Sidney Poitier, R.I.P.

He was my favorite actor when I was 11/12-years-old, and with In the Heat of the Night, which came out when I was that age, my very favorite movie—I saw it at least five times—followed by To Sir, with Love, which I saw maybe three times (the first time, I took a couple of buses across the city of Milwaukee on a blustery November Sunday afternoon to a theater in a shopping center I’d never been to). And then there was of course Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Of his earlier films, some of which I saw over the subsequent years, the one that stayed with me was The Defiant Ones, and which I had the opportunity to watch again last year on ARTE.

Sidney Poitier’s very first film, Joseph Mankiewicz’s ‘No Way Out’, from 1950, I only learned about in December 2020, from a Facebook post by political scientist Peter Dreier, which begins:

If you’re looking for a fascinating film to watch during COVID, I recommend the 1950 noir-ish film, “No Way Out,” perhaps the most direct attack on racism for a Hollywood film up until that time. I’m amazed and somewhat embarrassed that I didn’t know about this film until this week, when I came upon it by accident, but once I saw it, I recognized that, in historic context, it was/is an amazing and bold film for its time. You can watch the film on YouTube.

Dreier’s post was published by the Forward under the title “How a forgotten Sidney Poitier film helps explain our current political moment.” The film is indeed worth the watch.

UPDATE: John McWhorter has a most interesting column in the NYT (January 14), “Sidney Poitier and the Black voice.”

Best (and worst) movies of 2021

Voilà AWAV’s annual list (for last year’s, go here). This was an unusual year for movies, as theaters were closed for over seven months, during the second confinement, or lockdown, which began on October 30, 2020. After the confinement was lifted, on May 19th, a big backlog of movies—most made before the pandemic and which did not open in 2020—hit the salles, with at least four or five opening in any given week, and through the year, that were well-reviewed and looked worth seeing. And so I saw quite a few (though some I really didn’t need to). Par contre, I spent five weeks in the US last summer and went to the cinoche but once. When it comes to going to the movies, France (and particularly Paris) is so far superior to America. N.B. I did not see ‘No Time to Die’, ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’, or ‘Dune’, and regardless of stellar reviews and word-of-mouth. Not my genres. I also have not seen Steven Spielberg’s remake of ‘West Side Story’, as IMHO this is not a movie that needed to be remade.

TOP 10:
Ballad of a White Cow (Le Pardon قصیده گاو سفید)
Drive My Car (ドライブ・マイ・カー)
Identifying Features (Sin señas particulares)
Just 6.5 (La Loi de Téhéran متری شیش و نیم)
Quo Vadis, Aida?
Sound of Metal
The Father
The Mauritanian
There Is No Evil (Le Diable n’existe pas شیطان وجود ندارد)

A Hero (قهرمان)
Good Mother (Bonne mère)
The Endless Trench (La trinchera infinita)
The Speech (Le Discours)

A Dark, Dark Man (Чёрный, чёрный человек)

White Building (អគារពណ៌ស)

Balloon (气球)

Onoda: 10,000 Nights in the Jungle (万夜を越えて)

Wife of a Spy (Les Amants sacrifiés スパイの妻)

Hospitalité (歓待)

Should the Wind Fall (Si le vent tombe)

Compartment No. 6 (Hytti nro 6 Купе номер шесть)

Dear Comrades! (Дорогие товарищи!)

The Courier

In the Dusk (Sutemose)

Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn (Babardeală cu bucluc sau porno balamuc)

Charlatan (Šarlatán)

Servants (Služobníci)

Another Round (Druk)

The Worst Person in the World (Verdens verste menneske)


After Love


Skies of Lebanon (Sous le ciel d’Alice)

200 Meters (٢٠٠ متر)

Gaza mon amour (غزة مونامور)

Zanka Contact (Burning Casablanca)


Nafi’s Father


Forgotten We’ll Be (El olvido que seremos)



The United States Vs. Billie Holiday


Lost Illusions (Illusions perdues)

Eugénie Grandet

Deception (Tromperie)

Red Soil (Rouge)

Black Box (Boîte noire)

Home Front (Des hommes)

The Stronghold (BAC Nord)

The Third War (La Troisième guerre)

The Accusation (Les Choses humaines)

Happening (L’Événement)

The Swarm (La Nuée)

All Hands on Deck (À l’abordage)

Her Way (Une femme du monde)

Anaïs in Love (Les Amours d’Anaïs)

The Divide (La Fracture)

The Restless (Les Intranquilles)

Everything Went Fine (Tout s’est bien passé)






Promising Young Woman



Blue Bayou

Don’t Look Up


Honey Cigar (Cigare au miel)

Summer of Soul

Collective (Colectiv)

Debout les femmes!

Pingouin & Goéland et leurs 500 petits

Midnight Traveler

Leur Algérie

143 Sahara Street (143 rue du Désert)

The Last Duel

The Card Counter

First Cow

A Tale of Love and Desire (Une histoire d’amour et de désir)




Paris, 13th District (Les Olympiades)

Petrov’s Flu (Петровы в гриппе)

The French Dispatch

The Power of the Dog

Hold Me Tight (Serre moi fort)

Lovers (Amants)


Sisters (Sœurs)

Laila in Haifa (לילה בחיפה)

Ahed’s Knee (הברך)

Suzanna Andler

Cry Macho


Éric Zemmour at Villepinte

Éric Zemmour held his first rally as a formal presidential candidate on Sunday. It was originally supposed to happen at the Zénith, an arena on the northeast corner of Paris (at Porte de la Villette) that seats 6,300. But during the week the Zemmour campaign announced that due to the larger-than-anticipated audience—one had to register for the event online—that the venue would be shifted to the Parc des Expositions in Villepinte, near CDG airport (N.B. Marine Le Pen had her Paris campaign rallies at the Zénith in 2012 and 2017, barely filling the arena). While a larger venue was indeed needed, Zemmour was also, as it happens, asked by the Paris police prefecture to move the event out of the city for security reasons, as an anti-Zemmour demo—with far left groups and Antifas—was announced for Sunday afternoon and in the same part of the city. Clashes and disorder were a foregone conclusion.

I went, of course—my first time at the Parc des Expositions, which is a good place to have rallies of this sort—arriving at the hall at 2:30 pm.

The event was supposed to begin at 2:30 and with Zemmour speaking at 4:00, but everything was delayed by an hour-and-a-half, so I was able to move around and get a measure of the crowd as the hall filled up.

A few brief comments. First, there were around 13,000 in attendance, which is, objectively speaking, very good for a rally four months before the election. By contrast, Jean-Luc Mélenchon held a rally on Sunday at a hall at La Défense (of all places), at the same time as Zemmour’s, attracting a crowd of 4,500 (a third overflow), which is already not bad. None of the other candidates—and certainly not the hapless candidate of the PS—could attain that number at this stage of the campaign. As the production values of the event were also good, it was indisputably a success for Zemmour.

As for the composition of the crowd, I was struck by the number of young people, which one does not see nearly to this extent at rallies of the RN/FN, LR/UMP, or PS (as for Emmanuel Macron’s REM, which apparently exists, it doesn’t hold rallies). Young people—majority  male—indeed looked to predominate (many were not wearing masks BTW). They must not, however, be taken as representative of the 18-30 age cohort or constituting a disproportionate share of Zemmour’s potential electorate. They were, needless to say, almost all “white”—there was a smattering of POCs, though none of manifest Maghrebi origin so far as I could tell—likely hail from Paris’ beaux quartiers and western banlieues—they are not the progeny of Gilets Jaunes or working class RN voters in the Pas-de-Calais, that’s for sure—and most certainly belong to Catholic traditionalist associations and/or organizations of the extreme and ultra-right (members of the ex-Génération Identitaire were likely present in force). Zemmour is the candidate of the ultra-conservative Catholic traditionalists of the Sens Commun movement, renamed Mouvement Conservateur last year, which was founded in 2013 to lead the mass social movement—taking the political class, left and right alike, utterly by surprise—against the gay marriage law, and which was a baptismal moment in the politicization of the younger generation of conservative Catholics, who were an important component of the manif pour tous (I wrote about it at the time here). Sens Commun/Mouvement Conservateur was a key constituent of François Fillon’s base in 2017 but, with the insufficiently right-wing Valérie Pécresse having been designated the candidate of LR, has endorsed Zemmour.

I have to say that I found jarring the thunderous applause and cheering of these young people at the diatribes against immigrants, Muslims, foreigners, Europe, the United States (more on that below), and the many other targets of extreme right-wing hate from the warm-up speakers and, of course, Zemmour himself. The animosities and hatreds of these young people are disturbing to my sensibilities. They, like their elders in the hall, are not kind or generous; some surely are on a personal, one-on-one level but they are not in the larger sense; in this, they are the polar opposite of my late-Millennial daughter and her friends, as well as so many students I’ve had over the years.

More representative of French Millennials and Gen-Zers is this YouTube—sent to me by my daughter—of two jeunes Françaises named Camille and Justine reacting to Zemmour’s November 30th video announcement (comment dit-on ‘foutage de gueule’ en langue de Shakespeare?).

“Ben! Voyons,” which Zemmour says often in televised polemics—it may be translated as “yeah, sure” (pronounced in a mocking tone, when, e.g., he’s accused of being a racist)—has become a slogan of his fans.

As for the incidents in the hall and which led the TV news coverage—of the thuggish reaction of Zemmour’s bully boys to the handful of SOS-Racisme militants who unfurled a banner, the verbal assaults against journalists, and the actual physical assault against Zemmour as he headed to the stage—I only learned about them afterward. It was clear at a couple of points that something was happening in the rear but I couldn’t see it, and no one I asked knew what was going on. It was typical behavior one gets at extreme-right events (journalists from Libération and other left-leaning press organs who attended FN rallies in the ‘80s and ‘90s can tell you stories). Zemmour himself should be held legally responsible for the actions of his supporters at his rallies. That said, I’m not sure about the stunt of the SOS-Racisme militants; while I admire their intrepidness, they knew they were taking a risk in infiltrating a rally of people hostile to them and that, at best, their action would last less than a minute and with them being quickly escorted out of the hall. So what’s the point?

There were nine warm-up speakers, only three of whom I had heard of. Not exactly an A-list line-up. The first one up was a conseiller départemental from Le Blanc-Mesnil, in the Seine-Saint-Denis, named Vijay Monany, who told the crowd that his parents immigrated to France in the 1970s (presumably from India), that he grew up in a “cité HLM” in the SSD, “loves France more than anything and believes in its ideal of assimilation.” C’est bien. He was followed by Laurence Trochu, president of the Mouvement Conservateur; the early-twentysomething president of Génération Zemmour, Stanislas Rigault, who’s on TV a lot these days; and the souverainiste warhorse and elder sage Paul-Marie Coûteaux, who’s been around for some time and made the rounds of all the souverainiste formations, left and right (from Chevènement to de Villiers and the FN—and now his old friend Zemmour, the two having never conversed about anything other “than books, books of history…of the history of France,” so he informs us). He’s a true believer and with memorable lines (I’ve seen him speak a couple of times before, including at a Marine Le Pen rally); e.g. in ridiculing the US embassy communiqué advising Americans to avoid Villepinte on Sunday, he got in a dig at America more generally, which has, as he put it, “colonized” France for over a century with its “trash culture” (culture de pacotille). Thunderous cheering and applause—from a crowd that has no doubt consumed its share of Hollywood blockbusters, TV series, popular music, and you name it. Toward the end of his intervention, Coûteaux declared that it won’t be enough for Zemmour to be president of the Republic; he must be “King of France” (Roi de France)! Thunderous cheering and applause.

Following Mr. Coûteaux was Antoine Diers, spokesman for the association Amis d’Éric Zemmour; Jacline Mouraud, a relatively high profile Gilet Jaune in 2018-19, whom I characterized at the time as “[o]ne of the more moderate public faces of the GJs” (either she changed or I was off base); Franck Keller, an LR city council member in upscale Neuilly-sur-Seine; Agnès Marion, a second-tier RN dissident from Lyon; and, finally, the most well-known politico of the lot—it’s all relative, as he’s not exactly a household name—Jean-Frédéric Poisson, president of the diminutive, très conservateur political party VIA: La Voix du Peuple (ex-Parti Chrétien-Démocrate, founded by Christine Boutin), who withdrew his own presidential candidacy to support Zemmour. His 15-minute address was noteworthy for the concluding “Vive la France!,” Mr. Poisson forgetting to preface it with the habitual “Vive la République!”

Zemmour made his grande entrée at 5:30, taking ten minutes to ply his way through the delirious crowd with his security detail (which did not prevent him from being accosted). It was a very risky way to make his entry, as if one person had fallen, there would have a stampede and disaster. But as Zemmour clearly relishes the adulation, which has definitely gone to his head, what the hell.

Zemmour’s speech, which went for an hour-and-twenty-minutes, was broadcast live on three of the all-news TV stations, so my presence didn’t offer a particular vantage point as to the substance. A few comments. First, on form, it was an effective speech and forcefully delivered, with thunderous cheering and applause throughout. For this, Zemmour can thank the teleprompter, so he wasn’t hunched over ploddingly reading from paper as in the past—and along with so many other French politicians (Nicolas Sarkozy, to name one, is a dud when it comes to giving a speech). I’ve attended many political rallies here over the past three decades but only began to notice teleprompters in 2017 (Benoît Hamon and Macron). The only politicians I’ve seen who can deliver a stem-winder of a speech without a text—walking the stage from 1½ to over 3 hours and holding the audience in thrall—are Jean-Marie Le Pen, Philippe de Villiers, and Jean-Luc Mélenchon (François Bayrou can speak without a text but he rambles).

On substance, it was pure Zemmour. Anyone who is familiar with his discourse won’t have heard a thing that s/he hasn’t heard or read countless times. No French journalist-pundit-intellectual-amateur historian has had as much media exposure over the past fifteen years as Zemmour. As I did not watch the TV programs on which he appeared or listen to the radio stations (RTL) on which he editorialized daily, I didn’t see or hear him a tremendous amount. But as I’ve read six of his books and many articles about him, I know his rhetoric and world-view like the back of my hand. One of the things Zemmour fans say they like about him is that he’s consistent; he knows what he thinks, says it out loud, and doesn’t change his positions for the circumstance. In other words, he’s not a politician. This is all true (except sometimes when it’s not).

Zemmour may not be a politician but like many, he’s narcissistic, extremely so, and basks in the love of his fans. This comes across in his books, particularly the latest one, and did in his speech, in which there is a lot of ‘je’ and ‘moi’. And there were copious amounts of red meat thrown to the crowd, with vituperative, ad hominem attacks on politicians he doesn’t like, notably Emmanuel Macron, and the media—of which Zemmour is a pure product and without which he would not exist—not to mention immigrants, Islam, the EU, Germany, England, NATO, etc, etc. An extreme-right classic, and whose enemies list is long.

But toward the one-hour mark , he struck a consensual note, “extending [his] hand to Muslims who want to become our brothers, of whom many are already”—thunderous cheering and applause—and offering “assimilation”—Zemmour’s fetish word—as the route, and affirming that there is no reason why “Algerians, Malians, and Turks” should not assimilate as did Spanish, Polish, and Italian immigrants in the past; and rhetorically asking why Muslims should not also be able to separate the spiritual and temporal as have Jews and Christians.

This is nice except that, for Zemmour, “assimilation” means, in effect, that Muslims would have to renounce Islam, as he has made it clear in his voluminous writings that Islam is incompatible with being French—that Islam is the enemy of France—and that he does not differentiate between the November 13th 2015 ISIS terrorists and the Muslim population of France in its near totality. Éric Zemmour has a long paper trail.

In the latter part of the speech, he got off identity issues to focus on the economy and foreign policy. In effect, he will Make France Great Again: reindustrialize the economy, provide good jobs for the unemployed, support agriculture and farmers, restore France’s rank in the world and its freedom of manœuvre, and you name it. Comme ça. He will wave the magic wand and turn the clock back to the mythic trente glorieuses of his childhood, and with him in the role of his hero, Charles de Gaulle.

More down to earth, Zemmour concluded the speech with an appeal to Éric Ciotti and other LR hard rightists to join him. Likewise with disaffected RN members. He wants to federate the French right around his person. On verra bien.

Zemmour announced the name of his new party: Reconquête! As in the Spanish Reconquista. Get it?

Singing La Marseillaise
Singing La Marseillaise again

Pécresse in ’22?

So she’s the candidate of the French Republican party—the erstwhile UMP/RPR, renamed Les Républicains six years back—who will compete with Emmanuel Macron, Marine Le Pen, Éric Zemmour et al in next April’s presidential election. Her victory over the hard rightist Éric Ciotti—whose views on immigration and Islam hardly differ from those of Le Pen and Zemmour—in the 2nd round of LR’s closed primary was pretty much a foregone conclusion after her somewhat unexpected qualification in Wednesday & Thursday’s 1st round (and Ciotti’s even more unexpected first place finish). LR, like its Republican counterpart across the pond, has been lurching right over the past decade and some but was not about to designate a candidate as reactionary as Ciotti, not this year at least.

Valérie Pécresse’s victory is a game-changer in the presidential race, as if she makes it to the 2nd round next April—which is entirely possible—she will stand a good chance of defeating Macron, thus becoming France’s first-ever Présidente de la République (and if, in some unlikely scenario, she faces off against Le Pen or Zemmour—or, in an even more unlikely scenario, against a candidate of the left—she will definitely be elected France’s first female president). Pécresse is a mainstream conservative of the Jacques Chirac variety (an endangered species in LR), who has been tacking right over the past several years—aligning with conservative Catholics on gay marriage and other such questions de société, adopting the stupid right-wing rhetoric on immigration, making even stupider pledges to shed 200,000 fonctionnaires—but whose governing reflexes are likely to be moderate. An American equivalent would maybe be Christine Todd Whitman, for those who remember her. And Pécresse is smart: she’s an énarque, after all (and her English is good, e.g. here, maybe better than Macron’s, and certainly Le Pen’s and Zemmour’s, who speak it poorly or not at all). I had an AWAV post on Pécresse in April 2011, when she was Sarkozy/Fillon’s minister of higher education, that was positive (perhaps a little too much so). I won’t vote for her (except to block Le Pen or Zemmour) but won’t have nightmares if she’s elected. I am frankly relieved that she’s LR’s candidate.

One person who merits a tip of the hat is LR president Christian Jacob, for having refused Éric Zemmour’s eventual participation in the party’s primary. If Zemmour had been a candidate along with Pécresse and the others, he would have attracted a flood of new members and definitely won, thus taking over the dominant party of the French parliamentary right, as did Trump with the US Republican Party. That would have been a disaster of the first order.

As for the left, the equation is simple: with Jean-Luc Mélenchon (LFI), Yannick Jadot (EELV), and Anne Hidalgo (PS) all polling in the single digits, they’re out of the picture. JLM will not repeat his feat of 2017 (19% in the 1st round), not a chance, and Hidalgo will be lucky to outperform Benoît Hamon’s 2017 score (6%). If Jadot’s poll numbers remain a few points higher than hers into February, she and the PS will be well advised to withdraw her candidacy and throw their support to Jadot, in return for a deal with the EELV in the June legislatives. As the combined score of the left is around 30%, that would push Jadot into the teens and with a possible shot at the 2nd round. Mais on n’en est pas là.

It was a beautiful ceremony yesterdaycovered live on several TV stations—and moving (I was particularly stirred by the Le Chant des partisans, Joséphine Baker having of course been in the French Resistance). She was a remarkable woman, the more I learn about her, e.g., and among so many things, the dozen children from around the world, her Rainbow Tribe, that she adopted and raised in her chateau in the Dordogne (however rocky the experience may have been). One of them, Brian Bouillon-Baker, was interviewed on France Inter on Monday; it’s well worth the listen.

The ceremony at the Pantheon was the perfect response to Eric Zemmour’s demagogic, dystopian announcement earlier in the day (see previous post). Interviewed on TF1 last night, Zemmour was asked about Joséphine Baker’s induction into the Pantheon. His response was positive, noting that she had “un prénom français” and was “l’example même de la réussite du modèle d’assimilation à l’ancienne.” LOL. Too bad he wasn’t asked about the Rainbow Tribe, which must be his worst nightmare.

There are two one-hour documentaries that may be watched on YouTube: in French, Joséphine Baker: Première icône noire, which aired on ARTE in 2018; in English, Joséphine Baker: The 1st Black Superstar, first shown on BBC Four in 2009.


[update below]

He formally—and finally—announced his presidential candidacy today, in a ten-minute video posted on social media that one really must watch and behold. It is, as a Paris-based American journalist aptly characterized on Twitter, “totally wild over the top rococo opera of greatness and resentment,” in addition to being “insane and hilarious and bizarre and beautiful and stirring and frightening all at once” (and to which I added “apocalyptic, totally bonkers, and you name it”).

A couple of AWAV readers have asked when I’m going to write something about him. My response (which I’ve already given in previous posts): in due course, soon, in an article that will be linked to on AWAV. But when I mentioned Éric Zemmour on the phone with a close stateside family member the other day, she replied: who? In fact, for those outside France and who don’t keep up with politics in this beau pays, it is not surprising that they wouldn’t have heard of EZ, however much he may have dominated political news in the Hexagon over the past several months—and who has been without doubt the most high-profile journalist-pundit-intellectual (some will contest this one) here over the past fifteen years, and with a sizable fan base on the right. So as a public service to non-Francophone AWAV readers, here are a few recent articles in English on the man who, rest assured, will not be the next president of the French republic.

For those who can access them, The Economist’s Paris correspondent, Sophie Pedder, has two good articles, “Who is Eric Zemmour, France’s wannabe Donald Trump? The populist, anti-immigrant provocateur is outflanking Marine Le Pen” & “Far-right ideas are gaining a renewed respectability in France: They have a deep and troubling history,” both linked to in this Twitter thread.

Writing in The Local, John Lichfield, who knows France better than any foreign journalist, has two pieces, “Zemmour won’t worry Macron, but he should worry France,” and “Zemmour’s fake French history has a dark and long-term motive.”

If you have an hour to spare, the podcast discussion with John Lichfield & Anne-Élisabeth Moutet, “A storm named Éric Zemmour,” is worth the listen.

In The Nation: “The face of the new French right: The pundit Éric Zemmour is leading a confident and radicalized conservative movement,” by Harrison Stetler.

On the LRB Blog, the always excellent Adam Shatz offered his thoughts on “The Zemmour effect.”

And not to be missed is “French toast: A review of Éric Zemmour’s latest,” by David Berlinski (father of Claire, who is well known to AWAV readers) in The Cosmopolitan Globalist substack site. The review is mordant and witty. E.g.

Just recently, Zemmour debated Jean-Luc Mélenchon on French television. Mélenchon is a cultivated, well-read man. When confronted by Zemmour’s declaration that either we get rid of them [the Muslims] or they get rid of us, he responded with the by-now expected objurgation: vous êtes un raciste, a gesture as useful as that of a peacock in spreading its tail feathers before a boa constrictor.

Going back to February 2019, Elisabeth Zerofsky had feature article on Zemmour in The New York Times Magazine, “The right-wing pundit ‘hashtag triggering’ France: The pop historian Éric Zemmour has fashioned himself as an evangelist of French culture — and become a driving force for French conservatism.”

And going back further, to December 2014, Christopher Caldwell had a sympathetic portrait of Zemmour, “French curtains,” in The Weekly Standard.

À suivre.

UPDATE: John Lichfield has a typically spot-on analysis in UnHerd (Dec. 1st) of Zemmour’s announcement, “The world according to Éric Zemmour: He is more interested in being himself than president.”

Also in UnHerd (Nov. 29th) is an English translation of a commentary by the historian Simon Epstein that was much circulated here earlier in the month, “How Zemmour exploits his Jewishness: He uses my work to pour scorn on the Left.”

The Democrats’ predicament

Credit here

[update below] [2nd update below]

Following up from my post last week on the Democrats’ setback in Virginia and New Jersey, which caused consternation and dismay in my segment of the political spectrum, the lead article on the NYT website yesterday—which made the rounds among my stateside political friends—was a veritable douche froide: “Democrats thought they bottomed out in rural, white America. It wasn’t the bottom.” The lede: “Republicans ran up the margins in rural Virginia counties, the latest sign that Democrats, as one lawmaker put it, ‘continue to tank in small-town America’.” It’s a sobering read. E.g.

In the jigsaw puzzle that is electoral politics, Democrats have often focused their energy on swingy suburbs and voter-rich cities, content to mostly ignore many white, rural communities that lean conservative. The belief was, in part, that the party had already bottomed out there, especially during the Trump era, when Republicans had run up the numbers of white voters in rural areas to dizzying new heights.

Virginia, however, is proof: It can get worse.

In 2008, there were only four small Virginia counties where Republicans won 70 percent or more of the vote in that year’s presidential race. Nowhere was the party above 75 percent. This year, Mr. Youngkin was above 70 percent in 45 counties — and he surpassed 80 percent in 15 of them.

Politico has a piece on the same theme: “Rural Democrats stare into the abyss after Virginia.” Money quote:

“What happened in Virginia and New Jersey is a warning sign for what will happen in every statewide election, either U.S. Senate or any statewide office, because the only way you win statewide in a red or purple state is by getting at least 30 to 40 percent of the rural vote. And we used to be able to get that,” said Jane Kleeb, Nebraska Democratic Party chair. “Why don’t we anymore? We’ve completely lost touch with them.”

Or, more bluntly: “Wine moms won’t save us. Need the beer moms,” said Irene Lin, who is managing Outagamie, Wisconsin, County Executive Tom Nelson’s Senate campaign.

It’s an especially serious, long-term problem for the party right now because it will be difficult, if not impossible, to hold on to majorities in the Senate, which is dominated by rural states, and many state legislatures without at least some rural support. 

In this vein, see likewise the interview in the NYT last December, “Senator Jon Tester on Democrats and rural voters: ‘Our message is really, really flawed’.”

Also from last December is a must-read reportage from rural Robeson County NC, by Politico’s Michael Kruse, which I circulated at the time: “How Trump won one of America’s most diverse counties — by a lot: In North Carolina, a rainbow coalition of voters shifted sharply to the GOP this year. Can the party hold onto them for good?”

The fundamental problem with the Democrats in the boondocks: they don’t show up; they’re nowhere to be seen.

And then there’s ressentiment. A longtime Talking Points Memo reader thus wrote last Wednesday:

I live in Madison County in Central Virginia, about 80 miles southwest of DC. Charlottesville and Albemarle County excepted, this is industrial-strength Trump country… Yesterday’s election unsettled me, a lot. Despite decisive wins across the board a palpable, consuming rage drives Republican energy here, a rage that mere victory will not sate.

There’s a savagery in the opposition to President Biden and to the Democratic Party and its voters that seems to bubble up from a deeper well. I’d describe it as men’s rights anger, a desire for a type of conservative male dominance over all aspects of society, government, and culture, rooted in a specific strain of white evangelical arrogance. … It’s Trumpism distilled to 150 proof, what with its celebration and gaslighting of January 6th, barely concealed threats of violence, and constant invocations of Marjorie Taylor Greene’s “1776 moment.”

Basically, it boils down to the idea that white conservative men can do whatever, whenever, and to whomever they want without consequences as just compensation for the world stolen from them by the effete, barely human Democrat Party-liberal-Marxist-communists, all of whom must be jailed and tried for treason (they’re deadly serious about this). It’s much more than “toxic masculinity,” it’s fascism. And it’s here openly and unabashedly.

I don’t know where this is headed, but it’s nowhere good. And it scares the shit out of me.

It’s not clear what the Democrats can do about this, what with the toxic media ecosystem and social media bubbles in which Republican voters are ensconced, the primacy of culture war issues, the nationalization of elections, and the bias toward rural America in the electoral system and structure of representation (and aggravated by extreme gerrymandering).

The rural-urban cleavage in American politics is, moreover, an old story. I recently reread parts of John Higham’s 1955 classic Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, 1860-1925, in which the rising anti-immigration sentiment during the time period covered in the book is presented as a revolt of Anglo Protestant rural America against the expanding urban metropolises populated by Catholic and Jewish immigrants from southern and eastern Europe, with their alien, urban cultures and political machines. Rural and small town Anglo Protestants felt deeply threatened by this, and, more generally, by the new industrial society that cities were giving rise to. The parallels between America then and now are striking.

Rural America, lest one forget, ultimately won the big cultural battle of the era, with Congressional legislation that banned immigration from Asia and which culminated in the 1924 Johnson-Reed Act, that all but closed the door to immigration from southern and eastern Europe.

In the nightmarish event the Republicans take back Congress and then the White House in 2024, all sorts of horrible, awful things will happen, but in the domain of immigration, there will, apart from mean-spirited executive orders, be no major change from the current status quo, which is to say, there will be no Congressional legislation such as that in 1924. The threats will be elsewhere.

The TPM reader above mentioned a “strain of white evangelical arrogance.” On this, Peter Wehner—who is an evangelical and conservative himself, but anti-Trump—has an interesting and informative article in The Atlantic, “The evangelical church is breaking apart.”

Also interesting and informative is a commentary by another anti-Trump conservative evangelical, David French, “The threat from the anti-woke right,” posted on Bari Weiss’s Substack site.

Just as I was about to post this, I received, from a close family member stateside, an essay published today in Tablet by Michael Lind, “The Bush Restoration: The populist wave is receding, leaving neoliberal elites in charge of both parties and a beleaguered working class out in the cold.” My family member was upset by Lind’s essay and wonders if he is accurately describing America’s political future. I could weigh in at length on the essay, which is definitely worth the read, but will refrain for the moment, except to say that it’s typical, iconoclastic Michael Lind: he has interesting insights and is right about a number of things, but is wide of the mark on others, when not dead wrong. If others wish to comment on it, be my guest. If so, I will respond.

UPDATE: Watch the 14-minute video by the NYT’s Johnny Harris and Binyamin Appelbaum, “Blue states, you’re the problem: Why do states with Democratic majorities fail to live up to their values?”

2nd UPDATE: Thomas B. Edsall has a worthwhile discussion of the Critical Race Theory issue in his Nov. 10th NYT column, “Republicans are giddy. But Democrats aren’t helpless.”

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I’ve put American politics on the back burner over the past couple of months, with my primary attention shifting to the French presidential election campaign—already in near full swing, and with still over five months to go before the first round—and the irruption of Eric Zemmour, whose Trump-like candidacy is a near certainty. I have much to say about current events in France, which I will do in due course. As a sneak preview, this tweet expresses my general sentiment.

Sound familiar? I tuned back in to the US scene over the past couple of days, as it looked like the Republicans might score an upset in the Virginia gubernatorial race, and which has indeed come to pass. This, plus the utterly unexpected cliffhanger in New Jersey, do not auger well for next year’s midterms, to say the least. As the headline of the instant analysis of The Atlantic’s staff writers Elaine Godfrey and Russell Berman expressed it, “If Democrats can lose in Virginia, they can lose almost anywhere.” If Congress fails to pass a voting rights bill, then the Democrats are definitely fcked in ’22 and beyond (and if Manchin or Sinema sink Biden’s already stripped down domestic policy package, then they are definitively fcked). The Trumpified Republicans have shown that, by running on culture war issues, they can win without Trump—and powered by a media ecosystem that does not (and cannot) have a counterpart on the Democratic side. The imbalance is huge:

Every last pundit who writes on US politics is weighing in on yesterday’s vote and what it means for the Democrats. This instant analysis, by one of the best, is on target:

Writing in The Atlantic, Zachary D. Carter—a writer in residence at Omidyar Network—argues that “The Democratic unraveling began with schools: Republican victories in Virginia show how COVID-19 has fundamentally changed American politics.”

On the schools issue—and the fabricated issue of “critical race theory”—do read the guest post by the conservative Never Trumper David French, “The threat from the anti-woke right,” published yesterday on Bari Weiss’s Substack site.

Anti-Trump ex-Republicans are, as I’ve been saying for some time now, among the sharpest analysts of US partisan politics, e.g. this instant analysis by Tim Miller in The Bulwark, “Virginia results: Giving up on rural America is proving a nightmare for Democrats.”

The post mortem by New York magazine’s indispensable (and progressive) Eric Levitz, “The GOP got away with all of it,” is essential reading, however depressing it may be. It begins: “Things are as bad as they look.”

As for how bad things are for the Dems:

Back to The Washington Post’s indispensable Greg Sargent:

À suivre.

UPDATE: On the New Jersey truck driver mentioned in Dave Wasserman’s tweet above, who won his race, watch this.

2nd UPDATE: Data journalist G.Elliott Morris, who writes on US politics for The Economist, posted this analysis on Twitter on what he sees to be the direction US politics is headed (and which doesn’t look too good for the Democrats).

3rd UPDATE: Ryan Lizza conducts an interview in Politico (Nov. 5th) that is worth reading: “The surprising strategy behind Youngkin’s stunner: Glenn Youngkin’s top strategists Jeff Roe and Kristin Davison helped pull off one of the great upsets in modern politics. Here’s how they did it.” Conclusion: the quality of candidates matters greatly.

Among other things, the interview suggests that what the Republicans did in Virginia may be difficult to replicate in other states.

4th UPDATE: Sean Trende at Real Clear Politics, who is no leftist, tweets this (Nov. 8th): “While it is good news for Republicans that they claimed control of the Virginia House of Delegates, we shouldn’t forget that these maps were drawn to elect almost 70 Republicans. The Republican collapse in the suburbs hasn’t been reversed.”

17 October 1961 + 60

Today is the 60th anniversary of the Paris massacre of October 17, 1961, when dozens of peaceful Algerian demonstrators were murdered by the police in Paris and surrounding banlieues, and with many thousands more brutalized and tortured. It was one of the darkest days in postwar French history. According to the British historians Jim House & Neil MacMaster—authors of the most important academic book on the subject (which happens to be in English mais traduit en français)—up to two hundred unarmed Algerians were killed by the Paris police—who were at the time under the command of the notorious Prefect of Police for Paris and the inner banlieueMaurice Papon—on October 17 and in the preceding weeks, though the exact number—which could have been more—will likely never be known (for a short backgrounder, see the Twitter thread by University of Cambridge historian Arthur Asseraf; also the article by Laurel Berger in the LARB, “How to forget a massacre: What happened in Paris on October 17, 1961″). During the Algerian war and the decade the followed it, books and films on the event were subject to censorship, so what happened on the night of October 17, 1961, was hushed up and largely ignored by the French public, including the educated classes and those who were old enough to remember at the time. This situation has changed considerably over the past three decades, with the proliferation of books and films on the subject, including this first-rate feature-length film from 2005 and two documentaries released shortly after the 50th anniversary, which I discussed here at the time. Emmanuel Macron commemorated the event yesterday—though stopped short of accepting responsibility in the name of the French state for the extrajudicial killings committed by the Paris police—as did Paris mayor—and Socialist party presidential candidate—Anne Hidalgo and the current Paris prefect today.

There was naturally a march to commemorate the anniversary as well, endorsed by dozens of associations and parties, on the left or Algeria-related, i.e. the usual suspects.

I naturally attended, as did my wife and several friends. There were maybe 2 or 3,000 marchers; not a huge demo but it was spirited. Here are a few photos I took.

Militants syndiqués (union militants)
She’s the one politician I saw, though not too many want to be associated with her these days. Other politicians who attended—whom I heard about at least—were EELV presidential candidate Yannick Jadot, EELV national secretary Julien Bayou, and LFI deputy Eric Coquerel.
The majority of the marchers were older Algerians and some Gen Xers (born in Algeria). Second/third generation Millennials and Gen Zers were not in evidence.
Lots of Algerian flags. Not a single tricolore to be seen.
Lots of signs and slogans against the current Algerian regime and system. Paris activists in the Hirak movement were present in force.
Personally speaking, I have a hard time sympathizing with this niche cause.
Union Communiste (Trotskyste), more familiarly known as Lutte Ouvrière.
Ex-Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire. Historically Trotskyist but not so much anymore.

The NPA is the one party of the extreme left that has young people.

Lambertistes (current of French Trotskyism, which was significant in the 1970s and ’80s but no longer). French Trotskyists strongly supported the Algerian cause during the 1950s.
The PCF presence was smaller than one would have expected.
High profile Algerian activist—who’s been a target of the repressive arm of the Algerian state—and a really smart Franco-Algerian political scientist.
End of the march at Place du Châtelet. Singing the Qassaman with ardor.
AWAV and a good friend.

Bernard Tapie, filou

[Non-French readers who wish to know who I’m writing about, see here and here]

J’avais l’intention de faire un post R.I.P. sur lui après son décès le dimanche dernier mais, après réflexion, j’ai laissé tomber; pour quoi faire, vu qu’il n’était pas un personnage de premier plan dans l’histoire contemporaine (et était inconnu en dehors de la France)? Mais après avoir vu la pub ci-dessus, sur le boulevard Saint-Germain cet après-midi, j’ai décidé qu’il fallait dire quelque chose sur lui, et d’autant plus, compte tenu de la couverture médiatique sur sa mort (la Une de toute la presse le lundi, y compris une nécrologie de quatre pages dans Le Monde, et ne parlons pas de la télé), l’éloge posthume qu’il a reçu de toutes parts, et les quasi obsèques d’État à Marseille aujourd’hui.

Très franchement, je ne comprends pas l’importance accordée à cet homme, ou l’affection que peuvent avoir les gens pour lui, y compris—voire particulièrement—à gauche (voir, par ex., cette vidéo tweetée par deux personnages de gauche que je suis sur les réseaux). Bernard Tapie était certes un personnage intriguant et captivant lors de son irruption dans les médias dans les années 80. Quand je l’ai vu à la télé pour la première fois à l’époque, je me suis dit que, aux Etats-Unis, Tapie serait une star et avec un avenir politique s’il prenait ce chemin. Il y avait un peu de Trump dans Tapie, quoique je ne veux pas pousser trop loin la comparaison. Tapie n’était pas antipathique ni démago, réac ou raciste—il y avait une vrai adoration à son égard par les jeunes (et moins jeunes) d’origine maghrébine (qui m’a laissé perplexe)—et à la différence de Trump, il provenait des couches populaires. Et il avait des vrais amis (pas des escrocs ou fripouilles comme les fréquentations de Trump). Son pugilat avec Jean-Marie Le Pen et d’autres sorties contre le Front National étaient bien appréciés, surtout à gauche, même si on apprenait plus tard qu’il a magouillé avec Le Pen dans les coulisses.

On sait également que Tapie n’était propulsé au premier plan politique que par François Mitterrand, pendant la décadence de son deuxième mandat, et qui l’a utilisé pour couler Michel Rocard aux élections européennes de 1994. Tapie n’avait aucun bilan politique en tant que député ou ministre, et à partir de 1994, on n’entendait parler de lui que pour son train de vie d’emir du Golfe—avec du pognon qu’on ne peut pas dire qu’il a gagné grâce à la sueur de son front—et, surtout, pour ses sempiternels déboires judiciaires, comme Riss de Charlie Hebdo nous a rappelé. Tapie, en tant que hommes d’affaires, y compris footballistique, était un filou, que Thomas Legrand, qui le connaissait bien, a bien décrit. Il était un beau parleur dénué d’ethique qui ne s’intéressait que au fric (facilement gagné) et son propre promotion (voir le cinglant commentaire de Patrick Cohen là-dessus, que Jean-Louis Borloo, ami inconditionnel de Tapie, a vaillamment tenté de contrer). Mais il a quand même eu un accès privilégié aux grands médias presque jusqu’à sa mort, même s’il n’a strictement rien foutu d’intérêt public ces 25 dernières années.

Le bilan global de Tapie, et ce qu’il a représenté pour la France de notre époque, est bien analysé par Laurent Mauduit dans Mediapart, “Ce que Bernard Tapie a révélé de la République.”

Voilà, c’est tout.

9/11 + 20

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Ilhan Omar’s thoughts are mine, of course, and certainly those of all AWAV readers, regular or occasional. As I don’t have anything in particular to say on this 20th anniversary that hasn’t been said by many others, I will merely offer a few recommendations of pertinent films to watch and noteworthy articles to read, beginning with the first-rate, five-part Netflix docuseries, Turning Point: 9/11 and the War on Terror, which was completed after the August 15th fall of Kabul, so covers that calamitous event. In her review of the series, the Washington Post’s TV critic, Inkoo Kang, deems it

The most honest and exhaustive retrospective [on 9/11]… If you have the time or energy for only one TV commemoration, make it this one. Directed by Brian Knappenberger, the five-part docuseries foregrounds an unfortunate facet of 9/11 remembrance: For the country at large, that date can’t be extricated from the disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the justifications of torture by the George W. Bush administration, and the subsequent increase in surveillance and Islamophobia within the United States.

Without partisan or ideological bias, “Turning Point” provides an opportunity to look back at the blunders in the “war on terror” (especially the lead-up to the Iraq War), the atrocities at Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib, and the delusions of the Rumsfeld and Bush doctrines to make strange and outrageous once again what we’ve come to accept as normal — all while paying respect to the dead and the first responders who sacrificed their lives and their health. That de-normalizing lens, fortified by perspectives from Afghans, provides an invaluable service, recalling many of the Bush White House’s human rights scandals while reminding us that none of them were preordained. Though occasionally dry, the docuseries’ sober tone also makes for a welcome refuge from the sea of maudlin or faux-suspenseful 9/11 content elsewhere.

A good half of the series focuses on Afghanistan and the fiasco of America’s twenty-year intervention (Iraq is covered too, of course). On the incredible tragedy in Afghanistan, do read, if you haven’t already, the extraordinary report by Anand Gopal in The New Yorker (Sep. 13th issue), “The other Afghan women: In the countryside, the endless killing of civilians turned women against the occupiers who claimed to be helping them,” which has been praised by all and sundry, including MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, who thus tweeted, “I think this is one of the best pieces of journalism I have ever read.” I agree. One quote:

What’s clear is that the U.S. did not attempt to settle such divides [in Afghan society] and build durable, inclusive institutions; instead, it intervened in a civil war, supporting one side against the other. As a result, like the Soviets, the Americans effectively created two Afghanistans: one [in the countryside] mired in endless conflict, the other [in the cities] prosperous and hopeful.

Gopal’s bottom line: of all the forces that have inflicted misery on Afghanistan’s rural population, men and women alike, over the past four decades—the Soviets, the Americans and their allies, the Afghan army, the Mujahideen and their warlords, and the Taliban—the least bad were the Taliban. It was otherwise for the urban population, which naturally wanted the Americans to stay—if I were a middle-class Kabuli, I would be pro-American too, believe me—but for villagers, the Americans—with their drones and B52s (which killed upwards of 50,000 civilians), predatory warlord allies, the soldiers themselves—were a disaster. The lives of rural Afghans, and particularly men, were permanently at risk from an American drone or bomb. For those who wished for a prolonged US military engagement, there is no dancing around this reality.

And as we learn in this Sep. 10th New York Times report on the last Afghans killed by an American drone, it wasn’t just rural civilians who were at risk.

Also worth the watch is the 45-minute Sep. 6th report on the Australian ABC network, “The fall of Kabul: The last days of the war in Afghanistan.” President Biden is spared no quarter for the manner in which the withdrawal was executed but it is clear that the real culprit is Trump and the February 2020 Doha agreement he concluded with the Taliban. As Afghanistan IR specialist William Maley asserted, the Doha deal was the “worst single exercise in diplomacy since the Munich agreement of 1938…a catastrophic error of diplomacy” that “gave the Taliban everything they really wanted.” This was the agreement Biden inherited and it is hard to see what he could have done to change it—without committing the US to a veritable forever war.

One can hardly discuss the legacy of 9/11 without mentioning the massive corruption the trillion $$$ wars engendered, not only in Afghanistan and Iraq but, above all, in the United States itself. For recent sources on this, see Sarah Chayes’ Sep. 3rd article in Foreign Affairs, “Afghanistan’s corruption was made in America: How self-dealing elites failed in both countries,” and Isaac Stanley-Becker’s report in The Washington Post (Sep. 4th) on how US military generals, notably Stanley McChrystal (incarnated by Brad Pitt in the Netflix movie ‘War Machine’), cashed in big time after their service in Afghanistan.

And then there’s Guantánamo. And torture. On this sinister legacy of 9/11, I will simply recommend the salutary Hollywood movie The Mauritanian (in France: Désigné coupable), on the story of Mohamedou Ould Salahi, which is reviewed in The Conversation by UC-Santa Barbara sociology professor Lisa Hajjar, “‘The Mauritanian’ rekindles debate over Gitmo detainees’ torture – with 40 still held there,” who will soon be publishing a savant book on the general topic.

Closer to the homeland is a lengthy article by Jennifer Senior in the September issue of The Atlantic, “What Bobby McIlvaine left behind: Grief, conspiracy theories, and one family’s search for meaning in the two decades since 9/11.” I was prompted to read it while in the US last month, after seeing Anne Applebaum’s tweet, which enjoined her followers to “Drop what you are doing and read this.” So I picked up the issue off the coffee table and executed Ms. Applebaum’s directive. My 90-year-old mother likewise found the piece sufficiently compelling to read to the end.

UPDATE: On Jennifer Senior’s article in The Atlantic, film director Ava DuVernay tweeted

This long-read by @JenSeniorNY stayed with me. It’s about the ripples that each of our lives makes on other lives. In this case, the focus is a bright young man lost on 9/11 and the waves of pain and misunderstanding, but also purpose for those left behind.

To which Oprah Winfrey replied

Yes I read this. Found it striking. And haunting. What happens in just one family.

2nd UPDATE: Michelle Goldberg’s terrific Sep. 9th NYT column, “How 9/11 turned America into a half-crazed, fading power,” is a must-read.

3rd UPDATE: Fintan O’Toole’s review essay in the NYRB (Oct. 7th issue), “The lie of nation building,” is a tour de force. The lede: “From the very beginning, the problem with the US involvement in Afghanistan lay essentially in the deficits in American democracy.”

The debacle in Afghanistan

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I can hardly differ from my friend Stathis, whose sentiments here are mine. Along with countless millions—including at least half of those I follow on Twitter and Facebook—I have been riveted to the breaking news from Afghanistan over the past ten days, and particularly this past weekend, not to mention stunned and so deeply saddened by the spectacle. One thing I am not going to do, however, is play the Washington/media pundit blame game as to Who Lost Afghanistan. Biden is going to take the hit, as he should, for the calamitous manner in which the US withdrawal was executed—with the prospect of tens of thousands of Afghans who collaborated with the Americans over the years being stranded and at the mercy of the Taliban—but the larger calamity of Afghanistan and the US role there is not on him, and while Afghanistan may be, for part of elite opinion, an indelible stain on his record, it is doubtful that it will affect his job approval rating—not after his forceful statement on Monday—or the Democrats’ electoral prospects in 2022, for the simple reason that the larger American public just doesn’t care about Afghanistan.

The editor-in-chief of Rolling Stone gets it right:

As for the impact of Afghanistan on US “credibility,” the smart political scientist Marc Lynch thus tweets:

The fall of Kabul and ignominious end to the US presence is naturally being compared to Saigon 1975. On this, the brilliant young historian (notably of modern Algeria), Andrew Bellisari, who teaches at Fulbright University Vietnam, posted a commentary on his Facebook page on Sunday, which I am taking the liberty of copying-and-pasting: 

A lot of comparisons to Vietnam will be made today. They’ve been made since the beginning of our involvement in Afghanistan. They’ll continue for a long time after. Vietnam comparisons are inevitable. They’re everyone’s favorite because “Vietnam” still remains the most evocative shorthand for tragedy and misadventure we have in our journalistic lexicon.

As we see images of Chinooks taking off from the roof of the US embassy in Kabul it’s hard not to make the direct link to Saigon. But the real tragedy is that our handling of Afghanistan is far worse than what occurred in April 1975. In Vietnam, we negotiated a ceasefire and troop withdrawal with the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in 1973 that held for two years. When the DRV began its Spring Offensive in March 1975, the People’s Army of Vietnam mobilized 270,000 troops and more than 300 tanks against the 1 million man Army of the Republic of Vietnam. As stunning at the RVN’s disintegration was, at least it occurred between the military forces of two well-equipped sovereign nations.

When North Vietnamese tanks carrying the flags of the southern revolutionary National Liberation Front rolled through the gates of the Dinh Độc Lập , Communist forces were barely two hours behind the last Marine helicopter out of the city. The fear and uncertainty that many South Vietnamese felt in the face of their city’s “liberation” was real. Acts of revenge did take place. Government employees and those who had worked with Americans were rounded up, certain families were blacklisted and relocated to “special economic zones” in undesirable parts of the countryside. “Re-education” (an imperfect translation of “học tập cải tạo“) took place at varying degrees of intensity as Communist forces struggled to win over “reactionary” elements and cement their authority, often in the face of small acts of protest and sabotage. Some were in camps for a few weeks of pro-forma political lessons. Others were held for years.

But the DRV and the Provisional Revolutionary Government had come to integrate the RVN into a unified nation under Communist rule. Proving they could rule competently and winning over the people was their most important goal. No massive violent retribution took place. There was no bloodbath. 20 years after the capture of Saigon, the US and Vietnam normalized diplomatic relations. I am a professor of history at a liberal arts college in Ho Chi Minh City.

The Taliban is not the Vietnamese Communist Party. With pickup trucks and Kalashnikovs they steamrolled the Afghan National Army and entered Kabul as US forces were caught off guard, scrambling to leave and get their Afghan allies out. Unlike in Vietnam, no serious effort to negotiate anything with the Taliban was ever attempted. Nor did we attempt to enforce whatever terms were agreed to. What we were hoping for was that the Taliban would hold off until we were out and then move in, precisely so we could avoid the Vietnamese comparison and save face. Meanwhile, we’d watch Afghanistan crumble at a distance. Now we get to watch in real time as 20 years of desultory interventionist liberalism implodes. Unlike in Vietnam, there may very well be a violent coda to Kabul’s capture. Perhaps not right away. Perhaps out of sight just a bit. But the Taliban will try to recreate the state it established in the 1990s. And those Afghans who we convinced to believe in the promises we made will suffer the most. In Afghanistan, the liberal arts college that the US constructed will be shuttered.

So make all the Vietnam comparisons you want. Post the side-by-side pictures of helicopters leaving. We get it: “history is repeating itself.” Wink, wink. But it’s not. It is a new tragedy rooted in lessons forgotten and ignored. But Kabul 2021 is not Saigon 1975. It’s worse. And it’s worse all the more for the brief interlude during which we convinced ourselves it wouldn’t be. Remember that next time.

Could America’s Afghanistan fiasco have been avoided? In a rather hyperbolically titled post in The Cosmopolitan Globalist substack site—edited by my good friend Claire Berlinski—”Biden betrays Afghanistan—and the world,” former airborne sergeant Michael Fumento, who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, insists that the US could have thwarted a Taliban conquest with an open-ended force presence of several thousand troops—necessitating a formal denunciation of Trump’s 2020 Doha agreement, which Fumento asserts would have been justified—and with the US backing up the Afghan National Army with air power. The stalemate would have presumably lasted indefinitely, with US forces sustaining losses that Fumento deems acceptable (he suggests that the US should have done likewise in Vietnam after 1973).

WADR, in view of how quickly the Afghan army and state collapsed—simply vanished—it is delusional to think that a residual US military presence—for which there was no political support outside the Beltway—could have changed a thing apart from delaying the inevitable. The futility of the US/Western military engagement in Afghanistan was manifest to anyone who read nothing on the subject but merely watched the feature-length films on the Afghan war that came out over the past decade, which I wrote about in April.

But if one is to read just one article on the subject, let it be Anatol Lieven’s in Politico (Aug. 16), “Why Afghan forces so quickly laid down their arms: Opposing Afghan factions have long negotiated arrangements to stop fighting—something the U.S. either failed to understand or chose to ignore.”

If one wishes to read more articles, see, e.g., “How the good war went bad: America’s slow-motion failure in Afghanistan,” by Carter Malkasian in Foreign Affairs (March/April 2020); and “Afghan security forces’ wholesale collapse was years in the making,” by Craig Whitlock in The Washington Post (Aug. 16).

N.B. Whitlock is the author of WaPo’s “The Afghanistan Papers: A secret history of the war,” published in Dec. 2019. The lede: “At war with the truth: U.S. officials constantly said they were making progress. They were not, and they knew it, an exclusive Post investigation found.” It begins:

A confidential trove of government documents obtained by The Washington Post reveals that senior U.S. officials failed to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan throughout the 18-year campaign, making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable.

Going back a decade and some is a piece in Armed Forces Journal (Oct. 1, 2010) by Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis, “War on the brink of failure: 7 obstacles stand in the way of success in Afghanistan.” The lede: “Absent a major change in the status quo that currently dominates in Afghanistan, the U.S.-led military effort there will fail to accomplish the president’s objectives and, despite our best effort to spin it otherwise, we will lose the war in Afghanistan.”

There was, needless to say, no major change in the status quo. On this, Davis, now a civilian, posted a commentary four days ago on a website called 19FortyFive, “Why Afghanistan is falling to the Taliban so fast.”

And then there’s this:

Peter Galbraith posted the following on Facebook four days ago:

I watch the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan with disbelief and horror. I first visited the country with the mujahideen on February 14, 1989—the day the Soviets withdrew—and served there as Deputy Head of the UN mission in 2009. So much went wrong but here is my very partial list of those most responsible for the fiasco.

1. The Afghan political and military leaders who were more interested in staying in power than doing anything while in office except for stealing as much as they could.

2. The US government which pumped so much money into Afghanistan that there was a lot to steal and it was easily stolen.

3. Hamid Karzai—Afghanistan’s first president was corrupt, ineffective, weird, and—after the massive fraud that accompanied his reelection, illegitimate. In 2009, he organized the fraud that got him a second term. That enabled him and his cronies to steal everything else.

4. Ban ki-Moon, the UN Secretary General who tolerated the massive fraud in the UN sponsored (and paid for) Afghanistan 2009 presidential elections. This undermined Obama’s surge which may have been the last chance to get it right.

5. David Petraeus, the other US military commanders and the so called strategic thinkers who all declared the Afghanistan War to be a counter-insurgency and also stated that successful counter-insurgencies require a local partner. They then pretended the corrupt Afghan government was a real partner when they knew it wasn’t.

6. USAID which built roads intended to raise rural incomes by getting farm products to market but actually enabled corrupt police to shakedown farmers. This won the Taliban new supporters and the new roads gave the Taliban speedy access to previously defensible areas like the Panjshir Valley (which neither the Soviets or the pre 2001 Taliban ever took).

7. Ashraf Ghani, Afghanistan second president, who was a victim of Karzai’s fraud in the 2009 presidential elections and willingly took office—twice—thanks to massive electoral fraud. Ashraf is personally honest but when you come into office thanks to a stolen election, it is hard to crack down on the corrupt power brokers who got you there.

8. The US and UN architects of Afghanistan’s highly centralized constitution that was utterly inappropriate for a country that is as ethnically and geographically diverse as Afghanistan. Not only did the Constitution concentrate all power in Kabul at the expense of the provinces and districts but it also gave all power within Kabul to a Pashtun president as opposed to sharing power with an ethnically diverse parliament.

The rapid collapse follows a surrender agreement negotiated by Donald Trump and implemented by the Biden Administration. There is no reason to think the outcome would be any different if the US took another ten years to withdraw.

A comment by a former French ambassador to Washington (2014-19):

For more on the failed state in Afghanistan, see two remarkable, lengthy articles in The New Yorker—long form journalism at its best—from which I learned a lot: In the July 4, 2016 issue, by George Packer, “Afghanistan’s Theorist-in-Chief: President Ashraf Ghani is an expert on failed states. Can he save his country from collapse?” (response five years later: no); and in the March 8, 2021 issue, by Dexter Filkins, “Last Exit from Afghanistan: Will peace talks with the Taliban and the prospect of an American withdrawal create a breakthrough or a collapse?” (response: a collapse; also see/listen to the interview with Filkins on NPR’s Fresh Air).

Also this:

As for what happens now, of how the Taliban are going to rule, there is every reason to fear the worst. E.g. two Afghanistan specialists I esteem, Ahmed Rashid and Gilles Dorronsoro, assert that the Taliban has not fundamentally changed over the past two decades, and is, moreover, still in cahoots with Al-Qaida. But other esteemed specialists differ, e.g. Olivier Roy, who, in an interview (Aug. 16) in Ouest France, “‘On a sous-estimé la stratégie des talibans’,” argues that Taliban 2.0 has indeed evolved since it was ousted in 2001.

And then there’s the NYT guest essay (Aug. 17) by Ashley Jackson, co-director of the Center for the Study of Armed Groups at the Overseas Development Institute, “How will the Taliban rule? Here’s the early evidence.”

Finally, do take four minutes of your time to read this:


UPDATE: Roane Carey, former managing editor of The Nation and friend, tells me that if one is looking to read just one book on post-2001 Afghanistan, to figure out what has happened there and why, it should be Anand Gopal’s No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War through Afghan Eyes (Metropolitan Books, 2014).

2nd UPDATE: This is useful.

3rd UPDATE: Sarah Chayes, who knows her subject better than just about any non-Afghan, has one of the best pieces one will read on Afghanistan, “The Ides of August,” on her website. I particularly like this passage:

And what did we [America] stand for? What flourished on our watch? Cronyism, rampant corruption, a Ponzi scheme disguised as a banking system, designed by U.S. finance specialists during the very years that other U.S. finance specialists were incubating the crash of 2008. A government system where billionaires get to write the rules.

Is that American democracy?


4th UPDATE: An article by CPW Gammell in Prospect magazine: “Herat is the cultural heart of Afghanistan. Can it survive the Taliban? A city of poets and artists, Herat once challenged Florence for splendour. In defiance of the Taliban, Heratis have tried to keep that spirit alive.”

5th UPDATE: Pakistani/American lawyer/author Rafia Zakaria has a provocative piece (Aug. 19) in Literary Hub, “How the War on Terror became America’s first ‘feminist’ war,” which is excerpted from her new, provocatively-titled book, Against White Feminism.

6th UPDATE: Ryan C. Crocker, former US ambassador to Pakistan (2004-07) and Afghanistan (2011-12), has a guest essay in the NYT (Aug. 21), “Why Biden’s lack of strategic patience led to disaster,” in which he argues—as does Michael Fumento above, though in a more measured tone—that the US could have maintained an open-ended military presence in Afghanistan.

One sympathizes with Crocker’s sentiments but political scientist Rajan Menon lays waste to such illusions in an excellent analysis (Aug. 20) posted on the Quincy Institute’s Responsible Statecraft blog, “Why it’s wrong to blame Biden for the Afghanistan debacle: Washington elites are rightly horrified by the Taliban’s swift takeover, but more troops and more time wouldn’t have made a difference.”

7th UPDATE: Two Afghanistan-themed films seen on Netflix since posting. One is David Michôd’s 2017 War Machine, based on the late journalist Michael Hastings’ 2011 best-seller The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America’s War in Afghanistan, and with the impeccably cast Brad Pitt’s character rather obviously inspired by Gen. Stanley McChrystal. It’s a mordant satire/black comedy, set in 2009-10, on the delusions and general absurdity of the US military, and, pace Ryan Crocker, of the utter futility of the US’ “nation-building” efforts in Afghanistan. Reviews were mixed, which I find puzzling—and totally disagree with—as it’s a very good film, with a sophisticated screenplay and well-drawn characters, and is spot-on in its critique (and which is particularly pertinent today). It was also notably shot in the United Arab Emirates, which I believe is a first for such a sizable-budget film. The Moviefone website justly says that ‘War Machine’ “might be the most wicked, funniest, and wackiest wartime satire since Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Dr. Strangelove.’ (Yes, it’s really that good).” [UPDATE Aug. 27: Matt Stoller has a great discussion/review of ‘War Machine’ on his Substack site, “The war in Afghanistan is what happens when McKinsey types run everything.”]

The other film is Rod Lurie’s 2020 The Outpost, based on Jake Tapper’s 2012 best-seller (of course) The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor (reviewed here in Small Wars Journal), of a US army base camp in Nuristan province that was incomprehensibly located in a valley surrounded by steep mountains and swarming with Taliban fighters, and who launched an all-out assault on the camp in October 2009 (the film was shot in Bulgaria, where one apparently finds the appropriately rugged terrain). It’s a more classic war movie and which was generally well-reviewed. The ultimate battle scene is very well-done, as is the depiction of the soldiers’ band-of-brothers camaraderie. And the interactions of the latter with the local villagers—in which there is a manifest failure to communicate—underscores, perhaps unwittingly, the futility of the American enterprise in Afghanistan.

8th UPDATE: The NYT’s Alissa J. Rubin has a devastating, mind-boggling, must-read report (Aug. 23), “Did the war in Afghanistan have to happen? In 2001, when the Taliban were weak and ready to surrender, the U.S. passed on a deal. Nearly 20 years later, the Taliban hold all the cards.” Money quote:

It was in the waning days of November 2001 that Taliban leaders began to reach out to Hamid Karzai, who would soon become the interim president of Afghanistan: They wanted to make a deal.

“The Taliban were completely defeated, they had no demands, except amnesty,” recalled Barnett Rubin, who worked with the United Nations’ political team in Afghanistan at the time.

Messengers shuttled back and forth between Mr. Karzai and the headquarters of the Taliban leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, in Kandahar. Mr. Karzai envisioned a Taliban surrender that would keep the militants from playing any significant role in the country’s future.

But Washington, confident that the Taliban would be wiped out forever, was in no mood for a deal.

“The United States is not inclined to negotiate surrenders,” Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld said in a news conference at the time, adding that the Americans had no interest in leaving Mullah Omar to live out his days anywhere in Afghanistan. The United States wanted him captured or dead.

Almost 20 years later, the United States did negotiate a deal to end the Afghan war, but the balance of power was entirely different by then — it favored the Taliban.

On the Doha negotiations:

“When I heard the U.S. were going to meet in Doha with the Taliban and without the Afghan government, I said, ‘That’s not a peace negotiation, those are surrender talks,’” said Ryan Crocker, a former ambassador to Afghanistan.

“So, now the talks were all about us retreating without the Taliban shooting at us as we went,” Mr. Crocker added, “and we got nothing in return.”

The deal the Trump administration struck did not enshrine rights for women, nor guarantee that any of the gains the United States had spent so many years, and lives, trying to instill would be preserved. Nor did it keep the Taliban from an all-out military push to take over the country.

It was not even a peace deal. Instead, it extracted a somewhat vague promise by the Taliban to prevent future attacks against the United States and its allies. And even that language was contested: In the agreement, the Taliban refused to accept the word “terrorist” to describe Al Qaeda.

N.B. Obama and Biden bear their share of responsibility for the Afghanistan fiasco but the Bush-Cheney administration and Trump bear far more.

Jeet Heer has an on-target post (Aug. 23) on his Substack site skewering the POVs of people like Ryan Crocker, “Lies about Afghanistan: Joe Biden’s critics in the national security establishment are pretending that the status quo is easily sustainable. That’s absurd.”

9th UPDATE: In the interests of fairness and balance, see the hard-hitting indictment (Aug. 16) of the US action by Pakistani/American columnist Mohammed Taqi in the Indian webzine The Wire, “Biden’s Afghanistan blunder will come back to haunt the US and its allies: Whatever else might be the consequences of the US debacle, Biden has virtually thrown Afghans to the wolves.”

Also take 7-minutes to listen to the anguished testimony of Pulitzer Prize-winning Afghan photo journalist Massoud Hossaini in Mediapart (Aug. 20, in English), who made it out of Kabul—to Turkey, then the Netherlands—in the nick of time.

NPR’s 1A program had a segment this morning (Aug. 24), “Afghan women on what’s at stake for women in Afghanistan,” that is worth the 47-minute listen time.

10th UPDATE: Linking to an NYT guest essay by Afghan national army commander General Sami Sadat—in which he asserts that the withdrawal of US military contractors was one of the factors causing the collapse of the ANA—Anne Applebaum poses this pertinent question:

A particularly delusional argument that the Taliban could have been indefinitely held at bay with 2,500 US troops remaining and US air power and contractors backing up the ANA’s elite units is advanced with insistence by retired US army Lt. Col. Brad Taylor in the National Review (Aug. 25), “The day Afghanistan died,” and where he makes the ridiculous analogy with the US in South Korea.

Ivo Daalder puts paid to this notion in a brief Twitter thread.

Shadi Hamid’s latest piece (Aug. 23) in The Atlantic, “Americans never understood Afghanistan like the Taliban did: In the end, few Afghans believed in a central government that they never felt was theirs,” is worth the read.

11th UPDATE: Ezra Klein settles the matter in an excellent column in the NYT (Aug. 26), “Let’s not pretend that the way we withdrew from Afghanistan was the problem.”

12th UPDATE: Onetime “neocon” Robert Kagan, who’s always interesting to read, has an essay in The Washington Post (Aug. 26), “It wasn’t hubris that drove America into Afghanistan. It was fear.” He manages not to mention the Iraq war once, but we’ll give him a pass on that.

Thomas Meaney, presently a fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity in Göttingen—and who writes excellently on a whole range of subjects—has a piece on the war in Afghanistan (Aug. 27) in the London Review of Books, which begins with a series of remarkable quotes and ends with this:

And, just as before, the women and girls of Afghanistan are foremost among the war lobby’s playing chips. They face violence from every quarter and their weaponisation by the West – as a post-hoc justification for invasion and now as an argument for continued occupation – only exposes how irrelevant the long-term future of Afghan women has been to the US project. The improvements in their health and education under the US occupation – as under the Soviet one – are incontrovertible. But to cheer on such progress in a Potemkin state is to lead people to the slaughter. There is talk of an effort on a par with that performed after the collapse of Saigon in 1975 to shelter refugees in coalition countries. But an exodus has been going on for years, and today taking in refugees isn’t the symbol of Western largesse that it was in the 1970s. ‘A simple way to take measure of a country,’ Tony Blair once said, ‘is to look at how many want in … and how many want out.’ That verdict came some time ago in Afghanistan.

13th UPDATE: Ashley Jackson, who is linked to above, enumerates “Five myths about the Taliban” in The Washington Post (Aug. 27). The myths are:

1. Pakistan controls the Taliban.
2. The Taliban fragments easily.
3. The Taliban has a plan for running Afghanistan.
4. The Taliban will bring back al-Qaeda.
5. The Taliban doesn’t reflect Afghanistan’s diversity.

In regard to myths 3 and 4, France’s two top specialists of Afghanistan, Gilles Dorronsoro and Adam Baczko, have a noteworthy tribune in Le Monde (Aug. 25), “‘Le mouvement taliban est paradoxalement dans une situation de faiblesse, le moment est propice pour négocier avec lui’: Dans une mesure limitée mais réelle, l’évolution du nouveau régime en Afghanistan dépendra de notre attitude à son égard.”

14th UPDATE: An exceptional report in The Washington Post (Aug. 28) on the fall of Kabul: “Surprise, panic and fateful choices: The day America lost its longest war.”

And do not miss the essay by Kevin Baker in Politico Magazine (Aug. 28): “The old cliché about Afghanistan that won’t die: ‘Graveyard of Empires’ is an old epitaph that doesn’t reflect historical reality — or the real victims of foreign invasions over the centuries.”

15th UPDATE: Another terrific article by Anatol Lieven, this in Prospect magazine (Aug. 27): “Nemesis: Why the west was doomed to lose in Afghanistan: And why it could be doomed for good—unless we learn from this catastrophic occupation unmoored from reality.”

America: not one nation

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

The New York Times has an article today reminding us that America’s 250th birthday is coming up in five years, and that the battles over the narratives of America’s founding are certain to be fierce. On this 245th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, there’s not a lot to feel good about in regard to the state of the American nation IMO. If one has not yet seen it, please take 40 minutes to watch the NYT’s exceptional, gut-punching video investigation, “Inside the Capitol riot,” in which “The Times analyzed thousands of videos from the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol Building to understand how it happened—and why.” We’ve all seen videos of the event but this one is on another level. To watch the enraged, fanaticized, and very determined lynch mob—and yes, it was a lynch mob—of regular, ordinary middle-aged American men—white of course, and with the vast majority indeed men—storming the Capitol is quite terrifying, reminding us once again that we came thisclose to catastrophe on that Wednesday in January, but also as the mob did not issue from a small minority of American society. This was the Republican Party base, constituting a good third of the American electorate. And the January 6th mob was not an American equivalent of the French Gilets Jaunes, of hard-working middle aged persons barely getting by, and whose rage was economically driven. As we know, the Republican/Trump base is, income-wise, solidly middle class—they are not les damnés de la terre—and the wellsprings of their rage are cultural insecurity and status anxiety, and whose target is not the political/economic ruling class (as it was for the Gilets Jaunes) but a good half of American society—of those Americans who form the base of the Democratic Party.

À propos, see the article in the American Political Science Review, “Activating Animus: The Uniquely Social Roots of Trump Support,” by Lilliana Mason (Johns Hopkins University), Julie Wronski (University of Mississippi), and John V. Kane (NYU), published online on June 30, 2021.

The January 6th mob is the face of American fascism—and which may well come to power in 2022/24, in view of the anti-majoritarianism of the American electoral system, anti-democratic flaws—possibly fatal—in the institutional architecture of the US government as elaborated in the constitution, voter suppression laws being enacted at the state level, and the simple fact that the Republican Party itself—its elected officials and representatives—is increasingly resembling that January 6th mob. It is not totally out of the question that Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar could rise to leadership positions in the House of Representatives in the coming years. If such were to come to pass, I’m not sure what could be done about it.

Watching the NYT’s January 6th video and observing the reaction of the Congressional Republicans to it after the fact confirms, pour moi au moins, that the United States of America is not one nation and, for most of its history, has never been. To the Civil War it was two nations, the North and the South, which I wrote on in my post on the 1619 Project two years ago. There was an attempt to forge one nation after 1865 but with the failure of Reconstruction—and the effective posthumous victory of the South—that myth could only be sustained by the exclusion of the former slaves and their descendants, along with other persons of color, from the rights of citizenship, and thus the American nation. With the civil rights movement and consequent legislation of the 1960s, there was a serious effort to make America one nation but with the rise of the right wing of the Republican Party—of the party’s Southernization—and which culminated in Trump and January 6th, it has clearly not worked out. Defining a nation in the Renanian sense—of a generally shared national narrative and the will to live together—this simply does not obtain in the United States of America today. Personally speaking—and I know I speak for so many others on this—I feel no national affinity whatever with that part of America that stormed the Capitol on January 6th. And vice-versa. Not only do I find them alien but see them as the enemy. And vice-versa. But whereas I deeply fear the consequences—for the country, the world, and even myself—if they return to power, and with a vengeance, they have nothing to fear from the likes of me and the party I vote for. Nuance.

The always interesting Rick Perlstein has a cover story in the July 5th issue of New York magazine, “The Long Authoritarian History of the Capitol Riot,” in which he discusses the right-wing MAGA world cult of outsized motor vehicles, which are not merely means of transportation but expressions of virility and vehicular domination—and are transformed into weapons to intimidate (e.g. the practice of “rolling coal”) and even kill people. Money quote:

What Democrats have been slow to understand is that this is an insurgency against democracy with parliamentary and paramilitary wings. The parliamentary wing is represented by [Kevin] McCarthy and others who have voted to overturn a free and fair election as well as lawmakers who have passed or proposed laws in nine state legislatures since the 2020 election shielding drivers from liability if they plow vehicles into protesters. These abet the work of the paramilitary wing’s latest tactical innovation: vehicular assault. Everyone knows about the 20-year-old Nazi sympathizer who killed Heather Heyer by driving his Dodge Challenger into a crowd of counter-protesters at the white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 — the incident was a national outrage. A near-identical event this past month — a white man accelerated his Jeep into a crowd protesting a police shooting in Minneapolis, killing a mother of two — received far less attention. A University of Chicago researcher tracked 72 such attacks, in 52 separate cities, in a six-week period in 2020 alone.

The violent menace displayed at the Capitol riot, in Trump’s anti-immigrant fantasies, and in these vehicular attacks has been coded into conservative politics for a long time. In 2003, right-wingers won a demagogic campaign to recall California governor Gray Davis less than a year after his reelection. The campaign was driven by frantic claims on talk radio that Davis wanted to grant undocumented immigrants driver’s licenses. The candidate who won the election to replace him was best known for starring in films in which he clocked body counts in the dozens. He was also the first prominent civilian to bring the military-grade SUV known as the Hummer to American streets and, in 1992, had even persuaded its manufacturer to sell them on the mass market so anxious Americans could purchase vehicles that looked just like the ones the military used to patrol riot zones in Los Angeles that year. Arnold Schwarzenegger helped inaugurate the phenomenon of cars as bodily threats.

Rush Limbaugh was another conservative who loved big cars. He was downright reverential toward giant SUVs and their power to dominate the “little cracker boxes” liberals allegedly wanted all of us to drive in order to “make everybody equally at risk for injury on the road because it’s simply unfair.” He added, “There’s a bias against SUVs. They’re killers by virtue of their very existence.”

Pickup trucks, which used to have gently rounded corners and were advertised with communitarian images worthy of an Amish barn-raising, are now bulldozers with cliff faces at the front end that guarantee a child on a bicycle or a snowflake in a Prius can’t even be seen, let alone avoided; painted black with tinted windows and a “Punisher” decal on the back, it’s Trumpism with a ten-cylinder engine.

On the right-wing MAGA world cult of virility—common to all fascist movements, though which extends well beyond this in America—Jeet Heer, writing on the occasion of Donald Rumsfeld’s death, has a must-read post (July 3rd) on his Substack site, “The forgotten history of ‘Rumsfeld the Stud’: The consequences of the media, both mainstream and rightwing, praising Donald Rumsfeld as a sex god.”

An equally must-read piece is the well-known UC-Berkeley economist J. Bradford DeLong’s spot-on commentary in Project Syndicate (June 30th) on “MAGA Maoism.” The lede: “What could possess one of America’s two main political parties to transform itself into a cult of personality in which obsequiousness trumps merit? An examination of the Communist Party of China during Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution suggests some striking parallels.”

For those wondering how a fascistic phenomenon can be compared to a communist one, this is one of those instances when the political extremes do indeed meet.

In the meantime, for those stateside, do enjoy your 4th of July.

UPDATE: On Paul Gosar, whose name I mentioned above, see the NYT article (July 5th), “Far-right extremist finds an ally in an Arizona congressman: Representative Paul Gosar’s association with the white nationalist Nick Fuentes is the most vivid example of the Republican Party’s growing acceptance of extremism.”

See likewise Thomas B. Edsall’s important guest essay (July 7th), “Trump’s cult of animosity shows no sign of letting up,” the subject of which is the “‘schadenfreude’ electorate — voters who take pleasure in making the opposition suffer — that continues to dominate the Republican Party, even in the aftermath of the Trump presidency.”

2nd UPDATE: A Washington Post op-ed to read (July 9th), by New School professor of history Federico Finchelstein: “Donald Trump has blurred the line between populism and fascism in a dangerous way.” The lede: “Populists traditionally abided by electoral results, while fascists scorned the will of the majority. Trump has changed that.”

3rd UPDATE: And this important piece in The Atlantic (July 9th), by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, both of the government department at Harvard: “The biggest threat to democracy is the GOP stealing the next election: Unless and until the Republican Party recommits itself to playing by democratic rules of the game, American democracy will remain at risk.”

[update below]

Second rounds of French elections often bring surprises, or results that were not predicted by otherwise alert observers. Such was not the case on Sunday, excepting perhaps the landslide margin of Renaud Muselier’s victory over Thierry Mariani in the PACA. And with the turnout rate increasing by a mere one point, to 34.3%, there was no sursaut of 1st round abstentionists deciding to exercise their civic duty and flock to the polls (as happened, e.g., in 2015). Pundits and politicos have continued to wring their hands over this crisis of democracy and propose various gimmicks to boost turnout—or which they think will achieve this—notably voting by Internet and allowing for absentee ballots, though French election rules and procedures work perfectly well as they are and, apart from simplifying the demarche for proxy voting (vote par procuration) and modifying the deadline for changing one’s registration address, require no changes. Having been an assesseur in a bureau de vote in some 25 election rounds over the past fourteen years, including these last two, I know of what I speak on this.

A good analysis of the mass indifference toward the election was offered by sociologist Albert Ogien in a tribune in yesterday’s Libération, “Régionales: le crépuscule des partis,” in which he underscored the thorough domination of political life in France by an omnipresent and omnipotent head of state—Emmanuel Macron—a state bureaucracy that is incapable of ceding any of its power or decision-making authority, and partisan political apparatuses whose singular obsession is preparing for and waging the campaign for the next presidential election. In such a climate, why, Ogien rhetorically asks, would most voters care a whit about an election to relatively powerless bodies composed of representatives little known to even those who follow politics closely, not to mention the larger public? As mentioned in last week’s post and by Ogien here, regional and departmental councils in France are dwarfs compared to their equivalents in Germany, Italy, Spain, Belgium, and the UK, among other European countries, in terms of their powers, budgets, and impact their decisions have on the voters they represent. Talking to an educated, professional under-30 member of my family yesterday, she said she had no idea what the Conseil Régional is or does. I am quite sure that it is likewise for the quasi totality of those she knows. And given the decline in partisan political activism—which has never been high in France to begin with; seriously, how people here personally know a card-carrying party militant?—the changing, technology-driven ways in which people inform themselves about public affairs (if/when they do), and the disappearance of electoral posters that used to plaster the walls of French cities and towns (which are now only seen on dedicated signposts in front of polling stations), it is hardly surprising that millions of citizens may only be dimly aware that a low stakes election is even happening.

And then there are the 13 new mega regions created from the previous 22, thanks to François Hollande’s cockamamie 2015 territorial reform, that only a committee of Parisian haut fonctionnaire énarques could concoct. The failings of the mega regions are well-expressed in a tribune (h/t Guillaume Duval) by Fabien Granier, a writer based in deepest rural France, in the online Reporterre: le quotidien de l’écologie, the thrust of which is summed up in the lede: “L’abstention record du premier tour des régionales révèle une catastrophe institutionnelle, selon l’auteur de cette tribune. Pourquoi voter pour des institutions auxquelles les citoyens n’ont plus accès depuis la nouvelle organisation du territoire en pôles régionaux?” Money quote:

Vers 2005, quand je suis arrivé dans le Bocage bourbonnais, au nord-ouest de l’Allier, il y avait une gare à sept minutes de chez moi, des médecins, des écoles… En plus de ses compétences obligatoires, notre département finançait des permis de conduire aux jeunes, soutenait les installations et pouvait se targuer d’une vraie politique culturelle. Notre capitale de Région, c’était Clermont-Ferrand, à une heure de chez nous. On avait un problème du ressort d’une de ces collectivités: on prenait rendez-vous et on y allait. On connaissait nos conseillers, on pouvait même les voir et les contacter. C’était pas dingue, le pays tournait déjà plutôt carré autour de ses archaïsmes jacobins, mais, au moins, on n’était pas abandonnés.

Quinze ans plus tard: plus d’interlocuteurs, plus de médecins, plus de trains, des écoles qui ferment, des mairies et un département à peine en mesure de couvrir leurs frais obligatoires (salaires, frais de gestion courante, etc.). Ajoutez à ça la disparition quasi complète des services anciennement dévolus aux sous-préfectures (cartes grises, associations, etc.), et peut-être alors commencerez-vous à comprendre pourquoi plus personne ne se rend aux urnes. Pourquoi voter pour des institutions auxquelles nous n’avons plus accès?

On Sunday’s results, see the spot-on instant analyses (in English) by John Lichfield in The Local and Arthur Goldhammer in Tocqueville 21. As for my take, here are a few brief comments on the four political blocs, moving from right to left.

Rassemblement National: That Marine Le Pen and the ex-Front National were big losers—winning not a single region and outright losing departmental council seats, netting a mere 28 (of 4,108)—is one of the big stories of the election. The RN’s calamitous scores do indeed cloud the picture for Marine LP next year, though one recalls the FN’s biting the dust in the 1999 European elections, which looked to be the end of the FN as a factor in French politics, only to be followed in the presidential three years later by Jean-Marie Le Pen’s stunning second place finish. And then there was JMLP’s distant fourth place finish in the 2007 presidential, with Nicolas Sarkozy siphoning off a significant number of his voters, and which I thought at the time signaled the end of the road for JMLP and his party. So much for that prediction. And the fact is, a disproportionate number of abstentionists in this present election were MLP/RN voters, most of whom are likely to cast a ballot next April. This said, one wonders how MLP can possibly hope to win a presidential election—in which all of France votes—when her party can not only not win the regional council in the PACA—the part of France where it is the strongest—but gets buried in a landslide to boot. And likewise in the RN’s next strongest region, the Hauts-de-France, where it was crushed by an even bigger landslide. MLP does indeed appear to have hit a glass ceiling, with a sizable number of conservative voters otherwise sympathetic to her message and rhetoric refusing to vote for her or her party (which is the subject of a reportage by Luc Bronner in Le Monde today).

The election also laid bare the limits of MLP’s strategy of poaching high-profile politicians from the parliamentary right to head the RN’s lists, notably Thierry Mariani in the PACA and Sébastien Chenu in the Hauts-de-France. Mariani, who issues from the RPR/UMP/LR’s FN-compatible hard right flank, is a well-known advocate for Vladimir Putin, Bashar al-Assad, and Kazakhstan’s Nursultan Nazarbayev, among other charming leaders of like-minded regimes (he’s also a fan of Narendra Modi, one learns in a lengthy portrait in Le Monde last week of Mariani and his liaisons dangereuses across the globe; among other things, he speaks Russian and has traveled there countless times). As he is a sure-fire pick for the Quai d’Orsay if Marine LP, par malheur, ends up in the Élysée, any setback he suffers is to be welcomed. As for Chenu, formerly of the PR/DL/UMP, qui a mangé à tous les râteliers—among the mainstream things he has done was to serve on Christine Lagarde’s staff when she was Minister of Foreign Trade in the government of Dominique de Villepin—he manifestly did not have the proper populist profile for RN voters in France’s industrial north. Tant mieux.

Les Républicains: They were the big winners, or presented as such, by merely keeping the seven regions they won in 2015 and vanquishing the challenges from the RN—and with the principal interest in this being the brilliant victories of putative presidential candidates Xavier Bertrand of the Hauts-de-France, Valérie Pécresse of the Île-de-France, and Laurent Wauquiez of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, the first two having formally quit LR, in which they were longtime pillars, over the past four years. On the presidential ambition front, one may safely dismiss that of Wauquiez, who is too right-wing (and too nasty of an SOB to boot). If there are any significant policy differences between him and Marine Le Pen, I have not perceived them. I simply cannot imagine a scenario in which he emerges as the non-RN right’s standard-bearer.

Bertrand is manifestly the favorite, as not only do the polls have him as the best placed to break the Macron-Le Pen duopoly but he is also the right-wing candidate who is the most acceptable to centrist voters and least unacceptable to the left, while—for the moment at least—maintaining his credibility with the LR base. Bertrand has cultivated his moderate image as president of the Hauts-de-France regional council over the past six years, even flattering lefty sensibilities in certain domains, notably cultural policy. Inevitably though, he has engaged in the usual right-wing demagoguery on law-and-order issues and immigration, e.g. calling for minimum mandatory sentencing, minimum 50-year sentences for persons convicted of terrorism, lowering the age of criminal responsibility to 15, expelling undocumented foreigners manu militari, and the like—and knowing full well that some of what he proposes is unconstitutional or violates the European Charter on Human Rights. Such is the French right.

À propos, one notes that Bertrand and other LR personalities, such as Christian Jacob, continue to refer to Marine Le Pen’s party as the “Front National,” as if to make clear that they do not believe it has changed in any way, that they still consider it beyond the pale and will not deal with it. Except that on immigration, national identity, insécurité, and other such hot button issues, there is no longer any appreciable difference between LR and the FN/RN—Exhibit A being the tract below by the first-tier LR deputy from Nice, Éric Ciotti.

Whatever procedure LR ultimately adopts for selecting its candidate, Bertrand has made it clear that he won’t be bound by it, that his candidacy is all but definitive. Unless he somehow plunges in the polls, it is hard to see how LR can not se rendre à l’évidence and rally behind him, particularly if he continues to have the best chance of making it to the 2nd round. But if he somehow does plunge, Pécresse would be LR’s best alternative IMHO, as she’s conservative but not hard right (I had not bad things to say about her in an early AWAV post ten years ago). As for other LR presidential possibilities—e.g. Bruno Retailleau, Michel Barnier—I doubt it.

La République en Marche: What else to say about Emmanuel Macron’s party—the other big loser on Sunday—except to repeat myself and what everyone knows, which is that it is all but non-existent. President Macron, in effect, does not have a political party worthy of the name, which, after four years in office, is a complicated situation for an incumbent president to find himself in as he contemplates his reelection campaign. Macron’s poll numbers are acceptable for the moment (+40/-57 in the last IPSOS baromètre) but he still has to come up with a positive argument for his reelection, which is not readily apparent. And he has to initiate some kind of legislative action this fall and that will not cause his fragile approval rating to plummet. But even if he can pull that off, if the inevitable 4th wave of the coronavirus leads to yet another confinement or other sanitary restrictions, all bets will be off regarding Monsieur Macron. In short, it is not a totally sure thing that he will make it to next April.

If it looks like Macron may throw in the towel on running for reelection, we’re sure to start hearing a lot about Édouard Philippe.

La Gauche: Not a party but, for this election, we can consider the Parti Socialiste, Europe Écologie-Les Verts, La France Insoumise, and Parti Communiste as a bloc. The PS is satisfied with its showing, as it maintained its control of the five regions won in 2015 and held its own in the departmental councils, notably in the southwest. But one should not be deceived, as the overall performance of the left was rather less-than-impressive. E.g. in the Île-de-France, which the PS ran from 1999 to 2015, the united left list for the 2nd round—led by well-known personalities (Julien Bayou, Audrey Pulvar, Clémentine Autain)—managed to obtain only 33.7% of the vote. And in the Hauts-de-France, another erstwhile PS/PCF stronghold, the united left list, led by the écolo Karima Delli, netted a mere 22%. Pas fameux.

As for the presidential race, the election clarified nothing, and with the PS and EELV having yet to figure out how (or even if) they’re going to select a single candidate—not that anyone they could possibly propose to the French electorate has any credibility as Président de la République. Seriously, can one imagine Anne Hidalgo, Arnaud Montebourg, Yannick Jadot, or Éric Piolle in the Élysée palace? As for Jean-Luc Mélenchon, he will be lucky to even reach the double digits.

More on the crisis of the left another time.

UPDATE: See the analysis in Le Monde (July 2nd) by Florent Gougou of Sciences Po Grenoble, “‘La percée historique du RN en 2015 a été en partie effacée aux régionales et départementales 2021, mais seulement en partie’.” The lede: “Si la dynamique de recul est la plus forte de l’histoire du parti d’extrême droite entre deux scrutins de même type, elle mérite d’être nuancée, estime le chercheur en science politique, qui constate une ‘disparition de la surmobilisation’.” Noting that a fine-grained analysis of the vote at the cantonal level does not support the hypothesis that the high abstention rate was disproportionately prejudicial to the RN, Gougou concludes:

Finalement, le bilan de ces élections régionales et départementales est très mauvais pour le RN. Son réseau d’élus locaux a été fortement affaibli, avec une centaine de conseillers régionaux en moins (252 contre 356 en 2015). Mais surtout, il a perdu plus de la moitié de ses conseillers départementaux (26 contre 62 en 2015) dans un scrutin qui a très fortement favorisé les sortants. C’est un coup d’arrêt dans la dynamique d’implantation locale de la droite radicale en France.

The same issue of Le Monde has a lengthy enquête by Franck Johannès on the RN’s chaotic campaign in the Hauts-de-France, which laid bare a number of problems of the party at the national level: “Amateurisme et ombres identitaires, la drôle de campagne de Sébastien Chenu.”

[update below]

A couple of comments on yesterday’s vote for the regional and departmental councils, about which I will have more to say after next Sunday’s 2nd round. First, the historically high abstention rate for a nationwide election—topped only by that of the 2000 constitutional referendum—which is leading all commentaries and analyses. Polls and analysts were predicting this but none had it as high as two-thirds of the electorate. By way of contrast, the participation rate for the previous elections to these two bodies—in March and December 2015—was 50%, seen then as disappointing.

The endless pandemic and long second confinement—which we’re thankfully coming out of—certainly had some effect, as partisan politics are not on everyone’s mind these days, and particularly younger voters—the abstention rate for the 18-24 cohort reaching 87%, according to one poll—and those from the couches populaires. I can personally affirm, via private conversations, that more than a few under-30 voters were barely aware that the elections—originally scheduled for March but postponed due to the pandemic and confinement—were even happening. The limited responsibilities and prerogatives of the regional and departmental councils—to which the great majority of voters pay little attention—also contributed to the relative disinterest. French administrative regions are not akin to Germany’s Länder, Italy’s provinces, or Spain’s autonomous communities in their powers, size of budgets, or as the wellspring of identity for their denizens—and the latter all the less so since President Hollande’s half-baked law that created 13 mega regions of the previous 22—which, six years after the fact, hasn’t worked out extremely well.

But the overriding factor explaining the unprecedented abstention rate is, as friend Guillaume Duval of Alternatives Économiques put it in an instant analysis on Facebook, the magnitude and severity of the crisis afflicting French democracy. The political climate in France, to put it tersely, has become insufferable, with a hysterization of political debate—if one can call the demagoguery, invective, and trolling one gets on the all-“news” stations and social media debate (or “debate”)—that is as bad as anything I’ve witnessed in three decades of living in this country—and which is being driven by the extreme right, with the heretofore mainstream right—followed by Emmanuel Macron and his allies—jumping on the bandwagon. A rematch between a right-lurching Macron and Marine Le Pen, which hardly anyone wishes for, has been presented as an inevitability by pundits and politicos alike. As Le Monde editorialized earlier this month, “un vent mauvais souffle sur la démocratie [française].”

This aspect of France’s current political state merits a lengthier treatment than I can give it right now—but which I will come back to—so in the meantime let me recommend three first-rate commentaries that have appeared in English over the past month, by the excellent Rokhaya Diallo in The Washington Post, “How France’s far right is now dictating the terms of public debate;” Cole Stangler in The New York Times, “France is becoming more like America: It’s terrible;” and Harrison Stetler in The New Republic, “The year that broke Emmanuel Macron’s republican front: The French president is facing a far right that has gained the upper hand in the country’s insidious culture wars. And he has only himself to blame.”

The second comment on yesterday’s vote is on the counter-performance of Le Pen’s Rassemblement National (RN), the debacle of Macron’s La République en Marche (REM), the good showing of the Republicans (LR), and the relatively not too bad one of the Socialists. It was taken almost for granted that the RN would finish in first place in five or six of the regions, and with the prospect of winning at least three in the 2nd round, if not more. But with the RN plunging almost 9 points compared to the FN’s 2015 result (from 28% to 19% nationally), which was a genuine surprise, it now only has a chance to win one region, the PACA (Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur)—where the 2nd round square-off with LR will be hard-fought now that the list of the left has thrown in the towel (regrettably IMO). As three-quarters of Marine LP’s 2017 voters abstained yesterday, we’ll see if the RN benefits from the kind of 2nd round sursaut as did the non-FN parties in 2015. But whatever happens to the RN next Sunday, it will likely not alter the dynamics for 2022 in regard to MLP and her prospects of making it to the 2nd round in that one.

As for Macron’s REM, the abject failure of its lists across the board confirmed what was revealed in last year’s municipal elections, which is that the REM is, as I wrote then, an empty vessel of political non-entities, existing solely to anchor Macron’s personal ambitions (now his reelection in 2022) and with the Great Helmsman making the REM’s every last decision. If Macron should win reelection next May—which, if his opponent is MLP, we will ardently hope he does—it is highly possible that he will not win a majority in the legislative elections that follow in June.

On Macron’s reelection prospects, these could be complicated by the strong performance of Xavier Bertrand in the Hauts-de-France, which all but guarantees him victory next Sunday—and with that, the formal launching of his presidential campaign. Whatever the scores of Laurent Wauquiez or Valérie Pécresse, it is hard to see how LR can seriously come up with a candidate of its own in the face of Bertrand’s fait accompli—unless they want to see a Macron-Le Pen rematch. And particularly if polls show Bertrand within striking distance of those two.

The left: regardless of how the PS and écolos do on Sunday, the left is out of the national picture for the foreseeable future. Sad but true.

À suivre la semaine prochaine.

UPDATE: Le Monde editorialist Françoise Fressoz has a noteworthy analysis, in the June 23rd issue, of the high abstention, “Quand la politique tourne à vide.”

Arun at polling station 38

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The Israel-Hamas ceasefire has now been in effect for four days. It will be broken sooner or later, that’s for sure, though before that happens there will surely be another explosion in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and/or inside Israel itself. On the 11 days of fighting, death, and destruction preceding the ceasefire, Avi Issacharoff has a typically incisive analysis (May 21st) in The Times of Israel, the gist of which is in the title: “Why Hamas (most of all) and Netanyahu (for now) are the winners of this mini-war: The losers, needless to say, are the citizens of Gaza and Israel, as the Islamist terror group makes strategic gains beyond even its own expectations.”

On Gazawis being losers, see the analysis (May 20th) by Haaretz’s Amira Hass (whose knowledge of Gaza is unmatched among Israelis): “Gaza’s destruction: An unbearable humanitarian and financial toll.” The lede: “Hamas figures estimate that damage to the Gaza Strip has already cost more than a quarter of a billion dollars, while damage to power and water infrastructure has obstructed access to water for around 800,000 people.” The destruction visited upon Gaza’s infrastructure—conforming to the IDF’s Dahiya doctrine—is staggering. As Le Monde’s Benjamin Barthe reports:

Selon les décomptes des Nations unies, 24 centres de santé ont été touchés par les bombardements, ainsi que 50 établissements éducatifs. Trois usines de désalinisation d’eau, servant 400 000 habitants, ont été mises hors service. Le seul laboratoire de dépistage du Covid-19, la clinique Rimal, dans le centre de Gaza, a volé en éclats lorsqu’un missile a frappé une rue adjacente. Les bureaux du Croissant-Rouge qatari ont été dévastés.

Selon le ministère de l’habitat de Gaza, 162 bâtiments résidentiels ont été anéantis par les tirs israéliens. Si l’armée a fréquemment prévenu leurs occupants avant de passer à l’action, leur laissant quelques dizaines de minutes pour évacuer les lieux en catastrophe, cela n’a pas toujours été le cas. Une dizaine de familles de Gaza ont été décimées par les frappes, à l’instar des Al-Kolak et Al-Aouf.

The Al-Kolak and Al-Aouf families, on Gaza’s Wehda Street, lost 44 members, the reports on which I linked to in the post of May 16th. Barthe continues:

« Ces onze jours de guerre ont été aussi éprouvants que les cinquante jours de la guerre précédente, en 2014 », affirme Leïla Barhoum [de l’ONG humanitaire Oxfam]. « Nous avons réchappé aux bombardements, mais je ne sais pas comment nous allons survivre au milieu de toutes ces destructions », ajoute Abier Al-Masri, de l’ONG de défense des droits de l’homme Human Rights Watch.

L’armée israélienne rejette toute responsabilité pour ces pertes et ces dégâts matériels, au motif que les « terroristes du Hamas se cachent parmi les civils ». Mais cet argument, répété à chaque offensive, ne suffit pas à expliquer l’étendue des frappes, notamment le bombardement de quatre immeubles d’une dizaine d’étages qui faisaient la fierté de Gaza : Shorouk, Al-Jawhara, Hanadi et Al-Jalaa. Contrairement à ce que M. Nétanyahou avait promis, le département d’Etat américain n’a reçu aucune preuve attestant de la présence du Hamas au sein de la tour Al-Jalaa, dont l’effondrement a entraîné la destruction des bureaux de l’agence de l’agence de presse AP et de la chaîne panarabe Al-Jazira.

« Cette opération a bafoué une nouvelle fois tous les principes du droit humanitaire international, comme la proportionnalité et la distinction entre cibles civiles et militaires, accuse Essam Younes, le directeur de l’ONG de défense des droits de l’homme Mezan.

A dispassionate examination of the toppling of the Al-Jalaa tower from the perspective of international law is offered by journalist Dania Akkad (May 24th) in Middle East Eye, “Israel’s war on Gaza: Was Hamas really operating out of the Al-Jalaa building? Experts say Israel’s attack on the tower block, used by international media organisations probably wasn’t legal—here’s why.”

Concluding Barthe’s report:

De nombreux lieux de culture ont aussi fait les frais des bombardements israéliens, comme la librairie Samir Mansour, la plus renommée de la bande de Gaza. Cette boutique, qui vendait aussi bien de la littérature arabe que des classiques occidentaux, a été réduite à l’état de gravats. Selon son propriétaire, plusieurs dizaines de milliers de livres sont partis en fumée dans l’explosion, qui a aussi détruit une imprimerie, une bibliothèque et un centre de formation. « L’une de mes plus grosses ventes après le Coran, c’était la traduction des Misérables, de Victor Hugo », raconte Samir Mansour, avant d’ajouter d’une voix exténuée : « Les misérables d’aujourd’hui, c’est nous. »

A report from Gaza on France Inter this morning (listen at 7h30) describes the catastrophic situation at the Al-Shifa hospital, and whose top doctor, Ayman Abou al-Awf—who had created the hospital’s coronavirus unit—was killed, along with his entire family, in an Israeli attack (see also the report in Libération).

For a Gazawi POV that is no doubt representative of sentiment there, do read the NYT guest essay (May 24th) by translator-editor Basma Ghalayini, “A Gazan’s view on Hamas: It’s not complicated.”

In my last post, which was mainly on Jerusalem, the Palestinian resistance there, and of the anger driving it, there was a word I neglected to mention, which is humiliation. The Israelis humiliate the Palestinians in countless ways, personally and symbolically, which is so well known to non-Palestinians that one hardly needs to give examples (if one wants a couple of recent ones, see, e.g., Nathan Thrall’s lengthy March 19th essay in the NYRB, “A Day in the Life of Abed Salama,” and the 2021 Oscar-nominated short film The Present; in France: Le Cadeau). Focusing on Palestinian citizens of Israel (PCIs), the humiliation—and mounting ras-le-bol—ensues from the panoply of discriminatory laws to which they are subject, notably land policies. The latest indignity to PCIs is the 2018 “nation-state” law, which validated the apartheid label for some who had previously resisted it. To comprehend the explosion of PCI anger in Israel’s “mixed cities,” one need look no further. As Tel Aviv-based political scientist and pollster Dahlia Scheindlin headlined a May 13th opinion piece in Newsweek, “For years, Israel’s leaders have cultivated ethnic hatred. This is on them.”

The communal riot in Lod (Lydd) has been extensively reported, e.g. by Ruth Margalit (May 20th) in The New Yorker. Le Monde’s Jerusalem correspondent Louis Imbert had an exceptional reportage from the city in the May 15th issue. It begins:

Une tumeur cancéreuse, un abcès de haine explose en Israël, dans une éruption de tentatives de lynchages, d’incendies antisémites, de ratonnades. Un Arabe battu en direct à la télévision à Bat Yam. Un juif bastonné à Saint-Jean-d’Acre. Depuis lundi 10 mai, les Israéliens assistent, impuissants, à des scènes de chaos inconnues ces vingt dernières années, alors que le Hamas poursuit ses tirs sur le pays, depuis l’enclave de Gaza. L’épicentre de ces émeutes est à Lod. A un jet de pierre de l’aéroport David-Ben-Gourion. Dans un coin de plaine industrielle glauque du centre du pays, où un mort est tombé, Moussa Hassouneh, lundi.

Tard dans la nuit de mercredi à jeudi, des groupes armés juifs errent dans les quartiers nord, au bord de la route 40 fermée par la police. Ils traînent des barres de fer et des battes sur le bitume jonché des débris des émeutes de la veille. Certains portent en bandoulière des fusils automatiques. Ils se penchent sur les pare-brise des voitures, sous la lumière biaisée des réverbères. Juif ou Arabe ? Ils traquent l’ennemi. De petits groupes s’aventurent sur des routes défoncées, dans le noir d’encre, à travers un lacis d’usines et d’entrepôts qui mène à la ville arabe.

Lod’s Likud mayor has fueled the toxic climate:

Ce maire d’une ville moyenne de 77 000 habitants, Yair Revivo, homme sanguin, aisément incohérent, fervent membre du Likoud au pouvoir, en lutte constante avec le tiers arabe de sa majorité municipale, se révèle en incendiaire dans la crise actuelle. Dans la nuit de mardi à mercredi, il a appelé le gouvernement, en direct à la télévision, à déployer l’armée à Lod, dénonçant « une Intifada ». Les funérailles du jeune homme arabe tué la veille dégénéraient en attaques contre des Juifs – et aussi de groupes de défense juive contre des Arabes. Le premier ministre, Benyamin Nétanyahou, pâle et essoufflé à 2 heures du matin, est venu ici pour dénoncer « l’anarchie » et décréter l’état d’urgence dans la ville.

Mais déjà, depuis des mois, le maire M. Revivo exigeait des soldats. Il n’en fait pas mystère : il est le maire de la part juive de la ville. Dès le début de son second mandat, en 2018, il a mis fin à un programme de constructions immobilières dans les quartiers arabes. Il refuse de fournir des services sociaux « aux familles criminelles. » Dans son vocabulaire, ce mot, « criminel », précède ou suit usuellement celui d’« Arabe ».

M. Revivo souhaite traiter à la sud-américaine la criminalité qui gangrène Lod. Des affiches marquées d’étoile de David proclament sa détermination à lutter contre les gangs arabes, qui font lit sur la mixité de la ville, en bonne intelligence avec la mafia juive. Ceux-ci prospèrent sur le commerce de drogue et d’armes dans des quartiers arabes où la police est aux abonnés absents.

Quoting Malek Hassouneh, the father of Moussa, who was shot and killed:

« Vois comme ils nous traitent : à l’hôpital, un flic m’a dit qu’il faudrait encore deux morts arabes pour que nous nous calmions. Ils ne veulent pas d’Arabes à Lod », estime le père. Les Hassouneh sont une famille de notables ici, rassemblée dans une belle maison du sud. Ils possédaient avant 1948 quelque 7 000 dounam (700 hectares) de terrain. Les parents de Malek, qui ont fui ou ont été chassés durant la guerre, se sont vus confisquer leurs biens par l’Etat. Il reste 2 000 dounam à cet entrepreneur du bâtiment.

Son histoire familiale, M. Hassouneh la reconsidère à cette heure. Alors que des manifestants brandissant le drapeau israélien réclament devant le tribunal de Lod la libération du « héros » qui a abattu son fils. En ce jour où le ministre de la sécurité intérieure, Amir Ohana, affirme que si cela ne tenait qu’à lui, le tireur serait déjà libre (il a été libéré jeudi). « J’étais un bon citoyen ! Je respectais l’Etat. J’étais satisfait de mon sort ici : j’allais passer dignement le flambeau. Je n’aurais jamais cru dire cela mais aujourd’hui, je ne suis plus israélien », dit M. Hassouneh.

The article goes on to discuss the phenomenon of extremist, gun-slinging Jewish settlers on the West Bank moving to Lod and other mixed cities—and with their attitudes toward Arabs—to further Judaize them. Establishing a parallel with France, the actual situation in Lod would be akin to the city of Saint-Denis in the Paris banlieue with a Front National mayor and who received security reinforcements from Génération Identitaire bullyboys constituted as an armed militia—and who was backed by a President Le Pen…

As the Republican Party has become the US equivalent of the French FN/RN (it’s even further to the right, in fact), it is likewise with the Likud, which is now the Israeli equivalent—in overall Weltanschauung—of the party headed by Marine Le Pen. This may not have been the case in the past but it is now.

But whereas the FN/RN is as far right as one gets on the French political spectrum (among parties that contest elections), there are formations to the right of the Likud—Itamar Ben Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit being the most talked about at present—which not only elect deputies but are potential coalition partners for the Likud.

In an essay (May 19th) in the highbrow webzine AOC, “Israël-Palestine: la guerre silencieuse,” sociologist Eva Illouz, of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and EHESS in Paris, has this to say:

Le lecteur européen ignore que l’extrême droite israélienne à laquelle Netanyahu s’est allié est d’une nature différente des partis habituellement ainsi qualifiés en Europe. Itamar Ben Gvir, qui dirige le parti d’extrême droite Otzma Yehudit (Force juive), avait jusqu’à récemment dans sa maison un portrait de Baruch Goldstein. Baruch Goldstein était un médecin américain qui, alors qu’il vivait dans la colonie de Kiriat Arba (Hébron), a tué 29 musulmans pendant qu’ils priaient dans la grotte des patriarches. Ben-Gvir, quant à lui, est un avocat qui défend les terroristes juifs et les auteurs de crimes haineux. L’organisation Lehava, étroitement associé à ce parti, a pour mission d’empêcher les mariages interconfessionnels et le mélange des « races ».

Le président d’Israël, Reuven Rivlin, un homme dont on ne peut pourtant pas dire qu’il porte la gauche dans son cœur, a, par le passé, décrit les attaques de Lehava contre les mariages interconfessionnels en des termes non équivoques : les membres de ce mouvement sont, a-t-il dit, comme « des rongeurs qui minent de l’intérieur le fondement démocratique et juif commun d’Israël ». Lehava publie aussi les noms des Juifs (dans le but de leur faire honte) qui louent des appartements à des Arabes. Seule la culture du Sud profond américain du début du XXe siècle peut soutenir la comparaison avec une telle idéologie.

Netanyahu est devenu leur allié politique naturel, virant ainsi vers les formes les plus extrémistes du radicalisme de droite. Ces groupes attisent les flammes de la guerre civile en répandant le racisme au sein de la société israélienne au chant du slogan « mort aux Arabes ».

The American counterpart of the Israeli extreme right is the groups that participated in the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville VA in August 2017. If Itamar Ben Gvir and his followers weren’t Jews, we’d be calling them neo-Nazis. And they may possibly end up in the next Israeli government…

The peace march in Tel Aviv on Saturday was nice and let’s hope there are more of them, but the political domination of a radicalized right-wing is the reality in Israel. Which is why more explosions are a certainty.

To be continued.

UPDATE: Amjad Iraqi of the indispensable +972 Magazine has a must-read interview (May 21st) with ICG senior analyst Tareq Baconi, “Hamas breaks out of its Gaza cage.” Baconi, who’s Jordanian-Palestinian and based in Ramallah, is presently the sharpest Palestinian analyst of the conflict IMHO.

In the interview are numerous links to good articles, including “The UN predicted Gaza would be unlivable by 2020. They were right. Israel is trying to keep Gaza ‘quiet’ by applying new calculations to make life survivable — without allowing the people to truly live,” by Tania Hary in +972 (Dec. 31, 2019); and Tareq Baconi’s “Gaza and the One-State Reality,” in the Autumn 2021 issue of the Journal of Palestine Studies.

2nd UPDATE: PCI lawyer Diana Buttu has a guest essay (May 25th) in the NYT that merits reading, “The myth of coexistence in Israel.”

3rd UPDATE: The Israeli NGO Terrestrial Jerusalem has published (May 20th) an invaluable report on the legal side of the property disputes in East Jerusalem, “Large-scale Displacement: from Sheikh Jarrah to Silwan.” (h/t Eric Goldstein)

4th UPDATE: In Haaretz (May 22nd): “Israelis tell him to go to Gaza, Palestinians call him a collaborator: The life of a stateless Jerusalem reporter.” The lede: “Born in East Jerusalem, he’s stateless and didn’t know a word of Hebrew until five years ago. But then Suleiman Maswadeh, who spoke to Haaretz before the flare-up in Gaza, decided he wanted to succeed. Today he’s the Israeli public broadcaster’s correspondent in Jerusalem.” The interview is lengthy but is worth the read, for what it tells about the chasm—which looks unbridgeable—in the city of Jerusalem, not to mention among Israelis and Palestinians more generally.

5th UPDATE: The gauchiste webzine Jacobin has a hard-hitting interview (May 26th) with Jerusalem-based ICG senior analyst Nathan Thrall, “We can’t expect Joe Biden to stop supporting Apartheid.” The lede: “The Western media discourse gets it all wrong. Israel is not at risk of becoming an apartheid state — it already is one.” It would be useful to see a response by liberal/left Zionists (Meretz, J Street et al) to Thrall’s arguments, in this interview as well as in his lengthy article in the 21 January 2021 issue of the LRB on “The separate regimes delusion.”

6th UPDATE: Samy Cohen, who has long been one of France’s leading political science specialists of Israel, has a tribune in the May 27th Le Monde, “Les Israéliens se sont laissé bercer par l’illusion qu’Israël était un ‘Etat juif et démocratique’.”

A very good article in Le Monde dated March 19th, by Christophe Ayad and Louis Imbert: “Du rêve d’un ‘Etat juif et démocratique’ à la colonisation de la Cisjordanie, que reste-t-il du sionisme?”

7th UPDATE: Khalil Shikaki, the director of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, has an unfortunately spot-on article (May 19th) in Foreign Affairs, “Fighting in Gaza marks the start of a more violent era: The search for a two-state solution is over.”

8th UPDATE: Le Monde’s Louis Imbert has a portrait in the May 28th issue of Hamas’s Gaza leader Yahia Sinouar, in which he is presented as a relative moderate. One reads, e.g.

Longtemps, les généraux israéliens n’ont pas caché leur intérêt, voire leur admiration pour cet enfant d’une famille de réfugiés implantée à Khan Younès, à Gaza. M. Sinouar y a fait respecter les « bonnes mœurs » pour le Hamas naissant.

9th UPDATE: Tel Aviv-based journalist Neri Zilber has a must-read opinion piece (May 28th) in the Toronto Globe and Mail, “Israel’s Palestinian policy is in tatters.” Money quote:

As Israeli journalist (and co-creator of the hit TV show Fauda) Avi Issacharoff recently wrote, Israel’s policy aimed “to weaken Fatah and the PA so that it would not have a partner to negotiate with, and to strengthen Hamas through funds and [by easing measures] to claim that there is no partner to negotiate with.”

10th UPDATE: See the Statement on Israel/Palestine by Scholars of Jewish Studies and Israel Studies (May 22nd). If I were eligible to sign it, I would.

11th UPDATE: FWIW Vox’s Zack Beauchamp argues “In defense of the two-state solution.” The lede: “Some are declaring the two-state paradigm for Israel and Palestine totally doomed. But it’s not — and it’s still worth fighting for.” (May 26th)

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“This is Israel’s most failed and pointless Gaza operation ever. It must end now.” Voilà the headline of an analysis (May 18th) by Haaretz editor-in-chief Aluf Benn. It begins:

As of its ninth day, Operation Guardian of the Walls in Gaza has turned into Israel’s most failed and pointless border war ever, even when measured against the tough competition from the champion league of the Second Lebanon War, and Operations Pillar of Defense, Cast Lead and Protective Edge in Gaza. We have been witness to a serious military and diplomatic failure that has exposed major deficiencies in the army’s preparations and performance and in the leadership of a confused and helpless government.

Instead of wasting time in a useless effort to create an “image of victory” while causing death and destruction in Gaza and upending lives to Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must stop now and agree to a cease-fire – and hope that the failure will be forgotten by public opinion as quickly as the Mount Meron disaster. In a more perfect world, it would be proper to add here “and order a thorough house cleaning of the Israel Defense Forces.” But criminal defendant Netanyahu, who is fighting to keep his official residence on Balfour Street, has neither the authority nor the political power to lead such a needed change.

Benn proceeds to discuss the five biggest problems revealed so far in Israel’s preparations for and conduct of the war. It would be helpful if such analyses were read by pro-Israel US commentators, some of whom have been figuratively screaming over the past week, not to mention ‘Les Grandes Gueules Moyen-Orient‘ I happened to come across two nights ago on i24NEWS Français, the one with la plus grande gueule being Meyer Habib, the deputy in the French National Assembly representing the 8th constituency of French citizens abroad, the majority of whose voters reside in Israel (and are, like Habib, dual-national Israelis). Habib, who is close to Netanyahu and the Likud (he was a Betar militant in his youth), may have been elected under the center-right UDI label but is way out there on the right. A prediction: between now and next April, Habib will endorse Marine Le Pen and her Rassemblement National, and will be followed by a not insignificant number of his co-religionists (N.B. French Jews are more conservative and attached to Israel than their American counterparts, and with a greater visceral animosity toward Arabs and Muslims).

N.B. Denouncing Israel’s military campaign in Gaza must not obscure the role of Hamas in initiating the conflict with its unprovoked rocket attacks, first on Jerusalem than everywhere else in Israel in the rockets’ range, and with the intention of hitting the civilian population at random (Hamas rockets, as one reads here, are not equipped with guidance systems that would enable them to strike specific targets). If Israel is committing war crimes that could be investigated by the ICC, so is Hamas.

Then there’s the politically pernicious side of Hamas’ action, which is explained by historian Vincent Lemire, the director of the French research center in Jerusalem, in a full-page, must-read interview in Le Monde dated May 18th, “‘Le fossé n’a jamais été aussi profond entre Jérusalem-Est et Jérusalem-Ouest’.” The two weeks that preceded the Hamas rockets had witnessed an exceptional mobilization of young Jerusalem Palestinians: against the Sheikh Jarrah evictions, the attempt by the Israeli police to set up a checkpoint on the steps of the Damascus Gate of the Old City—a “small agora” where Palestinian families gather in the evening during Ramadan—and the actions of that police at the Al-Aqsa mosque and on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. The tactical intelligence, as Lemire put it, of the Palestinian activists resulted in the Israelis not only beating a retreat at the Damascus Gate but also preventing Jewish extremists from marching through the Old City on their May 10th “Jerusalem Day.” It was a humiliating setback for Netanyahu and whose political future appeared compromised—until Hamas rescued him with its rockets. It was, as Lemire put it

une grossière tentative de récupération de la part du Hamas, qui, lundi soir, a choisi de déclencher une nouvelle guerre pour revenir dans le jeu, plutôt que de célébrer dignement la victoire des Palestiniens de Jérusalem.

On Jerusalem Day:

[Le] lundi 10 mai, [il y a eu] l’échec retentissant du « Jour de Jérusalem », organisé chaque année pour commémorer la « réunification » de la ville en 1967. Le jour où Israël devait célébrer sa pleine souveraineté sur sa capitale « éternelle et indivisible », les juifs israéliens ont été interdits par la police israélienne de pénétrer sur l’esplanade des Mosquées, puis empêchés de passer par la porte de Damas, avant que toute la Vieille Ville ne leur soit finalement rendue inaccessible.

Ce soir-là, jusqu’aux tirs de roquettes du Hamas, le premier ministre israélien, Benyamin Nétanyahou, était mortifié, humilié, et sa carrière politique semblait définitivement compromise.

Israeli journalist and activist Haggai Matar described the situation in Jerusalem well in +972 Magazine (May 10th), “Israel chooses violence: From the repression in Sheikh Jarrah to the bombing of Gaza, the Israeli government has opted to escalate its brutality toward Palestinians.” He begins:

The escalation in violence across Israel-Palestine over the past days is primarily the result of a number of choices made by the Israeli government. While such violence is far from unprecedented in our region, and has been inherent to Israel’s oppressive policies for decades, these are choices that ultimately serve the interests of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is desperately fighting to save his political career and avoid potential time behind bars.

The dangerous choices started in earnest with the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, when the Israeli authorities made the unfathomable decision to place new makeshift checkpoints at the entrance to Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem. They then attacked Palestinians who gathered there to enjoy breaking the daily fast with friends and family. It took two weeks of police violence and a steadfast response by Palestinian protesters for the police to back down.

On Sheikh Jarrah, for those who need a primer, see the one (May 6th) by Mustafa Abu Sneineh in Middle East Eye, “Sheikh Jarrah explained: The past and present of East Jerusalem neighbourhood.”

See likewise the report (May 19th) by FT Jerusalem correspondent Mehul Srivastava, “How Arab evictions fuelled the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

One aspect of what’s happening in Sheikh Jarrah has not been mentioned so far as I’ve seen. The Jewish extremist organization that is claiming property there is basing the claim on the contention that the property in question was owned by Jews before 1948, i.e. by persons in their ethno-religious group, not by particular individuals in the organization in question. The Jewish organization wants to evict the Palestinian families who have lived there for seventy years and then occupy it for themselves, for the simple reason that a Jewish family, whose identity is immaterial and whose descendants are not part of the organization, owned it generations ago.

Rhetorical question: Is there any legal system in the world—and particularly in a state claiming to be a democracy and governed by rule of law—where such a claim would have any legal validity? Where invoking mere membership in an ethno-religious group would give someone the legal right to appropriate a piece of property and evict its longtime inhabitants?

I have long resisted applying the apartheid label to Israel, though in a 2014 post, ‘Rage in Jerusalem,’ made an exception for East Jerusalem, where I determined that the ignominious label did indeed apply. If such was the case seven years ago, it is every bit as much so today.

AWAV readers, who are by definition well-informed, will be aware that the apartheid analogy in regard to Israel has gone mainstream, notably with the April 27th release of Human Rights Watch’s report, A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution. As the editor of the report, Eric Goldstein, who is Acting Executive Director of HRW’s MENA Division, is a very good and dear friend—and who happens to be responsible for this blog’s name: yes, Arun with a View was his brainchild—I owe him my assessment of the report, and particularly as we’ve had numerous discussions on the subject over the years. I will have a separate post on it soon (after I’ve had a chance to actually read through the thing; in the meantime, here’s an opinion piece of his in The Forward, on how attaching the apartheid label to Israel was not a decision HRW reached lightly).

Rereading my 2014 post, so much of what I wrote then could be repeated almost verbatim today. Quoting myself:

[O]n the Israeli response to the rage in East Jerusalem—of draconian police and army repression, mass arrests and prosecutions of minors, sealing off Arab neighborhoods with concrete blocks, demolishing the homes of the families of terrorists (or anyone the Israelis deem as such; a.k.a. collective punishment), randomly spraying “skunk water” in the eastern part of the city, restricting Muslim access to the Haram al-Sharif, colonizing densely populated Arab quarters with extremist settlers, proposing new “anti-terrorism” laws that will further abuse Palestinians under Israeli rule (including Palestinian citizens of Israel, PCIs), etc, etc—, WTF are Netanyahu & Co.—indeed the entire Israeli right—thinking? How do they imagine this is going to play out? What’s the end game? We’re not talking about Gaza, Jenin, or some place around which the Israelis can build a wall and try to forget about. This is their “eternal” unified capital city, but where close to 40% of the population does not enjoy the rights of citizenship and is hostile to them. And the Palestinians of Jerusalem are devoid of political leadership, with not a single person who can speak in the name of even some of them or serve as an interlocutor with the Israelis. Moreover—and I find this incredible—, the Israelis don’t want Palestinian interlocutors in Jerusalem. They don’t want to negotiate or bargain with the Palestinian residents of the city, to collectively dialogue with or treat them as anything other than barely tolerated interlopers in a city that they, the Israelis, consider to be theirs and theirs only. And the Israelis have absolutely nothing to propose to the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem (except to subtly—or not so subtly—encourage them to emigrate, or just go away). The people who run the state of Israel have become unhinged, point barre (the new state president, Reuven Rivlin, being a notable exception). Again, WTF do they expect to happen? Indian-style communal riots, with rampaging mobs in both communities chauffé à blanc murdering dozens, if not hundreds? And if this comes to pass—an eventuality that one must not exclude—, what then? If anyone who identifies with the Israeli right can give a response to this—to what appears to objective observers to be an irrational fuite en avant on the part of Netanyahu & Co.—, I’m all ears.

Needless to say, I have yet to see any kind of response to this from anyone who considers a unified Jerusalem to be Israel’s eternal capital.

N.B. The Palestinians will never cede on the question of Jerusalem. They will never acquiesce in the Israeli annexation of the eastern part of the city or it being severed from the rest of the West Bank. If there is ever, inshallah, going to be a peace agreement—which we’re not likely to see in our lifetimes—Israel will simply have to yield on East Jerusalem, as not only does it have no legal right to be there (if UNSC resolutions mean anything) but also, as I wrote in 2012, no moral right.

Vincent Lemire, in the interview cited above, makes an observation that Israelis and Israel partisans may not be aware of, which is that Israel is losing the demographic battle in Jerusalem.

[Les Palestiniens] résistent aussi parce que la démographie leur donne raison : il y a aujourd’hui 350 000 Palestiniens à Jérusalem, soit cinq fois plus qu’en 1967 (70 000), alors que la population israélienne n’a pas progressé dans les mêmes proportions (190 000 en 1967, 560 000 aujourd’hui, soit une multiplication par trois).

Et si on se focalise sur la Vieille Ville, cœur historique et religieux de la ville sainte, la résistance démographique palestinienne est encore plus nette : la population juive israélienne représente moins de 10 % de la population totale de la Vieille Ville aujourd’hui.

La colonisation progresse à grands pas en Cisjordanie, mais elle est en échec à Jérusalem, ce qui est insupportable pour l’extrême droite israélienne, qui se cogne à cette réalité à chaque fois que ses Proud Boys tentent de manifester dans les ruelles étroites de la ville historique.

Cette bataille démographique est essentielle parce qu’elle engage toute la société civile, toutes les familles, avec évidemment les femmes en toute première ligne, et parce que la supériorité militaire israélienne n’y peut rien changer.

The Israeli supreme court will hand down its ruling in the coming weeks on the Sheikh Jarrah evictions. If it goes against the Palestinian families, which is likely, there will be an explosion of rage among Palestinians, and not only in Jerusalem. If the ruling is in their favor, the Jewish extreme right will go ballistic. And they’re armed and dangerous. Either way, the consequences will be bad. This thing is only beginning.

Some worthwhile articles by A-list analysts:

Shlomo Ben-Ami in Project Syndicate (May 13th): “The end of Israel’s illusion.”

Mouin Rabbani in Time magazine (May 13th): “Israel-Palestine is a state of permanent conflict punctuated by periodic carnage. Only the watching world can stop it.”

Tareq Baconi in the LRB blog (May 14th): “Sheikh Jarrah and after.”

Natan Sachs in the Brookings Institution blog (May 15th): “The perfect storm for Israelis and Palestinians.”

Dahlia Scheindlin in The Guardian (May 16th): “How did it happen that Israel’s Jews and Arabs rose up against each other?”

To be continued.

UPDATE: Journalist Neri Zilber has a useful ‘7 min read’ (May 13th) in Newlines Magazine, “The war that shouldn’t have been: Israel and Hamas had reached a pragmatic arrangement for years. How it was upended.”

The never uninteresting and invariably incisive Peter Beinart correctly asserts in his Substack newsletter (May 20th) that “If Israel eliminated Hamas, nothing fundamental would change.” Entre autres, he writes:

Today, it’s common to associate Hamas’s militancy with its Islamist ideology. The implication is that if only Islamists were eliminated from the Palestinian political scene, Palestinian politics would grow more moderate and quiescent. But Israeli leaders didn’t always see it that way. Just as US officials once saw Islamists like the Afghan Mujahedeen as less threatening than communists backed by the USSR, Israeli officials once saw Hamas as more pliable than Yasser Arafat’s more secular Fatah. In a recent letter to the editor of The New York Times, former Times’ Jerusalem correspondent David K. Shipler noted that in 1981, Israel’s military governor of Gaza told him that, in Shipler’s words, “he was giving money to the Muslim Brotherhood, the precursor of Hamas, on the instruction of the Israeli authorities. The funding was intended to tilt power away from both Communist and Palestinian nationalist movements in Gaza, which Israel considered more threatening than the fundamentalists.” Oops.

And don’t miss Gershon Baskin’s opinion piece (May 19th) in The Jerusalem Post, “Israel must talk to Hamas to improve the situation in Gaza.”

2nd UPDATE: The Times of Israel’s senior analyst Haviv Rettig Gur has an analysis (May 22nd) that merits reading: “Hamas’s forever war against Israel has a glitch, and it isn’t Iron Dome: Why Hamas promises another war soon, and another and another. And why it won’t work.” The story of the two retired IDF major-generals meeting with Vo Nguyen Giap in Hanoi is interesting. Also the bit about Musa Abu Marzouk’s May 17th interview with RT.

3rd UPDATE: Adam Shatz’s analysis of this latest phase in the Israel-Palestine conflict, “Ghosts in the land,” is up on the LRB website (June 3rd issue). At the end of the piece is a link to Adam’s 45-minute May 21st podcast discussion with Tareq Baconi and Henriette Chacar.

The inevitable explosion

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Gaza edition. I watched the destruction of the Al Jalaa tower in Gaza live on Al Jazeera yesterday. In an email sent out shortly afterward—admittedly sous le coup de l’émotion—I wrote that if the Israelis are looking to be hated, they’re doing a helluva job. As reported, the building housed the offices of Al Jazeera, the Associated Press, and other media outlets, plus offices of businesses, lawyers, and doctors, and private residences. The IDF says that Hamas had “military intelligence assets” in the building—with the journalists and other civilians there thus serving, unbeknownst to them, as “human shields”—so was thus a legitimate military target, and with an IDF spokesman on CNN today reminding us that the inhabitants of the building were given an hour’s notice to evacuate before the missiles hit, so that no one would get hurt. How thoughtful of the IDF. As for the evidence of Hamas’s “military intelligence assets,” the Israelis naturally cannot reveal their “intelligence sources and methods…”

Even if Hamas had some kind of military asset in the building—which the media organizations and others would have presumably been aware of—that was no reason to target it. The fact of the matter is, Israel committed an act of state terrorism in destroying the Al Jalaa tower, even if happily no one was killed or injured, as the manifest intent of taking it down was to terrorize and collectively punish the Gaza population for the actions of its rulers, and to shock and awe Hamas in a way the IDF did not succeed in doing in 2014. In a p. 2 article in Le Monde dated May 16-17 and signed by Madjid Zerrouky and Piotr Smolar, “A Gaza, sous les bombardements, la peur et la dévastation,” one reads that other high-rise buildings in Gaza housing media organizations have been destroyed by the Israelis over the past week. Here is a lengthy passage that merits quoting:

Les Gazaouis ont une hantise des immeubles les plus hauts depuis que les forces israéliennes s’emploient à réduire méthodiquement à l’état de gravats ce que les locaux appellent les « tours ». Soit une demi-douzaine d’édifices de plus de dix étages qui se sont effondrés en quelques secondes, endommageant les habitations alentours. Cette fois, les forces israéliennes ont surpris les habitants en ciblant, dès les premières heures du conflit, les infrastructures civiles et commerciales du territoire.

Une quasi-inversion par rapport à leur « calendrier » d’attaques en 2014. Et une nouvelle punition collective pour le poète Omar Salah, 19 ans. Membre de We Are Not Numbers (« Nous ne sommes pas des numéros »), un collectif de jeunes Gazaouis qui ont saisi la plume pour informer le monde et échapper à l’enfermement, il décrivait avec amertume le sort réservé à l’artère commerçante du quartier de Rimal, attaquée le 13 mai. « Rimal est associé à de beaux souvenirs chez tout le monde dans la bande de Gaza. En ces jours d’avant l’Aïd, cet endroit est censé être décoré pour célébrer la fête. Il s’est transformé en cendres grises. »

« C’est un sacrifice pour Jérusalem, Cheikh Jarrah et nos frères palestiniens de l’intérieur. » Malgré sa mauvaise fortune, Ahmed Al-Zaim tentait, lui, de faire bonne figure en posant aux pieds de la carcasse d’« Al-Jawhara », la tour dont il était le propriétaire. Un immeuble de dix étages qui est parti en fumée mercredi 12 mai. Le bâtiment abritait 14 médias, dont le quotidien Palestine Daily News, la chaîne de télévision panarabe Al-Araby ou l’agence photo APA. La veille, la tour « Al-Shourouk » avait subi le même sort. Sept médias, dont ceux du Hamas, y avaient leurs bureaux. L’armée israélienne a affirmé avoir ciblé des stocks d’armes du mouvement islamiste « cachés dans des bâtiments civils ».

« En moins de vingt-quatre heures, Israël a bombardé plus de trois tours qui abritent la plupart des médias locaux et internationaux travaillant à Gaza. C’est alarmant. Israël impose un black-out aux médias pour masquer des crimes de guerre », accuse de son côté Ramy Abdu, président de l’Observatoire euroméditerranéen des droits de l’homme.

Concierge, groupes électrogènes et vue sur la mer… La tour Hanadi, une résidence de 14 étages – le plus haut immeuble de la ville – était, elle, décrite comme un havre de paix et de confort par ses occupants. Quelque 80 familles issues de la classe moyenne et de la bourgeoisie locale ont tout perdu « en un clin d’œil » dans la soirée du 11 mai, selon les dires de l’un de ses habitants, qui, hébétés, s’affairaient le lendemain à récupérer ce qui pouvait l’être au milieu d’un gigantesque amoncellement de décombres : papiers administratifs, jouets des enfants, rideaux ou affaires scolaires…

« J’ai fait aussi l’expérience directe de la première frappe, sur ce qu’on appelle la tour Hanadi. Je la voyais de mon appartement. C’était un peu surréaliste. Effectivement, les habitants avaient été avertis. Sur les réseaux sociaux, l’information a donc circulé que la tour allait être visée », décrit Matthias Schmale, de l’UNWRA. Le gardien de l’immeuble a ainsi été averti au téléphone par un officier israélien. C’est notamment cet échange, filmé, qui a donné l’alerte : « De combien de temps as-tu besoin ? Deux heures, trois heures ? Je vais à l’immeuble pour dire aux gens de ne pas venir et de partir ? (…) Allô. Oui, je suis là. J’écoute. Deux coups avec un drone, puis vous frappez la tour… »

A Beit Lahya, dans le nord de l’enclave, la famille Al-Tanani n’a pas eu la chance d’être contactée. « Elle a complètement été effacée des registres de l’état civil palestinien », note l’universitaire Shadi Fakhri Jabr. Il a fallu plusieurs heures, jeudi, aux membres de la sécurité civile, armés de simples pioches, pour dégager des décombres de leur maison les corps de Rawiya, 37 ans, son époux Mohamed, 39 ans, et de leurs quatre enfants âgés de 4 à 7 ans.

« Les Israéliens préviennent parfois les habitants, mais ils frappent aussi sans avertissement. C’est la loterie. Et les barrages d’artillerie peuvent être si intenses que nos ambulances, qui n’hésitent pourtant pas à aller au feu, atteignent parfois difficilement les blessés. Dans le nord, ce sont des quartiers entiers qui sont touchés, dénonce le docteur Ahmad Mohana, directeur de l’hôpital Al-Awda, qui a la douloureuse impression que le sort s’acharne sur son établissement. Le secteur médical était déjà dans une situation critique : le résultat de quatorze années de siège imposé à la bande de Gaza. Nous venons de subir de plein fouet l’épidémie de Covid-19. Et maintenant, cette guerre… »

All the lives and livelihoods shattered, in addition to those lost. This is an outrage and for which Israel, as the perpetrator, is rather manifestly responsible. Hamas may have initiated hostilities with its unprovoked rocket attacks beginning a week ago but Israel was not obliged to respond militarily, particularly with 90% of the rockets being intercepted by the Iron Dome—which both sides knew would happen—and most of the rest falling harmlessly. Hamas may be playing a cynical game—and committing war crimes while it’s at it—but Israel is not obliged to fall into its trap. And as for Hamas’s cynical game, it may be summed up in the title of a must-read analysis by Le Monde’s Benjamin Barthe and Louis Imbert: “Le Hamas veut imposer à Israël un nouveau rapport de force: Le mouvement islamiste réalise pour l’instant une opération politique payante. Dans l’opinion publique palestinienne, son initiative est saluée comme un sursaut d’orgueil salutaire, un réveil de la résistance à l’occupation israélienne.”

So that’s it: Hamas is seeking to sweep aside a deliquescent Palestinian Authority and impose itself as the dominant Palestinian actor, vis-à-vis Israel and everyone else, and which would most certainly win an election in the West Bank-Gaza (which will have to happen sooner or later). And thanks to Israel, and Benjamin Netanyahu in particular, Hamas will likely succeed.

As for the other side of the equation, two pertinent articles from 2019 have been reposted on social media of late, one in Foreign Affairs by Aaron David Miller, “Israel and Hamas need each other;” the other in the Forward by Gaza writer and columnist Muhammad Shehada, “You know who wants Netanyahu to win? Hamas.” If the latter was the case in 2019, it is equally so in 2021. Hamas wants Netanyahu to remain in power and for his government to lurch even further to the extreme right—and with the inevitable consequences on the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and among Palestinian citizens of Israel. And it will likely succeed. Helluva job, Bibi.

To be continued.

UPDATE: Voilà the page 2 article in Le Monde dated May 18th: “Dimanche à Gaza, le massacre de la rue Wehda.” In The Washington Post’s dispatch (May 17th) on the Wehda Street massacre, and the 17 members of the extended family killed by Israeli missiles, is this:

The [IDF’s] operation is the first test of a new “victory concept” espoused by Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, Israel’s chief of staff. It aims to turn the Israeli military into what one Israeli Defense Forces document describes as a “significantly more lethal, networked war machine that can destroy enemy capabilities in record time and with the lowest possible casualties” and to shift away from the old methods known as “mowing the lawn” — military campaigns that buy a little respite — to more decisive victories. Part of it is adapting to more quickly identify targets in dense urban areas such as Gaza. “This,” Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, an Israeli military spokesman, said in a recent briefing, “is the doctrine and concept being applied.”

For those in the city, it has felt as if there is no escape.

Also in Le Monde is an interview with Hagai El-Ad, the executive director of B’Tselem, in which he submits: “Il faut se demander si la véritable intention de tels assauts [par Israël] n’est pas de brutaliser la population civile.”

2nd UPDATE: The well-known Israeli journalist and specialist of Palestinian affairs (and co-creator of the series ‘Fauda’), Avi Isaacharoff, seeks to set the record straight in a Twitter thread (May 17th) “For the ones who forgot some facts about the war in Gaza.”

3rd UPDATE: Historian Martin Kramer has seen fit to repost on Twitter a 2006 blog post of his, “Hamas of the intellectuals,” the subject of which is the dim views of Edward Said of the Palestinian Islamist organization and the secular intellectuals who apologize for it.

4th UPDATE: Gerson Baskin, the well-known peace activist and founder of the Jerusalem-based Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information—and who has dialogued with Hamas officials—has this comment (May 12th) on his Facebook page:

I don’t know about you, but I am quite amazed by the military capabilities of Hamas. Gaza has been under siege since 2005. From around 2014 the smuggling tunnels between Sinai and Gaza were destroyed by the Egyptians. Israel controls almost everything that enters Gaza, there are strong limitations on materials which are called “dual usage” meaning that they have a civilian use and a potential military use which are not allowed into Gaza. With all those limitations, let’s admit it – Hamas has developed an enormous quantity of short- and long-range rockets which are of a much higher quality than ever before. They have demonstrated the ability to launch up to 100 rockets in a very short period of time. The Engineering faculty of the Islamic University in Gaza must have really focused the studies and military applications of the students in the past years. By the way, if I remember correctly, the building of the Engineering faculty was built with money from USAID. I visited there once back in 2007. With that, it is important to consider what could have been done for the people of Gaza if Hamas had employed all of that enterprising genius in the development of housing, schools, hospitals, high-tech startups and more. I imagine that many Palestinians feel some sense of pride in the military abilities demonstrated by Hamas against mighty Israel. I can understand that, but please take a minute and consider what could have been developed instead of those rockets.

A question I’ve been asking (rhetorically) for years: if Hamas wants to end the Israeli blockade of Gaza, why doesn’t it simply announce that it accepts the three principles of the Middle East Quartet? Seriously.

[update below]

Le 10 mai 1981. It is, as Thomas Legrand reminded us on France Inter this morning, the only election that everyone in France remembers by its full date: day, month, and year. For on that day—today being the 40th anniversary—François Mitterrand won the 2nd round of the presidential election, bringing the left to power for the first time in 23 years—and following the legislative elections the following month, enabling the left to govern without non-left coalition partners for pretty much the first time ever (even the Popular Front in 1936 included centrist Radicals). Every Frenchman and woman with the slightest political consciousness who was around on that day remembers where s/he was and how s/he felt. And for those on the left, the feeling was exhilaration.

As for moi, I wrote about the 10 mai 1981 on the 30th anniversary—in AWAV’s early days—and offered my bilan of Mitterrand’s fourteen years in the Élysée, which one may consult here. I wouldn’t modify anything I wrote then, except maybe on the Maastricht treaty (which I would now not put in the negative column). But my overall assessment of Mitterrand is now darker, with the publication in March of the report of the commission headed by Vincent Duclert and submitted to President Macron, on France, Rwanda, and the genocide of the Tutsis in 1994, and what French archives reveal on this. It’s a damning indictment of Mitterrand’s role, of continuing to support the Hutu regime even as the genocide was underway, refusing to recognize that what was happening was indeed a genocide, and of his atavistic obsession—shared by part of the French military hierarchy—with an imagined “Anglo-Saxon” (i.e. American and British) threat to the French position in Africa, and which Paul Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front was seen as the spearhead. Mitterrand’s attitude toward Rwanda in 1994 is not news but that he was afflicted with the Fashoda complex to this extent—of viewing the USA and UK, otherwise French allies, as adversaries, if not enemies—is striking, not to mention disappointing (for more on this, watch the interview with Vincent Duclert here).

The 10 mai 1981 is of course being marked today, with the usual reportages, documentaries, talk shows, and the like. The reaction of Boomer generation lefties is bittersweet, as in 1981 the left was a political and social force—constituting half the electorate, or close to it—with an ideology, a political program, and hopes for the future and a better life for all. Today the French left is a champs de ruine: a pile of rubble, speaking for at best a third of the electorate, structurally fractured, with no credible program or leaders, and with no hope of qualifying for the 2nd round of next year’s presidential election—or winning any national election in the foreseeable future. And in the PS at least, no one has any illusions about this. The French left is hardly alone here (cf. England, Spain, Italy). I have some things to say on this general subject—of the structural decline of the left in Europe (the USA is a different matter)—and will do so at the opportune moment. In the meantime, here are the thoughts on the anniversary by my friend Guillaume Duval, director of Alternatives Économiques, posted on his Facebook page, and who has not lost hope.

Le 10 mai 1981, il y a 40 ans et j’en avais 24. J’étais déjà cependant un “vieux” militant socialiste puisque j’avais rejoint ce parti en 1973, 2 ans après le congrès d’Epinay qui avait vu sa refondation.

On aurait tort de croire toutefois que les dix années qui séparent Epinay et le 10 mai 1981 ont été une marche triomphale vers la victoire. En 1981 la gauche a gagné bien qu’elle soit profondément divisée. Depuis 1978 c’était la guerre totale entre le Parti communiste (encore très puissant à l’époque) et le Parti socialiste. Et au sein même du Parti socialiste c’était la guerre civile pratiquement aussi totale entre mitterrandistes et rocardiens.

Mais après 16 années de gaullisme conservateur, autoritaire et affairiste (l’image généralement positive qu’a désormais acquis le gaullisme à gauche a de quoi faire sourire celles et ceux qui ont vécu cette période), après 7 ans d’un giscardisme très proche idéologiquement de ce qu’Emmanuel Macron nous inflige actuellement (même si Giscard était plus progressiste qu’Emmanuel Macron sur les sujets de société) la volonté de changement du peuple français a quand même été plus forte que les profondes divisions de la gauche.

Pour ma part, bien que n’ayant jamais été mitterrandiste et connaissant déjà toutes les ambiguïtés du personnage, je m’étais engagé à fond, comme jamais depuis, dans cette campagne. Et je ne le regrette pas. Il fallait aérer le pays, rompre avec ce carcan, bourgeois, conservateur, bien pensant et policier qui nous étouffait.

Même si très vite, dès 1983, appuyé sur l’énarchie qui avait déjà phagocyté les cercles dirigeants du Parti Socialiste, ce qu’on n’appelait pas encore à l’époque le social-libéralisme (que j’ai combattu dès le départ) a triomphé. Faisant ainsi qu’au final les 2 septennats de François Mitterrand ont eu surtout comme fonction historique de rétablir les profits des entreprises qui avaient fondu dans les années 1970 sous Giscard et Chirac…

40 ans plus tard le cycle ouvert avec la rénovation du Parti socialiste (que j’ai pour ma part quitté depuis bientôt trente ans à la fin d’un second septennat de Francois Mitterrand marqué par tant d’affaires sordides) est manifestement terminé.

C’est grâce en particulier à Emmanuel Macron qu’il s’est clos : avec lui la chenille du social-liberalisme énarchique qui avait progressivement dévoré le Parti socialiste s’est muée en papillon d’une nouvelle droite aussi autoritaire que les Pasqua, Poniatowski ou Sarkozy, plus favorable encore que toutes les droites classiques aux plus riches et nettement plus antisociale encore que tous les Chirac, Sarkozy, Giscard et Barre réunis…

Est-ce que la gauche, enfin débarrassée de ces parasites qui la rongeaient de l’intérieur, régénérée par le logiciel écologiste, peut revivre, et cela dès 2022 ? Le pari est évidemment très loin d’être gagné d’avance. Mais toutes celles et tous ceux qui ont vécu la période profondément démoralisante de 1978-1981 (ou celle tout aussi déprimante de 1993-1997) savent aussi qu’il n’est pas non plus nécessairement perdu d’avance. D’autant qu’ils savent également ce qu’une victoire de l’extrême droite impliquerait. Pas une minute à perdre.

On the occasion of the 40th anniversary, France 5 aired a one-hour documentary yesterday, “Henri Weber, le rouge et la rose.” Henri Weber, who died of Covid last year, was a major figure on the French left of the past five decades: in May ’68, then the Trotskyist LCR, before joining the PS in the 1980s, converting to social-democracy, and becoming a personality in the party leadership and one of its intellectuals. For the anecdote, I had the opportunity to speak with him on the phone in 2017—a mutual friend put me in touch—to seek his help in organizing a visit for one of my classes (American students) to PS HQ on Rue de Solférino. He was warm and friendly and made the visit happen. A good man (and with good politics). The documentary may be watched for the next month here.

UPDATE: From INA: Revivez en direct la soirée électorale du 10 mai 1981 (h/t Guillaume Duval). N.B. Jean-Pierre Elkabbach and Alain Duhamel are still around and on TV regularly (I’ve seen both in the past two weeks).

Places of Mind

[update below]

For any left-leaning, intellectually-inclined American of my generation and with an interest in the Middle East, Edward Said was a reference. Eighteen years after his death, he finally has a biography—more-or-less authorized—authored (naturally) by a protégé, Timothy Brennan, a professor of cultural studies, comparative literature, and English at the University of Minnesota. The book has received the expected attention, with four excellent reviews—that I’ve read so far, at least—the most excellent of them the 9,000-word essay by my dear friend Adam Shatz—who knew Said personally—in the May 6th issue of the London Review of Books. If you read just one review of Brennan’s book, let it be Adam’s.

The other reviews are the smart and always interesting Pankaj Mishra’s in the April 26th-May 3rd issue of The New Yorker, Thomas Meaney (smart historian) in the New Statesman, and Sameer Rahim in Prospect magazine (of which he is managing editor; titled “the confusions of Edward Said,” this one isn’t too sympathetic).

I never personally met Said, though saw him speak three or four times in the early-mid ’80s (in New York and Chicago) and was a fan of his through that decade, after which I became critical of some of his public positions, e.g. over the 1991 Gulf War, with him opposing the US-led international coalition but me supporting. And I was not in agreement with his harsh critique of the Oslo Accords, which I strongly favored at the time—how could one be against peace between the Israelis and Palestinians?—but had to acknowledge later that Said was not totally wrong on this one. But despite my political disenchantment with Said, I enjoyed reading his columns in Al-Ahram Weekly in the latter part of the ’90s and to his death in 2003. Agree with him or not, he was a brilliant writer and so erudite.

À propos, watching Said debate Fouad Ajami on the PBS MacNeil/Lehrer Report in 1985 during the War of the Camps in Lebanon (Shias vs. Palestinians), a fellow U of Chicago MENA-focused graduate student friend and I marveled afterward at how these two Middle Eastern Arab academic intellectuals possessed a greater command of the English language than just about any of their educated American counterparts. Both were very impressive.

As for Said’s 20-25 books, I will admit to having only read five. Two of the early ones, The Question of Palestine and Covering Islam, I read around the time they came out and liked both, though my assessment would likely be different today (particularly in regard to the latter). My favorite book by Said was his memoir Out of Place, of his childhood and adolescence, which, in addition to being an engaging read, gave deep insights into the man, his family and milieu, and of life in Cairo and Lebanon (and a bit in Jerusalem) in the 1940s and early ’50s. It’s absolutely worth the read.

As for Orientalism, I first read it early on but not in a serious way. I was generally uncritical of its theses, though felt that Bernard Lewis got the better of the exchange with Said over the book (in the pages of the NYRB in 1982), and this when I was far more politically sympathetic to Said than to Lewis (not that I ever gained sympathy for the latter). In the early ’00s (after 9/11), I decided that I really needed to read it again and seriously, so proposed it to my U of Chicago alumni reading group here in Paris. I will simply say that I strongly disliked the book and downright hated its chapter 3, and particularly the latter part, of Said’s broadside against contemporary (to the 1970s) American social science—and political science above all—on the Middle East (these pages of my copy are covered with marginal comments—e.g. Rubbish! Bullshit!—and exclamation/question marks signifying incredulity). I proclaimed to my reading group friends that Said was way outside his domain of specialization in chapter 3 and simply did not know WTF he was talking about. The critiques of Orientalism by its many detractors were correct. Case closed.

In his essay, Adam mentions the negative reception of Orientalism by intellectuals in the Arab world, citing the case of Sadiq Jalal al-Azm. The article to read on this is Emmanuel Sivan, “Edward Said and His Arab Reviewers,” Jerusalem Quarterly 35 (Spring 1985).

UPDATE: Adam Shatz discusses “Edward Said and Palestine” (May 13th) with historian and journalist Jon Wiener in a 20-minute podcast hosted by The Nation magazine.

Verso’s blog has an unsigned post (May 11th), “A tale of two books: A biographical controversy concerning a new life of Edward Said,” the controversy being over Said’s longtime extra-marital relationship with Dominique Eddé and how Timothy Brennan dealt with that in his book.

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