Archive for the ‘France: Charlie Hebdo’ Category

Nº 1224, 06-01-2016

Nº 1224, 06-01-2016

Today is the first anniversary of the massacre. I had not intended to mark the occasion but have just come across an excellent commentary by the fine British writer Kenan Malik, “Charlie Hebdo, one year on,” that he posted on his blog today and that I am reposting, as I share his view across the board. Among other things, Malik aims his fire at persons—mainly non-Francophones who had never picked up a copy of Charlie Hebdo in their lives and simply didn’t know what they were talking about—who asserted that CH was “racist” and “Islamophobic,” and, in its cartoons lampooning Islam and Islamism—though never Muslims qua Muslims—was, as the cartoonist Gary Trudeau put it, “attacking a powerless, disenfranchised minority.” Malik rubbishes all this, as did I in several posts last year (which, if one is interested, may be consulted via the Charlie Hebdo category on the sidebar).

For the record, I do differ with Malik on one point, which does not specifically concern CH. He writes

Like many on the left in France, Charlie Hebdo has often expressed strong support for the policy of laïcité. ‘Laïcité’ is usually translated as ‘secularism’. It is as a secularist, however, that I oppose it. Secularism demands a separation of state and faith. Laïcité, on the other hand, refers to a form of state-enforced hostility to religion. It requires the state to intervene in matters of faith.

This view of laïcité is widespread—including in France—but is inaccurate. There is a culture and spirit of laïcité but it is, above all, a law: the law of 1905 on the separation of churches and the state—which contains 44 articles—and its follow-up decrees—and which, it must be emphasized, enjoys a 100% consensus in France. No public person in France or organization anyone has heard of opposes the 1905 law. Not one. The 1905 law mandates neutrality of the state vis-à-vis religion. That’s basically it. The 1905 law does not speak to the comportment or vestimentary practices of citizens—agents of the state in the execution of their duties excepted—in public space. So in order to proscribe the wearing of “ostentatious” religious symbols by students in public schools or of face veils on the street, new laws had to be enacted, as such was not prohibited by the 1905 law. The conception of what laïcité means has indeed evolved in France over the past three decades with the rising visibility of Islam, with laïcité now seen—by politicians left and right, intellectuals, and the public at large—as involving the behavior of individuals and not merely the state. But this is a perversion of laïcité as spelled out by the 1905 law. It is a distortion of this hallowed principle.

There has been a significant political evolution in France since last January’s attacks and, above all, since the ones of November 13th. France is going a bad and dangerous direction, and with François Hollande in the lead role. I’ll have more to say about this in the coming week or two.

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Riad Sattouf, 2014 (image credit: Laurence Houot/Culturebox)

Riad Sattouf, 2014 (image credit: Laurence Houot/Culturebox)

Adam Shatz—London Review of Books contributing editor and dear personal friend—has a “letter from Paris” in the October 19th issue of The New Yorker on the Franco-Syrian graphic novelist—and Charlie Hebdo contributor from 2004 to 2014—Riad Sattouf, whose two-volume graphic memoir, The Arab of the Future: A Childhood in the Middle East, has been a best seller in France (Vol. 1, which came out in 2014, sold over 200,000 copies, which was exceptional for a book of this type; it will be out in English translation next week). I have yet to read it myself—I plan to this weekend—but have heard from several persons who have that it’s absolutely worth it. Adam’s article definitely is.

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Clichy-sous-Bois (Seine-Saint-Denis), 2010 (photo credit: Sipa)

Clichy-sous-Bois (Seine-Saint-Denis), 2010 (photo credit: Sipa)

This is the title of a lengthy article by George Packer in the August 31st issue of The New Yorker, in which he inquires into the social climate and general mood in the Paris banlieues—the Seine-Saint-Denis (le neuf-trois) in particular—in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo-Hyper Cacher killings of last January, specifically asking if they are “incubators of terrorism.” It’s one of the better explorations of the subject I’ve seen by an Anglo-American journalist, nowadays as in past years. I naturally have a quibble here and there and Packer made an unfortunate choice in at least one of his informants, but no big deal, as most of them are very good, e.g. Fouad Ben Ahmed from Bondy and the academics Farhad Khosrokhavar and Jean-Pierre Filiu. It’s too bad Packer didn’t meet Bernard Godard, who can speak more authoritatively on the subject of Islam in France than anyone (e.g. see his La Question musulmane en France, which came out in February). I’ll come back to the general subject soon, as, comme toujours, there is much to say about it.

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Charlie Hebdo nº 1189, 6-05-2015

Charlie Hebdo nº 1189, 6-05-2015

The American Freedom Defense Initiative, co-founded by Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, that is. The Russian-American libertarian writer Cathy Young has a great piece in TDB (May 10th) on these two whack jobs and their publicity stunt in Garland TX last Sunday, “In Pam Geller’s world, everybody jihads.” The lede: “Pam Geller and Robert Spencer are being viewed as free speech champions for their ‘Draw Muhammad’ contest, which turned tragic in Dallas last week. But once a moderate Muslim begins speaking, they quickly turn into what they hate.” Despite Pamela Geller’s trying to wrap herself in the mantle of Charlie Hebdo, she and her bigoted crackpot associates have nothing whatever to do with the irreverent Paris weekly.

Charlie Hebdo, for its part, has rejected any affinity between it and the Garland event, or the respective shootings at the two. On page 3 of its latest issue, dated May 6th, is a column signed by Sol, “‘Charlie’ n’est pas Texan” (not online, except the cartoon above that heads it). The lede: “Le hashtag #WeAreGarland, qui a surgi après l’attaque du centre culturel de Garland, dans le Texas, est une escroquerie à l’esprit Charlie.”

See the fine comment (May 5th) in Huff Post by Stephen Schwartz, a convert to sufi Islam and executive director of the Center for Islamic Pluralism, “Malice in Dallas.” Also the salutary tribune in TDB (May 4th) by comedian Dean Obeidallah, “Muslims Defend Pam Geller’s Right to Hate.” The First Amendment. Of course.

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Charlie Hebdo Editor-in Chief Gérard Biard & film critic Jean-Baptiste Thoret

Charlie Hebdo Editor-in Chief Gérard Biard & film critic Jean-Baptiste Thoret

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

One may have heard about the brouhaha over the PEN American Center’s honoring Charlie Hebdo with its annual Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award—the gala ceremony happening last night—and the open letter protesting this that was signed by six—then 204—PEN members: nitwits, dupes, and/or ignoramuses all of them (on this particular question, at least). On the stupidity of the 204, Charlie Hebdo’s Philippe Lançon—who was seriously wounded in the January 7th attack—got it exactly right in a commentary, in the latest issue (just out today), on the PEN controversy and the protesting writers

Ce n’est donc pas leur abstention qui me choque; c’est la nature de leurs arguments. Que des romanciers d’une tell qualité—Peter Carey, Michael Ondaatje, Francine Prose, Teju Cole, Rachel Kushner, Taiye Selasi—en viennent à dire autant de stupidités mal informées en aussi peu de mots, avec toute la vanité des belles âmes, voilà qui attriste le lecteur que je suis. Même si ce lecteur sait, par expérience, qu’un bon écrivain n’est jamais rien de plus, ni de moins, qu’un bon écrivain: un type qui sait bâtir quelque chose de beau, de surprenant et d’intelligent, mais qui, en dehors de son art, peut hélas penser et écrire à peu près n’importe quoi.


I’m so bored arguing about Charlie Hebdo. I’ve said everything I have to say on the matter—in numerous posts on this blog and debates on social media—and don’t feel like repeating myself. So in lieu of doing that, I will link here to a few commentaries on the brouhaha that I found particularly good (and which do not include anything by Glenn Greenwald):

Todd Gitlin, “PC Thought-Bots Embarrass Themselves With PEN Boycott,” in Tablet (May 4th).

Nick Cohen, “Charlie Hebdo: The literary indulgence of murder,” in The Spectator (April 29th).

Adam Gopnik, “PEN Has Every Right to Honor Charlie Hebdo,” in The New Yorker (April 30th).

James Kirchick, “Weaker than the Sword: Charlie Hebdo, PEN, and writerly cowardice in the face of armed aggression against free speech,” in The Walrus (May 4th).

Michael Moynihan, “America’s Literary Elite Takes a Bold Stand Against Dead Journalists,” in The Daily Beast (May 5th).

Robert McLiam Wilson, “If you don’t speak French, how can you judge if Charlie Hebdo is racist?,” in the New Statesman (April 29th).

Arthur Goldhammer—seeking middle ground, overly so IMO—, “PEN America, Charlie Hebdo and the virtue of self-restraint,” in Al Jazeera America (May 4th).

N.B. The PEN debate has been a purely Anglo-American one. It has been noted in France but nothing more. The latest (brewing) Charlie Hebdo debate here, which caught everyone unawares over the past week, is around the incendiary pamphlet—due out tomorrow—by the polymath dilettante, intellectual bomb thrower, and illuminé extraordinaire Emmanuel Todd, Qui est Charlie? Todd’s pamphlet is less about Charlie Hebdo than the January 11th marches and the four-odd million people across France who participated in them. After reading the interview with Todd in last week’s Nouvel Obs, in which he laid out his argument, I was so beside myself with ire that I declared right there and then that I would never read another word by the S.O.B. and, moreover, be sorely tempted to commit an act of aggression against his bodily person if our paths were to cross in public (and, pour mémoire, I have had not bad things to say about Todd’s writings in the past). Listening to (the insufferably arrogant, imperious) Todd on France Inter on Monday morning was the clincher. Perhaps I’ll come back to this subject.

UPDATE: Paris-based Russian-American writer Vladislav Davidzon has an excellent, bull’s-eye commentary in Tablet (May 5th) “In Paris, PEN Boycott Makes Americans Look Like Crude Provincials.” The lede: “Why the political and cultural battles being fought here [in the US] have nothing to do with what happened over there.”

In his commentary Davidzon links to two pieces on Charlie Hebdo by the Paris-based philosopher Justin E. H. Smith: “Charlie Hebdo and literature,” published on Smith’s blog (May 1st); and an essay from the April issue of Harper’s, in which he discussed the CH killings and the response of the Anglo-American left, “The Joke.”

2nd UPDATE: Charlie Rose interviewed Charlie Hebdo’s Gérard Biard and Jean-Baptiste Thoret, in New York for the PEN gala, on his show (on May 4th), which may be watched here. Their English is good!

3rd UPDATE: TNR senior editor Jeet Heer has an interesting critique of Charlie Hebdo (May 8th), “The Aesthetic Failure of ‘Charlie Hebdo’.” The lede: “The French satirical magazine refuses to evolve, using a stale artistic strategy from the 1960s.”

4th UPDATE: Following an exchange (July 22nd) with a friend about Emmanuel Todd’s book, I am linking here to all the critiques I’ve seen of it—critiques that, taken together, reduce Todd’s crackpot arguments to smithereens (the one by Mayer & Tiberj is, from a social scientific standpoint, the most important); for the record, I have seen not a single review or op-ed that outright defends Todd; on social media, “Je ne suis pas Charlie” people have linked to Todd but without commentary and refrained from engaging in a full-throttle defense of his theses when confronted with contradictory arguments (e.g. from the likes of me); no one, or so it seems, wants to go out on a limb and take Todd’s side:

Hubert Heurtas, “NON, le 11 janvier ne fut pas une imposture,” in Mediapart (May 1st).

François Héran, “Un esprit de système caricatural,” in Libération (May 3rd).

Daniel Schneidermann, “Charlie: débarrassons le livre de Todd de sa gangue de «portnawak»,” in Rue89 (May 4th).

André Burguière, “Le professeur Todd nous prend pour des charlots,” in L’Obs (May 6th).

Joseph Macé-Scaron, “Emmanuel Todd, intellectuel zombie,” in Marianne (May 7th).

Jean Matouk, “Emmanuel Todd: mieux vaut croire qu’il est malade,” in Rue89 (May 9th).

Henri Tincq, “Non, Emmanuel Todd, je ne vous suis pas dans votre portrait de la France religieuse,” in Slate.fr (May 12th).

Nonna Mayer & Vincent Tiberj, “Le simplisme d’Emmanuel Todd démonté par la sociologie des «Je suis Charlie»,” in Le Monde (May 19th).

5th UPDATE: Hudson Institute research follow Benjamin Haddad has a scathing review in The Daily Beast (October 18th) of the English translation of Emmanuel Todd’s screed, “New Charlie Hebdo book blames victims: An inane essay by a left-wing French writer claims supporters of Charlie Hebdo are essentially Islamophobic fascists.”

Nº 1179, 25-02-2015

Nº 1179, 25-02-2015

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charlie hebdo tout est pardonné

I got up early Wednesday morning, along with countless others, to buy the new issue of Charlie Hebdo but all the newsstands in my quartier were sold out, though I was able to get my hands on a copy that evening (via a vital personal connection). And I learn via social media that today, Saturday, the newsstands—which are being resupplied every morning—are still quickly selling out. Everyone will eventually get their copy. One, of course, should buy it out of solidarity but this issue reminds me of why I have not been a CH regular, mainly seeing it though selected articles photocopied at the library (quite unlike that other satirical weekly, Le Canard Enchaîné, which is an indispensable source of information on French politics and that I have bought every week without fail for the past twenty-plus years). The cartoons are typically CH: a few are clever and/or witty, others sophomoric or just not funny. As for the columns, they’re uneven. I’ve long followed Jean-Yves Camus—one of France’s best specialists of far right and antisemitic movements, who has a commentary here on conspiracy theories—and “uncle” Bernard Maris (an older piece of his is in the issue). Charb could be quite good—see, e.g. my post on a commentary of his a year ago on Zionism and anti-Zionism—but he’s not in the issue, of course. I can’t speak to most of the other writers and columnists, who haven’t seemed too interesting (admittedly subjective on my part). This is no doubt the first time most of those who are queuing at the newsstands have ever bought CH (or tried to). I’d be surprised if most will continue to do so, including those for whom it was regular reading during their leftist/anarchist high school and college years—an important past CH demographic—before moving on (pour mémoire, CH’s readers have always been exclusively on the left; right-wingers never look at it). Without Charb, Wolinski, or Cabu, the overall quality of the cartoons—already dubious—will be affected (who knows, maybe they’ll try to hire back the 86-year-old Siné, whose 2009 firing caused a sharp drop in CH’s readership). And CH will need both new writers and new issues to riff on about, as trashing religion is just so boring and has-been. Absolutely everyone in France—including all Muslims—support laïcité (as spelled out in the 1905 law). Going on about it in 2015 is so much flogging the dead horse. It will also be helpful if CH drops its price, which, at €3, is high for what it is (Le Canard Enchaîné—which, like CH, carries no ads—has held steady at €1.20 for years).

The current issue of CH is supposed to be translated into 16 languages, or something like that. What a mistake. Much of CH’s content is untranslatable. Most of those who lack familiarity with French culture, politics, and satire will be scratching their heads, as they often do when reading or hearing about something going on in France. À propos, a week ago, while still in the US, I had an email exchange with an American journalist friend in Paris, who wrote the following

It is becoming harder, not easier, for me to write about CH, because—predictably and as always—I realize that I’m up against an audience that just doesn’t get it. Even France, a country better known to Americans than any other non-Anglophone country, is still an absolute mystery to them. The entire literary tradition they represented means nothing to them; the difference between this and other terrorist attacks is not immediately obvious to them; and once certain rumors start flying around the American media, they are just impossible to dispel…

In this vein, another American friend—who grew up in Paris and lives in Washington—wrote the following on social media the other day, in response to my posting of a New York Observer interview on the Charlie Hebdo massacre with the cartoonist Robert Crumb, who has lived in France for the past 25 years

[Robert Crumb] spent enough time offending “les bien pensants” with his sexually graphic graphics to last him a life time. And yet… He nails it on the head. Yes, there is a fundamental cultural divide (in my humble opinion) between the US and France about what constitutes speech. I was at a dinner several nights ago surrounded by local DC pundits… They were all appalled at Charlie Hebdo and its insistence/raison d’être to satirize to the outer limits anything that smacks of idolatry, statist ideology, dogma, doctrine, establishmentarianism of any sort regardless of political or religious belief. That’s who they are. Get over it! I tried to tell these pundits that no one makes you read Charlie Hebdo. It’s healthy to have a rag like that in the public sphere that pushes the boundaries. It’s there for you to explore. Just like the Marquis de Sade’s writings are available for you to explore the most arcane usages of sexual whatever. Oh no!!! We can’t have that in the US.

How sadly true!

In this trans-Atlantic failure to communicate, the main difference IMO—in culture and sensibility—is the satirizing of religion. America values free speech as much as France does—even more so, I’d argue—but there is a respect for religion in America and a taboo on ridiculing the religious beliefs of others that simply doesn’t exist in France, or at least in a large part of French society (and particularly those on the left side of the political spectrum). As one of my social media interlocutors commented the other day

[Charlie Hebdo is] a hard one to explain to North Americans because it is so culturally specific and subjective. People are not used to seeing this kind of imagery used in the way CH does. Also North American liberals and leftists usually don’t understand enough French and they have an approach that is more direct and preachy. I also think leftists in the States are fundamentally more respectful of religion from the get go. I think this is because religion in the States has been progressive at times: Black church, Quakers, Liberation Theologists, and because religion and the idea of freedom of religion are so central to the culture that progressives in NA have tended to leave it alone and organize coalitions across religious lines around issues that matter.

To which a friend added

I think the greater respect for religion is due to never having had to suffer a state religion. We take that separation (except when the Christian Right tries to throw its weight around) for granted.

I will add to this that liberals and leftists in America cannot conceive of a mass political movement that doesn’t involve the active participation of churches (and synagogues). Every last antiwar demonstration in America of any consequence—in my lifetime, at least—has seen important contingents of church groups (Quakers, Unitarians, Catholics, etc) and other religious organizations. When I lived in New York City in the late ’70s-early ’80s, one of the main sites for leftist political events was the Riverside Church (interdenominational). In Washington DC it was All Souls Church (Unitarian). When I was active in immigration issues in Chicago in the 1980s, associations linked to the Catholic church were important actors in the local activist coalition. And then there was the civil rights movement, almost every last leader of which was a religious figure (Martin Luther King Jr, you name it; and Malcolm X too).  In France, religiously based associations, personalities, and publications have participated in progressive causes over the years—e.g. Cimade, Témoignage Chrétien, Abbé Pierre—but generally speaking and given the history of conflict between organized religion (i.e. the Catholic church) and the Republic, the benevolence toward religion and close association with religious organizations that one finds on the American left is incomprehensible and alien to its counterparts in France.

Back to Charlie Hebdo, on understanding its cartoons, reader Conor Meleady alerted me to the invaluable website with precisely this name, Understanding Charlie Hebdo cartoons (also here). If you’re a mystified Anglo-American who doesn’t know French—or even if you do—this is where to go to make sense of CH.

Here are a few of the good essays I’ve read (in English) over the past several days:

British-Canadian journalist Leigh Phillips has a terrific piece on the Montreal-based website Ricochet, “Lost in translation: Charlie Hebdo, free speech and the unilingual left,” aimed at leftist Anglo-Americans who have absurdly labelled CH “racist,” “bigoted,” and “Islamophobic” (among these my friend Anne Norton, who had a piece a week ago in the Huffington Post, “Charlie Hebdo and Europe’s rising right,” with which I am, needless to say, in strong disagreement).

Also critiquing a certain knee-jerk, ill-informed reaction to CH on the American left is Seth Ackerman of Jacobin, who asserts that “The Right is trying to essentialize Muslims. The Left should not fall into the same trap.” Money quote

Allergic as I am to intemperate rants, I am equally allergic to insult humor, and that is why I don’t particularly enjoy or approve of cartoons of this genre. But many of the first reactions on the US left — seeing Charlie as a kind of French Der Stürmer — were based on a serious misreading of a paper whose now-dead editor was a passionate supporter of the Palestinian cause and a longtime illustrator for the anti-racist group MRAP. (Its slogan: “Everyone is not alike, Everyone is equal.”)

To drive home the point, Ackerman posted on his own “Too Hot for Jacobin” blog his translation of CH religion editor Zineb el-Rhazoui’s December 2013 essay, “If Charlie is racist, then I am.”

To those Anglo-American leftists who think that CH was “racist”: Did you see the TV reports of Charb’s funeral yesterday, where Jean-Luc Mélenchon and PCF Secretary-General Pierre Laurent, entre autres, gave eulogies and the Internationale was sung? As one distinguished Washington-based political scientist wrote on social media today

Charb, cartoonist for Charlie Hebdo, was interred to the music of the Internationale and of a New Orleans jazz band. For me that pretty much sums up Charlie Hebdo.

Addressing the other side of the US political spectrum, Paris-based journalist and friend Claire Berlinski had a salutary post last Monday on a website also called Ricochet—this one a “conservative conversation and community”—that she entitled “Paris update or, “Who should I believe? You or my lying eyes?” Nice job, Claire (though you exaggerate the facility with which people in France can obtain firearms; hunting rifles are sold over-the-counter—to those who have a hunting license (obtained after passing a state-administered exam)—but handguns require a prior police permit—which one needs a good reason to obtain—and the private possession of assault weapons is, of course, illegal).

Steven A. Cook, the Hasib J. Sabbagh Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council of Foreign Relations, has a post on his CFR blog on the “disturbingly equivocal” reaction in Turkey to the CH massacre. Money quote

According to the always-excellent Arun Kapil…

شكرا يا ستيفين

Hussein Ibish, the well-known Lebanese-American publicist, has a sharp commentary on the Lebanese website NOW on how “Charlie Hebdo’s latest cover isn’t objectionable; it’s brave and touching.”

Cambridge University prof Olivier Tonneau—and member of J-L Mélenchon’s Parti de Gauche—has a “letter to my British friends” in The Guardian, in which he explains that “it’s important to understand the role the magazine played for the French left, rather than judge its content out of context.”

Writing in the HuffPost, UC-Davis law prof Karima Bennoune says that “One week after the Charlie Hebdo attack [we must] refuse to sign up for the clash of civilizations.”

Also writing in the HuffPost is Delphine O, who is French and a consultant at the Stimson Center in Washington, who explains “Why four million people are right to say ‘I am Charlie’.”

If one didn’t see it, Andrew Sullivan, posted on Wednesday his first commentary on the CH killings, “Charlie, blasphemer,” in which he got it just right.

Justin E. H. Smith, who teaches philosophy at the University of Paris 7, has a reflection in The Utopian, “Paris, 2015,” of events of the past ten days.

À suivre, évidemment.

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I arrived in Paris from the US on Sunday morning, got home toward 1:30, dropped off my stuff, and took the train back to the city to participate in the march (my wife, who was part of her union delegation—in the high-security section of the procession—was already there). I’ve never seen so many people on a Sunday afternoon on the RER line A. And I’ve quite simply never seen so many people on the streets: in my life and anywhere. Everyone has read that, at some 1.3 to 1.5 million (or however many there were; who knows?), it was the biggest march in French history. And in a country where street demonstrations happen rather more often than just about anywhere else. In addition to being the largest march I’ve ever witnessed, it was the most exhilarating, with the countless citizens—of all backgrounds, ages, and political convictions (a few excepted)—turning out on their own volition, in a spirit of fraternity, and to defend and express the values of liberty, democracy, tolerance, and the republic. I was genuinely moved by what I saw during the 2½ hours I weaved my way through the (very dense) crowd, mostly going in their opposite direction. What I continually thought to myself throughout was: Vive la France! I’m a French citizen (for ten years now) and feel it fully.

Everyone has seen the reportages and images of the march. I took some photos—with my Galaxy 4—which may not be as good as these ones, but here they are:

First, the route:


Corner of Avenue de la République & Boulevard de Ménilmontant (Père Lachaise metro station). I got off at the Philippe Auguste station and walked up. It’s 3:15pm. Weather: around 6°C/low 40s F. No rain or wind. Good day for a demo.


I am Charlie, Jewish, policeman.


Marine [Le Pen]: Beat it!


[OMG] He’s coming back.


I am Charlie (there are a couple of errors in the Arabic rendering of this but the effort is appreciated nonetheless).


Solidarity against all fascisms, be they nationalist or religious.


Lycée Voltaire. Appropriate.


Atheists are right.





The banlieue is here too.


Together united for democracy.


The hiers of the Enlightenment.



We’re all French today (en anglais).


We are Charlie.
Love is stronger than hate.



We are all Jews, and moreover “I am Charlie.”


Blood flows but ink remains: CharLiberty.


The cartoon that made Charlie Hebdo (in)famous outside France (in 2006). Personally, I loved it.


I am not politicians
I am all the victims
I am freedom of expression
I am Charlie


I am Charlie Hebdo
Eternal hero in the face of medieval barbarism.


I am…here to defend non-violence and freedom of speech, with respect for others.


Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies!


I am Charlie
I am a cop
I am French
I am Jewish
I am sad



All the metro stations along the parade route were closed.



Muriam (private message): In France these are your people.


Eduardo, this one’s for you:
I am Charlie
France and Brazil
I love France




Love is the path to peace.


Not afraid.




I am Charlie
Don’t touch my France


Let this day remain a popular citizen movement of fraternity in the face of hate, stigmatization, and discrimination.


There was no chanting of slogans. Just periodic clapping and cheering.


I think, therefore I am Charlie.


We are Charlie
Long live France
Long live the Republic


Where is Charlie? I’m here!






Intersection of Avenue de la République & Boulevard Richard Lenoir.


I am Muslim
I am Christian
I am Jewish
I am peace
and Long live the Republic


Police vans heading up Boulevard Richard Lenoir.


Cheering the police vans as they passed. As a majority of marchers were no doubt voters of the left—I am quite sure of this—this had to be a first in French history.


Republic of the Congo. I also saw a DRC flag.




It’s now 5:00pm. I’ve been on my feet for two hours.


I’m now on Boulevard Voltaire, looking toward Place de la République.


Now walking with the marchers down Bd Voltaire, toward Place de la Nation. There’s some singing of La Marseillaise.


It’s moving slowly.


France, LGBT, European Union.


I decided to hang a right on Boulevard Richard Lenoir and head toward Bastille. This is a spontaneous commemoration spot on Richard Lenoir, near Charlie Hebdo’s office. At this point my phone battery stupidly ran out, so I returned to the spot yesterday (Monday) afternoon to finish taking the pics.


The spot on Bd Richard Lenoir (50 meters down from the one above) where policeman Ahmed Mrabet was murdered in cold blood by the terrorists during their getaway.




Looking down toward Place de la Bastille.

20150112_160156Entrance to Rue Nicolas Appert. Charlie Hebdo was at nº 10.



There are some three dozen people milling about, 24 hours after the march.



Uncle Bernard.


Jim Sciutto, CNN chief national security correspondent, reporting live from Paris.







You wanted to kill Charlie
You have just made him immortal

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[update below] [2nd update below]

I’m getting ready to leave for Paris in a few hours and have lots of stuff to do, so this will be short and to the point. I’ve been riveted to the events in Paris of the past three days, along with several hundred million other people, and have had numerous exchanges on the subject via social media. One theme I’ve been seeing, mainly from English-speakers—academics, journalists, sundry political activists, and the like—is that Charlie Hebdo is a bigoted, racist publication and, in its cartoons on Islam, has, as one academic blogger put it, “targeted a weak and despised minority.” As one who lives in France and has read Charlie Hebdo off and on over the years, I can categorically assert that CH is not bigoted or racist and has not singled out Islam for special treatment. Those who insist that it is and has done these things have most certainly never picked up a copy of CH in their lives, or, if they have—assuming they have the requisite fluency in the French language—maybe done so only once or twice and just to look at its cover cartoon. In other words, they don’t know WTF they’re talking about. The fact is, CH is on the left, targets all religions—but not their believers—in equal measure, and aims its main fire at politicians, and particularly the right (and, above all, the Front National). CH comes out once a week, i.e. 52 times a year. A handful of its issues—less than a dozen—over the past decade have had cover cartoons mocking radical Islamism (not Islam or Muslims). A drop in the bucket in terms of what CH has published. And most of these cartoons have been pretty good actually. Witty and on target. A few in the inside pages—which could only be seen if one purchased the issue, as CH puts almost nothing on its website—were in poor taste (and the cover cartoon from last October on the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram—which was situated in the context of the then French debate on family allowances—was definitely in very poor taste), but, taken as a whole, could in no way be taken as denigrating to Muslims qua Muslims. And then there’s the actual content of CH’s columns and articles, which absolutely no CH detractor mentions (as they have most certainly never read any). I will defy anyone to find any of these—published at any point over the years—that could in any way be considered racist or Islamophobic.

That’s it. I just needed to get this out. I’ll develop it at further length in the coming days—as I have much more to say on the subject—when I’m back in Paris. For my various posts on CH over the past three years—in which I elaborate upon some of what I’ve written above—see the links in the preceding post.

Paris, Place de la République, January 7th

Paris, Place de la République, January 7th

UPDATE: See the “Déclaration de solidarité avec «Charlie Hebdo»,” initiated on January 7th by intellectuals hailing from the Arab/Muslim world, launched as a petition in Le Monde, then published in Mediapart (January 13th), and that has been signed by several hundred.

2nd UPDATE: Sociologists Jean-François Mignot and Céline Goffette, in a Le Monde op-ed (Feburary 24th), have, following an examination of the past ten years of Charlie Hebdo covers, confirmed my above assertion that Charlie Hebdo has not been obsessed with Islam.

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I am Charlie

Top: Georges Wolinski, Jean Cabut (Cabu), Stéphane Charbonnier (Charb)  Bottom: Bernard Maris, Bernard Velhac (Tignous) (Image credit: AFP/Metronews)

Top: Georges Wolinski, Jean Cabut (Cabu), Stéphane Charbonnier (Charb)
Bottom: Bernard Maris, Bernard Velhac (Tignous) (Image credit: AFP/Metronews)

[updates below]

I’m in the US right now, so heard the horrific news from Paris when waking up this morning. I’m in a state of shock. I’ve had tears in my eyes. I cannot believe what has happened. For me this is more than a terrorist attack and with twelve people—journalists, writers, cartoonists, intellectuals—murdered in cold blood. This happened in my city and to people I knew, not personally but via their writings, drawings, and media appearances, and to whom I have linked numerous times on this blog (here, here, here, here, here, and also here, here, here, and, above all, here). Bernard Maris was one of my favorite economists, whom I’ve been reading and listening to on Friday mornings on France Inter since the 1990s. The only thing I can do at this moment is assert, out of solidarity, that “Je suis Charlie” and be present, in spirit, with the rally presently underway at the Place de la République.

I’ll have more on this, obviously.

UPDATE: The political scientist Jean-Yves Camus, who was was a regular contributor to Charlie Hebdo, had this commentary on Le Monde’s website (posted at 14:11 Paris time)

tous les gens que je connaissais sont morts, ce que je peux vous dire, c’est qu’on a jamais vu, dans l’histoire de notre pays, un organe de presse être méthodiquement décimé selon un mode opératoire militaire. Aucun journal n’a été ainsi attaqué, car il y a un principe qui est celui de la liberté de la presse, qui était respecté jusqu’à présent. C’est un stade de l’escalade inimaginable. Les gens qui travaillaient à Charlie Hebdo n’ont aucun sentiment de haine envers qui que ce soit, surtout pas envers les musulmans. Ils sont dans la critique des religions. Ceux qui ont commis ces attentats n’ont rien compris. On est dans la haine absolue, la négation absolue de la pensée. En France, on a depuis trois siècles une presse qui a contribué à faire tomber bien des pouvoirs, la presse est libre et les Français y sont attachés, si les auteurs pensent qu’ils pourront faire tomber ainsi la liberté de la presse, ils se trompent. La première victime de l’idéologie islamiste radicale, comme le disait Charlie, ce sont les musulmans.

2nd UPDATE: My friend Claire Berlinski, who happened to be walking near Charlie Hebdo’s office when the attack happened, has posted, on a US blogging site on which she’s a commentator, this first-hand account. Thanks for this, Claire.

3rd UPDATE: My blogging confrère Arthur Goldhammer has a commentary on the “Tragedy at Charlie Hebdo.”

4th UPDATE: Art Goldhammer, saying “Let’s not sacralize Charlie Hebdo,” expanded on his blog post at the invitation of Al Jazeera America.

5th UPDATE: The Union des Organisations Islamiques de France (UOIF), which is the most “Islamist” of France’s large Islamic organizations, has issued a strong, unambiguous statement condemning the attack on Charlie Hebdo. The Grande Mosquée of Paris, which is more institutional and “moderate,” has issued an equally strong declaration.

6th UPDATE: Jonathan Chait of New York magazine has a dead on-target commentary on “Charlie Hebdo and the right to commit blasphemy.”

7th UPDATE: Buzzfeed has published “22 heartbreaking cartoons from artists responding to the Charlie Hebdo shooting.”

8th UPDATE: Libération’s Laurent Joffrin has an editorial declaring that “‘Charlie’ vivra” (‘Charlie’ will live).

9th UPDATE: Matt Welch of Reason.com’s Hit & Run Blog says “‘Je suis Charlie’? No, you’re not, or else you might be dead.”

je suis charlie

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charlie hebdo no1163 011014

Voilà the cover of the latest issue of Charlie Hebdo, which will hit the newsstands tomorrow (October 1st). For those whose French is not up to par, it reads:


“I’m the Prophet, idiot!”

“STFU, infidel!”

Charlie Hebdo nails it. Totally.

Somehow I think security will be reinforced outside Charlie Hebdo’s office in the 11th arrondissement.

ADDENDUM: For other irreverent CH covers I’ve posted on, go here, here, here, and here.

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Charb, chroniqueur et dessinateur à Charlie Hebdo, et directeur de la publication, a eu une belle chronique dans le numéro du 15 janvier 2014, intitulé “Ras le bol du ping-pong sioniste, antisioniste!” Vu que Charlie Hebdo met très peu de son contenu sur son site web, j’allais transcrire la chronique entière, mais je vois qu’elle a bel et bien été publiée sur son site, le 19 février. Donc la voici. Ça vaut la peine d’être lu.

Par ailleurs, si on cherche une définition véridique du sionisme—ce qui est neutre et ne se prête pas à la polémique—, je recommende la tribune de l’écrivain israëlien A.B. Yehoshua, “Ce que «sioniste» veut dire,” publiée dans Libération le 31 mai 2013.

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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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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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Savage ads

I’ve been reading today about the controversy over the anti-Islam ads (above and below) that have been posted on New York City buses and in subway stations by a group led by the Muslimophobic crackpot Pamela Geller.

I find it appalling that a federal judge ruled that New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority could not refuse the ads. These ads are manifestly hateful toward the believers of a religion. They constitute hate speech, stigmatizing a religion and its believers—implying that they are “savages”—, and are rightly seen this way by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. While the ads should not be banned (and cannot be), public authorities should not be legally obligated to post them on billboards. They should have the right to make a well-considered and argued decision to reject them. There is a huge difference between these ads, on the one hand, and Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons and the trailer of a film no one has seen, on the other. The multitudes who were outraged by CH’s cartoons and/or the trailer had either never seen them or actively went looking. Billboard-size ads are in-your-face and in public. And it should stand to legal reason that one has a right not to have racist images and/or speech shoved in one’s face. If this is legal, then why not subway station ads of, say, naked women? One can find plenty of magazines with this in the newsstand on the subway platform, so what’s the problem with having it up on the wall for all to see? Rhetorical question, of course. Parisians will be reminded of the billboard ads a decade ago for a brand of thong underwear and that were quite explicit. When I first saw one of the ads, on the Boulevard Saint-Germain, I was taken aback and felt that it went too far. Many others felt the same way, including my wife and Ségolène Royal, who called the ads degrading to women (see here). A public controversy ensued, leading the association of advertisers that oversees ethical standards in the profession to ask the company to take down the ads (here). I have long been bothered by the blown-up covers of XXX magazines on the sides of newsstands in France and elsewhere in Europe. Children should not have to see this, nor anyone else who doesn’t wish to. In the case of magazines bordering on pornography, there should be a legal regulation on how they’re advertised. If one wants it, go into the kiosk and buy the magazine.

Back to the NYC ads, I cannot approve of the response of Mona Eltahawy, who publicly spray painted them in one subway station, attracting the attention of everyone—certainly her intention—and which got her arrested (here and here). I am an admirer of Ms. Eltahawy but this is not the right approach. It achieves nothing and is grist for the Muslimophobes’ mill. And spray painting a subway station—or any public place—can never be condoned.

A much better response is to surreptitiously “rebrand” the ads, as someone or some group has been doing (below; for more, see here). Excellent initiative!

This happened in the Bay Area last summer in a similar controversy, though in a more explicitly political manner. I would love to see the reaction of Pamela Geller’s kindred spirits to a mass ad campaign in New York City calling for the elimination of the state of Israel and its replacement by a Palestinian state governed by Islamic law…

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I finally got hold of the issue of Charlie Hebdo (see previous post), three days after it came out. The first run was sold out almost as soon as the newsstands opened on Wednesday, the second run yesterday (Friday) by mid-morning. Of the twenty cartoons, four are in particularly poor taste and that will be offensive to practicing Muslims (though one needs to buy the issue to see them, or see scanned images on a website, suggesting that one is looking for them—and with Islam-oriented websites deliberately reproducing the blasphemous images in order to stoke indignation). If it weren’t for these four cartoons there would be little for anyone to get upset about. Charlie Hebdo really didn’t need to print them in order to make sport of Islamic extremism. Close to half of Frenchmen in a poll just out deem that Charlie Hebdo should not have printed the cartoons, given the risk of increasing tensions in the Muslim world. A sharp French journalist whom I know, and who has been reporting from Tunisia since early 2011, is furious at CH for its publicity stunt, asserting that the cartoons will render much more difficult the task of secular-minded Tunisians who oppose a proposed, Islamist-inspired amendment to the new constitution that would criminalize profaning “the sacred.” If I had had a seat at CH’s editorial meeting I would have argued for taking out the four tasteless cartoons. But CH, being what it is, was not going to be dissuaded by the hypothetical impact of its cartoons among those who could take offense to them—and certainly not among elements (religious zealots) it holds in contempt. Ridicule—and puerile cartoons—are CH’s stock-in-trade (of religion, politicians, everyone and everything). It’s what it does. Normally few take notice—its weekly press run is 75,000—except when others scream about it. As a result of all the free publicity this week—of the masses of people outside France who have never seen an issue of CH in their lives (including this one)—CH is laughing all the way to the bank.

And this won’t be the last time, as the fundamental reality here is that the new technologies—of Internet, Google, YouTube—make it so that this kind of thing can propagate like wildfire. It goes without saying that no one would have ever heard of the film ‘Innocence of Muslims’—which may in fact not even exist—if it hadn’t been for the Internet. And, of course, the extremist Salafis who spread word of it (they’re the real guilty party here; it is they, and they alone, who have been fanning the flames). But if it hadn’t been the trailer of this film or Charlie Hebdo’s latest coup, it would have been something else, as North America, Europe, and the world is now awash in Islamophobic and Muslimophobic literature and images. I wonder if Muslims have any idea of the sheer quantity of blasphemous stuff that’s out there. If one looks for it, one will find it in a few clicks of the mouse. And it’s not going to go away or be eradicated. This is simply not possible. Likewise, BTW, for the toxic anti-Semitic—and anti-Christian and even anti-other Muslim—rhetoric that the Muslim world is drenched in, and that is expressed not just by extremist or marginal elements but by mainstream personalities and media outlets in those countries (e.g. Thomas Friedman, whom I normally avoid, had a useful column on this the other day). We just have to deal with it.

I’ve had exchanges with a couple of smart, normally liberal-minded friends over the past couple of days who have argued that there should be restrictions on the kind of speech CH was engaged in. This view has been echoed by certain commentators as well, with one arguing that films like ‘Innocence of Muslims’ already do not meet the free speech test in the US. In the case of the latter, I rather doubt it. I can’t imagine that a lawsuit testing this proposition wouldn’t be quickly rejected by any US district court where it was filed. As for legislation restricting blasphemous or hurtful speech, this is not on the table, certainly not in the US or France. Don’t even think about it. So when confronted with future Charlie Hebdos or grade-Z movies impugning the Prophet, Muslims will just have to turn the other cheek, to ignore it and move on.

BTW, one liberty-undermining act related to this affair was the immediate decision by the French government to ban a planned demonstration in Paris today by Muslim groups (none major) protesting Charlie Hebdo and the American film that no one has seen. This was unjustified and indefensible. Street demonstrations are a hallowed right in France and cannot be banned unless there is a manifest threat to public order, but which was not demonstrated in this case. The demo should have been allowed, with a designated parade route—logically République to Nation—and firm commitment by the organizers to maintain order. In February 2006 there was a march against the Danish cartoons by a few Muslim groups. Several thousand participated—almost all immigrants from the Maghreb (born and raised there and not in France, which was obvious)—and it passed without incident.

Two tribunes related to this affair that are well worth reading: Oliver Roy in Le Monde on not incriminating the “Arab spring,” and Hussein Ibish in The Daily Beast arguing that free speech is not a cloistered value (and taking issue with Stanley Fish).

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[update below]

I was taken aback late last night when I saw that yesterday was the biggest day in the history of my blog for hits. Today is already bigger and by several magnitudes. At the rate the hits are going I’ll surely pass 10,000 well before midnight. But it’s not because of anything I’ve put up lately. It’s all Google searches for Charlie Hebdo, on which I posted a year ago here and here. Google’s algorithm is doing its work. The majority are coming from Turkey, followed by Germany, the US, France, Switzerland, Lebanon, Russia, the UK, and Canada. People are obviously looking for Charlie Hebdo’s latest provocation. As the website is presently inaccessible—and will likely be so all day—here’s the cover. I’ll have more to say about it when I buy the issue (if it isn’t already sold out on the newsstands).

UPDATE: The total number of hits on my blog on Wednesday was 22,678, which is one hundred times more than what I get on a normal day. The no. 1 country of origin ended up being the US. There were a dozen or so comments—from outraged Muslims and Muslimophobes alike—, most insulting or cretinous and which I sent to the trash.

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So says The Onion

WASHINGTON—Following the publication of the image above, in which the most cherished figures from multiple religious faiths were depicted engaging in a lascivious sex act of considerable depravity, no one was murdered, beaten, or had their lives threatened, sources reported Thursday. The image of the Hebrew prophet Moses high-fiving Jesus Christ as both are having their erect penises vigorously masturbated by Ganesha, all while the Hindu deity anally penetrates Buddha with his fist, reportedly went online at 6:45 p.m. EDT, after which not a single bomb threat was made against the organization responsible, nor did the person who created the cartoon go home fearing for his life in any way. Though some members of the Jewish, Christian, Hindu, and Buddhist faiths were reportedly offended by the image, sources confirmed that upon seeing it, they simply shook their heads, rolled their eyes, and continued on with their day.

Charlie Hebdo couldn’t have said it better. As it’s from The Onion it’s a joke of course. Except that it’s not really. The last sentence sums up what looks to be an ever widening chasm between the Muslim world and Western democracies on free speech and its limits. In view of the riots, demos, and fanaticized mobs run amok, from Casablanca to Jakarta, it looks like what we’ve got here is failure to communicate, to borrow from the warden in ‘Cool Hand Luke‘. I have a lot more to say about all this but will refrain for the moment. In the meantime, here are some heartwarming images from Benghazi taken on Wednesday, reminding one that there are many people in those parts who do not identify with the fanatics. The sign of the boy in the middle reads ‘No.. no.. no to Al-Qaida’.

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Charlie Hebdo

Shocking news in Paris this morning. During the night the offices of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo were destroyed in an arson attack (see here and here). And its web site was hacked. Totally outrageous. No doubt about the politico-religious identity of the perpetrators. In this week’s issue, which came out today, Charlie Hebdo renamed itself “Sharia Hebdo” and with the Prophet Muhammad the editor-in-chief, to mark the victory of the Islamist Ennahda in last week’s Tunisian elections. On the cover (above), the Prophet is saying “100 lashes of the whip if you don’t die laughing”…

Typical Charlie Hebdo sophomoric humor and of questionable taste. That Charlie Hebdo was seeking to provoke and offend a few is manifest, though in a free society one has the right to provoke and offend. Provoking and offending has been Charlie Hebdo’s stock in trade since its inception. Pour mémoire, during the 2006 Danish cartoons brouhaha Charlie Hebdo published its famous issue with the offending cartoons inside and the Prophet Muhammad on the cover (below), with the headline “Muhammad overwhelmed by fundamentalists” and him lamenting “It’s tough to be loved by cons” (“con”—one of my favorite words in the French language—does not translate precisely into English; a con is somewhere between a nitwit, cretin, and a fool). Many Muslims found this offensive—which is their right—and a high profile lawsuit—which naturally failed—was filed against Charlie Hebdo (see here and here; on the documentary that was made on it, see here). I personally loved the cover, which I thought was not only funny but also portrayed the Prophet and mainstream Muslims sympathetically. It wasn’t Muslimophobic in the least (if it were I wouldn’t put the cover here, as Muslimophobia is proscribed on my blog). As for the Islamic interdiction against depicting the Prophet Muhammad, this is of no concern in a secular, free society (and does not apply to non-Muslims in any case). When it comes to religion, Charlie Hebdo—which wears atheism on its sleeve—is an equal opportunity offender (see the second and third covers below), with Catholics having long been its privileged target. If one doesn’t like this, pay no attention. Don’t buy the rag (I almost never do, though not for this reason). Turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39).

Numerous Muslims are already turning the other cheek and—at least as reflected on my Facebook page today—expressing outrage at the attack on Charlie Hebdo. And mainstream Muslim organizations in France have condemned it. I likely won’t ever see the issue, as it was sold out by mid-morning at every newsstand in my area. And given the destruction of Charlie Hebdo’s offices and material, it probably won’t be reprinted.

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