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Archive for January, 2014

1125-08-Luz-Dieudo1

Charlie Hebdo nº 1125, 08-01-2014

Charlie Hebdo nº 1125, 08-01-2014

[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below] [4th update below]

The BBC World Service has a good 23 minute report, “Dieudonné: France’s most dangerous comedian?,” broadcast yesterday and that is well worth the listen (h/t Art Goldhammer). Reporter Helen Grady highlights Dieudonné’s fans, and particularly those from post-colonial and DOM-TOM minorities, who manifestly have far fewer problems with Marine Le Pen and the Front National than they do with their fellow Jewish citizens (as if Jews, collectively speaking, ever did anything to any member of these minorities; or to anyone in France for that matter). This is disturbing, to say the least. One may hypothesize that Dieudonné’s rapprochement with the extreme right—initiated a decade ago—has given the green light to his numerous fans from the aforementioned minorities to do likewise, and that his in-your-face antisemitism has likewise libéré la parole for his fans on this. Insofar as this is the case, maybe there is a Dieudonné affaire after all…

If anti-Semites are publicly rearing their heads in France—thanks to the Internet—they are in the US as well, of course. In looking for stuff on Internet I came across this mini-screed from 2012 by the conspiracy theorist, onetime University of Wisconsin-Madison lecturer, and Richard Falk pal Kevin Barrett, “NY Times blasts French ‘truth terrorist’ Dieudonné.” No comment.

On a higher intellectual note, Jean Baubérot, the well-known sociologist-historian of religion in France—and whose perspectives on laïcité à la française I entirely share—, has a post on “Antisémitisme et racisme” on his Mediapart blog.

UPDATE: To get an idea of Dieudonné’s humor—and what makes his fans laugh—take a look at this skit on “the deported Jew” (subtitles in English). Ça se passe de commentaire. It is being reported in the French media today (March 11th) that the lawsuit of the owners of the Théâtre de la Main d’Or to have Dieudonné’s lease cancelled will be adjudicated on April 29th. One can only hope the owners will win. The sooner the S.O.B. is put out of business, the better.

2nd UPDATE: Voilà an article in Le Point (July 1st), “Dieudonné, un pas de plus dans l’abjection.” The lede: Le Point.fr est allé voir ‘La Bête immonde’, son nouveau spectacle. Devant un public conquis, le comédien a déversé sa haine sur les Juifs. Affligeant.

3rd UPDATE: Canal+ broadcast a 52-minute “Enquête sur le réseau Dieudonné” on June 30th, that may be viewed here.

4th UPDATE: The Paris Tribunal de Grande Instance (district court) has postponed—and for at least the fourth time—a ruling on the lawsuit to have Dieudonné’s Théâtre de la Main d’Or lease cancelled (September 23rd). A definitive decision looks to have been, as they say, renvoyé aux calendes grecques.

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Twitter @Lauren_Provost: Vu dans le cortège #JourDeColere

Twitter @Lauren_Provost: Vu dans le cortège #JourDeColere

[update below] [2nd update below]

Thomas Legrand had an excellent commentary on yesterday’s ‘Jour de colère’ in his political editorial on France Inter this morning. He absolutely, totally nails it. One may listen to or read the editorial here. For those who are too lazy to don’t feel like opening the link, here’s the whole thing

Jour de colère : la manif “travail famille patrie”

C’était une manifestation, non pas d’exaspération envers une politique mais envers une personne, François Hollande. Pour ce qu’il représente pour eux, l’anti-France ! Pourtant on ne peut pas vraiment dire que François Hollande soit l’incarnation de la gauche “couteau entre les dents”. Ni que ses discours soient imprégnés d’idéologie sectaire, que son propos soit particulièrement “clivant”…  Une autre partie de la population, beaucoup plus large, aurait même tendance à lui reprocher le contraire : sa mollesse, son absence de leadership ! Alors que leur a-t-il fait pour les mettre dans cet état là ? Le mariage pour tous ? Trop d’impôts ? La promotion des congés paternité qui “assexueraient” notre société ? Non, ces éléments avancés comme autant d’attaques invivables contre notre civilisation, ne sont, en réalité rien au regard d’un seul élément, toujours le même quand la gauche est au pouvoir : l’illégitimité. La gauche héritière de la Révolution française, la gauche régicide est toujours illégitime pour une petite partie de la droite la plus réactionnaire. Cette partie de la droite, depuis la Libération et les révélations de ses trahisons pendant la guerre, se taisait, se terrait dans quelques recoins de Versailles, dans l’ouest parisien, dans de vieilles familles du grand ouest, dans quelques belles demeures de province et églises intégristes… Mais bon, il ne faut pas non plus surestimer le potentiel révolutionnaire du Vésinet.

C’est vraiment une France très minoritaire que vous décrivez là !

Oui on l’avait vue ressurgir auprès de Jean-Marie Le Pen, avant que Marine Le Pen ne républicanise la façade du FN. Cette droite n’est pas le gros du bataillon de la droite politique UMP, ni même du Front National. C’est un petit noyau réactionnaire qui a trouvé, à l’occasion de la contestation du mariage pour tous, une caisse de résonance. Internet a fait le lien entre toutes les miettes vieille France éparpillées et qui avaient l’impression -avant de se voir les uns les autres- de n’être que la trace d’un monde qui s’en va. En réalité ils le sont mais l’amplificateur d’internet et la coagulation (momentanée) de leurs préoccupations avec celles d’une population beaucoup plus large et beaucoup plus modérée, au moment de la manif pour tous, ou des bonnets rouges, leur fait croire qu’une forme de restauration est possible. Il existe à gauche aussi une petite frange, héritière des sans-culottes, et qui considère que tout ce qui est de droite est fasciste ! Chacun des deux camps, droite et gauche ne peut se permettre de couper tout à fait les ponts avec ces deux franges qui regroupent tous ceux qui n’ont pas accepté, soit que la révolution ait eu lieu, soit qu’elle n’ait pas été assez loin. Il est quand même étonnant, après avoir vu les fleurs de Lys et les quenelles hier qu’un responsable de l’UMP comme Luc Chatel dise “comprendre les manifestants”. Car il s’agissait bien d’une manifestation factieuse. “Travail, famille, patrie” ! Que cette droite légitimiste soit rejointe par l’extrême gauche antisémite et populiste de Dieudonné et d’Alain Soral, et nous avons le cocktail anti républicain de la révolution nationale de la collaboration. La manif pour tous du printemps denier a engendré un petit monstre… Plus ridicule qu’effrayant… à l’image de Béatrice Bourges, martyre de la dictature Hollandiste et qui a décidé de faire une grève de la faim jusqu’à la démission de François Hollande ! Il faudrait prévenir la chef du printemps français que si le ridicule ne tue pas, la privation de nourriture : si !

On the bit about the “illegitimacy” of the left in power in the eyes of the hard right: I mentioned this in my post w/pics yesterday and made the parallel with the GOP right-wing in the US, which does not accept the legitimacy of Barack Obama’s victories (but didn’t with Bill Clinton’s either; and no doubt wouldn’t have with Gore or Kerry if they had been elected). If Rush Limbaugh’s ditto heads were transformed into Frenchmen and transported to Paris, a certain number would have found themselves in yesterday’s demo, c’est sûr.

This half-minute video of the ‘Jour de colère’ pretty much sums up the general Weltanshauung of the marchers. And then there’s this one

UPDATE: Le Monde journalists Abel Mestre and Caroline Monnot have a must-read post on their ‘Droite(s) extrême(s)’ blog—and that seconds Thomas Legrand’s analysis above—on “La défaite politique de «Jour de colère».”

2nd UPDATE: Yesterday’s Le Petit Journal (Canal+) had a report on the Jour de colère, showing its journalists being aggressed and manhandled by demonstrators. (January 28)

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jdc2

The Day of Anger, this afternoon in Paris. It was the biggest demonstration of the French hard and extreme right since the anti-gay marriage movement of last spring. The organizers of the demo did not reveal their identity, though it seems to have been a recently formed network of far rightists called Printemps français (French Spring; how original…). A multitude of groups—though no political parties—from that end of the political spectrum signed on to the march—including Dieudonné and his sidekick Alain Soral’s Egalité et Réconciliation—and which was well publicized on the websites of the réacosphère and fachosphère.  Here’s the manifesto of the march from its website (my translation)

The Day of Anger is the expression of a collective awareness of civil society vis-à-vis the deleterious action of a government that is pulling us into the abyss. As France is sinking into mass unemployment, is losing its sovereignty by the day, the hopelessness of its citizens is increasing, families are being destroyed, and its historic values are being trampled on, our duty as enlightened citizens obligates us to rise to the occasion and react to a president who insists that he will not deviate an inch from the course he has embarked upon.

We demand a radical change, basing ourselves on a “coagulation” of all our angers.

We crystallize the totality of these disappointments, of these fears, and these frustrations into a day of anger. A contemporary Dies Irae, which will definitively bring an end to these policies inherited from [preceding governments].

Until now the government has been counting on a fragmentation of contestations, so as to better isolate and heap contempt on them. It is time to unite our forces around common issues that bring us together.

We all have at least one reason to be angry at this government, among them:

Does not listen to the people
Fleeces the taxpayers
Starves our farmers
Does away with our army
Frees delinquents from prison
Confuses our children
Perverts our educational system
Diminishes our liberties
Murders our identity
Destroys our families

Employers, employees, unemployed, retirees, the self-employed, students and their parents, taxpayers and citizens, elected officials and simple citizens, we say NO to the current policies and direction taken by an irresponsible and incompetent elite.

The reasons for our anger:

The diminishing of the army
Deindustralization
The power of finance
Soft on crime
Educational dogmas
Corruption and dishonesty
The deplorable image of France abroad
Unemployment
Fleecing the taxpayers
Incompetence of the government
Erratic foreign policy
Atlantist vassaldom [i.e. submission to the United States]
Destruction of the family
Mismanagement in government

It is time to draw up a new List of Grievances and convoke the Estates-General and a Sovereign Assembly [N.B. language from the French Revolution]. It is time to bring liberty back to France!

Run-of-the-mill hard right neo-Poujadism. The nascent French Tea Party. As it looked to be a significant event, I decided to check it out. The march started at the Bastille and with the Place Vauban below Invalides the destination point. I caught it at Montparnasse, toward 4 PM. The weather today was terrible: steady drizzle, blustery, mid 40s (7°C). A lousy day for a demo. And to take photos. But there was a big turnout: the police said 17,000, the organizers 160,000. It was somewhere in between but closer to the police figure. Here are some of the pics I took.

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The call for President Hollande to resign (but why exactly?) was the watchword.

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Many placards railing on against high taxes. And there were even a couple denouncing the Sécu (national health insurance and pensions). That’s new.

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It’s a middle-class crowd. The majority no doubt vote for the Front National (though which was not present in any way, shape, or form). There were no politicians or parties.

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The French are angry. Can’t argue with that.

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The placard of Hollande with the pink strip over his eyes reads: Dégage! (from the Tunisian uprising against Ben Ali three years ago; French far-rightists borrowing slogans from Arabs…).

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Placards and slogans against gay marriage were numerous. Catholic traditionalists were dominant in this stretch of the march.

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Palestinian flag. The only foreign flag in the demo. Hmmm, I wonder why?….

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Un renois et un rebeu. La France de toutes les couleurs…

Whoever said blacks and Arabs can’t be reactionary too?…

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Against gay marriage.

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A pineapple: a clin d’œil to Dieudonné. One of the contingents of young men was singing his ‘Shoah nanas’, mocking the Holocaust. Another group chanted: “Shoah, Shoah, hahaha.” Yes, how funny…  😐

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CRS riot police at the entrance to Rue de Rennes. Young men chanted anti-police slogans and made gestures as they passed.

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The banner says something about abortion and the French state being Nazi…

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A lot of my pics were blurry, unfortunately. This man’s t-shirt reads ‘Hollande is not our president’. Tea Party GOPers in the US feel similarly about Obama. Interesting how the hard right, whatever the country, rejects the legitimacy of elections when the left wins…

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No to a Change of People and Civilization. This comes from the well-known pro-FN writer Renaud Camus’s “Appel,” sounding the alarm over the apparent dissolution of the French people and French civilization through immigration and Islamization.

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Angry Catholics.

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Doing Dieudonné’s “quenelle.” I saw several, all from white punks (except for this guy).

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Several groups of young demonstrators—all “white” French, BTW—wore balaclavas, as if they were ready to face off against the police. And they did at the end of the march, as the TV news reported.

This is the first far-right event I’ve attended where I didn’t feel entirely reassured for my safety. A lot of the young men—manifestly hardcore Dieudo fans—looked the kind who like to pick fights.

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Young men from “visible minorities.” They were a minority in the demo but they were there. Fachos of a feather…

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Against Europe. No to dismantling France and the Republic. Nice to know they’re for the Republic…

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The younger marchers where disproportionately male but young women were present. Pourquoi pas?

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Cathos tradis en colère contre quelque chose…

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A rare Islamic headscarf.

There was a gap in the march, the weather was terrible, so I decided to leave. But more contingents arrived, all with their pet peeves and slogans. If it were a nicer day I would have accompanied the demo to the end. La prochaine fois…

Here are reports in Slate.fr (from ten days ago), Mediapart, and Rue89.

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VSD_1622-01-2014

It’s official. They’ve broken up. Or, rather, he dumped her. Repudiated her. Formally and officially. I haven’t posted on French politics in the past couple of weeks, which doesn’t mean I haven’t been following it closely—both this affair and the (objectively more important) announcements in regard to economic policy. In addition to following current events closely I’ve been talking to the various people I know in the Socialist party (the base and pols at the local level; I presently have no one in the national leadership in my mobile phone carnet) or who are close to it. I’ll come back to the (objectively more important) policy stuff in a subsequent post but first this.

At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, I think this affair is disastrous for François Hollande and his image. Couples break up all the time, of course—that’s life—, but the circumstances surrounding this one—such as we’ve learned via the presse people (i.e. gossip magazines) over the past couple of weeks (and notably Closer, whose scoops have been confirmed officieusement by those close to Hollande)—leave a particularly bad taste. As it turns out, Hollande has been carrying on with Julie Gayet for some two years now, in what apparently is a real relationship with sentiments. Which means the thing started sometime in 2011 or early 2012, i.e. before the presidential election. During the campaign Valérie Trierweiler was presented as his cohabiting companion—his serious S.O.—and after the victory she assumed the position of première dame, with office in the Elysée, staff, etc. All this while François was seeing Julie on the side—and on numerous occasions, slipping out of the Elysée (on scooters, etc) for their trysts. And Valérie knew nothing about it. She apparently had no inkling. As I and many others have wondered, WTF was François thinking?! Did he really believe that he, as Président de la République in the second decade of the 21st century, could get away with such behavior without the presse people and Internet not learning about it and then making hay? and not to mention the mainstream elite media, which may be striving to keep the focus on the (objectively more important) domains of economic, social, foreign, etc policy but, in this day and age, can no longer pretend that a crisis in the Président de la République’s conjugal life is a taboo subject and off limits, particularly when everyone else is talking about it…

What leaves a bad taste here is that François has humiliated Valérie and in a very big and public way. He has shown himself to be a cad. A total jerk (and I’m using gentle words here; my language could be much stronger). Contrast this with Nicolas Sarkozy and his turbulent—and very public—romantic life in the months following his election victory in 2007. In his case, it was his wife (Cécilia) who left him. He did everything he could to keep her but she was the one who wanted out (and she had another man). Taking up with Carla Bruni only a few months after and the way he displayed it publicly—’Carla, c’est du sérieux’, etc—was unseemly to many—and particularly older conservatives—and made him look like he was debasing the office of the President of the Republic—which he was—, but at least he really was sérieux about Carla. Say what one will about Sarkozy—and I was no fan of his, loin s’en faut—but he is nice to women and did/does not humiliate them, and certainly not in public (e.g. politically speaking, he felt he had to separate himself from Rachida Dati and Rama Yade, but he cut these two headstrong women a lot of slack—more than he did their male counterparts—and did not diminish them when they were finally removed from their ministerial posts). Jacques Chirac: he was a chaud lapin, as was well-known, but was also a gentleman and who respected cultural codes and conventions; and while Bernadette may have privately suffered on account her husband’s dalliances, she was not humiliated publicly (and she remains the most popular and respected première dame of the Fifth Republic). François Mitterrand likewise: he was a grand séducteur and with a secret second family but had an arrangement with Danielle, who led her own life (and no doubt in every respect). Valéry Giscard d’Estaing was a typical male of his social class and rank, an upstanding family man with mistress(es) on the side. As for Georges Pompidou and, above all, Charles de Gaulle, these were upright, conservative men of their generation; and de Gaulle was apparently shocked at accounts of John F. Kennedy’s libertinage; so much for clichés of philandering Frenchmen and puritanical Americans. And if one goes outre-Atlantique, Bill Clinton may have been a horndog but everything that was revealed about him during his presidency in this domain (Paula Jones, Monica Lewinsky…) was about sex tout court—no sentiments—and was displayed in the public square by his political enemies for all to see. Bill tried to keep his private life discreet—and his indiscretions were, in fact, no big deal at all—and never humiliated Hillary. If Hillary was humiliated during the Lewinsky business, it was on account of Kenneth Starr and his henchmen in Congress and the media, not her husband.

A friend—who’s a retired haut fonctionnaire—explained the situation to me the other day: in the French bourgeoisie it is accepted that men will have an affair or mistress and this is okay, so long as he is discreet about it (bourgeois men nowadays do divorce their wives and marry their mistresses, but this is a relatively new phenomenon, of the current generations). He does not leave his wife (and mother of his children) and does not publicly expose her to the situation. And she may well have a lover herself but that’s okay too, as long as the marriage remains intact and social conventions are respected. The problem with Hollande here, according to my friend, is that he did not respect the conventions and codes of his class (indeed society). He lived with Ségolène Royal—also from the bourgeoisie—for 25 years and had four children with her, but they did not marry, even when she publicly made it clear (in 2006) that she was ready and willing. Their relationship ended when François took up with Valérie but he wouldn’t marry her either. And now he’s moved on to someone else—and while President of the Republic to boot. Culturally speaking, this does not fly, not for a man of his standing and who occupies the office that he does.

Hollande’s penchant for strong-willed women with strong, independent personalities could speak in his favor but still… The man, to those who don’t know him, looks like he has a problem with women. His inscrutable personality has been remarked upon by many, including his son, but now people will be making negative judgments about it. Every last woman with whom I have discussed the affair—from their early 20s to the troisième âge, plus those I’ve listened to/heard in the media—has been severe in her judgment of him as a man. President Hollande has discredited himself in the eyes of many women on the left (don’t even talk about those on the right). And this despite the fact that Valérie Trierweiler herself has not had a positive public image (despite her sizable following on Twitter—more than any politician apart from Hollande and Sarkozy—she is widely disliked; I have yet to hear any woman speak favorably of her; and she has few friends or allies in the Socialist party or Hollande’s entourage). And for her repudiation-to-be, announced by communiqué as she was set to visit India with a humanitarian organization: this is doubly humiliating.

I obviously have no idea what the political fallout of this will be but it cannot be good for Hollande. This is the last thing he—or France—needs at this moment, with his announcement of a bold but problematic shift in economic policy, and for which he will need all the public support he can muster. This thing may blow over with time but I doubt it, particularly as Valérie is not likely to fade from public life (as did Cécilia Sarkozy, who remarried and moved to New York). Looking ahead to 2017, I just don’t see how Hollande can credibly run for reelection.

I will say that I’m glad this isn’t Britain or the US, with the media circus that would have ensued. The French media has handled the affair as it should have, with a sort of division of labor: the elite press focusing on policy and relegating the personal business to the inside pages—and with highbrow debates on the changing boundaries of public and private life—and leaving scoops and speculation on Valérie and Julie to the weekly news and gossip magazines (France thankfully does not have British-style tabloids). And the TV talk shows—those I’ve seen—have made it a big story but not to the detriment of others.

À suivre.

nº1127, 22-01-2014

nº1127, 22-01-2014

nº1126, 15-01-2014

nº1126, 15-01-2014

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That’s the title of an op-ed in today’s NYT by University of Houston historian and France specialist Robert Zaretsky, who makes mention of François Hollande’s latest personal problems as yet another milestone in the diminishing stature of the French President of the Republic. I don’t have anything in particular to say about Zaretsky’s piece except for this bit (and which inspires the title of the op-ed)

The Gaullist Republic was as much a cultural as a political fact, but French culture and politics have changed dramatically. Given the persistent calls for a Sixth Republic, one that enhances Parliament’s powers, is it possible that the Gaullist Republic has outlived its purpose?

A couple of points. First, the calls for a Sixth Republic have come exclusively from the left (and have abated in recent years). Junking the current system and moving to a 6ème République was a slogan of Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s 2012 presidential campaign but it wasn’t clear—to me, at least—what he had in mind by it (and I wasn’t sufficiently motivated to delve into his campaign literature to try to find out). In the 1990s and early ’00s, some on the left (e.g. Jack Lang, Olivier Duhamel) argued for a Sixth Republic that would, in effect, restore the parliamentary regime of the Third and Fourth Republics. Others (notably Jean-Pierre Chevènement) advocated a Sixth Republic that would replace the current hybrid presidential-parliamentary system with a full-fledged American-style presidential one (involving, entre autres, an abolition of the post of prime minister and a clear separation of the executive and legislative pouvoirs). The ideas here were worthy but were of interest only to a handful of politicians, jurists, and political scientists (e.g. me), who like to read and think about institutions and process. Average citizens—even informed ones, who follow current events—are, for their part, neither knowledgeable about nor interested in such matters. They don’t care, regardless of what polls may say (e.g. the apparent overwhelming support—as indicated in polls, though which did not measure intensity of feeling on the question—for reducing the presidential seven-year term to five; but when the referendum on this was organized in 2000—by President Chirac, who didn’t like the idea at all but was in a cohabitation with the left, which decided to make an issue of the quinquennat—, the participation rate barely hit 30%). So a majority party has nothing whatever to gain politically by proposing a change in the constitutional order, particularly as the party, almost by definition, benefits from the existing one.  And the existing constitutional order—here, the Fifth Republic—has rock solid support on the right—those who venerate Charles de Gaulle are hardly going to jettison his principal œuvre—but also in the moderate left (for the anecdote, in 2002 or thereabouts I argued for a Sixth Republic with a PS activist who was also an énarque at the Cour des Comptes, who defended the constitution of the Fifth Republic as having endowed France with strong institutions and political stability). And it does not stand to reason that a president would approve of an initiative that could only result in a substantial reduction of his office’s powers.

Secondly, new constitutions in France have almost never been adopted by the regime that is to be replaced. Since 1789 France has had 15 constitutional orders, all but one of which (1791) came about following a popular uprising that overthrew a king (or reduced him to a figurehead, as in 1789), a coup d’Etat (or something approaching one), or a defeat in war. In the case of the current constitution, it was the product of a quasi coup in May 1958, when the top generals—based in Algeria—demanded the return of de Gaulle, obliging the political leadership in Paris to accede to the latter’s demand to rule by decree while a new constitution was being drawn up. None of the three aforementioned scenarios is in the offing these days, needless to say. So there is not going to be a Sixth Republic. It’s just not going to happen.

BTW, President Sarkozy initiated a major revision of the constitution in 2008, which amended almost half its articles. Some of the revisions increased the powers of the National Assembly and democratized access to the constitutional council. But I’ll wager that the great majority of Frenchmen and women couldn’t tell you a thing about this, if they’re even aware it happened…

On Hollande and his current issues, including personal, I’ll say something about this in the next day or two.

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Ariel Sharon

David Silverman Getty Images

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

I should say R.I.P. but can’t, as I despised and loathed him for way too long, from his invasion of Lebanon through the second Intifada. Along with countless others—including many Israelis—I simply couldn’t stand the man. I could barely even stand to look at his tronche on television and was thoroughly appalled when he was elected PM in 2001. After all he had done, I could hardly believe that he would attain such a position (though I suppose we should thank Yasser Arafat for that). But whereas others will continue to viscerally hate public figures for decades, indeed a lifetime, my detestations are rarely eternal. From 2004 or so onward, I became increasingly indifferent toward him and, I will readily admit, was favorably surprised by the Gaza evacuation. Okay, he may have done it for his own reasons and with no coordination with the PA—which was an error—but he still did it, and ejected 8,000 settlers in the process. No other Israeli politician could have or would have carried out such an operation. But he didn’t get too much credit from his pro-Pal detractors for that. And his death on Saturday brought forth the expected torrent of vitriol and hate from the usual quarters on my Facebook news feed, rivaled only by that accorded to Margaret Thatcher when she passed away last April. On this I adhere to the sentiments of MENA specialist Bill Lawrence—recent North Africa director at the ICG, now with POMED—, which he posted yesterday on FB

All of the Sharon-bashing today on facebook rubbed me the wrong way. I understand why those who Sharon-bashed did it–it is cathartic, among other things. And done right it can be educational and serve to counterbalance misinformation coming out. But it was mostly happening in echo chambers where everyone knows the score. To speak ill of someone on the day they die, no matter who it is, and with so much vitriol, does not make us better. (I am guilty of this bashing the dead myself as well, so I am not trying to be holier than thou here. I’m just trying to process.) Any death is a death for all of us, whether of Sharon, of a victim of Sharon, or a victim of a victim of Sharon. There is no complete justice in this life, and certainly not from killing for revenge, nor from speaking ill of those who just died. I increasingly feel we should use the occasion of any death to try to love each other a bit more, and not hate each other more. Better to bite one’s tongue than to bite another with one’s tongue and teeth. And I say this with full knowledge of man’s inhumanity to man on a daily basis including from my country. I am not calling for silence, or ostrich-like ignorance, just for thoughtfulness on all accounts. May the victims of Sharon rest in peace and may all those who lost their lives today, in Syria, in Libya, in the Central African Republic, elsewhere in Africa, in the Gulf, in Palestine and yes in Israel rest in peace, and may we all learn the lessons of this life and love each other and all humanity more.

The Sharon derangement syndrome—with which I had been afflicted—had become such that even people who should have known better—e.g. MENA academic specialists—were mouthing all kinds of nonsense about him. E.g. a petition that circulated among US MENA and other lefty academics in 2003 or ’04—and that was signed by dozens, including several I knew personally—warned of Sharon’s apparent desire to expel the Palestinian population from the West Bank, to transfer it across the Jordan river, or somewhere. This was preposterous, as Sharon had never evoked such a prospect. He had never even hinted at it indirectly. Ever. Not a single time. And he was never associated at any moment in his career with the sectors of the Israeli extreme right that advocated this (even MENA specialists seemed to forget that Sharon’s early political orientation was more toward the Labor party than the Herut or other right-wing movements).  As for the Gaza disengagement, it went almost without saying on the left and pro-Palestinian camp that it would not be repeated on the West Bank, that Gaza was evacuated precisely to reinforce Israel’s hold on the WB. Perhaps. Perhaps not. We’ll never know. On this—as on Sharon more generally—, Shlomo Avineri had an op-ed in the January 11th Haaretz on “Ariel Sharon: The leader who was almost de Gaulle“:

The life of Ariel Sharon reflects, to a great extent, the various upheavals the State of Israel has undergone. Just as the young member of the Haganah (prestate underground army) from Kfar Malal became a glorified military commander, the driving force behind the settlement enterprise, and a symbol of Israeli power-orientation – manifested in the decision to launch the first Lebanon War in 1982 – Israel also went from being a David facing Goliath to a regional military power. At some point, Sharon – like the rest of Israel – came to understand the limits of power and its inherent dangers.

When Sharon shocked his Likud comrades on the eve of the 2005 disengagement from Gaza by saying that the ongoing Israeli control of the territories was bad not just for the Arabs but also for the Jews, it was clear that realism and sobriety had overcome not just the settlement ideology but the intoxication with power that had characterized post-1967 Israel.

It emerged that the cruel dialectic of politics allows those affiliated with the right to carry out what the left wants to do but cannot. There is a great similarity here to Charles de Gaulle. While the French socialists wanted to withdraw from Algeria, they could never muster the required majority for the move. It was de Gaulle – who came to power through a military coup (something that could never happen in Israel) under the slogan “Long live French Algeria” – who put an end to 130 years of French control of the north African state, resulting in the displacement of more than a million French settlers.

From Sharon’s perspective, the disengagement constituted only the first chapter of a process that was to go much further in the West Bank, with his new party, Kadima, providing the necessary public support. The difference between the two, of course, lies in the fact that de Gaulle succeeded in implementing his policies, while Sharon’s effort was abruptly halted midstream.

What caused Sharon to change direction? First, even though he had initiated the forming of Likud, his origins were not in the Revisionist movement but in the Labor movement. Sharon was a hawk, but a security hawk, not an ideological one – even though at times he felt the need to use “Greater Land of Israel” language. Therefore, when he was convinced that an Israeli presence in Gaza was not a strategic asset but a burden, he had the emotional and moral wherewithal to make the tough decision to withdraw from the Strip and uproot the Jewish communities there, even though they had been established, in no small measure, at his initiative.

One needs considerable intellectual honesty combined with determination – if not brutality – to make such a decision.

In a deeper sense, though, a more fundamental insight lay behind the decision to go forward with the disengagement. Sharon, whose political career was almost destroyed following the first Lebanon war, learned lessons from that experience that many others failed to learn, and this was manifest in his words and deeds.

For starters, he began to understand the limits of Israeli power. Though Israel is the strongest military power in the region, it does not have the power to eliminate the Palestinian movement or force the Palestinians to accept Israeli control over the territories.

Second, given the way that the Lebanon war polarized the country, Sharon understood that, in the future, when Israel would face a choice of making war or making peace, it was necessary to make every effort to keep the Labor Party in the government. He did this after he was elected prime minister in 2001, giving the foreign affairs portfolio to Shimon Peres and the defense ministry to Benjamin Ben-Eliezer. His forming of Kadima also expressed his desire to establish a central force on the political map that could attract moderates from both the left and right.

Sharon’s eulogizers will spend a lot of time discussing his legacy. It’s a complicated one; the settlement enterprise in the West Bank is certainly making the negotiating process more difficult. But the Gaza withdrawal points to the only process that seemingly has a chance – painful unilateral steps that, even without an agreement with the Palestinians, Israel can take in order to reduce its control over them, even as it preserves its security and survival as a Jewish state.

(A minor quibble: de Gaulle did not precisely come to power in a military coup; there was a sort of coup in May 1958 but he was invested in power legally by the parliamentary regime. But the point is well-taken: Israel is not the French Fourth Republic in its dying days, even though there is a similarity or two.)

À propos of Avineri’s obit, Barak Ravid has a most interesting piece in today’s Haaretz: “Sharon was planning diplomatic moves beyond Gaza, leaked documents reveal.” The lede: U.S. cables, Palestinian papers quote then-Israeli prime minister eyeing negotiated withdrawals from West Bank.

Other worthwhile remembrances I’ve read over the past couple of days:

Aaron David Miller, “Warrior, Farmer, Leader: Reflections on the flawed-but-unmatched legacy of Israel’s Ariel Sharon,” in Foreign Policy.

Times of Israel analyst Avi Isaacharof, “Sharon was reviled by Arabs, but that’s not the whole story.”

J.J. Goldberg, “How we recollect Sharon: good, bad, ugly, human,” in The Jewish Daily Forward.

UPDATE: An elaboration of what I said above on becoming increasingly indifferent toward Sharon (instead of merely hating him). At some point during the second Intifada it began to dawn on me that Israel was not the only party to the I-P conflict that was responsible for the conflict, i.e. the Israelis weren’t the only ones who did horrible things and worsened an already bad situation. It has been observed for a decade now that the wave of kamikaze terrorist attacks during the second Intifada dealt a mortal blow to the Israeli peace movement and hardened the Israeli population toward the Palestinians. Pro-Palestinians scoff at this notion, when they don’t angrily reject it, but it’s true. It really is. Personally speaking, the turning point was the March 2002 bombing of the Park Hotel in Netanya. For me, there was a before and an after with this event, even if the evolution in viewpoint did not occur overnight. The kamikaze bombers were sent into Israel from the West Bank and Gaza by organizations—Hamas, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade et al—and with the full knowledge and benediction of Yasser Arafat. And it was a calculated strategy, not spontaneous revenge attacks of the weak. I told people—those who would listen—a decade ago that the Palestinians were going to pay a severe price for the strategy pursued during the second Intifada. And I wasn’t wrong. Ariel Sharon may have been an SOB but there have been many SOBs in this conflict, and on all sides. The policies of Sharon during his five years as PM would have been pursued by any other Israeli in his position.

2nd UPDATE: Gershom Gorenberg has a column in TAP on “The damage [Sharon] did.” The lede: Ariel Sharon’s long death watch makes it possible to see what he left behind.

3rd UPDATE: Alain Gresh has an obit of sorts on his Le Monde Diplo blog, detailing all the bad things Sharon did: “Ariel Sharon, la fin d’un criminel de guerre.” Couldn’t put it more subtly than that, I suppose…

4th UPDATE: Raja Shehadeh, whom I had the pleasure of meeting in Ramallah some five years back, offers an assessment,  on The New Yorker website, of “Ariel Sharon’s corrosive legacy.

5th UPDATE: Writing in Tablet this time, Gershom Gorenberg says “Let’s remember the dark side of Ariel Sharon’s legacy—and bury ‘Sharonism’ with him.” The lede: As defense minister, he presided over disaster in Beirut, and as prime minister, over disengagement, not peacemaking.

6th UPDATE: Avishai Margalit has a personal remembrance, “In the shadow of Sharon,” in the February 20 2014 NYRB. It is well worth reading.

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[update below]

Art Goldhammer has a blog post on the news that Valérie Trierweiler—François Hollande’s companion—has been hospitalized since Friday—when François’s liaison with actress Julie Gayet was revealed in the gossip magazine Closer—, for a “gros coup de blues” (i.e. a bout of depression). And the story is leading the news this evening, on the radio and press web sites. Art is dismayed

Suddenly, Hollande’s amorous escapades are no longer a joking matter. It’s hard to see how this can do the president any good. Even the Sarkozy soap opera never descended to such tragic depths. In a quasi-royal presidential system like the French, the health of the body politic itself suffers when the president is damaged to such a degree. I shake my head in sadness.

I entirely agree. I’m getting a little impatient with this French reflex—from politicians, the media, intellectuals, etc—of invoking “le respect de la vie privée” blah blah at revelations of this sort. Now I do adhere to this reflex most of the time, but we’re talking about the President of the Republic here. When the leader of the French nation two-times his Significant Other in this day and age—and rides motorcycles to his rendez-vous galants in broad daylight—, and when this is certain to be revealed sooner or later in the presse people and on countless web sites, it is not a minor matter. It just seems so stupid and reckless. It should not lead to his resignation, of course, but it’s unseemly. It diminishes the man, particularly with his companion in the hospital as a consequence. Hollande recently announced a significant change of course—in his political/economic thinking, at least—in a social-libéral direction and with a major press conference coming up on Tuesday, which he presumably hopes will focus on this. But now everyone’s talking about Julie and Valérie. Quel gâchis.

UPDATE: Oy vey. Mediapart has a scoop—translated into English—on “President Hollande’s secret visits to meet actress; flat linked to ‘organised crime’.”

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Nº 662, 23-02-2005

Nº 662, 23-02-2005

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

He was the headline on the national news Thursday night, a major story again last night, and was on the front pages of almost all the national newspapers in France yesterday. It is quite amazing that the latest Dieudonné non-Affair—and, objectively speaking, there is no affair, as he hasn’t done anything at the present time to provoke one—has been going on for over two weeks now, that it continues to be a big news story. Which is not to say that it is devoid of interest. The Dieudonné brouhaha has indeed raised some issues—and disquieting ones, notably in regard to his enthusiastic fan base—and provoked what looks to be a real debate over free speech in France and the limits to this (of which more on below). A few points.

First, Dieudonné is not just a comedian. He is a quasi political actor and has been since the 1990s. Pour mémoire, he was an independent candidate in the 1997 legislative elections, in the Dreux constituency—a Front National terre de prédilection since the early ’80s and where Dieudo has his main residence—, obtaining a not insignificant 8% of the vote. His campaign—this before he became an anti-Semite (an open one, at least)—was aimed at the FN’s Marie-France Stirbois—who was Dreux’s National Assembly deputy in the 1989-93 period (she took 61% of the vote in the 1989 by-election there)—and attracted sympathy from the left (all sorts of lefties—e.g. Jack Lang, Marie-George Buffet, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, SOS-Racisme—came to Dreux in the late ’90s to support Dieudo in his ongoing bagarre with Mme Stirbois and the local FN; this several years before he became best buddies with Jean-Marie Le Pen and other frontistes). Dieudonné announced his candidacy in the 2002 and 2007 presidential elections—which went nowhere, of course, as he had no ability to round up the necessary 500 signatures—, was in the second position on the “Euro-Palestine” list in the Île-de-France in the 2004 European elections—when his antisemitism had begun to rear its head—, and headed the “Liste Antisioniste” (i.e. anti-Zionist) in the ÎdF in the 2009 European elections (poster below)—his antisemitism now in full throttle—, and with the list including the well-known Jew haters Yahia Gouasmi, Alain Soral—Dieudo’s main sidekick these days—, and Ginette Hess-Skandrani.

Some numbers: In the 2004 election, the “Euro-Palestine” list won 4% of the vote in the Seine-Saint-Denis (the neuf-trois), spiking at 6 to 8% in La Courneuve, Bobigny, Villepinte, and Clichy-sous-Bois (and obtaining 11% in Garges-lès-Gonesse in the Val d’Oise). The 2009 “Antisioniste” list took a modest 3% in its (relative) stronghold of the Seine-Saint-Denis, winning 4 to 5% in a dozen, heavily immigrant-origin populated communes across the ÎdF. The point here: Dieudonné has a political audience—and notably among the younger generation of visible minorities—that is independent of his specific stand-up comic acts. So when the French state views him as more than a simple entertainer, it is not without reason. Which is not to say that the state’s current actions against him are justified.

Which leads to the second point. The latest Dieudonné (non-)affair is purely the doing of Manuel Valls. If it weren’t for Valls and his grandstanding acharnement against Dieudonné—to have the latter’s shows banned—, I wouldn’t be writing this post. The latest thing blew three weeks ago, when it was reported that Dieudo, in his current stand-up act, was making bad taste Judeophobic jokes about France Inter’s morning news host Patrick Cohen (whom I listen to daily, pour l’info). And this was followed by Nicolas Anelka’s “quenelle” on December 28th, after scoring a goal for his current West Bromwich club—the 11th he’s played for in his turbulent career—against West Ham. No particular reason to be shocked, as Anelka—a trash-talking Muslim convert hailing from an ill-reputed cité in a particularly tough Paris banlieue—said that he’s a friend of Dieudonné’s and did it for his friend (N.B. the “quenelle” is not an inverted Nazi salute; Dieudonné came up with it in the late ’90s; it’s simply a bras d’honneur—an “up yours”—at “the system,” and a gesture of solidarity with Dieudonné and his spiel: which, in view of Dieudo’s obsessive, in-your-face antisemitism, signifies that the quenelle may be rightly interpreted as adhesion to his world-view and pet hatreds). Valls’s gratuitous campaign to silence Dieudonné is of a piece with the most intolerant, liberticide reflexes of the French left. “Pas de liberté pour les ennemis de la liberté”… How many times have I heard that over the years and decades from French lefties (and coming from a man—Saint-Just—who went to the guillotine…)….

Even those who support hate speech laws such as the Loi Gayssot—which, being a First Amendment purist, I do not—and think these alone should suffice in this matter, have been critical of Valls’s liberty-undermining demarche and regret that he’s playing into Dieudonné’s hands, e.g. the prominent political scientist and former PS MEP Olivier Duhamel, Albert Herszkowicz of Memorial 98, Maître Eolas (animateur of the excellent blog Journal d’un avocat), Charb of Charlie Hebdo—who points out the differences between Dieudonné’s legal challenges and the lawsuits that have been filed against CH over the years—, Pascal Riché of Rue89, the Franco-Algerian journalist Akram Belkaïd, the venerable Ligue des Droits de l’Homme, and others. Mediapart’s Edwy Plenel has gone so far as to compare Valls to Nicolas Sarkozy (the similarities between the two have been remarked upon by more than one)

Imposant son duel avec Dieudonné comme le feuilleton médiatique du moment, Manuel Valls fait tout bêtement, et sinistrement, du Nicolas Sarkozy. Il exacerbe, hystérise, divise, dramatise, pour mieux s’imposer en protagoniste solitaire d’une République réduite à l’ordre établi, immobilisée dans une politique de la peur, obsédée par la désignation d’ennemis à combattre, tournant le dos à toute espérance transformatrice, authentiquement démocratique et sociale. Avec cette politique avilie, réduite aux émotions sans pensées, aux réflexes sans débats, aux urgences sans discussions, nous voulions en finir en 2012, et hélas nous y sommes toujours.

The alacrity with which the Conseil d’Etat—the supreme court of the administrative legal system—issued its rulings over the past two days is also disquieting, as if there were some kind of consigne issued on the matter. And now it appears that Valls is trying to have Dieudonné censored on the Internet. This is crazy. Dieudonné’s lawyers will most certainly take the case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, and which will most certainly rule against the French state and in Dieudonné’s favor. And Manuel Valls—and the French Socialists—will have definitively succeeded in turning a lowlife anti-Semite into a martyr for free speech. Great! On this, I have to part company with Thomas Legrand, France Inter’s normally sharp political editorialist—and with whom I invariably find myself in agreement—, who, yesterday morning, disagreed with those critiquing Valls and the Conseil d’Etat. He asserted, entre autres, that

La parole raciste est performative, c’est un acte. Tenir des propos racistes c’est être violent. A partir du moment où l’on sait que Dieudonné sera antisémite dans son prochain meeting, peut-on encore invoquer la liberté d’expression pour le laisser faire ? C’est à peu prés comme permettre une ratonnade au nom de la liberté d’expression des ratonneurs. Entre l’époque des lois scélérates et aujourd’hui, il y a eu quelques événements : le génocide arménien, la Shoah, les guerres de décolonisation, le Rwanda (Goebbels et Radio 1000 collines) qui permettent de comprendre la différence fondamentale entre la violence des mots anarchistes –pour poursuivre avec cet exemple- et la violence des mots racistes. Face à ces considérations, se demander si les interdictions du meeting de Dieudonné ne vont pas lui faire de la publicité, ne pèse pas grand chose. Faire de la publicité, rendre public le plus largement possible l’idée que le racisme est interdit, c’est renforcer un tabou positif, qui, à court terme, peut créer des troubles, mais qui, au fond, renforce la cohésion. C’est l’Histoire qui nous l’a enseignée.

Specious analogies. “Ratonneurs” are thugs who carry out violent acts on people, Radio 1000 Collines openly called on people to murder their neighbors… What is going on in France right now is a wanker making sick jokes to other wankers. Il n’y a pas eu mort d’homme. There has not been a single documented instance of a Dieudonné show resulting in physical aggression against an individual, or even against property. If Dieudonné were to suggest that his fans do any of this, legal sanctions against him would be in order. But he has done no such thing.

My third point. Valls may be inflating Dieudonné’s significance and with the extensive media coverage—which is only normal in view of the story’s interest and the fact that major politicians are driving it—increasing Dieudo’s fan base, but the fact of the matter is: Dieudonné is irrelevant and will remain that way. In listening to him speak on politics one is struck by the nullity of his rhetoric. To call it intellectually impoverished would be an understatement. To get an idea of the level at which Dieudonné is operating, take a few minutes and listen to him here (English subtitles). This is the degré zéro of political discourse. Marine Le Pen is both Aristotle and Pericles by comparison. Moreover, Dieudonné has no sympathizers even at the extremes of the political spectrum (a few ageing or marginalized frontistes apart; Marine LP won’t have anything to do with him). Even pro-Palestinian/Israel-bashing associations on the far left have condemned him in no uncertain terms, e.g. the Association France Palestine Solidarité and the Campagne BDS France. To these one may add the self-styled Parti des Indigènes de la République—which 100% supports Hamas and Islamic Jihad in their struggle against the “Zionist entity”—, which issued a declaration 4½ years ago harshly denouncing Dieudonné and his rapprochement with the extreme right. Dieudonné is radioactive from one end of the political spectrum to the other. Only those regarded as crackpots and whack jobs even by other extremists will touch him with a ten-foot pole. So politically speaking, he represents exactly nothing.

As for his youthful fans—and this is my fourth point—, way too much is being made of them. Now I have been somewhat taken aback at images of the thousands who attend Dieudonné’s shows, who are intimately familiar with his shtick, and find his antisemitic “humor” hilarious (e.g. see the video of his Bordeaux performance last April embedded in this piece; see also this, this, this, and this). I don’t know where this Judeophobia—latent and overt—comes from or how to interpret it, particularly as anti-Semitism has declined precipitously in France over the past six decades; it is not significantly higher in France than in the US or anywhere else (and is no doubt lower than in a number of European countries; I’ll come back to this subject another time). It is true that a significant number of his fans are youthful Muslims—who are disproportionately given over to antisemitic stereotyping—and other post-colonial and DOM-TOM minorities, but they are by no means all; many fans are regular “gaulois” French, middle class, and educated beyond the bac.

Several commentators have said that we need to listen to Dieudonné’s youthful adepts, try to understand where they’re coming from, and absolutely not stigmatize them, e.g. Pascal Boniface, who offers this

Mais ce qui compte, au-delà de [Dieudonné], c’est l’influence qu’il peut avoir sur une partie non négligeable de la jeunesse française. C’est là le véritable enjeu. Son public est jeune et divers. Ce n’est pas en traitant tous ceux qui vont à ses spectacles de nazis ou d’imbéciles qu’on les fera se désolidariser de Dieudonné. Quelles sont les raisons de la popularité de Dieudonné ? Il est le fruit d’un rejet des élites politiques et médiatiques par une partie de la population. Ces dernières devraient davantage réfléchir aux motifs de ce rejet, plus compliqué que de désigner un coupable idéal.

In an FB exchange yesterday, a smart journalist with a Maghreb specialization took me to task for an off-the-cuff remark I made dissing Dieudonné’s fans, responding with this

On ne s’en sortira pas avec ce genre de noms d’oiseaux et le mépris… [Il faut] sortir de l’état de crispations délétères, de la crise de représentativité et des fractures sociales et mémorielles qui minent la société française.

Perhaps. In another vein, my blogging confrère Arthur Goldhammer, whose civil libertarian critique of the government I entirely share, worried about the impact the Conseil d’Etat’s interdiction of Dieudonné’s shows would have on his alienated fans

What this series of lamentable episodes–from Anelka to Dieudonné to the Conseil d’État–has revealed is that France is on the verge of another explosion of rage by people who feel they have no political voice. It’s a pity that there is no civil rights movement worthy of the name and that no leader of stature has emerged to channel this anger into more productive channels. I shudder to think of what lies ahead.

Art needn’t shudder, as nothing whatever lies ahead, at least not from Dieudonné’s fans indignant at Manuel Valls’s vendetta against their hero. In listening to Dieudonné’s fans on the TV news and reading in press articles what they have to say (see above links), one is struck—indeed stunned—by their political inculture, of their intellectual indigence. The nullity of Dieudonné’s political discourse—the zero degree of its content—has found its audience. Intellectually speaking, Dieudo’s fans are in his image. Jean-Yves Camus, the well-known specialist of the extreme right, nailed it in his column in the December 31, 2013, Charlie Hebdo

Puisque l’ancien comique [Dieudonné] et son acolyte [Alain Soral] qui fut écrivain sont dans une logique mercantile à outrance, c’est aux clients autant que vendeurs qu’il faut s’intéresser. Les clients sont des pigeons décervelés qui croient lutter contre le «système» par une attitude d’adolescent rebelle à deux balles, les yeux rivés sur le clavier de leur ordinateur à visionner en boucle les vidéos du gourou avant d’aller acheter les produits dérivés sur la dieudosphère ou sur le site d’Égalité et Réconciliation. Quand ils se décident à sortir du monde virtuel, ces «soldats politiques» de pacotille poussent le courage jusqu’à défier le capitalisme, les discriminations raciales et les méchanismes de domination par un geste fort: une «quenelle» photographiée en loucedé sur un smart-phone qui coûte un demi-smic. Ces gens ne sont que des tout petit-bourgeois en mal d’émotions fortes, des consommateurs passifs de la sous-culture de masse qui prolifère sur les réseaux sociaux. Leur pseudo-subversion est un leurre: ils n’iront pas voter, ils désertent les luttes sociales et l’engagement sur le terrain et ils n’aident en rien, concrètement, les immigrés ou les travailleurs licenciés.

Couldn’t have said it better myself. In listening to and reading the words of Dieudonné’s fans—not to mention those of the Man himself—the leitmotif is opposition to “the system.” And the “quenelle” is their expression of this, of cocking a snook at “the system.” But what precisely do they mean by “the system”? Is it the capitalist system? Liberal democracy? The republic? The European Union? What exactly? In a discussion on the Dieudonné phenomenon this past week in a Master 2 level class at one of the universities I teach at, I put the question to a student—bright, highly politicized, and manifestly on the extreme right—who was halfway defending Dieudonné by “explaining” the “quenelle” phenomenon as a gesture of opposition to “the system” by numerous persons—soldiers, policemen, firemen, etc—who are actually inside “the system” but oppose it and, for obvious reasons, cannot express this openly. Huh? Opposition to the system by those inside the system? So please tell: what is “the system”? My student could not—or would not—say. But when we listen to Dieudonné, we get a very clear idea of what he means by “the system”: it’s that—and which is everything (politics, the state, economy, finance, the media, culture, you name it)—which is controlled by the “Zionists,” the CRIF, Bernard-Henry Lévy, the Rothschilds, Patrick Cohen, Patrick Bruel, etc, etc. And, of course, Israel. In short, it’s the Jews. The antisemitism of Dieudonné—and which suffuses his shows—is the rawest that has been expressed publicly in France since the Second World War. Audiences that eat this up, that adhere to it, that do not react to it with instinctive indignation or revulsion, merit no sympathy or comprehension. They merit nothing but contempt.

Dieudonné’s lizard brained fans may be angry about something—and their anger will no doubt increase as their hero’s legal difficulties mount—but, like Dieudonné himself, they are, finally, irrelevant. As Jean-Yves Camus observed, they are outside the political system, are politically illiterate—I actually know a couple of fans of Dieudo’s shows personally, as I have learned, so can attest to this particular aspect—, probably do not vote in their majority, do not participate in organized social struggles, are not members of civic associations… They are passive consumers of trash popular culture. And they are ultimately anodyne. They won’t join terrorist organizations or engage in criminal or subversive activities. Not a chance. And they certainly won’t form a political movement or join the Front National en masse. They will continue to go to their jobs—and most of them presumably do work, what with the price of admission to Dieudonné’s shows (cheapest seats at €38), their smart phones, etc.—and then go home to their computers, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, et j’en passe. If they feel alienated or angry, that’s their problem, not society’s. And it is not something politicians or intellectuals need to get overly worried about. Not so long as the branleurs remain outside the formal political system or civic life.

A final point. As a comedian, Dieudonné is not funny. I have watched his skits on YouTube, including those from the ’90s with Elie Semoun, and failed to find any humor in them. Okay, humor is subjective and there are many people out there who have turned away from Dieudonné but still swear that he is—or used to be—a great comedian. Perhaps. But I can assert that when it comes to ethnic stand-up comedians in France, he cannot hold a candle to Fellag or Gad Elmaleh, or even Jamel Debbouze or Elie Semoun solo. Now these ones are funny!

The Dieudonné story will likely disappear in the coming days, as we move on to the next earth-shattering story, of François Hollande and his new friend.

ADDENDUM: Alain Finkielkraut and Plantu debated the Dieudonné affiar on I>Télé two days ago (watch here). Politically speaking I agree with Plantu but on the analytical level, I am entirely with Finkielkraut (and I am otherwise not a fan of his, to put it mildly). A friend remarked on what a simpleton Plantu was in his argumentation, incisively observing that “maybe that’s what it takes to be a great political cartoonist (which he is): a willy-nilly simplification of complex issues.”

And for those who have time, France 24 had a good debate Thursday night on “Free Speech or Hate Speech? The Row over French Comic Dieudonné” (in two parts: one and two), with Philip Cordery (PS MP), Philippe Moreau Chevrolet (Nouvel Obs columnist), Justin E. H. Smith (American philo and history prof in Paris), and leftist journalist Diana Johnstone. All were articulate and presented their arguments well, including Johnstone, with whom I rarely agree—and who wrote an execrable article on the Dieudonné affair last week in the ultra-gauchiste Internet rag CounterPunch (which I will decline to link to; if one wants to read it, one will have to go and look for it).

UPDATE: Art Goldhammer has a post on his French Politics blog on my Dieudonné post. He says

…I think [Arun] underestimates the potential harm of what he concedes is a widespread and increasingly uninhibited antisemitism in certain segments of French society. For Arun, these people are not alarming because they operate at “the degree zero of politics” and are products of a degraded popular culture. One can agree on the last two points and still worry about the potential for disruption and contagion. I’ve also been struck over the past few days by the crowds gathered at sites where Dieudonné performances have now been banned. Quite a few of the people interviewed on the TV news did not appear to be young denizens of the Paris suburbs or excluded visible minorities. Most seemed closer to 30 than to 20 in age, were well-dressed, and evidently had no difficulty coming up with the minimum 38 euros necessary (as Arun notes) for a ticket. Yet they were eager to tell the national TV audience that they believed their hero was being suppressed by “the Zionist lobby” through its immense and occult influence on the government.

I entirely share Art’s disquiet at the complicity of Dieudonné’s fans with the latter’s antisemitism, and which I made clear. But to repeat, I don’t see this as having grave consequences for French society or the political system given the depoliticization of his fan base and the fact that they really aren’t all that numerous. Dieudonné can get several thousand people into an arena for his shows—but not sell them out (as one may see in the YouTube of his Bordeaux show last April that I linked to above; and his Théâtre de la Main d’Or in Paris’s 11th arrondissement seats all of 250)—and get up to two million hits on YouTubes—which are no doubt seen by people multiple times, by many who are not his fans (including those like myself), and by a likely not insignificant number outside France (notably in the Maghreb, where his views have a potentially large and receptive audience). In the larger scheme of things, there are just not that many people involved here.

Contrast this with a rough American equivalent of Dieudonné—a showman from a visible minority with a nasty antisemitic rhetoric—, which was Louis Farrakhan, who, if one remembers, was the focus of a lot of media attention in the US from the 1980s and, above all, in the mid ’90s. Farrakhan was/is far more intelligent and sophisticated than Dieudonné and a far superior orator—there is no comparison between the two—, led a religious movement which was more than a mere cult, could organize “Million Man Marches,” and sell out arenas seating tens of thousands. There was alarm in various quarters—particularly in the Jewish community—over Farrakhan and the effect his rhetoric could have on his (exclusively black) audience—which loved his demagoguery—, but, finally, nothing came of it. He was thoroughly isolated politically, including among black politicians, and his fans—who were far more numerous than Dieudonné’s—neither joined the Nation of Islam nor coalesced into a movement or cause. Farrakhan fizzled and the media forgot about him.

Today’s Journal du Dimanche (January 12th) has a short interview (not online) with André Déchot, co-author of the 2011 book La Galaxie Dieudonné: Pour en finir avec les impostures (which looks worth reading), in which he discusses Dieudonné’s fans. In response to a question as to who they are

D’abord un noyau dur minoritaire, entre 10 et 20%, que agrège des négationnistes, différents courants d’extême droite dont des dirigeants du FN, des conspirationnistes, des fondamentalistes musulmans, des sectaires…Sans oublier les jeunes de la droite radicalisée qui étaient mobilisés contre le mariage pour tous. Ils étaient là, jeudi pour acceuillir bruyamment Manuel Valls lors de son arrivée à Rennes.

As for the other fans

Beaucoup de jeunes qui viennent des quartiers populaires, pas seulement issus de l’immigraton, et dont la plupart sont hors syndicats, hors associations ou structures collectives. Leur point commun, c’est un manque de repères historiques ou politiques. Ils sont dans une confusion entretenue par Dieudonné et ses amis. Pour eux, la «quenelle» est avant tout un bras d’honneur à un pouvoir en place qui, pensent-ils, les ignore.

As to whether or not they are antisemitic

Le public de Dieudonné n’est pas dans son ensemble antisémite, mais il adore ses provocations. Pour les fans, Dieudonné mène un combat contre la pensée unique, pour la liberté d’expression. Au regard de la posture victimaire de l’«humoriste», on peut presque parler d’un antisémitisme jugé acceptable par le public. Mais le risque est insidieux: on rigole aux vannes antisémites par provocation et, petit à petit, l’imaginaire de chacun peut se reconfigurer sur des préjugés racistes.

The France 2 talk show host, Frédéric Taddeï, interviewed author Marc-Édouard Nabe on Friday night, who had some interesting insights into Dieudonné and his fans (watch here), emphasizing, in particular, their attraction to conspiracy theories. (Taddeï, BTW, has invited Dieudonné onto his show in the past year, which gives the lie to those who say that Dieudo has been “banned” from mainstream television.)

It seems that Dieudonné is trying to calmer le jeu, announcing that he’s scrapping his current act and writing another. He’s no doubt getting scared that the state is going to go after him financially—and which Jean-Marc Ayrault all but confirmed this past week—, hitting him for unpaid taxes and fines. Money-wise, he has a lot to lose. And likely will.

2nd UPDATE: Art Goldhammer favorably links to an FT column (register for access), dated January 10th, on the Dieudonné business by Christopher Caldwell. It’s good, though Caldwell exaggerates—and not for the first time—the degree to which antisemitism is a problem in France. I noted one passage in particular

Dieudonné…may be the most gifted French comedian of his generation. He has made his name writing, directing, singing and acting two-hour-long combinations of skits and stand-up at his own Théâtre de la Main d’Or in Paris. His histrionic and imitative gifts are extraordinary, permitting him to carry out, for instance, both sides of an absurdist dialogue between a television intellectual and a car-burning rioter in the banlieues.

I presume Caldwell has seen a full Dieudonné act but wonder whom he’s comparing him to, i.e. how familiar Caldwell is with the world of French stand-up comedy in general (and the comedians I mentioned above). I’ll keep an open mind on Dieudonné’s comic act—his early stuff at least—but have yet to be convinced.

3rd UPDATE: Jack Lang—whom I would normally not cite favorably—deplored the Conseil d’Etat’s ruling in an interview in Le Monde (January 13th). Lang, pour mémoire, was a professor of constitutional law before entering politics and knows two or three things about the world of culture, so his viewpoint on this matter is noteworthy. In the same vein, retired law professor Serge Sur—who’s a major figure in his domain—took the Conseil d’Etat to task on the “Liberté, libertés chéries” blog (January 10th), calling its ruling a “Jour de deuil pour la liberté.”

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The Ice Bowl

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For the first time in over twenty years I’ve spent a weekend watching NFL playoff games. Have watched part or all of all four. The last one, the Green Bay Packers vs. San Francisco 49ers—which is on the tube as I write—, is being played, for those who don’t know, in Green Bay in sub-zero Fahrenheit temperatures. I am reminded of the Packers-Dallas Cowboys championship game on December 31, 1967, in Green Bay. The temperature was -13°F/-25°C (and without the wind chill factor). I was a boy in Milwaukee—where the temperature was exactly the same as in Green Bay (200 km to the north)—and a fanatical Packers fan. As it was too cold to step outside the house, I couldn’t go over to my best friend’s, so had to watch the game at home all by myself (I have no memory of my parents—who had zero interest in football—that day or where they were). The game is called one of the greatest ever in US football and it is indeed. I remember feeling confident through most of it but when the Cowboys went ahead 17-14 on the first play of the 4th quarter—on Dan Reeves’s 50 yard halfback option TD pass to Lance Rentzel—I started to panic. The Packers’ final drive was no doubt the most stressful twenty minutes—or however long it was (5 minutes on the football clock)—of my life, then and since. I didn’t have my eyes open when Bart Starr went over the goal line with 13 seconds left for the winning touchdown. I was even panicky as Don Meredith threw hail Mary passes as the game ended (you never know). What a f**king game! The Super Bowl victory against the Oakland Raiders two weeks later was an anticlimax.

This 13 minute YouTube documentary tells the story of the Ice Bowl [UPDATE: also here and here]. Some great lines, like this one on the temperature that day: “It is called Russian winter, the kind of brutal cold that made Napoleon and Hitler flee in panic from the doorstep of Moscow”… Yeah, but not the Green Bay Packers!

Turns out it’s not so cold at the moment in Green Bay after all: 4°F/-16°C. C’est rien.

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Mandela-Long-Walk-to-Freedom-Poster-7

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Saw it the other day. As I’ve said before, it’s hard to make a really good biopic. This one is acceptable. It’s engaging enough and with its strengths, though is not perfect. Squeezing the high points of a life such as that of Nelson Mandela into a 2¼ hour film would be a challenge for even the best of screenwriters and directors. William Nicholson and Justin Chadwick did a reasonably good job here—if one keeps in mind that it is indeed merely a biopic of a man, not a comprehensive treatment of apartheid South Africa or the ANC’s struggle in all its features and complexity. The film races through Mandela’s young adulthood as a lawyer and ANC activist and up to his 1962 arrest and the Rivonia trial; his early ’60s period is well portrayed, as are his 26 years on Robben Island and Pollsmoor prison. The film is particularly strong on Mandela the man, Winnie, their relationship, and how they began to diverge politically during his incarceration—of how Mandela was transformed from an “angry man” to one who “[came] to see that hatred and enmity were mimetic, a trap laid by the ‘evil’ other: fall into it and you and your adversary become hard to tell apart,” whereas Winnie moved in the opposite direction (quotes are from Stephen Smith’s fine essay, “Mandela: Death of a Politician,” in the January 9 2014 London Review of Books). The film is not a hagiography, as this review in The Economist correctly observes. Idris Elba (Stringer Bell in ‘The Wire’) is very good as Mandela, as is (the rather beautiful) Naomie Harris as Winnie. The secret negotiations between Mandela and the white regime in the late 1980s are a high point of the film, though the four years between his release from his final prison dorée and the 1994 election are superficially depicted. E.g. those not familiar with the history will be utterly confused by the reenactment of the Boipatong massacre and who committed it (the Inkatha Freedom Party, the name of which is not uttered). All in all, Clint Eastwood’s feel good ‘Invictus’ is a more satisfying film. But this one may be seen—and should be by anyone with more than a passing interest in Nelson Mandela and South Africa. And it was a commercial and critical success in South Africa, which is a recommendation in itself. Trailer is here, the NYT review—the best on Metacritic—is here, French reviews—mostly good, and particularly the Allociné spectateurs—are here.

On the subject of South Africa, I saw last month Jérôme Salle’s ‘Zulu’, a French-South African police action movie set in contemporary Cape Town (and based on a 2010 novel by French crime fiction author Caryl Férey). The film, which stars Orlando Bloom and Forest Whitaker “as two detectives uniquely scarred by their nation’s cruel racial legacy” (quoting Justin Chang’s Variety review), is extremely violent. This should be normal given the exceptional level of violence in South Africa, but still… The cops are black and white, the criminals coloured and white, and there’s an Indian in there, so the entire Rainbow Nation is represented, as both good guys and bad. French reviews are mostly good (and with Allociné spectateurs giving it the thumbs up). The reaction of Hollywood critics who saw the pic at Cannes was mixed. Trailer is here.

UPDATE: Uri Avnery saw the Mandela biopic and liked it. His review is here.

ZULU-Affiche

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

This is an extended Tweet. No deep analysis for the moment. I just read Bernard Avishai’s New Yorker post from yesterday, “The Jewish state in question,” in which he discusses the NYT article on Benjamin Netanyahu’s demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a “Jewish state,” or as “the nation-state of the Jewish people,” and that this has become a sticking point in the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. Those who bring this up seem to miss the point as to what’s going on here. Pour mémoire, the Israelis pulled this demand out of a hat in the last decade. There was no mention in the Oslo accords of a formal Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state nor did such come up during the negotiations in the 1990s. Now the Israelis know full well that the Palestinians will never agree to this. The Pals just won’t, period. So the Israeli position can only be interpreted in one of two ways: (a) either the Israelis will hold fast to their demand, which means that they’re not serious about coming to an agreement with the Palestinians, that they prefer to live with the status quo indefinitely, or (b) that they’ll drop the demand but only in exchange for the Palestinians renouncing the “right of return,” for the Palestinians taking the latter off the table. It’s kind of obvious IMO. I think the Israeli strategy is (b). On verra.

UPDATE: Amira Hass has a column in Haaretz (January 20th) on “The slippery slope of recognizing Israel as the Jewish state.” The lede: “The demand to recognize Israel’s Jewish character has never before been included in peace talks, says a former Palestinian negotiator. So why is it now a major issue?” The negotiator in question in Nabil Shaath, who rails on against the Israeli Jewish state demand. Toward the end of the column Hass says this

As has been explained in the media, the demand for the recognition of Israel’s Jewishness entails the demand that the Palestinians cede the right of return. But at the January 2001 Taba talks, said Shaath, the Israeli side recognized the right of return as part of the principles of a future accord (based on UN Resolution 194).

What Shaath says about Taba is self-serving, as the Taba talks were sans lendemain—nothing came of them—, nothing in particular was formally agreed to, and no formal document on what was discussed was issued (all that we have to go on are the handwritten notes of the European special representative who was present at the meetings). The Israeli side to the talks, which was an Israeli peace camp’s dream team—including Shlomo Ben-Ami, Yossi Beilin, and Shimon Peres—, reportedly made a generous-sounding offer on the refugee question—though not to a “right of return”—but, given that the talks ended inconclusively, there was no formal commitment on this. And whatever was informally assented to at Taba in no way bound future Israeli governments (or Palestinian, for that matter). Taba is, for all intents and purposes, irrelevant. It might as well have never happened.

2nd UPDATE: Hussein Ibish has an excellent analysis in NOW (March 11th) on “The real impact of Israel’s ‘Jewish state’ demand.” The lede: The main impact of Israel’s new “Jewish state” demand is to effectively negate the Palestinian recognition of Israel in 1993.

3rd UPDATE: Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman, president of the Shalom Hartman Institute of Jerusalem, has an op-ed worth reading in The Times of Israel (March 11th), “A Jewish state: It’s our problem, not theirs.”

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