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Geographer Laurent Chalard, who teaches at the Université Paris-IV Sorbonne, has an analysis in Figaro Vox of the significant drop in support for the PS last Sunday from voters of immigrant origin. The abstention rates in communes with concentrations of Maghrebis and Africans reached record levels, notably in the Seine-Saint-Denis (a.k.a. le neuf-trois), Paris’s 18th-19th-20th arrondissements, Marseille’s 8th sector (les quartiers nord), and Lyon’s eastern banlieues, and with Socialist-led lists taking a disproportionate hit. Voter participation rates have always been lower than average for these populations and for structural reasons, which Chalard mentions: a voting-age population that is both disproportionately younger and less educated, and with lower levels of political mobilization via intermediate groups or the parties themselves. The latter point I can attest to from personal observation: in my mostly middle/upper middle class banlieue, the only parties/candidates who actively solicit votes in the one cité in town are from the Front de Gauche. The others don’t bother, deeming that there are few votes to be had there—which is the case with the right—or, as with the Socialists and écolos, because they’re not comfortable with ethnic-style campaigning and don’t have a populist economic message to compensate for that, so leave the cités to other parties of the left.

A second factor identified by Chalard for the high abstention rate is the government’s policies and discourse on questions de société, i.e. on issues having to do with social mores, notably gay marriage. Voters of Maghrebi and African origin may be on the left when it comes to the economy but are culturally conservative; thus the opposition by Muslim personalities and groups to the mariage pour tous law last year and the disproportionate hysteria in the banlieues over the so-called “théorie du genre” during that preposterous episode early last month. Chalard’s hypothesis is plausible but I’m dubious. It’s still the economy, stupid, and with the immigrant-origin communities—which are inadequately socialized politically and alienated from the system as it is—affected by unemployment even more than the rest of French society.

Mediapart has had two enquêtes over the past two days on the disaffection of immigrant-origin voters in the current election cycle and their defiance toward the Socialists, one on the Seine-Saint-Denis, the other from Marseille.

The Socialists’s adversaries in the Seine-Saint-Denis are not only the right—UMP and UDI (the FN is not a factor in the department)—but also the PCF/Front de Gauche. The PS, which made big gains in the department in the 2008 elections and at the expense of the Communists, had high hopes of knocking off the latter in several communes but suffered a setback on Sunday, notably in Montreuil—where National Assembly deputy and rising star Razzy Hammadi was eliminated from the 2nd round and with a humiliating fifth place finish—, Saint-Denis—the PCF’s last remaining municipality of over 100K inhabitants, which it has been running almost continuously since the 1920s—, Saint-Ouen, and Villetaneuse, and with Aubervilliers and Bagnolet in the balance. And the UMP/UDI have a strong chance of taking Bobigny—the neuf-trois prefecture and longtime PCF bastion, the loss of which to the right would be hugely symbolic—, Aulnay-sous-Bois—whose très droitier UMP tête de liste, Bruno Beschizza, is a former police officer—, Le Blanc Mesnil—which has been PCF since the 1930s—, Livry-Gargan, and Villepinte.

As for Bobigny, the UDI mayoral candidate, Stéphane di Paoli, seems to be running a smart campaign, at least judging from his list of candidates to the city council, which includes a woman wearing an Islamic headscarf and who is prominently displayed in the campaign’s main poster. And it’s getting publicity outside the commune, as one may see in this dispatch in the high-profile Franco-Islamic website Oumma.com. The video of the exchange between the communist militant and young veiled woman is worth the watch. The latter manifestly understands the meaning of French laïcité more than does the former. If I were a Balbynien, I’d likely vote for Monsieur di Paoli.

ADDENDUM: Here’s a post of mine on “the Muslim vote” in the 2012 presidential election, which one poll had at 93% for François Hollande (far more a rejection of Sarkozy than an affirmative vote for Hollande). In the Seine-Saint-Denis, Hollande received 65% in the 2nd round against Sarko (N.B. not everyone in the neuf-trois is of post-colonial immigrant-origin or from the couches populaires; there are plenty of regular “white” Frenchmen and women out there).

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This is not quite an instant analysis and I don’t have much to say about yesterday’s vote that isn’t being said by everyone else, which is that it was a disastrous result for the Socialists—worse than anyone expected or that was projected in polls—, an excellent one for the Front National, and not at all bad for the UMP, and with the backdrop a record abstention rate for this kind of election (39%), reflecting a demobilization of the Socialist party’s base. PS voters disproportionately stayed home—and one needs to specify that it was indeed PS voters, as the other constituents of the left, i.e. the écolos and Front de Gauche, did well where they ran separate lists. The Socialists are not even trying to spin the result. Patrick Menucci, the PS mayoral candidate in Marseille—who finished in third place (behind the FN) with a paltry 21% citywide, a calamitous score that absolutely no one anticipated—, bravely insisted on France Inter this morning that he could make up his 17 point deficit with Jean-Claude Gaudin but one doubts anyone believes this (including Menucci himself). In my own very right-wing banlieue, where I manned a polling station yesterday (photo below) as an assesseur-titulaire (for the PS-EELV-MRC-PRG-MUP list), the total score of the two left lists was 18%, compared with 21% in both the 2008 and 2001 municipal elections (and with François Hollande receiving 40% in the 2nd round of the 2012 presidential).

Two comments. First, on the FN’s result. It was certainly very good for the frontistes but is, objectively speaking, not that big of a deal. So the FN’s secretary-general Steeve Briois won a narrow outright victory (50.3%) last night in Hénin-Beaumont, a depressed industrial town of 25,000 souls in which the party has been investing political resources for years and that Marine Le Pen won with 55% in the 2012 legislative election (losing the larger constituency by a hair). It’s about time the FN won that sorry place. As for Béziers, where the FN-supported Robert Ménard will most certainly be elected mayor next Sunday, it should be specified that he is not an FN member and doesn’t even issue from the extreme right. He was a founder of the civil libertarian Reporters sans Frontières in the 1980s, hung out more with leftists than rightists back then, and was engaged with bona fide, mostly left-wing Algerian democrats who opposed both the military-backed regime and Islamists as that country descended into internecine bloodletting in the 1990s (a product of Ménard’s then support of Algerian democrats was this book). Ménard—whom I don’t know personally but used to see around—was/is a flamboyant, bloviating self-promoter—and, IMO, an insufferable jerk (e.g. the kind who incessantly talks very loudly into his mobile phone in public)—who has found a new outlet for his flamboyant, bloviating self-promotion in Marine Le Pen and the hard right of the political spectrum. It will be most interesting to see how he and his frontiste associates run a city of 71K inhabitants, a third of whom live with less than €1000/month. Likewise with Gilbert Collard, the near certain mayor-to-be of Saint-Gilles, likewise a self-promoter extraordinaire and whose political parcours spans the far right to the far left and everything in between (as I noted two years ago here). The FN managing a handful of municipalities—as many as ten and possibly including Perpignan (but please, not Avignon)—would be a good thing IMO, as Marine LP & Co will finally have some concrete political responsibilities and a bilan to defend. For a party whose national electoral support has been in the teens for the past three decades, it is only normal that it should have at least a few elected officials in executive positions. But again, the number of communes it will be running will only be a drop in the bucket: less than one percent of municipalities with a population of over 10,000. And that will be as good as it gets for the FN.

Second comment. The PS may be able to limit the damage next Sunday via at least a partial mobilization of its electorate. Maybe. In Paris, Anne Hidalgo, who very unexpectedly finished behind Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet citywide, will still likely win next Sunday (as merged PS-EELV lists in the 4th, 9th, 12th, and 14th arrondissements will be en ballotage favorable, and may even take the 5th arrondissement if the right’s warring lists there don’t merge; we’ll know after tomorrow night’s deadline for merging and reconstituting lists). Martine Aubry in Lille, Gérard Collomb in Lyon, and Jean-Marc Ayrault’s successor in Nantes will also win, despite sharp fall-offs in the PS vote yesterday. And Toulouse and Strasbourg look doable. So it ain’t over till it’s over.

But whatever happens next Sunday the municipal elections will still have constituted a big setback for the PS and President Hollande, meaning that there will be a governmental remaniement sooner rather than later and most certainly with a new prime minister. As for what good that will do and if it will change anyone’s fortunes, allez savoir… RDV la dimanche prochaine.

Arun, March 23 2014

Arun manning the ballot box, March 23 2014

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That’s what this Time magazine article on Turkish PM Erdoğan’s Twitter ban and nationalist demagoguery calls him. As for what a honey badger (en français: ratel) is and does, take a look at this YouTube linked to in the article. Beurk!

I’ve been trying to decide who’s worse, Erdoğan or Putin. They’re both equally unspeakable, in fact, with Erdoğan maybe only slightly less awful due to Turkey’s more or less democratic institutions—though which are seeming less these days—, institutionalized party politics, and more or less free and fair elections. But if Erdoğan and Putin were to switch countries, I would definitely fear Erdoğan more than I do Putin now.

Christopher de Bellaigue has a review essay in the April 3rd NYRB, “Turkey goes out of control.” The books under review are Soner Cagaptay’s The Rise of Turkey: The Twenty-First Century’s First Muslim Power and two on the Fethullah Gülen movement, one by Joshua D. Hendrick, the other (in Turkish) by Ahmet Şık. Cagaptay is a curious case. He was a fierce critic of Erdoğan and the AKP through the last election—repeatedly warning in numerous articles and op-eds of the threat the AKP posed to secularism and Turkish democracy—but then did an almost 180° turnaround. Though he doesn’t come out and praise Erdoğan personally—at least not so far as I’ve seen—he’s now bullish on Turkey’s future—economically, geopolitically, etc—under the current regime and expresses not a peep of criticism of Erdoğan and his government, not even during the Taksim/Gezi Park movement last June. So he’s become a sell-out changed his mind. Ça arrive.

UPDATE: Zeynep Tufekci, UNC-Chapel Hill prof—and to whom I linked several times last June—, has a very good post on her Technology and Society blog on “The day the Turkish government banned itself from Twitter.” The lede: People in Turkey have banned the ban.

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I just read (several days late) a full-page op-ed by Belarussian-Ukrainian investigative journalist and writer Svetlana Alexievich in Le Monde dated March 16th-17th, “Poutine et les bas instincts,” in which she describes, almost to her horror, the Kremlin propaganda induced nationalist hysteria that is currently sweeping the Russian population. Russia sounds very much like Serbia in 1990-91, and with Russian attitudes towards Ukraine akin to Serbia back then vis-à-vis Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Kosovo. Worrisome, to say the least. Alexievich‘s tribune is translated from Russian. If it exists in English—or if I can find it in Russian—I’ll post it as an update.

Russia-Ukraine links – V

Anti-Putin demonstration, Moscow, March 15 2014 (Photo: AP/TOPIX)

Anti-Putin demonstration, Moscow, March 15 2014 (Photo: AP/TOPIX)

Jack F. Matlock Jr., US ambassador to Moscow from 1987 to 1991, had an op-ed well worth reading in WaPo last Friday, “The U.S. has treated Russia like a loser since the end of the Cold War.” Entre autres, he reminds the reader that the breakup of the Soviet Union was not an inexorable consequence of the end of the Cold War and that the Bush 41 administration did not favor this.

In today’s WaPo is an op-ed by Molly K. McKew and Gregory A. Maniatis, who were advisers to the former Georgian president, on how “Putin’s global ambitions could destabilize Europe.” The authors assert that Vladimir Putin seeks to create a Russo-Orthodox union that would extend beyond the former Soviet Union and into Europe. On verra bien.

On the new geopolitical map, as it were, that will take shape with Russia’s action in Crimea, Le Monde editorial director Sylvie Kauffmann had a most interesting column in the issue dated March 18th, “Après la Crimée, un monde nouveau,” in which she made a number of observations and points, one being that the Russia-Ukraine crisis will signal the “return” of the US to Europe; after the “pivot” to Asia, we will now see the re-pivot to Europe. She also noted the deafening silence of Russia’s putative ex-Soviet allies to the coup de force in Crimea, notably Kazakhstan president Nazarbayev. One also learns that the OECD has suspended Russia’s candidacy to join that organization. Ouf! Russia is utterly unfit for membership in the OECD and it would be more than a scandal if it were allowed to smooth talk its way in.

In TNR the invariably excellent Timothy Snyder says that “Far-right forces are influencing Russia’s actions in Crimea” (March 17th). For the Russians go to on about “fascists” in Kiev is, as they say, like the pot calling the kettle black. Ou, comme on dit en français, c’est l’hôpital qui se moque de la charité…

Omar

Omar

Saw this last October. I should have written about it then, or perhaps last month, when it opened in the US and was in the running for the best foreign language film Oscar (it lost out to ‘The Great Beauty’, which is not surprising, as it was a long shot to begin with; it’s hard to imagine the Academy awarding an Oscar to a film regarded—incorrectly in my view—as being so anti-Israel). When I first saw Hany Abu-Assad’s ‘Omar’ I pronounced it a chef d’œuvre and the best Palestinian film ever. Period. Even better than Abu-Assad’s 2005 ‘Paradise Now‘. I’ve since had the opportunity to see ‘Omar’ a second time and, while still giving it the thumbs way up, will reserve judgment on it being the best ever Pal pic until I give ‘Paradise Now’ another look (re Elia Suleiman’s œuvre—which is favored by certain friends—, I find his films interesting but quirky; not masterpieces IMO). As for the reviews of ‘Omar’ by mainstream professional critics—very good in France, mostly good in the US—I’ve paid little attention to them. When it comes to films with such a heavy political content and on subjects I know well—e.g. Israel-Palestine, Algeria—I tend to ignore the regular film critics and look instead for the views of those with specialized knowledge (academics, journalists, political actors, etc) or who have a particular interest in the issue (activists, etc)—and with whom I may or may not agree. And on ‘Omar’, I find myself not entirely on the same page with the viewpoints on the film that I’ve come across (an exception being David Shulman’s fine review a week ago on the NYR blog). Those familiar with ‘Omar’ and the film’s politics will know that it is considered pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel, which is perhaps normal given the identity of the director, the fact that it was entirely Palestinian-funded, and with all Palestinian actors (that some may be citizens of Israel—including director Abu-Assad—and that much of the film was shot in Israel—Nazareth and Beit She’an—is irrelevant; it’s a Palestinian film, period). And, of course, the manner in which it depicts the occupation and the question of collaboration. On this, the film has been praised by pro-Palestinian activists. One is the engagé Nazareth-based journalist and writer Jonathan Cook, who reviewed the film last September on The Electronic Intifada website. Cook thus describes the mechanisms of collaboration

The reality…is that collaboration is Israel’s chief tool for maintaining what is effectively an occupation for Palestinians inside Israel as well as in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. It makes organizing resistance, or even struggling for basic rights, all but impossible. Over decades, Israel’s gatekeepers have devised a spider’s web of techniques for ensnaring ordinary Palestinians. Once caught, as a fellow prisoner warns Omar, escape is impossible. And sure enough, Omar soon finds himself trapped by a seemingly harmless remark. (…) The film fearlessly dissects how this system of control works and why Palestinians, like Omar himself, are mostly powerless to evade or subvert it. Abu Assad’s decision to put the problem of collaboration at the heart of his film is therefore a bold one indeed. It is also vitally important because, until Palestinians confront the issue openly and honestly, they have little power to break Israel’s stranglehold on their lives.The film’s message is more hopeful than this synopsis may imply. Real awareness is possible, Abu Assad concludes in the final scenes, and with it comes the only hope for personal and social transformation.

Writing on his blog last month, the très engagé Richard Falk—UN Human Rights Council Special Rapporteur for the Occupied Palestinian Territories for the past six years (a post from which he will soon be retiring الحمد لله)‎—pronounced ‘Omar’ superior to ‘Paradise Now’ in a number of respects. In addition to examining the film’s treatment of collaboration, Falk did likewise with question of Palestinian violence targeted at Israelis

The reality of Palestinian violent resistance has two important consequences even though it seems currently futile from the perspective of challenging the occupation in any way that promises to liberation: it gives dignity to Palestinians who seem united in their will to live-unto-death despite their defenselessness and it makes Israelis vulnerable despite their seeming total control of the situation… (…) [F]rom the Palestinian side, nothing is worse than becoming a collaborator, and yet only a hero among heroes, would have the super-human capacity to avoid such a fate given the brutality used by Israelis to acquire the information they need to enforce their will on a hostile population. For the occupier recruiting collaborators is a vital part of improving security; for the occupied, it is the final humiliation, making the fate of the traitor far worse than that of the slave.

Pro-Israel reviewers liked the film rather less. E.g. Village Voice film critic Nick Schager, in a review last October, wrote that

A screed is a screed no matter its superficial genre trappings, as evidenced by Hany Abu-Assad’s Omar, whose thriller machinations are merely a vehicle to deliver narrow-minded political preaching. (…) While Omar and his Palestinian loved ones are presented as uniformly funny, romantic and likable, Israelis are depicted as unjustifiably cruel and devious, be they the soldiers who harass Omar for no reason, the officers who torture him after he’s rightly arrested for the soldier’s death, or agent Rami…who tricks Omar into confessing and then blackmails him into becoming an informant. Throughout, Abu-Assad paints in such stark black-and-white terms that there’s no complexity to the ensuing saga, in which Omar is tasked with ratting out his friends if he ever wants to be with Nadia, only to discover that she may not be untrustworthy. With its deck so stacked that it plays out like a crude anti-Israeli sermon, the film – which ultimately determines that deception, betrayal and cold-blooded murder are acceptable if committed against Israelis (or by women), but not if done by Israelis – proves one-dimensional as both a political argument and a drama.

Tom Tugend of the Jewish Journal also thought ‘Omar’ demonized Israelis

As was the case in Abu-Assad’s earlier movie, “Rana’s Wedding,” the protagonists in “Paradise Now” do not hide their antagonism toward Israelis; nevertheless, the latter are portrayed as recognizable human beings, not merely sadistic oppressors… However, in “Omar,” Abu-Assad forgoes such artistic and ideological balance, painting the Israelis as heartless torturers and connivers with no redeeming qualities.

In a lengthy review essay in the March issue of The Tower, conservative writer and blogger Rich Richman—quoting the work of Hamid Dabashi and Joseph Massad, among others—likewise shredded ‘Omar’, labeling it propaganda and expressing indignation that it received an Oscar nomination over Yuval Adler’s ‘Bethlehem’, which was Israel’s Oscar submission and strikingly similar to ‘Omar’ (though is much more of a “genre film”; I saw it recently and will post on separately). And then there’s a review, which I stumbled across quite by accident, by a wacky right-wing blogger—and film critic à ses heures—named Debbie Schlussel, who called ‘Omar’ a “slow, boring, poorly-written Palestinian propaganda film” that shows how “Palestinians are lying, conniving pieces of crap who cannot be trusted…” Quelle conne.

People—myself included—read all sorts of things into movies. Palestinians on the West Bank have had mixed feelings about ‘Omar’, so I hear (seeing it, entre autres, as being destined mainly for Western audiences in the way it depicts the protag Omar). Hany Abu-Assad, for his part, said, in a Jerusalem Post interview, that “the heart of the film is the tragic love story” between Omar and Nadia. “[T]he pic’s romantic plot is the key component,” he insists: it’s “a love story, not a war story.” S’il le dit…

I have five general comments to make about the film—and in reaction to the reviews cited above, which are wide of the mark on several counts IMO. First, the depiction of the occupation is dead on accurate, notably the deleterious effects of the separation barrier on the daily lives of Palestinians—symbolized in the scenes of Omar scaling the wall at peril to his life to see his sweetheart Nadia—and of the behavior of Israeli soldiers toward the Palestinians more generally, and particularly young Palestinian men. The scene of the soldiers arbitrarily ordering Omar to stand on the rock—for no other reason than to humiliate him—happens everyday in some form or another somewhere in the Palestinian territories. It is utterly banal (as is the rifle-butting Omar received when he talked back to the soldiers). The aforecited pro-Israel reviewers may call the scenes in question propaganda but they cannot credibly claim that these distort reality. If the film made the Israeli soldiers look bad, it is because they indeed behave badly in such instances (and which is how Palestinians under occupation experience them). That said, it is inexact to say that the film demonizes Israelis. Israelis hardly figure in the film, in fact: of the ones whose faces we see—and apart from the soldiers who stop Omar next to the wall—there is only the Shabak agent Rami, who is not negatively portrayed. He is not an antipathetic character. He’s a professional doing his job and, as Omar’s handler, plays good cop more often than not.

As for the torture scene, it actually wasn’t clear to me at first that it was even the Israelis who were doing the dirty work. I assumed it was a joint PA-Israeli operation and with Pals inflicting the actual torture, mainly because of the manner in which it was carried out (bludgeoning, blow torches, stringing up from the ceiling…). Not that I don’t put it past the Israelis to behave brutally but, subsequent to the 1999 supreme court ruling, they’ve ceased these kinds of interrogation methods, and particularly methods that leave physical marks. Or so I assumed. To clarify the matter, I ran the question by persons-in-the-know—at NGOs that work on IP—, the response to which was that enhanced interrogation methods, if you will, are still practiced but not systematically and take forms other than what was depicted in the film (e.g. sleep deprivation, loud music, denial of medical treatment—i.e. not methods that draw blood and/or scar the skin). If one wants to be charitable here, one may say that Abu-Assad was taking artistic license in portraying Israelis employing torture techniques à l’arabe. Artistic license was likewise at work in the two chase scenes (the first of which I initially assumed involved PA cops), as the Shabak no longer stages hot pursuit daytime raids in the heart of the Nablus casbah… As so much of the film was metaphorical—e.g. it wasn’t explicitly set in any particular locale in Palestine—and accurately depicts the way Palestinians experience the occupation, I’ll give Abu-Assad a pass on this.

Second comment: the film effectively depicts the vise in which the Israelis have the Palestinians, “a spider’s web of techniques for ensnaring” them, to quote Jonathan Cook. When it comes to “organizing resistance,” the Palestinians are fucked, completely and totally, and through institutional mechanisms and methods that, as David Shulman notes, the Israelis have been honing since the Mandate era. But the Palestinians, with their patriarchal codes of honor and penchant for internecine violence—which is on full display in ‘Omar’ (e.g. Tariq willing to kill his best buddies over transgressions, i.e. sex, with his sister Nadia; it is not the case that the film portrays Palestinians as “uniformly funny” and “likable”)—, have greatly simplified the Israelis’ task, not to mention the manner in which the Pals’ “resistance” has been conceived. Resistance may take civil and armed forms—peaceful or violent—, and the Palestinians have almost always privileged the latter (even during the first Intifada, during which practically no demo did not involve mass stone-throwing; I doubt Gandhi or M.L.King would have approved). But the use of violence by the Palestinians has always been doomed to failure and which most of them have long been fully aware. Even during the 1960s to early ’80s heyday of the PLO and its fedayeen incursions into Israel, the constituents of the PLO all knew that they had no hope of posing even a modest military challenge to Israel, let alone defeating it. Their aim was to provoke a war between Israel and the Arab states—i.e. Egypt and Syria—, with the latter liberating Palestine and sending the Zionists packing. But that dream came to end with Sinai II and Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem. And if some Palestinian groups thought that kamikaze attacks on civilians could maybe provoke an exodus of Jews, that was put paid to by the catastrophic Palestinian defeat in the second Intifada and the erecting of the separation barrier.

Which leads to the third comment, on the shooting of the soldier by Omar and his pals (with ringleader Tariq pulling the trigger), which is the central event in the film. Given the vise of occupation and the futility of armed struggle, one has to ask WTF were Omar, Tariq, and Amjad thinking when they decided to kill the soldier? What was the strategic logic of the act? And did they really imagine that the Israelis—with their dense network of informers and mania over protecting the lives of every last one of their (Jewish) citizens—would not eventually find them?  Now it is indeed the case that many such killings in these kinds of conflicts lack a clear strategic goal, at least vis-à-vis the enemy. Men commit the acts to impress their comrades, prove themselves to superiors, or simply to wreak vengeance (e.g. vengeance was a central motivation in the FLN’s terrorist campaign during the 1956-57 Battle of Algiers). Richard Falk suggests in the quote above that Palestinians—presented as eternal victims—commit such acts to maintain their “dignity” and make the enemy—whom they have no chance whatever of defeating militarily—feel “vulnerable,” even though the momentary restoration of dignity will most certainly land one in prison—and with all the humiliations that entails—and only reinforce the enemy’s military vise. Fabulous. If this is the finality of the Palestinian “resistance,” then one can only conclude that the Palestinians have the stupidest resistance movement in history. If one grades resistance or liberation movements on their ability to set clearly defined objectives and then elaborate a strategy to attain them, then the Palestinian “resistance” movement—present and past—gets an F!

The fourth comment—and which further bears out the stupidity of the Palestinian “resistance”—has to do with collaboration and the Palestinian psychosis over this, which is the central theme of ‘Omar’. “Collaboration” is, in fact, a misnomer in the Palestinian case, as this implies active support offered willingly to the occupier, for ideological reasons—e.g. Frenchmen who collaborated with the German occupation during WWII—or financial or other non-political considerations—e.g. harkis during the 1954-62 Algerian war. Palestinians in the West Bank/Gaza who “collaborate” with the Shabak do not do so willingly; they are coerced or pressured into informing; they are made offers they can’t refuse. They’re informers under duress, not collaborators. Palestinians all know this; they know that those in their midst—e.g. Omar in the film—whom they suspect of being informers have been coerced into it and that such could happen to any one of them. The last thing Omar wanted to do was rat on Tariq to Shabak agent Rami. He was not a traitor. But he was nonetheless socially ostracized following mere rumors that he’d been turned by the Israelis and risked execution by his comrades—his best friends from childhood—if the suspicions were even halfway confirmed. The Palestinian armed groups, instead of trying to turn the problem of informers to their advantage—to make them double-agents, or adopt an approach that saves all their skins, or something—, murder their own. They make it so easy for the Israelis. Again, as far as resistance movements go and in view of the utter futility of engaging Israel in armed struggle, the Palestinians are just so fucking stupid.

Fifth comment. One sees no sign of the Palestinian Authority in the film. It’s as if the Palestinians have no (para-)state authority and are on their own in their interface with the Israelis—but which is, in fact, not the case for the majority of the inhabitants of the West Bank, and particularly in urban areas (where the film takes place). And while Tariq and his pals are presumably in a cell of an armed group and with a hierarchical superior, one does not see this. Cf. Gillo Pontecorvo’s ‘The Battle of Algiers‘, which focuses on the FLN’s operation in the Casbah—initiated by Yacef Saadi, who, in the larger FLN organization, counted for nothing outside the city of Algiers—but makes sure to show the higher political leadership. In ‘Omar’, as in other Palestinian films, the Palestinians are depicted as leaderless, and with the “resistance” comprised of freelancing armed gangs. If this is what the Palestinian “resistance” is about, then it had might as well hang it up now, as it is utterly doomed.

As for the aesthetic/cinema side of ‘Omar’, it’s first-rate: excellent acting—particularly Adam Bakri as Omar and Waleed Zuaiter as Rami—, good dialogue, well-directed, gripping, and with an ending that knocked the wind out of me… Great movie!

The Grand Budapest Hotel

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I initially had no interest in seeing this—the trailer didn’t hook me at all; not my kind of movie, even though I thought that the one other film I’d seen by Wes Anderson, “Moonrise Kingdom,” was pretty good—but in view of the stellar reviews on both sides of the Atlantic plus the gushing recommendation from friends and colleagues, decided what the hell, so I went with a friend two evenings ago. And it’s not bad at all. Agreeably entertaining, droll, offbeat characters and an A-list cast… On passe un bon moment. But its Adventures of Tintin portrait of the Old Europe has a more somber side, as Wes Anderson was influenced by the work Stefan Zweig, who witnessed Europe’s descente aux enfers during the calamitous decade of the 1930s and committed suicide in 1942. Voilà a few articles on this aspect of the film:

Wes Anderson’s ‘Grand Budapest Hotel’ Promises to Make Americans Rediscover the Books of Stefan Zweig,” by Jason Diamond, in Flavorwire (February 7th).

‘I stole from Stefan Zweig’: Wes Anderson on the author who inspired his latest movie,” in The Telegraph (March 8th). The lede: As his film The Grand Budapest Hotel hits cinemas, Wes Anderson talks to George Prochnik about its inspiration, the early 20th century Austrian author Stefan Zweig.

Stefan Zweig, Wes Anderson, and a longing for the past,” by Richard Brody, in The New Yorker (March 14th).

Wes Anderson’s Elegy to Stefan Zweig,” by Max Nelson, in the Los Angeles Review of Books (March 14th).

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