Archive for November, 2015

Son of Saul


I’ve seen many movies on the Holocaust but this one, by Hungarian director László Nemes, has to be the most horrific. One imagines with difficulty a more nightmarish commission than that of a Sonderkommando at Auschwitz-Birkenau. The film is a tour de force, as is the performance of Géza Röhrig, who plays the protagonist Saul (and is in almost every frame). French reviews (tops) are here, US-UK reviews (also tops) are here (and also here). If you have the opportunity to see the film on a wide screen, do so. And if you can on 35 mm, so much the better. Trailer is here.

UPDATE: Christopher Orr, principal film critic at The Atlantic, has a review, dated January 17th 2016, “Son of Saul and the intimate mechanisms of genocide.”

Read Full Post »


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

Yesterday I had a brief post on the victims of the November 13th attacks. Today it’s on the perpetrators. If one hasn’t seen it, Olivier Roy has the best analysis so far of the terrorists, in a full-page tribune in Le Monde dated November 25th, “Le djihadisme est une révolte générationnelle et nihiliste” (also here). In reading Roy’s essay in hard copy, I underlined noteworthy passages to quote. But as almost the entire thing got underlined, I’ll just let you, the reader, read it in its entirety. If the essay is eventually published in English, I’ll link to it.

One key line by Roy: What we’re facing here is not a radicalization of Islam but rather an Islamization of radicalism.

Peter Harling of the International Crisis Group, who has spent much of the past two decades living in Iraq and Syria, weighs in on the Paris terrorists in a must-read post, dated November 26th, in Orient XXI, “Tuer les autres, se tuer soi-même.” Again, if this one is published in English—which, in view of Harling’s bilingualism, is possible—I’ll link to it in an update.

The excellent Farhad Khosrokhavar, who knows more about jihadism in Europe than any other social scientist, is interviewed in L’Obs (November 26th) on the question post-Paris, “Moins ils connaissent l’islam, plus ils sont attirés par le djihad.” Translation: the less they know about Islam, the more they are attracted by jihad.

Also interviewed on the Paris attacks (November 26h) is the well-known Islamologist Gilles Kepel, in the Lausanne daily Le Temps, “Le 13 novembre? Le résultat d’une faillite des élites politiques françaises.” Kepel—who unhabitually lets loose in the interview—has some interesting observations on, entre autres, Saudi Arabia, as well as on the Al-Qaida/IS grand penseur Abu Musab al-Suri. (BTW, on al-Suri see Adam Shatz’s 2008 review essay in the LRB, “Laptop jihadi“).

EHESS doctoral candidate Adam Baczko has a tribune (November 26th) in Libération, “L’objectif de l’Etat islamique est de provoquer une politique de réaction identitaire.”

À suivre, évidemment.

UPDATE: Olivier Roy, at a conference in Germany on international terrorism ten days ago, gave a speech entitled “What is the driving force behind jihadist terrorism? – A scientific perspective on the causes/circumstances of joining the scene,” which is pretty much an English version of his Le Monde essay. It is linked to in PDF in the first comment below (thanks to Rich Kaplan—crack sociologist and personal friend—for finding it).

2nd UPDATE: If one didn’t see it, French journalist Nicolas Hénin has an op-ed in The Guardian (November 16th), “I was held hostage by Isis [for ten months in 2013-14]. They fear our unity more than our airstrikes.” The lede: “In Syria I learned that Islamic State longs to provoke retaliation. We should not fall into the trap.” Pour l’info, Hénin has a book out, Jihad Academy, published by Fayard this past February.

Omer Aziz, a J.D. candidate at Yale Law School who recently worked for the UN Special Envoy to Syria, has a piece in TNR (November 17th), “The soul of a jihadist: The radical evil behind the terrorist attacks on Paris.”

And ICYMI, the NYR Daily has two posts dated November 16th: “Paris: The war ISIS wants,” by Franco-American anthropologist Scott Atran—who has written extensively on radical Islamism—and UCL doctoral student Nafees Hamid; and “From Mumbai to Paris,” by the well-known Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid.

3rd UPDATE: The Swiss RTS had a twenty-minute interview with Olivier Roy on November 27th (listen here), in which he said, entre autres, that trying to deradicalize jihadists is “absurd.”

Read Full Post »

The Paris attacks: the victims

Credit: Aufeminin

Credit: Aufeminin

The national hommage to the victims of the November 13th attacks, at Les Invalides, 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: Watch the great rendition of La Marseillaise (here) at the Invalides ceremony.

2nd UPDATE: Le Monde is publishing, in each issue from November 27th on, biographical portraits of all the victims (here and here). As LM’s Aline Leclerc and Sylvie Kauffmann observe in the introduction to the memorial (my translation): “What these portraits reveal is the extent to which the terrorists, in their choice of targets that evening, were aiming at youth, intelligence, culture, education, and tolerance. The story of these 130 lives reads like that of the fine flower of a society confident in the success that knowledge, science, and an openness of mind can give. Frenchmen and women, and foreigners who had come to France precisely for that, they were, this November 13th, the symbol of a Paris of Enlightenment in the 21st century. This memorial has but one wish: that they remain.”

Read Full Post »

[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.”

Read Full Post »

The Paris attacks

[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below] [4th update below] [5th update below] [6th update below] [7th update below] [8th update below] [9th 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.”

8th UPDATE: Justin E.H. Smith, who teaches philosophy at the University of Paris-VII, has a piece in Slate, “Why did the killers target the Eagles of Death Metal concert?” The lede: “They attacked a young, multiethnic, bohemian vision of Paris that they cannot comprehend.”

9th UPDATE: Melissa K. Byrnes—who teaches history at Southwestern University and is a specialist of migration and Muslims in France—has a guest post on the Lawyers, Guns & Money blog, “Solidarity and ‘Je suis Paris’.”

Fluctuat nec mergitur (credit: boojumism)

Fluctuat nec mergitur (credit: boojumism)

Read Full Post »


Paris 13 novembre 2015

Read Full Post »

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 to 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

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: