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Archive for the ‘France’ Category

May ’68: Fifty years later

It’s not even May yet and the anniversary is already being marked here in a big way, with the inevitable slew of new books, dossiers in the press, documentaries on TV, and the like. As it so happens, I covered May ’68 last week in a course on modern France that I teach to American undergraduates (some of whose parents weren’t even born then) on a semester abroad in Paris. I always enjoy talking about the events and situating them in the larger context of what was happening in the world in that momentous year (which, being 12 years of age, I remember fairly well, the American side at least).

The purpose of this post is not to talk about May ’68—of which I have nothing new or original to say—but simply to link to a very good piece posted ten days ago on NYR Daily, “1968: When the Communist Party stopped a French revolution,” by Mitchell Abidor, author of the just published book May Made Me: An Oral History of the 1968 Uprising in France. The NYR Daily title is somewhat misleading, as there was never the slightest chance that the student protests and worker strikes of May ’68 would lead to “revolution”—soyons sérieux—but it is useful to recall on this 50th anniversary that the PCF—which represented over a fifth of the French electorate at the time—was deeply distrustful of the students and did all it could to calm the ardor of the younger workers who were on the streets. This was because the PCF understood the “latent conservatism,” as Abidor puts it, of the larger part of its working class base—and because the PCF itself, and in spite of its orthodox Marxism, was fundamentally a conservative party that worked within the system to advance its economic agenda.

Something I’ve been thinking about of late, and particularly with Trump and the evolution of the Republican Party electorate in the US, is that the working class is nationalist and authoritarian almost by nature and if unmoored from labor unions, will not vote for parties of the left (except if they adopt a nationalist, populist, anti-liberal rhetoric, e.g. Jean-Luc Mélenchon). The working class is an essential part of a progressive coalition but only with the existence of robust labor unions. If unions weaken, then the left is in trouble, as workers—those who don’t retreat into abstention—will gravitate to the populist right..

The latest issue of The New York Review of Books leads with an interview with Daniel Cohn-Bendit—the ultimate soixante-huitard and antithesis of the PCF Weltanschauung—by German political scientist Claus Leggewie, “1968: Power to the imagination.” Dany le Rouge is my man, qu’est-ce que vous voulez que je dise…

For the best book (in English) on May ’68, see the instant history by Patrick Seale and Maureen McConville, which I posted on several years ago here.

À suivre très certainement.

June 1968 legislative
elections campaign poster.

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It was a ‘marche blanche’: a silent march—with no chanting or shouting of slogans—yesterday evening, in homage of Mireille Knoll, who, as one knows by now, was the 85-year-old Jewish woman who was atrociously murdered in her Paris apartment—an HLM in the 11th arrondissement—last Friday, by two men who have been arrested for the act. While their identities or motives have not yet been revealed, the police are treating it as an antisemitic hate crime. Everyone with half a conscience has been profoundly shocked: by the particulars of the crime, Mme Knoll’s age—both recalling the equally horrific murder of Sarah Halimi a year ago, and in the same part of the city—and her having narrowly escaped the Rafle du Vel’ d’Hiv as a child (and whose husband was a survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau).

Some twenty to thirty thousand showed up for the march—a good turnout for a weekday—which went in a loop from Place de la Nation up Boulevard Voltaire, right on Rue de Charonne, down Avenue Philippe Auguste past Mme Knoll’s building and back to Nation. I took some photos, which one may see in the album here (and with commentary; click on the first photo and advance with the arrow). The majority of the marchers were Jews, though one sensed that there were proportionally more non-Jews present than at the big march for Ilan Halimi on February 26, 2006 (which I participated in). The relative absence of non-Jews at the latter was disappointing—French Jews felt let down by the seeming lack of solidarity from the larger society, particularly in view of the horrific nature of the Ilan Halimi assassination (I discuss it here and here)—so it was symbolically important that it be different this time. And it was.

The march was initiated by the CRIF, in a tweet on Monday, in memory and support of Mme Knoll’s family, and to “express the compassion of all Frenchmen and women.” Politicians from across the spectrum were present (I didn’t see them myself), including a slew of government ministers—Gérard Collomb, Jean-Michel Blanquer, Marlène Schiappa, Nicolas Hulot, and Françoise Nyssen—and representatives of parties, e.g. Christophe Castaner (REM), Laurent Wauquiez (LR), Gérard Larcher (LR), Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo (PS), and Pierre Laurent (PCF). CRIF president Francis Kalifat provoked a pointless, unfortunate polemic, however, in declaring beforehand that Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Mélenchon were not welcome at the march, nor any representatives of their respective parties. Requesting that Marine Le Pen not come could be comprehended—in view of her father’s and party’s history in regard to antisemitism, and which MLP has not disavowed or apologized for—but it was unacceptable in the case of Mélenchon and others in his party, La France Insoumise. The ostensible reason was the support for BDS by Mélenchon’s Parti de Gauche—the principal constituent of La France Insoumise—except that this issue has nothing whatever to do with an antisemitic crime committed in France. Kalifat was injecting politics into what was supposed to be a non-political march that united Frenchmen and women across the board. Moreover, no one has ever suggested that Mélenchon or anyone in the leadership of FI is antisemitic or has a problem with Jews. If anyone were to publicly make such an accusation, s/he could be sued for libel—and be deservedly convicted. Whatever one thinks of Mélenchon—and as AWAV readers know, I am not a fan of his—his words on Mireille Knoll have been unimpeachable, as was his powerful homage to Arnaud Beltrame in the National Assembly on Tuesday, which was roundly applauded from left to right. Kalifat’s dissing of JLM was a political error.

Libération’s invariably excellent Laurent Joffrin nailed it in a commentary yesterday, entitled La boulette du CRIF:

Pas très malin, le CRIF… Au moment où l’opinion s’émeut, tous partis confondus, du meurtre de Mireille Knoll, sans doute crapuleux mais dont la justice estime à ce stade qu’il est aussi marqué du sceau de l’antisémitisme, voilà que le Conseil déclenche une polémique subalterne et malvenue. Le cas du Front national est certes épineux quand on connaît son passé en la matière, même si Marine Le Pen se garde de toute allusion antisémite. Mais celui de Jean-Luc Mélenchon touche au grotesque. Quand le leader de La France insoumise aurait-il cédé à une mauvaise pente ? Jamais, que l’on sache. A moins d’amalgamer toute critique du gouvernement israélien à de l’antisémitisme, vieille ficelle propagandiste. Diviser quand il faut réunir : on ne saurait être plus maladroit. L’organisation communautaire a d’ailleurs été désavouée aussitôt par le fils de Mireille Knoll, plus avisé et plus généreux que ses défenseurs institutionnels. Cet homme meurtri fait plus contre le communautarisme que bien d’autres.

L’incident ne saurait détourner de l’essentiel. Les agressions contre les Français juifs sont une injure intolérable contre la République et contre l’humanité. Ce qui est intolérable doit être combattu avec la dernière énergie. Les participants à la marche blanche de mercredi le comprennent ainsi. Sursaut salutaire, alors que les Français juifs avaient jusque-là le sentiment que souvent ces agressions se déroulaient dans une relative indifférence. A l’antisémitisme de l’extrême droite, qu’on avait fait reculer, s’ajoute maintenant, comme le souligne Michel Wieviorka, un antisémitisme issu de milieux musulmans, qui tient pour beaucoup à l’obsession antijuive des courants islamistes, mais aussi à la résurgence de préjugés ancestraux, même si la grande majorité des Français musulmans s’en tiennent à l’écart. Dans ces circonstances, les Français juifs doivent savoir qu’ils peuvent compter sur la solidarité indéfectible de tous les républicains.

Watch here the declaration of Mireille Knoll’s son, Daniel, rejecting the position of the CRIF on Mélenchon et al, saying that everyone was welcome at the march.

As it happens, both MLP and JLM did show up at the march, the latter accompanied by several top FI personalities (Éric Coquerel, Clémentine Autain, Adrien Quatennens, Alexis Corbière, Raquel Garrido). JLM and his entourage had to be quickly exfiltrated by the police after being showered with insults and threats from a gang of bully boys from the LDJ (French JDL). But MLP and her contingent—which included Gilbert Collard, Louis Aliot, Bruno Bilde, and Wallerand de Saint Just—were protected by the very same LDJ militants, who want to make common cause with the FN over their mutual Muslimophobia. Incredible but true. The frontistes got booed—by marchers—were escorted onto a side street by police, to reappear in front of Mme Knoll’s building before making their getaway.

Not too many Muslims were in evidence at the march—not that one can easily tell who is who—which is hardly surprising given that it was sponsored by the CRIF. Muslims in France, be they religious or not, have a bee in their collective bonnet about the CRIF, which gets under their collective skin (I know this from extensive observations on social media over the past decade, so please don’t tell me I’m wrong, because I’m not). The explanation offered for the hang-up about the CRIF is its support of Israel—as if the peak association of a Jewish community anywhere would not identify with the Jewish state—but does not convince. It goes well beyond that. Un autre sujet.

One Muslim who was at the march—whom I saw at the end—was Imam Hassen Chalghoumi, of the mosque in Drancy. He’s controversial among French Muslims and sectors of the left—for, entre autres, his close identification with the laïcard camp (Caroline Fourest, Alain Finkielkraut et al)—but is greatly appreciated by Jews, to whom he has reached out over the past dozen years. He was applauded yesterday, with people coming up to talk with him and take selfies. C’est bien.

UPDATE: The Atlantic’s Paris-based writer, Rachel Donadio, has a piece up (March 29th) on “The meaning of France’s march against anti-Semitism.” The lede: “The murder of a Holocaust survivor is forcing the country to embrace a new, unfamiliar kind of religious and ethnic solidarity.”

2nd UPDATE: Le Monde dated March 30th, the headline of which is “Antisémitisme: la prise de conscience, et après?,” has two tribunes well worth reading. One is by Pierre Birnbaum, “Antisémitisme: il est grand temps de que l’Etat protège tous ses citoyens,” in which he says, entre autres, that antisemitism is, in fact, declining in French public opinion, while acts of violence against Jews increase. The other tribune, by Pierre-André Taguieff, carries the provocative title “Il faut penser et combattre la ‘judéophobie islamisée’.” Lots of people—including some I know—will reject Taguieff’s arguments and assertions. I will be interested to hear their refutations (though will not hold my breath waiting for them).

3rd UPDATE: Laurent Joffrin has another excellent ‘lettre politique’ (March 29th), “Pour les juifs”:

Il faut revenir sur la manifestation de mercredi qui a témoigné d’un sursaut de solidarité envers les Français juifs victimes d’agressions ou de crimes. Les incidents qui l’ont troublée ne doivent pas masquer le véritable enjeu, qui va au-delà du cas dramatique de Mireille Knoll. C’est un fait établi que les juifs français sont l’objet d’une résurgence de racisme et d’intolérance très particulière, qui pose de redoutables questions, non seulement à eux mais à tout républicain.

Onze d’entre eux en dix ans ont été tués pour la simple raison qu’ils étaient juifs. Quel groupe, quelle communauté, même si on n’aime pas le mot, a subi un sort comparable ? A notre connaissance, aucune. A cela s’ajoute le harcèlement quotidien dont sont souvent victimes ces familles, à l’école, dans la rue, dans les transports. Beaucoup d’entre elles retirent leurs enfants de l’école publique par crainte de les voir agressés ; depuis les crimes sanglants de Mohammed Merah, les écoles confessionnelles ont perdu leur statut de sanctuaire.

Marc Knobel, directeur des études du Conseil représentatif des institutions juives de France (Crif), évalue à 60 000 le nombre de juifs qui ont quitté la France en dix ans. C’est-à-dire environ 10 % des Français juifs, proportion considérable. On peut chipoter sur les chiffres ou remarquer qu’une partie d’entre eux ne s’exilent pas pour des raisons de sécurité mais pour effectuer leur alya, le retour vers la Terre promise. Cela ne change rien au fait qu’il est humiliant, angoissant, pour la République, de constater qu’une partie de ses enfants, qui en sont une composante depuis tant de générations, n’ont plus confiance en elle. On dresse parfois un parallèle entre les agressions dont sont victimes les juifs et celles qui visent les musulmans, tout aussi condamnables évidemment, et dont le nombre est comparable. Mais c’est un effet d’optique. Les Français juifs sont environ dix fois moins nombreux que les Français musulmans. Les premiers sont donc dix fois plus exposés que les seconds. A cela s’ajoute le fait qu’une grande partie des meurtres sont le fait de terroristes islamistes et qu’un antisémitisme nouveau, alimenté par les obsessions des intégristes musulmans et les réactions liées au conflit israélo-palestinien, se développe depuis de longues années. Il existe toujours un antisémitisme venu de l’extrême droite comme en témoigne le succès des vidéos postées régulièrement par Alain Soral, ou l’affluence qu’on observe aux spectacles de Dieudonné ou encore les dérapages de certains membres du Front national. Mais de toute évidence, nous sommes désormais sur deux fronts et non plus un seul.

Jusqu’à mercredi, les Français juifs avaient le sentiment de tout cela se déroulait dans une relative indifférence. Les choses commencent à changer. Il faudra aller nettement plus loin. Le 5 janvier 1895, assistant à la dégradation du capitaine Dreyfus – dans cette cour des Invalides où l’on rendait, mercredi, un hommage émouvant au colonel Beltrame – Theodor Herzl se dit que si, même en France, on pouvait assister à une telle iniquité, il ne pouvait y avoir de refuge nulle part pour les juifs, sinon dans un foyer national qui leur serait propre. Cette réflexion fut à l’origine du mouvement sioniste. Pourtant, dans les années 20 et 30, beaucoup de juifs d’Europe de l’est s’installèrent en France en se disant qu’un pays capable de se déchirer dix ans autour du sort d’un seul juif, Dreyfus, pour l’innocenter in fine et le réhabiliter solennellement, serait malgré tout une terre d’accueil. Il faut se souvenir de cette histoire. Il y a dans ce double rappel un motif de crainte mais aussi des raisons d’espérer.

4th UPDATE: Mediapart has an important two-part enquête (February 9th), by Joseph Confavreux, “Gauches et antisémitisme: la genèse d’une gêne.” The lede: “Certaines gauches en France sont régulièrement accusées de complaisance envers l’antisémitisme. Insulte infamante venant d’adversaires politiques et d’institutions juives droitisées, ou constat que ces gauches sont parfois mal équipées, voire peu motivées pour prendre en charge l’hostilité contemporaine envers les juifs?” The link to the second part, “Les gauches sont-elles aveugles à un ‘antisémitisme musulman’?,” is at the end. Definitely worth reading.

5th UPDATE: Lassana Bathily, the brave young Malian hero of the Hyper Cacher terrorist attack, attended the vigil for Mireille Knoll at the Tournelles synagogue on Wednesday. Heartwarming.

6th UPDATE: Time magazine’s Vivienne Walt has a good report (March 29th) on how “The brutal murder of a Holocaust survivor is raising anti-Semitism fears in France.”

Also see the report (March 29th) by Paris-based writer Vladislav Davidzon in Tablet, “In Paris, tens of thousands march to honor slain Holocaust survivor: Including, sadly, Marine Le Pen, who was heckled by protestors and quit the rally shortly after her arrival.”

7th UPDATE: France Inter’s Thomas Legrand had an excellent editorial on March 29th (which I missed that day), “La faute du président du CRIF,” that expresses precisely my position.

8th UPDATE: French journalist Sylvain Cypel—who was, entre autres, formerly Le Monde’s correspondent in New York—has an article in The Nation (April 6th), translated by me, “The murder of Holocaust survivor Mireille Knoll has exposed 2 toxic racisms in France.” The lede: “Along with the rise of anti-Semitism in Muslim and Arab communities, there’s growing hostility to France’s Muslims within the Jewish community, which draws its source in the defense of Israel.” Cypel, pour l’info, lived in Israel for a dozen years of his youth, attended the Hebrew University, and was a militant in the leftist Matzpen organization.

9th UPDATE: Le Monde’s Elise Vincent and Raphaëlle Bacqué have a lengthy report in the April 6th issue, “Dans l’immeuble de Mireille Knoll, les fantômes de la tranquillité perdue.” The lede: “Le 23 mars, le meurtre de la vieille dame juive a saisi d’effroi les habitants de cet ensemble paisible de 102 appartements du 11e arrondissement de Paris.”

10th UPDATE: Le Canard Enchaîné reports, on page 2 of the April 4th issue, that CRIF president Francis Kalifat had initially intended to ask only Marine Le Pen not to participate in the Marche Blanche, but then, on March 27th, two of Kalifat’s advisers, National Assembly deputy Meyer Habib and Knoll family lawyer Gilles-William Goldnadel—both French-Israeli dual nationals—successfully lobbied him to also refuse Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s presence. Pour l’info, Habib—who represents the 8th constituency of French citizens abroad (which includes Israel)—is a well-known supporter of the Israeli right-wing. Goldnadel is equally right-wing, having argued, along with Habib, for a rapprochement between the French Jewish community and the Front National.

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That’s the title of an erudite, excellently-written article by my friend Claire Berlinski, in the Winter 2018 issue of City Journal, that is a must-read for anyone who knows and loves Paris. Claire hates the modernist architecture that she feels—not without reason—has defaced Paris over the past seven decades and, guns blazing, lets it be known from the get-go. As they say over here, elle n’y va pas avec le dos de la cuillère. I largely agree with her, though do not possess her knowledge of architecture or the architectural history of Paris—despite having lived here for most of the past thirty years—so can only offer my personal opinions.

E.g. I don’t share Claire’s dislike of the Pei pyramid at the Louvre. I was impressed when seeing it for the first time, on the evening before its inauguration in 1988, and haven’t revised my view. It was certainly an improvement over what preceded it—a parking lot for the Ministry of Finance, which occupied the Richelieu wing of the Louvre before President Mitterrand sent it packing to Bercy. As for its incongruity in that space, I kind of like that.

The Pompidou Center: When I saw it for the first time, with my mother and a friend, in precisely December 1976 (it was completed but hadn’t yet opened), we went “WTF is that!!” Everyone has decided views on the place: My mother hates it but I’ve always liked it, more or less, and have visited it often from the late ’70s on. And what preceded it hardly merits nostalgia. The only thing that caused me to think that perhaps it should not have been built in the first place—that there were some major flaws in its design—was learning of the astronomical maintenance and heating costs. As for what Claire says about “drug dealers, pickpockets, and voyous” coming in from the banlieues to “loiter around” the place, and with “the derelicts know[ing], somehow, that it was meant for them,” I think she exaggerates a little. That may have been the case years ago but is not today; the area around the Pompidou center is lively at night, with lots of young people (not the kind who will pick your pockets) in the many cool bars and restaurants.

The Mitterrand BNF: I used to give it the thumbs down, having been influenced by Harvard University historian Patrice Higonnet’s early 1990s denunciations of it in the NYRB (subtly entitled Scandal on the Seine and The Lamentable Library), but am agnostic on it now (and I think many who used to criticize it have changed their minds). And given the real risk of flooding from the Seine (which Higonnet ignores), there was probably a good reason to store the books in towers rather than underground.

Grande Arche de La Défense: I don’t have a problem with the building itself but hate where it’s situated, as it obstructs the once clear view through the Arc de Triomphe, when looking up the Champs-Elysées from the Concorde.

Tour Montparnasse: Everyone hates it, of course. How nice it would be to have it pulled down.

Claire doesn’t mention Les Halles. Everyone agrees that the Forum des Halles that replaced the Pavillons Baltard was a travesty, but I am favorably impressed with the renovations, which have greatly improved the place (I pass through there several times a week, so trust me). As for the cost to the Parisian taxpayer, that’s another matter.

One disastrous byproduct of the buildings that went up in Paris from the 1950s to the ’90s is asbestos, which is one of the biggest scandals of the Fifth Republic. Thanks to power of the asbestos lobby, the material was banned in construction in France later (1997) than in other Western countries. In addition to the human cost, the final price tag for asbestos removal will be well into the hundreds of billions of euros, if not more (removing the asbestos from the Zamansky tower—which Claire rightly skewers—and other buildings at the Jussieu campus alone cost close to €2 billion).

Paris may be a beautiful city malgré tout, which no person with normal aesthetic tastes would deny, but this does need to be qualified. Quoting myself, from a post I wrote five years ago on the restored copy of Chris Marker’s 1962 documentary ‘Le Joli Mai’, shot on the streets of Paris:

Large parts of Paris and the inner banlieue were slums. And the city was dirty (polluted, the ancient buildings and monuments caked black with centuries of soot and grime, and generally run down outside les beaux quartiers). For the proletariat, the tours et barres of the cités constructed on a mass scale during those years were a godsend. As a couple of the interviewees [in the documentary] made clear, people couldn’t wait to move out of their quartiers populaires or bidonvilles and into an HLM. Vive le logement social!

And reading Eric Hazan’s The Invention of Paris, one learns that even some of the quartiers in the center of the city—e.g. off the Place Saint-Michel; don’t even talk about the northern and eastern arrondissements—were crumbling slums well into the 20th century. Despite modernism, Paris—like New York, Chicago, and other older, large American cities—probably looks better today than at any point in the past.

UPDATE: Take a look at the website, Save Paris, of the International Coalition for the Preservation of Paris.

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Johnny Hallyday, R.I.P.

When I learned early this morning that he had died—which I wasn’t expecting, as I had forgotten that he had terminal cancer—I knew that there would be practically no other story on the news here today. This is one of those deaths that millions of people—99.9% of them French—genuinely feel saddened by—including my wife, who said this morning that “Johnny” was almost like “un membre de la famille.” C’est-à-dire, la famille des Français. A friend of mine I saw today—a lawyer in his 60s with highbrow cultural tastes—concurred with my wife’s sentiments, saying that he had seen “Johnny” at least six times in concert over the decades. Almost everyone publicly commenting today is calling him a French “icon,” which is true. (If one is not French and thus doesn’t know much about this icon, see the obits in The New York Times and The Guardian).

Quant à moi, I have mentioned “Johnny” exactly once in the history of AWAV, in a post in May 2011 that was mainly on Bernard-Henri Lévy, in which, entre autres, I linked to a piece by the US libertarian journalist Matt Welch that skewered the French pseudo-philosopher. I thought Welch was witty and on-the-mark in his takedown of BHL, except for his very last sentence: “And another reminder that BHL is 10 times the national embarrassment to France than Jerry Lewis or even Johnny Hallyday ever was.” On the French-and-Jerry Lewis cliché, I have definitively settled that one here. As for Johnny Hallyday, this was my response to Welch

[The Johnny Hallyday] cliché—that he’s a cheap French imitation of Elvis Presley, not very good, and generally a joke—seems to be more English than American (as Americans mostly have no idea who he is). I actually used to think the same thing, and would roll my eyes and snicker every time my wife and French friends—almost all of them—would tell me how great a singer “Johnny” is. But then I realized that I didn’t really know his music. I’d never bothered to listen to it. He just seemed too weird of a personality. And too bizarre looking. But eight years ago, when Johnny turned 60 and had a concert at the Parc des Princes to mark the event—before 60,000 fans and a live TV audience of millions—I decided to open my mind and give him a look. It went for three hours and I watched it to the end. It was great! Johnny is a great rock ‘n’ roller! And a great stage performer too. Voilà. Now I understand why he is so beloved in this country (even if he is still a weird guy). Matt Welch and other Anglo-Saxon Johnny snickerers have no doubt never listened to his music. If they like rock and roll, they should.

The more I’ve listened to Hallyday’s music over the years—on my favorite music radio station and CDs we own—the more I will assert that he was indeed very good, and that it’s too bad the musically protectionist Anglo-Americans were not exposed to him. Check out this YouTube playlist. And for the social scientifically minded, see the analysis in Le Monde by sociologist Jean-Louis Fabiani, “‘Pourquoi Johnny Hallyday, c’était la France’.” Also this homage by my favorite conservative politician, Jean-Pierre Raffarin. If there’s anyone who could unite Frenchmen and women across the political spectrum, it was “Johnny.”

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The Tariq Ramadan Affair

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Here’s a shout out to my dear friend Adam Shatz and his latest piece, on the fallout from the Tariq Ramadan rape scandal, which was posted yesterday on The New Yorker website. For those who missed it, I discussed the Ramadan affair in my post two weeks ago on the Weinstein fallout, notably the brawl that ensued between Charlie Hebdo and Mediapart, in which both parties have greatly exaggerated their differences, as CERI-Sciences Po’s Denis Lacorne insisted in a spot on tribune (Nov. 25th) in Le Monde, “‘La polémique entre Charlie Hebdo et Edwy Plenel participe à la brutalisation du débat public’.”

It is indeed possible to be a fan of Mediapart but to have also loudly proclaimed ‘Je suis Charlie’ in January 2015. In this vein, Jean-Pierre Mignard—a prominent Parisian lawyer, essayist/author, and longtime behind-the-scenes mover and shaker in the PS (and who is now with Emmanuel Macron)—had a good take on the Charlie Hebdo-Mediapart bagarre in an interview with Léa Salamé (Nov. 20th) on France Inter, “Charlie et Mediapart sont du même du bon côté de la barricade.”

À suivre.

UPDATE: Sylvain Cypel, a former journalist and editor at Le Monde, has a post just up (Nov. 30th) in the NYRB’s NYR Daily, “France, Islam & the Ramadan Affair.” The Washington Post’s fine Paris correspondent, James McAuley, also has a dispatch (Nov. 27th) on Ramadan, “France’s Weinstein scandal is also about Islam.”

Et tant qu’on y est, il convient de lire, si on l’a loupé, le post dans Mediapart (18 nov.) de l’excellentissime Jean Bauberot, “Laïcité et démocratie, l’enjeu de la polémique Charlie,Valls, Mediapart.” Voir également la tribune (22 nov.) dans L’Humanité, par la très gauchiste politiste (IEP Lyon) Philippe Corcuff, “Charlie, Mediapart, Valls, Filoche et les autres: la gauche déboussolée.”

2nd UPDATE: Edwy Plenel, in a 22-minute interview on BFMTV-RMC (Dec. 1st), asserted that “there cannot be a war between Charlie Hebdo and Mediapart” and regretted that some of his language vis-à-vis Charlie Hebdo earlier last month had been excessive. At one point in the interview, journalist Jean-Jacques Bourdin insinuated that Plenel had not shared the ‘Je suis Charlie’ sentiment in January 2015 and was not present at the big march in Paris on the 11th. What nonsense. Don’t people do their homework? Mediapart was, in fact, in total solidarity with Charlie Hebdo following the massacre and called on all to participate in the Jan. 11th march (Plenel was in Berlin that day, so participated in the rassemblement at the Brandenburg Gate). On this, see the Jan. 10th Mediapart tribune by Plenel and François Bonnet, “Manifester pour un réveil citoyen,” plus the update to this AWAV post.

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The Weinstein fallout


[update below] [2nd update below]

The lead story in yesterday’s France 2 evening news was the latest report on the prevalence of sexual harassment in French workplaces, here among medical personneli.e. doctors–in hospitals. It is amazing, almost stunning, the fallout that the Harvey Weinstein revelations six weeks ago has had: in France, the US of course, and all sorts of other places. It  has naturally been a big topic of conversation in my family (wife and daughter), among friends, and in social media. Weinstein is, ça va de soi, a despicable human being, as are all the other harassers and rapists who have been outed and richly deserve their public disgrace—and, for some, their inevitable judicial prosecution. No reasonable person will disagree.

But in the midst of the legitimate outcry and indignation have been moments of excess with the #MeToo and #BalanceTonPorc campaigns, which was the subject of an L.A. Times tribune, dated November 1st, by Cathy Young—contributing editor at the libertarian Reason magazine—”Is ‘Weinsteining’ getting out of hand?” I thought it was a pretty good piece myself, so posted it on Facebook, and which led to a, shall we say, spirited exchange among several of my friends, including women whose feminist credentials are ironclad and who happened to agree with Young. Following this was an extensive, ongoing email exchange with several friends, over a lengthy, quite excellent essay that one of them has written on the matter, developing her viewpoint expressed on my FB thread (and which I will post as an update below as soon as it finds a publisher, hopefully in the coming days).

I hadn’t intended to write on any of this but was prompted to by one of the now daily rebondissements, which is the reopening, by liberal pundits seeking to prove their evenhandedness in the midst of the revelations about Roy Moore in Alabama and ensuing tumult within the Republican Party, of the Bill Clinton dossier from the 1990s. Among these pundits are two of my favorites, whose bylines are a mark of quality: Michelle Goldberg, who wrote in the NYT the other day, “I believe Juanita;” and Vox’s Matthew Yglesias, who opined that “Bill Clinton should have resigned: What he did to Monica Lewinsky was wrong, and he should have paid the price.” How disappointing to read such balderdash from two otherwise smart, level-headed political analysts. To borrow from Jacques Chirac, Mme Goldberg et M. Yglesias ont perdu une bonne occasion de se taire. That is to say, they should have just STFU.

I am not going to relitigate the Clinton-Lewinsky affair—more accurately labeled the Kenneth Starr scandal—except to say that there was no reason whatever for Bill Clinton to have resigned, or even be personally condemned and shamed, as he did nothing to warrant this. There was no scandal on his part. What happened between Clinton and Ms. Lewinsky was a private matter between two consulting adults—and initiated by Lewinsky, pour mémoire, who kept their tryst going—which they both desperately sought to keep private. It was no one’s business but their own (and perhaps Bill’s wife, but that was between him and her). And Kenneth Starr’s witch hunt was precisely that. The whole thing—Starr, the media feeding frenzy, the congressional Republicans, et j’en passe—was an outrage. Case closed.

As for the other Clinton affairs involving women, there were manifest contradictions, anomalies, and outright falsehoods in the accounts of Kathleen Willey and Paula Jones—and with the latter a pawn in an intricately knit conspiracy (dixit Ann Coulter) to destroy Clinton and his presidency. None of the damaging accusations leveled at Clinton were proven. As for Juanita Broaddrick—who stayed silent for over two decades—we’ll never know. If more women during that general period (late ’70s-’80s) had surfaced with similar accusations against Clinton, Broaddrick’s story would naturally need to be taken seriously. But there weren’t.

What is common to all the harasser/rapist men who have been outed over the years is that the initial revelation was followed by others, with several abused women, even dozens, coming forward, and with accounts that were/are precise, entirely credible, and not part of some plot hatched by the harasser/rapists’ political enemies (in France, e.g. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Denis Baupin, Tariq Ramadan…). When it comes to harassing/raping men, there’s no smoke without fire. This was simply not the case with Bill Clinton, however much of a horndog he may have otherwise been.

Susan Bordo, the well-known scholar of gender and women’s studies, wrote the following on her Facebook page yesterday in response to the press conference by the junior senator—and 2020 prospect—from New York

Kirsten Gillibrand says Bill Clinton should have resigned over the Lewinsky affair. Since she is too young, apparently, to have “been around” when it happened, I’d like to remind her that Monica Lewinsky was not an “accuser,” but betrayed by a woman she thought a friend, harassed by Ken Starr, and terrorized by the FBI into admitting she had a relationship with Clinton. If we’re going to believe women, maybe we should start with her. She has always said the relationship was consensual, in fact describes herself as the pursuer. According to some definitions, she was still the victim of sexual harassment, because of the power imbalance. But in no way was she the victim of assault or even unwanted physical advances. These attempts to put Clinton, Trump, Moore, Franken in the same pot do a disservice to the women involved—not to mention others who have been raped, assaulted, abused when children/teens.

And if we’re suddenly so attuned to the treatment of women in this culture, maybe we should have a fresh look at the election, too!

On Al Franken, I go with The Nation’s Joan Walsh, who asked “What should Democrats do about [him]?” Kate Harding, author of the book Asking for It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture – And What We Can Do about It, likewise makes good points in a Washington Post op-ed, “I’m a feminist. I study rape culture. And I don’t want Al Franken to resign.” The testimonies of former Franken female staffers are also pertinent.

Another spot-on commentary on the WaPo opinion page is a column by Paul Waldman, “Sorry. There’s no equivalence between Republicans and Democrats on sexual harassment.” Don’t miss the commentary by TDB senior editor Erin Gloria Ryan, “After Al Franken and Roy Moore, we are dangerously close to botching the #MeToo moment.” Also the one by The Guardian’s Anne Perkins, dated November 6th, “I know how demeaning harassment is. But weaponising the past is not the answer.”

Returning to the Tariq Ramadan affair, mentioned above. Not being a fan of TR, I can’t say I’m devastated to learn that, in his behavior with women, he has been as insidious and loathsome as Weinstein et al. I’m not going to linger on his specific case here—except to say that the hit to his public reputation is well-deserved—but rather on a collateral damage victim of the revelations—whose public reputation has most undeservedly taken a hit in certain quarters—which is my friend Bernard Godard, a career functionary (now retired) of the French state and who spent the latter part of his career in the Ministry of Interior as the state’s top expert on Islam and Muslims in France. There is not a person of any consequence in the world of French Islam—the legal part of it, at least—or who works on it in any capacity (academia, journalism, etc) who Bernard Godard does not know personally. In an interview with L’Obs—and sensationalized by Marianne—after the TR affair broke, Bernard was quoted saying that he had heard rumors and stories over the years about TR and women—and that may have even involved violence—but not about actual rape, which thus put Bernard in the spotlight for not having spoken out. The story was then taken up the other day by the Islamophobic website Jihad Watch, which suggested that Bernard, as an agent of the French state, sought to “protect Tariq Ramadan’s public image from being sullied.”

This is rubbish. I knew right off the bat that Bernard had misspoken in his L’Obs interview, that his words were maladroit, that he had no knowledge of any criminal act (i.e. rape) committed by TR, and thus had no standing to speak out publicly on the matter or alert his superiors. Such would have been illegal on his part. Moreover, neither he nor the French government has the slightest reason to “protect” TR’s public image. The very notion is ridiculous, as the French state and political class in its totality have long refused to deal with TR (quite unlike governments and politicians elsewhere in Europe and further afield); as for Bernard himself, I know for a fact—as I know him personally—that TR is not his cup of tea and while they may know one another and have crossed paths, that he does not deal with him. Bernard has, in any case, responded to the accusations in this YouTube interview (saying much the same as what he told me himself when we talked about it recently).

The TR revelations have also led to a nasty public spat between Charlie Hebdo and Mediapart—specifically, the respective editors-in-chief of the two publications, Riss and Edwy Plenel—which one may read about here. It is a distressing polemic, as Oxford historian Sudhir Hazareesingh put it, about which I will say nothing—for the moment at least—except to assert that Riss, in his editorial in last Wednesday’s Charlie Hebdo, distorted Plenel’s words. Riss accused Plenel of saying something very serious—and potentially dangerous—that Plenel did not in fact say. For Plenel’s actual words, go here. And if one has twelve minutes to spare, watch Plenel’s BFM interview of November 5th, in which he discusses the TR brouhaha. Voilà, c’est tout.

À suivre, évidemment.

UPDATE: The très engagé Daily Kos has a post (November 19th) on the Al Franken flap that could alter the narrative of the story, “More photos emerging from Franken & Tweeden’s USO tour. They speak for themselves.”

2nd UPDATE: The New Yorker’s Masha Gessen gets it right (November 19th) in saying that “‘Should Al Franken resign?’ is the wrong question.”

Henda Ayari & Tariq Ramadan

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By United Kingdom Government, signed by Arthur Balfour (Public Domain)

[update below] [2nd update below]

I hadn’t intended to mark yesterday’s centennial of the Balfour Declaration, as I have nothing in particular to say about it. And not being a Jew, and thus neither a Zionist nor anti-Zionist, I do not have personal or identitarian sentiments on the matter. As for the Palestinians, one may understand their collective view of Balfour, though without sympathizing with their fixation on the Declaration a century after the fact—e.g. the laughably absurd demand that the British issue an apology—as if the Balfour Declaration could possibly be abrogated or reversed—and which, in any case, did not ineluctably lead to the Nakba or other future calamities that befell the Palestinians (or which they brought upon themselves, as the case may be).

I did come across one essay, in the Financial Times, by the historian Simon Schama on Balfour and the birth of Israel, which I think is worth reading. Schama mentions, among other things, the predicament of the Jews caught between the Austro-Hungarian and Russian armies in the final years of the First World War, and then caught between the Whites and Red Army in the Russian civil war that followed. If there was ever an argument for the necessity of a Jewish homeland, it was then, precisely when the Declaration was issued.

France was a good country for Jews at the time—Glücklich wie Gott in Frankreich—then was not twenty-five years later, and then became so again. The situation nowadays is complex. Institutionally and with the larger society, there is no problem, but for many Jews in everyday life, it is getting worse, as detailed in the headline story in Le Monde dated today: “En France, l’antisémitisme ‘du quotidien’ s’est ancré et se propage.” The lede: “Insultes, intimidations, violences physiques, tags… Des juifs racontent des agressions devenues banales et qui se multiplient depuis 2000.” Jews, particularly in the Paris banlieue, are increasingly subjected to intimidation, including physical, in public space and even in their homes, for the sole fact of being Jews. As for the perpetrators, they are, as always, lumpen youths of post-colonial immigrant origin. It is an outrageous situation, which, for the present moment at least, is overwhelming the public authorities and the Jewish community itself.

Adding to the outrage, one learns that the stele of Ilan Halimi in Bagneux—the banlieue where he was sequestered and tortured for three weeks in the winter of 2006, in the most horrific antisemitic crime in France since the Second World War to that date—was profaned in the early hours of November 1st (and not for the first time). Now I am opposed to the death penalty but would maybe make an exception for the perpetrators of such a heinous act, as they deserve no less—or, better yet, that they be subjected to the same calvaire as was Halimi at the hands of the gang des barbares.

On this subject, a feature-length film, Tout, tout de suite (in English: Everything Now), directed by the well-known actor/director/screenwriter Richard Berry, was released in May 2016. It was the second film on Ilan Halimi and the gang des barbares, the first being Alexandre Arcady’s 24 Days, which came out two years prior and on which I had a blog post at the time. Arcady’s film was recounted from the perspective of Ilan’s mother, Ruth, and focused on the police investigation. Berry’s version, though, reenacted what happened to Ilan and in excruciating detail. To call it a horror film is almost an understatement. The Youssouf Fofana character (actor Steve Achiepo) was the most terrifying sadistic psychopath I’d seen on the big screen since Javier Bardem in the Coen Brothers’ ‘No Country for Old Men’. I was originally going to include Berry’s film in my post on recent French films on terrorism, because a terrorist act it was. The pic is almost impossible to watch at points, with the violence, sadism of the gang des barbares, and knowing what is going to happen. It was no doubt for this reason that the film was an utter, total box office failure. It sold some 16,000 tickets, i.e., next to nothing, before vanishing from the salles. I saw it on the first Friday night after it opened, at the MK2 Bibliothèque multiplex. There were maybe a dozen people in the theater. Now much of the target audience would, for religious reasons, not have gone to the cinema that night, but Jews—who were traumatized by what happened to Ilan Halimi—clearly decided in their totality that they really didn’t need to spend two hours watching a nice young Jewish man be tortured to death by lowlife antisemitic dregs, and for the sole crime of being Jewish. Conclusion: Richard Berry should have never made the film in the first place.

Ilan Halimi is buried in Jerusalem, as his family knew that, in France, his tombstone would be under permanent threat of profanation. Given what happened to the stele the other day, their fears were well-founded.

UPDATE: Joann Sfar—the well-known comic artist, novelist, and film director—in linking to the Le Monde article mentioned above, offered this commentary on his Facebook page

Je ne sais pas si on se le raconte aussi clairement mais les tueries de Merah ont marqué un tournant dont la façon dont la communauté juive parle des agressions. Avant ce drame, chacun avait à coeur de faire connaître les agressions lorsqu’elles avaient lieu. Depuis, c’est l’inverse. Pour une raison simple: On a découvert que chaque attaque suscitait des vocations. Je voudrais qu’on rappelle les messages anonymes infects qu’a reçue l’école Ozar Hatorah après les massacres. Je me souviens que le carré juif du cimetière de Nice, celui où repose ma mère, a été profané quelques jours après. On se souvient, tous, enfin, que ces tueries ont été le point de départ d’une recrudescence de ces violences antijuives. Donc oui, de plus en plus, lorsqu’ils rentrent chez eux le pardessus recouvert de crachats, les juifs religieux ferment leurs gueules. Et les juifs qui n’ont pas l’air juifs ne savent plus comment se planquer. On leur a dit que les écoles publiques n’étaient plus pour eux. On ne compte plus ces réunions honteuses durant lesquelles des chefs d’établissements annoncent officieusement aux familles qu’il vaudrait mieux scolariser les enfants ailleurs. Puis il y a eu Merah et les écoles privées sont devenues elles aussi un lieu de danger. Depuis deux ans ce sont les agressions aux domiciles, qui se multiplient. Pourquoi mes mots? Pour insister sur le fait que contrairement à ce que croient trop de gens, les juifs ne passent pas leur temps à dénoncer, ou à pleurnicher. Au contraire. Sur ces affaires, la plupart des victimes ferment leurs gueules, se font le plus petites possibles, en espérant que l’orage passe, pour ne pas donner des idées à d’autres salopards. Il ne va pas passer, l’orage. Tout le monde a très bien compris. Qu’est-ce qu’on doit faire? Chaque réponse qui me vient me donne envie de me cogner la tête contre un mur. Je n’ose plus dire aux victimes que je croise que “la solution est l’éducation”. Si je dis ça je prends une baffe. Ce n’est pas aux victimes de faire quelque chose ou de trouver des solutions.

2nd UPDATE: Martin Kramer, for whom I have high regard as a historian of the Middle East, has two articles in Mosaic Magazine, dated June 5th and 28th: “The forgotten truth about the Balfour Declaration” and “The Balfour Declaration was more than the promise of one nation.”

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