annoncées par Manuel Valls, le 4 août. Amiens-Nord est aussi une zone urbaine sensible (ZUS) et rassemble les critères des quartiers en difficulté : dans les ZUS de la ville le revenu fiscal moyen est inférieur à 9 000 euros, le taux de chômage dépasse 24 %, et la part des ménages non imposables tourne autour de 63 %.

Mme Hadji retrace en quelques phrases la vie de son fils. Il travaillait dans la restauration et aimait passer du temps dans la salle de sport incendiée. Elle reconnaît qu’il a eu affaire à la justice. Mais jure-t-elle, il s’était assagi.

Mardi, Mme Hadji et sa fille ont été reçues par Manuel Valls, le ministre de l’intérieur à l’Atrium, l’antenne de la mairie de quartier au coeur d’Amiens-Nord. Une rencontre décevante et “injuste” : “C’était un dialogue de sourds. Les forces de l’ordre ont commis l’irréparable, mais il n’est pas question pour le ministre d’y toucher. Il oublie la nuit de dimanche. On a été gazés comme des sauvages, comme des bêtes.”

Lors de la visite du ministre de l’intérieur, une centaine de personnes s’est massée aux abords de l’Atrium. Les jeunes sont remontés, peu enclins à parler. L’un d’eux, amer, raconte les contrôles de police incessants, le sentiment de ne pas être respecté, le manque de dialogue avec la police, l’absence de perspectives, le chômage…

Nawel, une amie de la famille qui “considérait Nadir comme son fils”, est consternée par les scènes de violence : Ceux qui ont brûlé la salle de musculation ce ne sont pas nos jeunes. Ils y sont tous abonnés car il n’y a rien d’autre pour eux.”

Les jeunes des quartiers alentours se sont greffés aux affrontements. Amiens-Nord est régulièrement sujet à des pics de tension. En octobre 2010, une dizaine d’habitants avaient caillassé les policiers pendant une nuit, sans raison précise, ou connue. Un an plus tôt, en mai 2009, ce même quartier avait déjà été le théâtre de violences après la mort d’un jeune motard pourchassé par la police. En février, une voiture de la police municipale a été incendiée, puis un second véhicule a subi le même traitement, et une quinzaine d’habitants du quartier ont affronté les policiers à coup de projectiles.

Aujourd’hui, Fatma Hadji ne croit pas que ces troubles vont s’apaiser : “La France va bouger. On n’est rien ici. Les jeunes sont déjà mal dans leur peau, ils n’ont rien à perdre”, prophétise-t-elle. Mardi soir, 250 agents étaient déployés sur le terrain pour tenter de ramener le calme à Amiens-Nord.

Faïza Zerouala

The contrast between the services of the Police Nationale (BAC, CRS)—which come under the authority of the Ministry of Interior—and the Gendarmerie Natonale—a paramilitary police force under the exclusive tutelary authority of the Ministry of Defense until 2009—is striking. This reminded me of Mathieu Kassovitz’s fine 2011 film ‘L’Ordre et la morale’, that reenacts the 1988 Ouvéa hostage crisis in New Caledonia and where a distinction was made between the behavior of the regular military (bad) and that of the Gendarmerie (good). I will come back to this at a later date (perhaps when I get around to writing about Kassovitz’s film). What Mme Hadji said above about the meeting with Manuel Valls is revealing. Valls is certainly more than aware of the “cowboy” behavior of the police—and of its share of responsibility in provoking the clashes—but, as interior minister, he can hardly acknowledge it publicly, or even privately to a citizen. It is a difficult and delicate matter for a government minister to take on the corps of fonctionnaires under his authority. Or, rather, under his temporary, fleeting authority, as ministers come and go but the corps de l’État remain (and collectively they know their corps and its tutelary ministry better than just about any minister). Valls has already been backpedaling on the Ayrault government’s proposal to have the police issue a récépisée to any person subjected to an identity check (see here), as the reaction of the police syndicats to this was negative in the extreme.

One of the cité residents interviewed in the dispatch said that the torching of the gym facility during the riot could not have been the doing of the youths in the cité, as they are all members and users of it, further adding that youths from outside the area came to participate in the clashes. This has been reported in numerous riots over the years: of gangs of youths from other cités—and who are often rivals of the youths in the cité where the clash with the police is occurring—rushing to participate in the bedlam, but also to settle scores and commit arson in an area that is outside their territory. Another factor. A reportage in the 11 March 2010 issue of Le Monde—following a violent incident in a cité in Epernay—focused on the outsized responsibility for a lot of the violence, vandalism, and arson of small groups of sociopathic youths—sometimes only a dozen youths in number—that are at the margins even in the cité, not to mention society at large. The youths, the Le Monde report specified, are mainly of black African origin, all school dropouts (often with only an 8th or 9th grade education) and unskilled, unemployed for the most part, and come from homes where the father is absent and the mother has several children in her charge. For these youths, acts of violence and vandalism are less an inchoate expression of rage against the system than a simple engagement in violence and vandalism for the sake of it, or in a surenchère with other gangs, and whose action is fueled, as it were, by gangsta rappers (which has become a French musical sub-genre). For Americans, this will sound familiar. One thing is for sure. In view of the economic situation in France, the problems in the cités are not going to go away any time soon. And governments—of the left or right—will continue to have no good idea of what to do about them.

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The Amiens riot

For those who haven’t been following the news the past few days, there was yet another riot in a French banlieue cité (yawn, what else is new?), this one on Monday night in Amiens. It was the same dreary story: a pack of policemen have an encounter with one or several Maghrebi or African immigrant origin young males—usually a demand for the latter to produce their ID cards—, the young males react badly, the police get nervous and call in the reinforcements, packs of young Maghrebi and/or African immigrant origin males from the cité gather and pelt the packs of policemen with projectiles, the more thuggish elements among the youths profit from the disorder to vandalize or torch public establishments (notably schools) or other symbols of the state—and do a little pillaging of stores while they’re at it—, all hell breaks out—though in a circumscribed area and with firearms and violent deaths extremely rare; we’re not talking about South Central L.A.-style riots here—, the Minister of Interior arrives the next day and praises the action of the police, residents of the cité complain to TV reporters about drug dealing gangs but also the behavior of the police, the situation calms down after a day or two, until the next riot breaks out somewhere else in the country and that follows more or less the same script…

Another constant here is the reaction of foreign observers, who misunderstand the situation in France, misinterpret the causes of the riots, and/or ask the wrong questions (e.g. see this commentary on Amiens and with my reaction in the comments thread).

But if there is a commonality to French riots, each one is set off by a particular spark and may have a specificity or two. This report on Amiens in Mediapart is particularly interesting I think. Note the anger of the residents of the cité toward the police—and which was abundant in last night’s France 2 news report on the riot—but also how they and the jeunes differentiate the behavior of the gendarmes from that of the CRS riot police. The gendarmes who enter the cité behave correctly: they are polite and say hello. This makes all the difference. 

À Amiens, Valls demande «l’ordre républicain» et les habitants une police moins «provocatrice»
15 août 2012 | Par Louise Fessard

Amiens, de notre envoyée spéciale

Après une nuit d’émeutes dans les quartiers Nord d’Amiens, le ministre de l’intérieur, Manuel Valls, est arrivé mardi 14 août en milieu d’après-midi à l’Atrium, la mairie annexe, pour rencontrer (more…)

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Députés de la diversité, i.e. deputies of non-European immigrant origin. I wrote on Sunday night that the first Maghrebi/Muslim deputy since 1962 (Algeria’s independence) had just been elected to the National Assembly. In classroom lectures over the years on immigration and Islam in France, I have rhetorically asked my students how many of the 577 deputies in the National Assembly are Muslims—who account for some 7% of the population (and of which Maghrebis are some four-fifths)—, to which I then give the answer: zero. As it happens, there is now not just one but as many as six, and all from the PS. I cited Malek Boutih, the former head of SOS Racisme, born in France to Algerian parents, who was elected from the Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois constituency in the Essonne (in the southern banlieues of Paris, previously represented by his erstwhile SOS Racisme mentor, Julian Dray). Boutih has had an increasingly high “diversity” profile in the PS over the past decade and this wasn’t his first attempt at elective office. The other newly elected diversity deputies are Razzy Hammadi, a former head of the PS youth wing (MJS), of Algerian and Tunisian origin, and who defeated the longtime Communist deputy Jean-Pierre Brard in Montreuil (in the neuf-trois); Kheira Bouziane, born in Algeria before independence, who was elected in one of the Dijon constituencies; Chaynesse Khirouni, born in post-independence Algeria and who arrived in France at age 20, elected in Nancy; Kader Arif, born in Algeria, a fils de harki, elected in the Haute-Garonne (though as he is in the government—as minister délégué of war veterans—, he will be ceding his seat to his suppléant); and Seybah Dagoma, born to immigrant parents from Chad and elected in Paris (3e-10e arr.).

To these one may add Pouria Amirshahi, born in Iran in the 1970s and whose parents fled the Shah’s regime, elected in the overseas constituency for North and West Africa; and Eduardo Rihan Cypel, born and raised in Brazil to age ten, elected in the Torcy constituency of the Seine-et-Marne. Some news articles have added George Pau-Lengevin (reelected in Paris 20e arr. and currently in the government), Hélène Geoffroy (elected in Vaulx-en-Velin), and Corinne Narassigiun (elected in the overseas USA-Canada constituency) as diversity deputies, but they all hail from overseas departments (Guadeloupe for the first two, Reunion the latter), so as native-born French citizens they don’t count.

A couple of remarks. These newly elected deputies were elected in single-member constituencies, not on a list in a proportional representation system (which is the norm in Europe, and that makes minority representation in legislative assemblies much easier to assure). Though they were slated by the PS and which financed their campaigns, they had to wage them on their own. Also, with the exception of Hammadi’s in Montreuil, none of these constituencies have large concentrations of immigrant communities from the Maghreb or sub-Saharan Africa. The kind of gerrymandering that happens in the US—to create majority Black or Latino constituencies—is not only legally impossible and politically inconceivable in France but would be difficult to pull off, as areas with concentrations of “diversity” populations contain large numbers of non-citizens, who would thus not be able to vote.

On the above Muslim deputies, I have no idea if any actually practice the religion (I would rather doubt it for most). As it is a near taboo in France for a politician to publicly discuss his or her religious faith (if s/he has one), one is not likely to find out. As for them being identity Muslims—of saying they are Muslim if the question is put to them—I am simply assuming this. So unless and until any of the Maghreb-origin deputies publicly declare themselves not to be Muslim, I will declare that they are.

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