The Paris attacks: the victims

Credit: Aufeminin

Credit: Aufeminin

The national hommage, at Les Invalides, to the victims of the November 13th attacks is underway as I write. Numerous portraits of the victims have been published in the press and online—here’s one in English—which I can’t look at without tears in my eyes. This is all very close to home. C’est tout c’que j’ai à dire.

[update below]

It’s been a week since my reflections à chaud on the attacks. Like quite a few other people, I’ve been talking, reading, and thinking about little else since then. In the torrent of commentaries and analyses that have been posted online, some have been very good (I linked to a few in the previous post). But now my dear friend Adam Shatz has written the best so far, “Magical thinking about Isis,” in the London Review of Books. Adam and I had lengthy Skype discussions and email exchanges while he was writing the piece, during which he read me parts of it, so I knew what he was going to say. Having now read the published version I can report that it is even better than I expected (and I naturally knew it would be tops, as Adam’s writings invariably are). I have much to say on the subject myself, which I will do in due course. In the meantime, read Adam.

ADDENDUM: The Algerian writer Kamel Daoud—whom Adam profiled in the NYT Magazine last April—has an op-ed in the NYT (dated November 20th), “Saudi Arabia, an ISIS that has made it.” Pour l’info, Daoud is presently in the US and Canada on a book tour, speaking in New York City this past Monday to a packed house. The event, which Adam moderated, was a smashing success, so I heard.

UPDATE: Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi—an Iraqi national, Oxford University graduate, Middle East Forum research fellow, and all-around smart person—has a must-read analysis (November 20th) in The Huffington Post, “The Paris attacks reflect intelligence failure — not a change in ISIS strategy.”

The Paris attacks

[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below] [4th update below] [5th update below] [6th update below] [7th update below]

I’ve been in a daze, along with everyone else here, over what has happened. And having slept fitfully for maybe three hours last night isn’t helping to clear my head. Nor is hearing the accounts of traumatized eyewitnesses on the radio and TV, or watching the mobile phone videos taken from the scenes of the attacks in their immediate aftermath. I can’t wrap my head around this. The terrorist attacks happened in corners of Paris I know well, where I often find myself, and where many people I know often find themselves (and where some live). And where my wife and I could have found ourselves last night, not to mention our daughter had she been in Paris (she’s in university this year down south; and we’re already learning that there are two degrees of separation between us and persons who were killed or wounded last night). In the early evening we went to an art expo at the Fondation Cartier, after which we had a drink at a fine café on nearby Rue Daguerre (14th arrondissement), a café much like the ones targeted last night (we were sitting in the enclosed terrace, looking out over the bustling pedestrian street). I had initially thought that we could have dinner at a Mexican restaurant in the 10th arr.—some 200 meters from where the first attack took place—but as I had already had a late lunch at a restaurant (Hunan) and thus wasn’t hungry—nor was my wife, who took a dish at the café—we decided to head back to our tranquil banlieue, getting home around 9:00, about twenty minutes before the first attack. I watched several minutes of the France-Germany friendly match but missed the explosions, learning about the attacks on the Internet during half time.

In lieu of a lengthy analysis—which would be premature at this early point—a few comments. First, where the attacks took place. The 10th and 11th arrondissements were not chosen at random. This part of Paris—and the eastern part of the city more generally—was historically populaire (working class) but has been transformed over the past two decades. It’s become a hip area, with an active nightlife and cool bars and restaurants frequented mainly by young people (20s/early 30s): hipsters, students, and young professionals, and of all ethnic origins. The evening ambiance in that part of the city is great. And it’s more lively that what I’ve seen in London. The Islamic State terrorists targeted that area precisely because of what it is and symbolizes. As my daughter (age 21) told me on the phone today, the young people who hang out there—and where she goes with friends on weekend evenings when in town—are the best of France’s generation of the future—politically liberal, open-minded, tolerant, and creative. One commentary in English I’ve come across, by Los Angeles-based Parisian Manu Saadia, indeed makes this point.

Second, though only one of the eight dead terrorists has been formally identified as I write, there can be no doubt that the operation was conceived and led by Frenchmen—by persons who grew up in the Paris area, have an intimate knowledge of the city, and are no doubt French citizens from birth. Non-French jihadists could have never hatched this plot. One may also safely assume that the terrorists were radicalized not in mosques or by jihadist imams but via the Internet, and that most, if not all of them, have been in Syria or some other MENA war zone. The sale and private possession of assault weapons are, as one knows, illegal in France, though they can be had via traffickers (mainly from the Balkans). But to learn to use them in the way the terrorists did last night involves training and practice that would be difficult to do in France without being detected, but that they would obviously get in Syria. So France and other European states, in protecting themselves from the Islamic State death cult, absolutely need to shut down, to the extent possible, the route to Syria via Turkey, by, entre autres, formally telling the Turks to stop admitting EU nationals with national ID cards only (and not passports), to issue visas at their borders, and to agree—in return for the substantial aid Turkey will be receiving from the EU to deal with the refugees there—to a discreet European police presence working with their Turkish counterparts on the Syrian border. This won’t entirely solve the problem but it will help a great deal.

Third—and something I was thinking last night—is the huge failure this represents on the part of the French intelligence services. For such a complex, coordinated sequence of terrorist attacks—and involving at least eight, and certainly more, persons—to happen in the heart of Paris, less than a year after Charlie Hebdo-Hyper Cacher and without the police or intelligence apparatus getting wind of it, is a debacle for the French state. And particularly in view of the reinforced Vigipirate deployment since the attacks in January, with ever more soldiers in jungle fatigues with their machine guns—that may or may not be loaded (which would be incredibly stupid either way)—on the streets and transportation hubs. Vigipirate, like the TSA in the US, is useless security theater almost exclusively designed to reassure the public. And it’s a huge waste of money and of the soldiers’ time and training; and, as we have seen, it can’t thwart a mega terrorist attack. But Vigipirate will, of course, only be reinforced. No president of the republic or prime minister will dare rethink it, let alone scrap.

Fourth, the reaction of the public to this attack is likely to be different from the ones in January. In the latter, there was a big rally the evening of the 7th at the Place de la République and with the banner reading “Not Afraid.” People are now afraid. And then there was the “Je suis Charlie” and that was countered by the “Je ne suis pas Charlie,” by those who did not like Charlie Hebdo or identify with the January 11th marches—and this included a sizable portion of France’s 4+ million-strong Muslim population. There is no such cleavage now. Viewing the comments threads of two virulent, high-profile “Je ne suis pas Charlie”-type Facebook pages I follow, Oumma.com and the Parti des Indigènes de la République, since last night has revealed a markedly different tone from what one normally gets from the fans—French Muslims and/or Maghrebis in their near totality—of those two pages—conspiracy theories, vitriol, and hate: toward France, America, and, bien évidemment, “Zionists”—and particularly after the attacks last January. Even the more alienated, resentful members of that population are genuinely horrified by what happened last night and know that they are eventual targets of terrorism along with everyone else. On this, a friend posted on social media this tract from the Islamic State, telling Muslims in the West that, in effect, they must either adhere to the IS and its conception of Islam or “apostatize” and adopt the “kufri” (infidel) religion of the West. In other words, Muslims in France must get off the fence and choose their camp. It goes without saying that, if presented with that choice, the huge majority will side with the “kuffars.” As they say, it’s a no brainer.

As a reminder, on Thursday the Islamic State staged a terrorist attack in Beirut’s southern suburbs—the Dahiya—that killed over forty people. The Dahiya is entirely populated by Shi’ite Muslims and where state power is exercised by Hizbullah, not the Lebanese state. Ergo, the Islamic State death cult is as great a threat—when, concretely speaking, not more of one—to Muslims than it is to non-Muslims.

The fear level in France is going to increase, no doubt about it, as will the repressive capacity of the state (which results axiomatically when a country is “at war” (en guerre), as President Hollande and everyone else is now saying France is. And then I, personally, have to fear for—or at least worry about—how what has happened will affect my own life. I teach in programs for American university students in Paris, but if those students for next semester and beyond cancel their Paris plans en masse, then I will likely be out of a job come January (and along with many other colleagues). That would suck. But then, what are my little problems compared with all those who were seriously wounded last night or lost loved ones?

I have comments, or at least things to say, about the impact all this will have on French politics but as it’s premature—and maybe a little unseemly—to be speculating on that at the present moment, I’ll save it for another time.

UPDATE: The New Yorker has posted three excellent commentaries: Alexandra Schwartz, “Ghostly Paris” (the description of the quartiers where the attacks took place is particularly good); Adam Gopnik, “Terror strikes in Paris;” and Philip Gourevitch, “The Paris attacks: Aftermath and prelude.”

Ellen in the comments thread below made the rather obvious observation—but which didn’t occur to me—that the attacks happened along or near the route of the January 11th Charlie Hebdo march. This could hardly have been a coincidence.

2nd UPDATE: See the homage to Paris by the well-known comic artist Joann Sfar after the attacks, “Fluctuat nec mergitur” (“tossed by the waves but not sunk,” which is the motto of Paris).

3rd UPDATE: My friend Claire Berlinski has a post, “Fluctuat Nec Mergitur,” on the Ricochet blog, in which she discusses my post (and quibbles with a couple of my points).

4th UPDATE: Michales Moutselos, a sharp political scientist and specialist of France and immigration, posted this on my Facebook page

I just wanted to add a bit to the line of thought about the area [where the attacks happened]. I lived there for 5 months (at Chemin Vert) and went jogging very frequently on Bd Richard Lenoir which has frankly become a bit of a carnage strip. Very very familiar places. Anyways, three hypotheses: a) the place has the closest connections to Seine-Saint Denis and the highways to Belgium; b) there are several intersecting Boulevards that do not get traffic jams as much as the ones further west, while parking for a few minutes is actually easy c) what you suggested, that this has become THE place to live, work and have fun for the young and the creative. Assuming jihadists don’t care about government or business targets (or assuming it is too unsafe to target these things), but want to strike the bobos this is the area they would go for.

Good observations. The area was a soft target, easier to hit in addition to its symbolic value.

5th UPDATE: Sciences Po prof Jean-Pierre Filiu has an essay in Politico.eu, “ISIL’s French infiltration: Why France must avoid the Islamic State’s deadly labyrinth.”

6th UPDATE: Olivier Roy has an op-ed in the NYT, “The attacks in Paris reveal the strategic limits of ISIS.” And see Paul Krugman’s excellent column, “Fearing fear itself.” The lede: “Terrorists won’t bring down Western civilization, and the tradeoffs we make to counter it should not include giving in to the panic they hope to create.”

7th UPDATE: My blogging confrère Arthur Goldhammer has a commentary up on The American Prospect website, “Paris, Friday the Thirteenth.” The lede: “Terrorists’ new target: places where regular people go for joie de vivre to eat, drink and unwind.”

Fluctuat nec mergitur (credit: boojumism)

Fluctuat nec mergitur (credit: boojumism)


Paris 13 novembre 2015

Yale, Mizzou, and free speech


[update below] [2nd update below]

I’ve been following the brouhahas at Yale and the U. of Missouri like most others who have some link to US academia and, like other right-thinking people, was appalled by the behavior of the students—and, at Mizzou, members of the faculty—who sought to thwart the free speech rights of others and/or acted in an unacceptable manner. As I had lengthy exchanges on the subject yesterday on social media—with most of the participating (left-of-center) friends agreeing with me—I will not repeat them here. But I do want to link to some of the better analyses and commentaries I’ve come across, which have (naturally) buttressed my position.

On the Yale incident, this was the video—of the student screaming at the professor about ‘safe spaces’—that teed me off. Whatever the grievance, it is totally, utterly unacceptable for a student to address a professor or campus administrator in this manner. Period.

These are good, informative commentaries:

Yale’s big fight over sensitivity and free speech, explained,” in Vox.

James Kirchick in Tablet, “Growing up at Yale: A recent controversy over potentially offensive Halloween costumes at the Ivy League campus makes me ask: Where are the adults?”

Mark Oppenheimer in Tablet, “Person up, Yale students: The problem with the protests isn’t that they’re radical, but that they’re not radical enough.”

Daniel Drezner in WaPo’s Monkey Cage blog, “A clash between administrators and students at Yale went viral. Why that is unfortunate for all concerned.”

On the University of Missouri business, the first piece I saw—and which got me all worked up (watch the video)—was by Conor Friedersdorf in The Atlantic, “Campus activists weaponize ‘safe space’: A journalist at the University of Missouri is mobbed by a crowd insisting he is the aggressor.” And then there’s this one in the NYT.

New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait had a spot on riposte, “Can we start taking political correctness seriously now?”

More than one friend posted on social media a response to Chait by Salon’s Amanda Marcotte, “Quit with the ‘PC’ hysteria: College kids are not trying to steal your freedom of speech.” Marcotte is a good analyst of US partisan politics—I tweet her often—but she’s way off base on this one.

Todd Gitlin, writing in Quartz, explained why “Mizzou protesters are safer with a free press than without one.”

If one didn’t see it, the communications “professor at [the] center of [the] Missouri university protest video“—who actively tried to block student photographer/journalist Tim Tai from doing his job—has offered her “sincere apologies” for her behavior. Of course she did. As an assistant professor who likely does not have tenure, profusely apologizing was sort of the obvious thing for her to do.

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an important commentary by Bruce Joshua Miller and Ned Stuckey-French, which provides critical context for understanding what happened at Mizzou: “In Missouri, the downfall of a business-minded president.” In short, private sector operators—who know nothing about higher education—took control of a public university, and were backed by a political party whose name need not be mentioned. And Mizzou is hardly alone here. Whatever the transgressions of college students and a few professors, the takeover of universities by MBAs and their world-view is the real problem in American higher education today.

UPDATE: TDB reporter Emily Shire has a must-read piece, “Inside Yale’s ‘whites-only’ panic.” The lede: “A professor is screamed at by a student, while claim and counterclaim surround an alleged ‘white girls only’ party—what has led the Ivy League university to the race precipice?” I have, in fact, been skeptical of the veracity of the accounts—all unsubstantiated so far—of black students being turned away from supposedly “whites only” fraternity/sorority parties, and other alleged incidents of racism on campus. Not that overt racism doesn’t exist among college students—e.g. the University of Oklahoma incident earlier this year—but its frequency is no doubt overblown. This reminds me of the racial/identity politics at my liberal arts college in the 1970s, where black students could and did make accusations of racism toward the institution—which were bullshit—and never be frontally challenged (no one dared). Honestly, there was a lot of crap uttered by militant black students back then—who were coddled and indulged by the college in all sorts of ways (and given an uncritical free pass by bleeding heart leftist whites). And there was social pressure from black students on fellow black students who had white friends not to continue with those friendships (I knew this for a fact). There was pressure for conformity and to fall into line (Emily Shire in her article mentions one such incident at Yale). It was likewise with the radical feminists and gays (some of them). My detestation of identity politics—which I’ve never considered be a marker of leftism—dates from this period.

2nd UPDATE: Vox’s Max Fisher has an equally must-read post, based on his personal experience from a decade ago, “When the campus PC police are conservative: why media ignored the free speech meltdown at William & Mary.” Comment: If the general climate on university campuses suddenly became as right-wing as it is left today—with, e.g., College Republicans and Young Americans for Freedom the center of ideological gravity, and with the faculty correspondingly conservative—there would no doubt be even greater intolerance toward deviating (here, leftist) political views.

U. of Missouri Communications prof Melissa Click, November 9th

U. of Missouri Communications prof Melissa Click, November 9th

Helmut Schmidt R.I.P.


[update below] [2nd update below]

Helmut Schmidt is not someone whose death I would normally have a post on, as I didn’t think about him too much over the decades, but as I am presently teaching two courses on the European Union—one to American undergrads (in French), the other to French graduate students (in English)—I have had occasion to mention him more than twice over the past month, for the role he played in the construction of Europe during his years as chancellor and in solidifying the Franco-German partnership. I told my students—almost none of whom recognized him from a photo or knew a thing about him—that he was up there with Germany’s other outsized postwar chancellors (which happens to be most of them: Konrad Adenauer, Willy Brandt, Helmut Kohl, and Angela Merkel). And his center-left politics were about where mine are today (though not during his time in office, when I was rather more gauchiste).

To commemorate his death, Foreign Affairs has posted on its website an essay Schmidt wrote for the journal’s May-June 1997 issue, “Miles to Go: From American Plan to European Union,” in which he discusses the three speeches that had “a decisive impact on the economic and political rehabilitation of Europe after World War II”: Winston Churchill’s in 1946, on his vision of a United States of Europe; George C. Marshall’s in 1947, laying out what would become the Marshall Plan the following year; and Robert Schuman’s famous one of May 9th 1950, which led to the Treaty of Paris and creation of the ECSC, which in turn led to the Treaty of Rome and then today’s EU. Toward the end of the essay, Schmidt offers this

As this new world emerges [one with three superpowers: the United States, Russia, and China, plus Japan], what will be Europe’s role and weight in international affairs? Neither Britain nor France is a world power any longer, even if they find this difficult to admit to themselves. Italy ceased to be a world power when the Germanic barbarians destroyed the Roman Empire. And, after losing two world wars and constraining itself within a web of European institutions, Germany will never again become a world power. None of the European nation-states will be sufficiently influential to pursue its national interests alone as the world comes to terms with the oncoming global paradigm shift and attempts to address the host of issues that will arise over the control of financial markets, over exchange rates and freedom of trade, arms control, limits on population growth, and the deterioration of the atmosphere and the oceans. Only a vital European Union will have the political, economic, and financial weight to exert an influence on global affairs equal to that of the three superpowers.

It’s a great piece. Absolutely worth reading in full.

Another great essay by Schmidt that’s been posted on more than one website since yesterday is the transcript of the speech he gave on December 4th 2011 at the SPD party congress in Berlin, “Germany in, with and for Europe,” which was widely remarked on at the time in Germany. Money quotes

In 2050, each of the European nations will constitute just a fraction of one per cent of the world’s population. In other words, if we cherish the notion that we Europeans are important for the world, we have to act in unison. As individual states – France, Italy, Germany, Poland, Holland, Denmark or Greece – we will ultimately be measured not in percentages, but in parts per thousand.

That is why the European nation states have a long-term strategic interest in their mutual integration. This strategic interest in European integration will become increasingly significant.

Further down

The Federal Republic of Germany is a very large country with a very competitive economy that needs to be integrated into Europe – to protect it from itself, amongst other things. Ever since 1992 therefore – since the times of Helmut Kohl – Article 23 of the Basic Law has obliged us to cooperate »… in the development of the European Union«. Article 23 also obliges us, as an element of this cooperation, to heed »the principle of subsidiarity«. The present crisis affecting the ability of the EU institutions to take action does not change these principles in any way.

In view of our central geopolitical location, the unfortunate role we played in European history up to the middle of the twentieth century and the strong economy we have today, every German government is called upon to show the utmost sensitivity towards the interests of our partners in the European Union. And our willingness to help is indispensable.

And in conclusion

my friends, let me say that there is really no need to preach international solidarity to Social Democrats. For a century and a half, German Social Democrats have been internationalists to a far greater extent than generations of Liberals, Conservatives or German Nationalists. We Social Democrats have upheld the cause of freedom and human dignity. We have held fast to representative parliamentary democracy. These fundamental values make it our duty to exercise European solidarity today.

In the 21st century, Europe will undoubtedly continue to consist of nation states, each with its own language and history. For that reason Europe will definitely not become a federal state. However, the European Union cannot afford to degenerate into a mere confederation. The European Union must remain a dynamically developing alliance, for which there is no parallel in the whole of human history. We Social Democrats must contribute to the gradual evolution of this alliance.

Also making the rounds since yesterday is Schmidt’s famous line from 1972, when he was finance minister: “I’d rather have five percent inflation than five percent unemployment.” Too bad the spirit of this wasn’t inscribed in the Treaty on European Union and the architecture of the single currency.

Here’s a quote from World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder

Helmut Schmidt was undoubtedly one of the great Germans of the 20th century…When terrorists struck during the 1970s, he refused to be blackmailed and stood his ground. He stood with America when it came to defending the West against Soviet expansionism.

Not a single obituary has neglected to mention that Schmidt was a heavy smoker for almost his entire life, consuming two to three packs of cigarettes a day (menthol, no doubt with high tar content)—along with snuff—from his early teens until a few months ago, after his 96th birthday. According to my calculation, he must have smoked over a million cigarettes in his life. And yet he stayed active—intellectually and otherwise—almost to the very end. Talk about beating the odds.

UPDATE: Die Zeit editor Josef Joffe has a good remembrance in the WSJ of “The man who saved Germany’s new democracy: Helmut Schmidt saw his country through terrorism and Soviet intimidation with its liberty intact.”

And see Le Monde’s very good editorial, “Helmut Schmidt, un visionnaire dans le réel.”

2nd UPDATE: Die Zeit political editor Jochen Bittner has an op-ed in the NYT explaining “Why Germans loved Helmut Schmidt.”

Süddeutsche Zeitung

Süddeutsche Zeitung



Turkey being in the news lately, this is a good moment to do an overdue post on this fine Turkish film that opened in France in June to top reviews and audience acclaim—it did exceptionally well at the box office for a movie entirely in Turkish—and is France’s official entry for the Academy Award for best foreign language film. That’s right, France’s entry, the selection committee here considering it French, as it is a French co-production and director Deniz Gamze Ergüven has lived in France for most of her adult life (a good, engaging film though it is, this is ridiculous IMO, as the pic is 100% Turkish—there’s not a thing French about it—and there is one French film this year that should by all rights be France’s Oscar entry).

The story is simple. Five orphaned sisters in their teens and tweens live with an uncle, aunt, and grandmother in a big house in a village on the Black Sea somewhere near Trabzon. They’re sassy and full of life—and all pretty—but when their patriarchal uncle—who no doubt votes for the AKP—learns via village gossip that they’ve been flirting with boys after school and are, generally speaking, too free-spirited, he decides—with the willing assent of wife and mother—to pull them out of school and lock them in the house—allowed out only when closely chaperoned—so as to preserve the family honor, i.e. the girls’ virginity, until they can be married off (the uncle, who so fears his nieces’ putative sexuality, is naturally a pervert and rapist himself). The sisters, who are as close to one another as siblings can be, develop all sorts of schemes and strategies to break out of their prison. Some good and amusing scenes here, but also tragic ones. The sisters, all played by non-professional actresses, are great.

The film is a paean to feminism and the struggle against patriarchy and idiotic codes of honor regarding female sexuality in societies that have not entirely completed the transition to modernity (if one wants an explanation of the French Oscar choice, there you have it). But while the conservative family guardians and other villagers are frozen in archaic ways of thinking about gender, not everyone is. The sisters have sympathizers, indeed allies, on the outside. It’s a Turkish story. Two of the sisters, led by the youngest one—and the most audacious and rebellious—12-year-old Lale (actress Güneş Nezihe Şensoy; A Star Is Born…), dream of escaping to Istanbul, 1000 km away—Lale’s last schoolteacher, a feminist (who certainly votes CHP, maybe even HDP) is there—and (spoiler alert!) ultimately do. Istanbul symbolizes freedom—freedom being another of the pic’s leitmotifs (and thus the title). One feels their exhilaration as they cross the Bosphorus bridge at dawn on their long bus trip from the world they’re fleeing. US critics who saw the pic at Cannes last May, though noting minor issues, all gave it the thumbs up (more than one made reference to Sofia Coppola’s ‘The Virgin Suicides’—which I have not seen—and Pride and Prejudice). US and UK release should happen early next year. Trailer is here.


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