The Indian election

Narendra Modi

Narendra Modi

[update below]

I don’t follow Indian politics too closely, though am, of course, aware that a general election is underway there, and which will most certainly result in the victory of the BJP and accession to power of its worrisome leader, Narendra Modi. If one wants to get up to speed on this—as I’m trying to do—I can recommend a couple of good articles that I’ve read over the past 24 hours (h/t Mira Kamdar and Roane Carey).

The first is by the well-known South Asia specialist William Dalrymple, “Narendra Modi: man of the masses,” in the New Statesman (May 12th). The lede: Modi, implicated in a massacre in 2002 while chief minister of Gujarat, is poised to become India’s next prime minister. Is he a dangerous neo-fascist, as some say, or the strongman reformer that this country of 1.2 billion people craves?

Modi may be a lifelong member of the fascistic RSS but that does not ipso facto make him personally a neo-fascist. To me, he sounds like an Indian Recep Tayyip Erdoğan—though with some blood on his hands—, which will be just fine for BJP supporters but not so fine for those who don’t support the BJP.

The other article is by Zahir Janmohamed, “Could a Hindu Extremist Become India’s Next Prime Minister?” in The Nation (May 13th). The lede: Narendra Modi’s role in the horrific 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat has never been properly investigated, but now a timely new study is raising the right questions.

Janmohamed, pour l’info, lives in Ahmedabad and is writing a book about the aftermath of the 2002 Gujarat riots, and has previously worked as a foreign policy aide to Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN) and as the advocacy director for Amnesty International. The “timely new study” Janmohamed reviews in his essay is The Fiction of Fact-Finding: Modi and Godhra, by Times of India journalist Manoj Mitta. Money quote:

In Manoj Mitta’s new book The Fiction of Fact-Finding: Modi and Godhra, published by Harper Collins India, Mitta argues that if there has been no real attempt to get to the truth of Modi’s actions during the riots, it’s because of the “cavalier” approach to justice. Through extensive documentation, Mitta shows that Modi might be on trial today, as opposed to campaigning for prime minister, if only he had been asked the right questions about his role in the riots.

If the US visa ban on Modi—which he was slapped with in 2005—is still in effect, one may assume that it will soon be lifted.

While I’m at it, for those who can get behind the NYRB’s paywall, Pankaj Mishra had a review, in the August 15 2002 issue, of Human Rights Watch’s report ‘We Have No Orders to Save You’: State Participation and Complicity in Communal Violence in Gujarat (in which Narendra Modi is mentioned forty-eight times).

À suivre.

UPDATE: Vinod K. Jose, executive editor of The Caravan: A Journal of Politics & Culture, has a very good article, dated March 1 2012, entitled “The Emperor Uncrowned: The rise of Narendra Modi.”

Sionisme et antisionisme


Charb, chroniqueur et dessinateur à Charlie Hebdo, et directeur de la publication, a eu une belle chronique dans le numéro du 15 janvier 2014, intitulé “Ras le bol du ping-pong sioniste, antisioniste!” Vu que Charlie Hebdo met très peu de son contenu sur son site web, j’allais transcrire la chronique entière, mais je vois qu’elle a bel et bien été publiée sur son site, le 19 février. Donc la voici. Ça vaut la peine d’être lu.

Par ailleurs, si on cherche une définition véridique du sionisme—ce qui est neutre et ne se prête pas à la polémique—, je recommende la tribune de l’écrivain israëlien A.B. Yehoshua, “Ce que «sioniste» veut dire,” publiée dans Libération le 31 mai 2013.

Diplomacy (the movie)


Today is May 8th—the end of WWII in Europe (69th anniversary)—and a public holiday in France. France is the only country in the world that marks VE Day with a public holiday (on the 8th at least; Russia does it on the 9th). It’s ridiculous that France should have this holiday, as the country had already been entirely liberated by VE Day. Also, with May Day—la Fête du travail—this means that there are two public holidays on the same day two weeks running, which creates problems for people like me, who have to reschedule classes. President Giscard d’Estaing abolished the May 8th holiday but his successor, François Mitterrand, restored it illico when he took office. Hopefully some day it will be abolished again, replaced with some other, more significant date marking WWII, like De Gaulle’s Appeal of June 18th, or the liberation of Paris on August 25th.

À propos, this very good film by German director Volker Schlöndorff, which takes place entirely in Paris on August 24-25, 1944, came out a couple of months ago. It’s adapted from a 2011 play of the same title, set almost entirely in the Hotel Meurice on the Rue de Rivoli—the HQ of the German high command in the city—, of Raoul Nordling, the Swedish consul general in Paris, striving through the night to persuade the German military governor, General Dietrich von Choltitz, to disobey Hitler’s orders to destroy the city the next day (and everything was in place to do so, which would have indeed accomplished Hitler’s evil goal and killed at least 100,000 Parisians in the process). The performances of André Dussollier (Nordling) and Niels Arestrup (von Cholitz)—who were also the actors in the play—are tops. A tour de force. As it happens, the film distorts in some important respects the history of that dramatic night in the Hotel Meurice, mais peu importe. It’s fictionalized history, making for an engaging film. So thumbs up. Hollywood press reviews (tops) are here and here, French reviews (also tops) here, trailer is here.

One WWII-themed film seen of late that does not get the thumbs up is George Clooney’s ‘The Monuments Men’. I would normally run out to see a film on a subject such as this one’s but hesitated for weeks after it opened, as I had read that it played fast and loose with the historical record of a not insignificant episode in the final year of the war—the Allied effort to recover the vast trove of artwork stolen by the Nazis—, playing up the role of the Americans, but not compensating for distorting the historical record—no doubt for base commercial reasons, to appeal to American audiences—by making a riveting and/or engaging film. I have a friend—US based—who happens to be one of the world’s leading authorities on the film’s subject, so I invited him to write a guest review for AWAV. He replied to my offer saying that he hadn’t yet seen it, as he feared the worst. He wasn’t way off base in his premonitions. The cast may be all-star but the performances are uninspired and by-the-numbers. The film drags in stretches, indeed throughout. It’s a clunky, forgettable Hollywood grand spectacle, et avec toutes les ficelles. It doesn’t work at all. George Clooney’s heart is in the right place but he has yet to prove himself as a director. Reviews were not too good on either side of the Atlantic. So unless one really, truly wants to see this one, skip it.


24 jours film affiche

J’ai vu ce film hier. Vu qu’un autre film sur Ilan Halimi et le “gang des barbares” est actuellement en production—’Tout, tout de suite’, réalisé par Richard Berry—, je vais attendre la sortie de celui-là avant de faire un billet de blog sur le film d’Alexandre Arcady (c-à-d, je vais écrire sur les deux ensemble). Entre-temps, voici une critique de spectateur (3-étoiles: pas mal) que j’ai publié aujourd’hui sur Allociné:

J’hésite normalement à voir les films d’Alexandre Arcady, réalisateur très “moyen de gamme” et qui, jusqu’à preuve du contraire, n’a jamais fait un chef d’œuvre, mais vu le sujet de celui-ci, je ne pouvais pas ne pas le voir. Le film est dur à regarder, voire insoutenable, mais nécessaire. Le crime antisémite le plus atroce en France depuis la 2ème guerre mondiale — qui a eu lieu au 21ème siècle et en bande organisée composée de membres de la jeune génération – justifie bien un traitement cinématographique et de ne pas tomber dans l’oubli du grand public. Hormis quelques scènes mélos, Arcady s’en sort assez bien. Ce qu’il montre sur l’enquête policière provient du livre de Ruth Halimi (la mère de la victime) – qui a collaboré avec lui dans le développement du film – donc le point de vue d’un acteur dans le drame. Mais quant à la manière dont Arcady dépeint les conditions de la séquestration d’Ilan Halimi et le comportement du psychopathe Youssouf Fofana et la bande de tarés sous son emprise, celle-ci est 100% juste. Les faits de l’affaire sont avérés. Il n’y a pas de quoi discuter là-dessus. Pour tout ce qui concerne le “gang des barbares” il n’y a pas une seule scène dans le film qui est exagérée.

À ce titre, je suis ulcéré par les commentaires de demi-étoile (‘nul’) des spectateurs Allociné (27% à ce jour), qui s’en prennent, dans leur grande majorité, au côtés prétendument “communautariste” et “clivant” du film, c-à-d, ils sont contrariés par un film dont les protagonistes sont juifs et qui traite d’un crime antisémite commis par une bande de racailles de toutes les couleurs mais menée par des blacks et des beurs. Mais vu que le film montre exactement ce qui s’est passé, où est le problème? Comment Arcady aurait-il pu le faire autrement? Peut-étre ces brillants spectateurs auraient préféré que le film ne soit pas fait du tout, qu’on n’en parle plus de cette histoire d’Ilan Halimi et le “gang de barbares”? Et pourquoi? Parce que l’histoire d’un feuj torturé à mort par des blacks et beurs – et parce que feuj – ça les emmerde. Parce que ces sympathiques spectateurs ont un problème avec les juifs. En effet, je suis sûr et certain qu’un certain nombre – sinon la majorité – de ces détracteurs du film ne l’ont pas vu, que leurs commentaires sont basés sur la bande-annonce, ou d’un commentaire sur le film par Dieudonné (dont ces détracteurs sont très certainement des affidés dans leur quasi-totalité). Voilà, la judéophobie est bel et bien vivante dans une frange de la société française.

MISE AU POINT: Il se peut que je sois allé un peu vite en besogne en laissant entendre que les détracteurs du film étaient dérangé par le côté feuj-beur-black. D’autant que je sache, un grand nombre de ces spectateurs d’Allociné – peut-être même l’écrasante majorité – sont des petits blancs: des Français BBR bien-de-chez-nous. On sait bien que Dieudonné a beaucoup de fans chez les “souchiens”, qui n’aiment pas trop les juifs – c’est une litote – mais qui fustigent tout “communautarisme”. Sauf le leur, évidemment, le communautarisme des Français…

Par ailleurs, j’ai des commentaires sur Dieudonné, qu’on peut lire ici et ici; aussi ici et ici.

Mise en page 1




I note that this film, by Polish director Paweł Pawlikowski, has opened in the US and to stellar reviews. I saw it in February here in Paris—where the reviews were similarly rapturous. It’s a short, austere film—80-minutes in length—set in Poland in 1962, of an 18-year-old novitiate nun, Ida (first-time actress Agata Trzebuchowska), who is summoned to visit her aunt—the one surviving member of her family and whom she has never met—, Wanda (played by a well-known TV actress, Agata Kulesza), a hard, bitter woman in her 40s who is a magistrate and Communist party member, i.e the total opposite of Ida and in every respect. Wanda reveals to Ida the dark secret of her past, that she was a Jew whose parents had put her up for adoption during the war before seeking refuge with a Catholic family, and were murdered—and not by the Nazis. And Wanda then takes Ida on a journey to her family’s onetime home in the countryside, to find out how her parents were killed. And while she’s at it, she advises Ida to experience life in the outside world—with nightlife and men—before deciding if she really wants to live her life in a Catholic convent. It’s a haunting film, beautifully shot in black-and-white, and in which, in the words of one critic, there is not a frame “that isn’t composed with superb artistry and attention to detail.” The one mixed review of the film—in Variety, as it happens—opines that it will appeal only to “the most rarefied” of cinephiles. Well, it’s still playing at several Paris theaters three months after its opening and has been given the thumbs way up by Allociné spectateurs—over a thousand of whom have graded it—as much as it has by the critics. Trailer is here.

I’ve seen a few other Holocaust-themed films over the past several months. They are, very briefly:

Claude Lanzmann’s ‘Le Dernier des Injustes’ (The Last of the Unjust). I hesitated on going to see this one, on account of its 3½+ hour length—the arrogant Lanzmann clearly doesn’t have much consideration for the eventual time constraints and attention span of his audience—and because I have yet to see his 9-hour ‘Shoah’ in its entirety, which I figured I should do first (one of these days I’ll get the DVD, draw the curtains, turn off all lights, and watch it in one sitting). But after listening to the dithyrambic reaction to this one by a (very smart and insightful) friend and reading Mark Lilla’s review essay in the NYRB, I decided that I really should take a Sunday afternoon and catch it before it vanished from the Paris salles obscures. And despite briefly nodding off at a couple of points, I will say that it was well worth it. Those who have any interest in the subject and in seeing the film already know the story: Lanzmann took footage of the many hours of interviews he conducted in 1975 with Benjamin Murmelstein, the Chief Rabbi of Vienna after the Anschluss and who headed the Judenrat at the Theresienstadt concentration camp in the final years of the war, and made a documentary of the painful—and, as we learn, misunderstood—history of Jewish collaboration with the Nazis in the implementation of the Final Solution. Murmelstein was hated by Holocaust survivors—and would have likely been arrested, if not possibly killed beforehand, had he ever set foot in Israel—and lived out his life in Rome in relative obscurity. Lanzmann was ill-disposed, to put it mildly, toward Murmelstein when he began the interviews but, as Murmelstein told his side of the story, Lanzmann’s attitude evolved, and he finally embraced him in the end. Murmelstein, who was neither an angel nor a devil, presented himself—convincingly—as a man put in an impossible position who tried to do the best he could for his fellow Jews at Theresienstadt given the circumstances. The documentary—which refutes Hannah Arendt’s thesis (and particularly her view of Eichmann, with whom Murmelstein had extensive dealings)—is a tour de force. Trailer is here.

le dernier des injustes

‘The German Doctor’ (titre en France: Le Médecin de famille). This is an Argentinian film set in 1960, of a couple with three children who travel to Barlioche, on the edge of the Andes in northern Patagonia, to take over a lakeside hotel-lodge. Beautiful area. And far away from everything. There is a German community in town, with its own school and all—and where Nazism is still in vogue. On the way to Bariloche the family crosses paths with a man who presents himself as a doctor of German origin and also happens to be heading in precisely their direction. The family’s 12-year-old daughter, named Lilith, is fascinated by the mysterious doctor—who gives her a doll that she names Wakolda (thus the Argentinian title of the film, taken in turn by director Lucía Puenzo’s novel on which it is based)—and as Lilith is short for her age, the doctor, who takes up residence in the lodge, says he has a special treatment for her. And so he treats her. The doctor turns out to be Josef Mengele, who is continuing to perform his evil experiments on guinea pig humans. The father gets suspicious and, as it happens, the Mossad is hot on Mengele’s heels, so he hightails it out of the area in the nick of time—with the aid of the extensive Nazi network in the area (and in southern South America more generally)—, though not before wreaking some havoc. The film is engrossing, well-done, well-acted, and all but I had mixed feelings about it, mainly as Mengele gets away in the end and that was that. So what was the point in even making the movie? French critics mostly liked it (and with Allociné spectateurs liking it even more). Trailer is here.


‘Victor Young Perez’. This one’s a biopic, directed by Jacques Ouaniche, of the Tunisian Jewish boxer Victor “Young” Perez, born in 1911 in a quartier populaire of Tunis, who was brought to France in the 1920, went on to win the French flyweight championship in 1930 and then the world flyweight crown the following year. He boxed through the decade, becoming a celebrity in Paris high society circles—and taking up for a time with the movie star Mireille Balin—, but who went into a tailspin and, remaining in Paris during the Occupation, was deported in 1943 to the AuschwitzIII-Monowitz concentration camp—where Nazi guards amused themselves by staging boxing matches with him, now emaciated, and the strongest among them—, before he was killed during the death march in 1945. A tragic story but an interesting one, and an a priori good subject for a biopic. But the film doesn’t work. It’s by the biopic numbers and with big gaps in the chronological narrative. And there are casting errors, of the actress who plays Mireille Balin—the Italian Isabella Orsini, who was likely chosen for the role because she’s beautiful tout court—and, above all, Brahim Asloum, who plays Victor “Young” Perez. Asloum was a professional boxer himself, winning the light flyweight gold medal for France at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and, in 2007, the WBA light flyweight crown. He’s okay as an actor but is 100% Algerian in physical appearance. He looks nothing like a Jew (even a Sephardic one), so is not entirely credible in the role. Too bad. French reviews were mixed. Trailer is here.




The first ever European presidential debate—for the presidency of the European Commission—was held last Monday, at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, and which I just watched via the debate’s website. There are five candidates—designated by their respective Europarties or European Parliament political groups—in the running to succeed José Manuel Barroso, whose term ends on October 31st: Jean-Claude Juncker (from Luxembourg) of the European People’s Party (moderate right), Martin Schulz (German)—the current president of the European Parliament—of the Party of European Socialists, Guy Verhofstadt (Belgian) of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (centrist), Ska Keller (German) of the European Green Party, and Alexis Tsipras (leader of the Greek Syriza) of the European United Left. The two right-wing Eurosceptic groups—one of which includes the British Tories—are not running candidates (for more on the candidates, go to the useful website Debating Europe). The new President of the Commission will be nominated by the European Council—by consensus or in a qualified majority vote according to the (overly complex) formula contained in the Treaty of Nice—and ratified (or rejected) by a majority vote in the European Parliament. One more reason underscoring the importance of the upcoming elections for the latter (more on which in a later post).

Four of the five candidates were present for the debate—Tsipras declined the invitation for some reason—, which went for 90 minutes, was held in English, broadcast on Euronews, and where the candidates answered questions from the moderators—relaying some posed via Twitter—or members of the audience. The debate was divided into three half-hour parts, on Europe’s economy—which included questions on youth unemployment, austerity, tax havens, eurobonds, the future of the euro, and the relationship of the Commission with the European Council—, Euroscepticism—with questions on immigration and migration, digital privacy, and trust in Europe’s institutions—, and foreign policy—with Ukraine and the USA (NSA surveillance and the TIPP free trade negotiations) the main subjects of interest. There was a fair dose of langue de bois at the beginning but with the candidates loosening up as the debate progressed. And parts were quite interesting, particularly the discussion of eurobonds and immigration. The candidates had one minute each to answer the questions, which was not nearly enough but was maybe inevitable given that there were four of them (and they started to go over their allotted time as they went along). I like Martin Schulz—he’s been my man for the job—, who was good enough (albeit a little cautious at points), but the one who really impressed was Guy Verhofstadt. And an audience poll afterward designated him the winner of the debate running away, with 53.4% of the vote; Schulz was a distant second at 19.4%, Ska Keller at 18%, and Jean-Claude Juncker a paltry 9.2%. Juncker was a clunker, no doubt playing it safe, as he is clearly the front-runner; also, his heart may not really be in it, as he would apparently prefer to be the next President of the European Council—a far more laid back job than President of the Commission—, succeeding the diminutive Herman Van Rompuy. I remember Juncker being much better in a televised round-table during the 2005 French referendum campaign on the (failed) European Constitutional Treaty.

The debate may be watched on YouTube here. A 23-minute instant analysis of the debate, with Libération’s Brussels correspondent Jean Quatremer and Europolitics editor-in-chief Christophe Garach, may be seen here (with English voice-over) or here (en français). A second debate will be held on May 15th in Brussels (and presumably in French).

Guy Verhofstadt, Martin Schulz, Ska Keller, Jean-Claude Juncker

Guy Verhofstadt, Martin Schulz, Ska Keller, Jean-Claude Juncker

Algeria in flux

souvenir dalger annees 70

For those interested in Algeria, Francis Ghilès, who has been reporting from and writing on North Africa for several decades, has a great essay of this title (dated April 16th) in OpenDemocracy. The lede: “Algeria’s circles of power and their relationship to a complex society and history are hard to grasp. Francis Ghilès describes his own route to understanding the country in the post-independence era, when the heavy legacy of the past mixed with the confident idealism of the present.” Ghilès recounts personal stories from the 1970s and ’80s, and which resonated with me, as I know that period of Algerian history rather well, having lived in Algiers (late ’80s-early ’90s) and written a doctoral thesis on the country’s post-independence politics. Lots of good anecdotes and information in Ghilès’s piece. I particularly like this passage

The “third worldism” of the 1960s and 1970s seems lost in time today – hence the difficulty of recreating the atmosphere of the Algiers I got to know after 1975. European left-wing intellectuals projected their ideals onto the seemingly virgin lands of the newly independent, less developed nations – foremost among them (if not alone) China, Cuba and Algeria. A few decades earlier, the European left’s predecessors had celebrated colonial expeditions in the name of universalism and as a prerequisite to the third-world’s own development…

After 1962, Algeria enjoyed immense prestige – second only to Vietnam in the third-worldist historiography of sacrifice – owing to the ability of its poorly armed and ill-trained guerrillas to frustrate one of the world’s major military powers. It also played a leading role in calling for a new world economic order. Thousands of European revolutionaries flocked to the country, their own anti-colonial attitudes making them feel entitled to judge and even to formulate Algeria’s national policy. When I met some of these people in Algeria in 1975-78, they quickly struck me as half-tragic, half-absurd – and at times half-farcical. Their hosts nicknamed them pieds rouge – a cruel label indeed, since the pieds noirs designated former French settlers in Algeria who had been the most steadfast defenders of colonial rule.

One could say much the same—and then some—about a lot of the Western solidarity activists in the West Bank-Gaza (the subject of a future post). The story about the journalist Malika Abdelaziz’s relationship with Eldridge Cleaver was new to me (on the Black Panthers’s Algeria period, see my blog post from last June). I never had the opportunity to meet Mme Abdelaziz but read just about every article she published in Algérie-Actualité from the late ’70s to the early ’90s. She was one of Algeria’s best journalists of that time, hands down (and there were quite a few good ones back then).

BTW, I had intended to write an instant analysis of Algeria’s presidential election farce of two weeks ago but didn’t get around to it. Or, rather, I couldn’t bring myself to. I do have something to say about it, of what Abdelaziz Bouteflika continuing on as president—despite his physical and mental incapacity—tells us about the functioning of power in Algeria. I’ll write about it at some point.

Algiers, 1975 (h/t Alger à une certaine époque)

Algiers, 1975 (h/t Alger à une certaine époque)

Algiers, 1976 (h/t Alger à une certaine époque)

Algiers, 1976 (h/t Alger à une certaine époque)

Algiers, 1970s (h/t Alger à une certaine époque)

Algiers, 1970s (h/t Alger à une certaine époque)

Algiers, 1970s (h/t Alger à une certaine époque)

Algiers, 1970s (h/t Alger à une certaine époque)

Algiers, 1980s (h/t Alger à une certaine époque)

Algiers, 1980s (h/t Alger à une certaine époque)


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