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Archive for August, 2019

Je recommande la lecture de cette fascinante, étonnante et gratifiante série en six volets, intitulée “Sarajevo-Jérusalem” et publiée dans Le Monde du 13 au 19 août, sur la communauté juive de Sarajevo, présent et passé, de son histoire de bonne entente avec les musulmans bosniaques de la ville – ville où il n’y a jamais eu de ghetto et où l’antisémitisme était quasi inexistant. Il y a eu une douzaine de milliers de juifs à Sarajevo avant la Deuxième guerre mondiale – 20% de sa population, majoritairement séfarade – dont plus de 80% ont été exterminés pendant l’occupation nazie, avec le concours des Oustachis croates. Un certain nombre des rescapés est parti en Israël après 1948, et surtout pendant le siège de Sarajevo par l’armée yougoslave serbe (1992-95) – quoique les juifs de Bosnie-Herzégovine étaient, dans leur majorité, peu pratiquant et pas très sioniste.

Ce qui reste aujourd’hui est une vibrante communauté d’un millier d’âmes qui fait partie intégrante de la ville. L’expérience sarajévienne réfute-t-elle la notion d’une Bosnie historiquement divisée en communautés vivant à couteaux tirés – et s’inscrit en faux plus généralement contre le nationalisme ambiant de notre époque. Comme on peut lire dans le sixième volet, “contrairement au mythe brandi par les nationalistes des trois dernières décennies, la coexistence ne fut pas limitée à une Yougoslavie de Tito condamnée à disparaître après sa mort, mais qu’elle fut ancrée dans l’histoire de la ville durant des siècles, répondant à un sincère besoin de bon voisinage et d’humanité des Sarajéviens.”

L’expérience sarajévienne allait au-delà du bon voisinage. Il y a eu une véritable solidarité entre juifs et musulmans (avec des mariages mixtes). À ce titre, le Jérusalem d’aujourd’hui – l’exacte contraire du vivre-ensemble, où une communauté (en l’occurrence, juive) domine les autres par la force – est implicitement posé en contre-modèle, et pour cause.

L’auteur de cette remarquable série, Rémy Ourdan, connait bien le sujet. Grand reporter au journal Le Monde, il a couvert le siège de Sarajevo durant quatre ans (et a co-réalisé un documentaire dessus) et a fait maints reportages en Israël-Palestine au fil des années.

Voilà les volets de la série:

  1. Juifs de Sarajevo: les héros ordinaires de la ‘Jérusalem de l’Europe’. —— A travers l’histoire des juifs de Sarajevo, voyage dans ces deux villes en quête d’universalité, symboles des peuples du Livre, épicentres des conflits modernes, sur les traces d’une certaine idée, réelle ou imaginaire, de la coexistence…
  2. La saga du sauvetage de la Haggadah de Sarajevo, le manuscrit sépharade le plus précieux au monde. —— Convoité par les nazis en 1942 puis menacé pendant la guerre de Bosnie, le fameux manuscrit enluminé du XIVe siècle a dû être caché à plusieurs reprises.
  3. Les mousquetaires juifs du siège de Sarajevo. —— La communauté juive a, pendant la guerre de Bosnie, lancé une incroyable opération humanitaire, organisant l’évacuation de 2 500 Sarajéviens et portant assistance aux assiégés. Israël a de son côté vu débarquer des centaines de ‘juifs sarajéviens’ très peu juifs…
  4. Les étonnantes coutumes des rabbins sarajéviens. —— A l’instar du dernier rabbin yougoslave, Cadik Danon, c’est toute une lignée de religieux, représentée aujourd’hui par Eliezer Papo et Igor Kozemjakin, qui prend des libertés avec les lois et traditions juives. Une vision du judaïsme proche de l’esprit de Sarajevo.
  5. De l’’éducation sarajévienne’ à la cause palestinienne. —— Fille d’une survivante sarajévienne de Bergen-Belsen, Amira Hass vit depuis vingt-cinq ans en Cisjordanie. Cette reporter et éditorialiste au quotidien ‘Haaretz’ défend sans relâche la cause palestinienne dans les colonnes de son journal.
  6. Sarajevo-Jérusalem, deux villes, deux destins. —— Contrairement à Sarajevo, qui a résisté avec l’énergie du désespoir à la division ethnique de la ville, les habitants de Jérusalem vivent aujourd’hui séparés et la ville sainte est plus fracturée que jamais.

Here’s a related article in Haaretz, dated 19 July 2017, by Sarajevo-based journalist Kate Bartlett: “Why Sarajevo’s tiny Jewish community believes it’s in the safest place in Europe for Jews: In a country where ethnic hatreds run deep, the Jewish community in the ‘Jerusalem of the Balkans’ says it is not subject to anti-Semitic acts and is even enjoying a ‘baby boom’.”

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The 1619 Project

If one doesn’t know it:

The 1619 Project is a major initiative from The New York Times observing the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It aims to reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are.

I read all the articles this past week—those so far published, 17 by my count (the series is ongoing)—some 100 pages printed out (PDF is here), authored by well-known academics (historians and social scientists) and journalists. It’s an incredible series. Historian, Holocaust specialist, and old friend Marc Masurovsky described it well on his Facebook page:

A must-read, you have to read this special issue of the New York Times magazine…

It’s a shattering assessment of the history of America—white America—built on the blood of African slaves since 1619. A searing indictment of how American economic growth, political machines, and judicial decisions were rooted in the enslavement of millions of men, women and children. Generations of white businessmen, politicians, scholars, scientists, lawyers and judges, breathed and ate and drank segregationist and racist views…up to this day… and shaped and molded Federal and State policies to satisfy the segregationist agenda.

It makes one rethink what being American really means. And it’s simply frightening and appalling.

Oh, I know! We know the story of slavery and racism. But we really don’t. Please read this! You owe it to yourselves, to our African-American brothers and sisters. I am frankly ashamed that we have to bear this legacy. It’s bad to have committed genocide against the first inhabitants of what came to be known as America. If that wasn’t enough, we had to build the foundations of American democracy on the blood, flesh and tears of slaves. It makes you really wonder who the Bill of Rights was really written for and what that Declaration of Independence really means and for whom.

And no, I wasn’t born yesterday.

As Marc indicates, you may think you know the history of slavery and its legacy but, after reading The 1619 Project series, you realize you really don’t, at least not fully. There’s so much you don’t know or haven’t realized. And to call slavery America’s “original sin,” which just about everyone does, is too easy. It’s a throwaway line. Slavery was America’s crime: it was constitutive of the founding of the United States of America and the legacy of which weighs heavily today—and which is incarnated in the world-view of one of America’s two major political parties. As one reads in the series, the nature of American capitalism, the ideological rejection of universal social insurance schemes (a.k.a. the welfare state) by one of the major parties and the on-going battle over voting rights—making the US an outlier among advanced democracies—et on en passe, is a legacy of slavery and the century of apartheid that followed its abolition.

Sure, lots of countries had chattel slavery—Brazil, the islands of the Caribbean, Arabia, large parts of Africa, Thailand, etc—and which profoundly marked their politics and social structure (Brazil today is a big case in point) but we’re talking about the United States of America here, and where slavery and its legacy had some unique features.

Conservatives have unsurprisingly been flipping out over the 1619 series (a few reactions have been measured, though it’s obvious that most of those who are trashing the series have hardly read any of it). In responding to the conservative attacks, the NYT’s excellent columnist Jamelle Bouie (who has an article in the series) argues that “slavery was not a secondary part of our history: in America, liberty and bondage have always been intertwined.” And The Nation’s Jeet Heer observes that “conservatives’ freakout over The 1619 Project reveals their fear of America’s actual past.” Or, we should say, fear of a changing narrative of America’s past. E.g. some of the series authors refer to plantations as “forced-labor camps,” or “slave-labor camps,” and with all calling slave-owners “enslavers.” I will wager that in a generation, say twenty years from now, this nomenclature will be the prevailing one. An old Southern plantation doesn’t look the same if it’s labeled a “slave-labor camp.” This is, needless to say, deeply threatening to the conservative narrative—and largely white Southern—of American history.

On the question of historical narratives, the NYT published an op-ed on August 21st by writer and cultural critic Lewis Hyde, “How nationalism can destroy a nation,” in which he discusses Ernest Renan’s famous 1882 speech at the Sorbonne, “What is a nation?”—which is the classic French republican statement on the question—and whose central idea is that of historical narrative and the will of the members of a nation—the nation being an abstraction—to live together (Renan’s “daily plebiscite”). And central to historical narratives, for Renan, is “forgetting,” of an implicit decision by the gatekeepers of the national narrative to gloss over parts of the past—or bury them altogether—that caused members of the nation to kill one another (Renan’s example for France was the 1572 St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre, i.e. the 16th century religious wars of Catholics vs. Protestants). In America, this was slavery and the Civil War. As David Blight and other historians have written, the reconciliation of the North and South was predicated on black Americans—the former slaves—being written out of the American national narrative, and of the Southern view of slavery as a benign institution becoming the dominant one—of the North, in effect, being southernized.

This narrative was blown apart by the civil rights movement, the formal end of legal apartheid in the 1960s, and the according of full rights of citizenship—of belonging to the American nation—to Afro-Americans. And with that, America has once again become a deeply divided society—with a reactionary, southernized Republican Party leading the resistance to this change—such as it has not been since, well, the Civil War.

A few months ago, here in a Paris, I was browsing in a recently-opened far right-wing bookstore. One book I leafed through was a paean to the antebellum South, by the late neo-fascist writer-historian Dominique Venner, the title of which translates as ‘The white sun of the defeated: the epic history of the South and the Civil War, 1607-1865’. In the book he explicitly refers to the United States as being comprised of “two nations”: the North and the South. He was certainly not wrong in describing it that way for the period covered in his book and, I dare say, he would not be totally wrong in it today.

Today is the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Paris in WWII by the Free French and United States. Le Monde has a five-minute video on its website entitled ‘Liberation of Paris: why was there not a single black soldier in the military parades?’, even though there were over 3000 African soldiers—principally Senegalese tirailleurs—in General Leclerc’s elite 2nd Armored Division, which spearheaded the liberation of the city. The answer: pressure on the French from the Americans to remove the black soldiers from General Leclerc’s forces.

One of the preoccupations of the US Army during WWII in regard to its black soldiers—as historian Raffael Scheck, interviewed in the above Le Monde video, reminds us—was fraternization with European women—there being no taboo on interracial intimacy in France, Britain, or anywhere on this side of the ocean—and the measures that were taken to prevent this (including court martials and execution of black soldiers for rape, even when more than a few of the accused rapes were, in fact, consensual relationships). The actual consequence of interracial affairs involving black American soldiers was cinematically depicted in the powerful 2017 Netflix film Mudbound, which is set in rural Mississippi in the aftermath of WWII. What happened to the black soldier returning from Europe when his love affair with a woman in Germany was discovered by the local white men was utterly real. Such happened countless times to black men in the South. The excruciating scene toward the end of the film—which is almost unbearable to watch—crystallizes America’s experience with slavery and its legacy. And, one may add, the evil of the white American South.

C’est tout ce que j’ai à dire, pour le moment au moins.

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[update below]

Dayton too. The latter one was a garden-variety American massacre, committed by an angry white male, who shot up a crowded place—that may or may not have been chosen at random—and with a legally acquired semi-automatic rifle. If such weapons of war could be as easily procured in, say, France—where there are plenty of angry white males—as they are in the US, does anyone doubt that we would see a dramatic increase in massacres there (and of murder more generally)?

The El Paso massacre was different. As one knows, this one was racially motivated. It was an act of terrorism targeting a particular ethnic group—and a group that has been the target of racism, hatred, and dehumanization by the President of the United States since he announced his candidacy four long years ago. Trump has spoken of Mexicans and Central Americans in the same terms as the Rwandan Hutu Interahamwe did of Tutsis in 1994 (as “cockroaches”) and Nazis did of Jews. Trump’s words are “poison,” as a commentary by a conservative pundit headlined today. Trump is poison. The El Paso Walmart terrorist was morally aided and abetted by Trump. Trump bears moral responsibility for the massacre. And one may be utterly certain that there will be more to come—possibly even more so once the unspeakable SOB is gone. On this, Paul Waldman has a chilling column in The Washington Post (August 5th) on “[h]ow Trump’s biggest broken promise will make white supremacist terrorism even worse.” The angry, heavily-armed white men out there will be even angrier when their man is no longer in the White House—and having failed to build his wall or rid the country of Muslims and others from “shithole countries.” A future President Warren-Biden-Harris-etc needs to start thinking now about how s/he will deal with an inevitable upsurge in domestic terrorism such as the United States has not witnessed in anyone’s lifetime.

On the antecedents of white American nationalist terrorism, historian Thomas Meaney has a must-read review essay in the August 1st London Review of Books, simply entitled “White Power,” in which he discusses two new books, Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America, by Kathleen Belew, and Revolutionaries for the Right: Anti-Communist Internationalism and Paramilitary Warfare in the Cold War, by Kyle Burke. One learns in the essay that the armed white nationalist movement in its present form was born with the Cold War and America’s military interventions and other imperialist ventures over the decades, most notably the Vietnam War, and with veterans later freelancing as mercenaries to fight Soviet-backed insurgencies across the globe (one reads about the monthly magazine Soldier of Fortune, which I would periodically look at with morbid curiosity in the 1970s and ’80s). With the end of the Cold War, new generation white warriors acquired experience in Afghanistan and Iraq. In short, there are a lot of violent men out there in the American heartland—and no doubt in big blue cities too—who are racist, like to kill, and possess the heavy weapons to do so on a large scale. Again, El Paso is just the beginning.

Kathleen Belew, who teaches history at the University of Chicago, has an op-ed in The New York Times (August 4th), “The right way to understand white nationalist terrorism.” The lede: “Attacks like that in El Paso are not an end in themselves. They are a call to arms, toward something much more frightening.”

One may also profitably read Slate political editor Thomas Scocca’s commentary (August 4th), “Where taking the concerns of racists seriously has gotten us.”

UPDATE: Brian Beutler, the smart editor-in-chief of Crooked, has a smart comment (August 6th), “Members of the press, WTF indeed!,” in which he takes off from Beto O’Rourke’s impromptu reaction to a clueless journalist’s question. This passage in the piece is particularly noteworthy:

One recent incident that attracted relatively scant attention connects [Trump’s] racist incitement with his other nefarious activities: his unlawful intrusion in the war-crimes case of Eddie Gallagher, the Navy SEAL who fatally stabbed a teenage ISIS fighter, posed with his corpse, then threatened to kill anyone who reported him. Trump helped secure Gallagher’s acquittal, then ordered the Navy to strip the prosecutors who tried him of the achievement medals they were awarded for doing their jobs well. The Gallagher case became a right wing cause célèbre, saturated with jingoism and Islamophobia, which is surely why Trump first took interest in it. But what purpose did he serve by punishing war-crimes prosecutors whose superiors determined they had acted appropriately? Why would the president want to communicate to certain favored, dangerous people that they have his permission to be violent, and that those who stand in their way will be scorned, abused, or purged? It is easier to look away than to connect the dots, because if the president has truly fascistic ambitions—if he has abused his power to recruit violent sympathizers in the military or civilian life with the lure of immunity—then conventional journalism lacks the language to say so.

Read the whole thing here.

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