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Pro-Mosaddegh demonstration, Tehran, March 2 1953

Pro-Mosaddegh demonstration, Tehran, March 2 1953

This post—which I intended to do several months ago but didn’t get around to—has nothing to do with anything that’s happening right now. I am posting it at the present time as part of a social media exchange I’ve been having this past week with a friend, who expressed astonishment at an assertion I made that the CIA did not engineer the coup d’états in Chile or in Iran in 1953. On the Chile coup, I offered my friend my post of last September, Chile’s 9/11: What really happened?, in which I linked to an article in Foreign Affairs by a CIA officer in Santiago at the time, who explained—convincingly, in my view—that the CIA was not implicated in what happened there on that fateful September 11th 1973. My friend, who’s Algerian, remains skeptical, which doesn’t surprise me: Western leftists over a certain age and tiersmondistes the world over are almost politically hardwired to believe that the CIA was responsible for the Chilean coup. It goes without saying. And if people have believed something dur comme fer for over four decades, they’re not likely to change their minds after reading a single article, and by a CIA agent at that.

It’s likewise with the 1953 Iranian coup that overthrew Mohammed Mosaddegh, perhaps even more so, as Kermit Roosevelt—the CIA’s man in Tehran at the time—practically bragged about the role he played in the coup, serious scholars and journalists (e.g. Stephen Kinzer, Ervand Abrahamian) have written books on it, and the US government has acknowledged its involvement. I accepted this narrative pretty much without question—there was no reason not to—until I read an article in the December 8th 2009 TNR by Stanford University’s Abbas Milani, “The Great Satan Myth,” in which he argued that the circumstances surrounding the coup against Mosaddegh were much more complex than the dominant version had it. Milani followed up the TNR piece with one on The National Interest website, dated January 24th 2011, “The Myth of Operation Ajax: America can’t form a prudent policy toward Iran until it exorcises the ghost of Washington’s role in bringing down Mossadegh.” Involvement is one thing, responsibility is another.

Then in the July-August 2014 issue of Foreign Affairs, Washington-based Iran specialist Ray Takeyh had an article—in the same series as the one on Chile discussed in my above-cited post—entitled “What Really Happened in Iran: The CIA, the Ouster of Mosaddeq, and the Restoration of the Shah.” Takeyh’s argument—that the CIA role in the 1953 coup was “ultimately insignificant” and that Mosaddegh would have been overthrown regardless of outside meddling—settles the matter for me. For those too lazy to click on the above link, here’s the text of the article. À chacun de décider ce qu’il en pense.

By Ray Takeyh

Back in 2009, during his heavily promoted Cairo speech on American relations with the Muslim world, U.S. President Barack Obama noted, in passing, that “in the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government.” Obama was referring to the 1953 coup that toppled Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq and consolidated the rule of the shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Obama would go on to remind his audience that Iran had also committed its share of misdeeds against Americans. But he clearly intended his allusion to Washington’s role in the coup as a concession — a public acknowledgment that the United States shared some of the blame for its long-simmering conflict with the Islamic Republic.

Yet there was a supreme irony to Obama’s concession. The history of the U.S. role in Iran’s 1953 coup may be “well known,” as the president declared in his speech, but it is not well founded. On the contrary, it rests heavily on two related myths: that machinations by the CIA were the most important factor in Mosaddeq’s downfall and that Iran’s brief democratic interlude was spoiled primarily by American and British meddling. For decades, historians, journalists, and pundits have promoted these myths, injecting them not just into the political discourse but also into popular culture: most recently, Argo, a Hollywood thriller that won the 2013 Academy Award for Best Picture, suggested that Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution was a belated response to an injustice perpetrated by the United States a quarter century earlier. That version of events has also been promoted by Iran’s theocratic leaders, who have exploited it to stoke anti-Americanism and to obscure the fact that the clergy itself played a major role in toppling Mosaddeq.

In reality, the CIA’s impact on the events of 1953 was ultimately insignificant. Regardless of anything the United States did or did not do, Mosaddeq was bound to fall and the shah was bound to retain his throne and expand his power. Yet the narrative of American culpability Continue Reading »

Greece: The Syriza victory

Alexis Tsipras, Athens, January 25th (Photo: Reuters/Marko Djurica)

Alexis Tsipras, Athens, January 25th (Photo: Reuters/Marko Djurica)

It was expected and I’m pleased. Syriza (acronym of the Coalition of the Radical Left) is the most left-wing party to ever win a legislative election in a Western democracy. And by far, as the socialists (PASOK), who are to Syriza’s right—and were all but wiped out yesterday—will in no way be associated with the new government. We now have a democratically elected government in a Western country composed of communists (small c), Trotskyists, and other motley gauchistes, who will now have to put their money where their mouths are and deliver the goods. Très bien. I will be watching with great interest.

It looks like Syriza will bring in the conservative, Eurosceptic ANEL as a coalition partner. In France this would be akin to a Front de Gauche/EELV/NPA-led government with support from Nicolas Dupont-Aignan’s Debout la France. Quelle hypothèse saugrenue. Now such a government in Paris would end in certain fiasco—it would crash and burn within months—but in Greece it could possibly work, as Alexis Tsipras’s hands will be sort of tied when he goes to Brussels and Berlin—he won’t have much margin of maneuver—but just about everyone outside Germany is fed up with the EU’s austerity politics of the past six years, the specter of deflation is looming, the ECB is engaging in unprecedented quantitative easing, and it’s simply clear to everyone—again, outside Germany—that something has to change in Europe and fast. So Syriza is coming to power at the right moment, when there will be more openness in the EU to accommodating it if it commits itself to serious reforms (on taxation, corruption, etc). We’ll soon see if the “loud-mouthed radical” Tsipras—as the FT called him back in ’12—will become un homme d’État.

As it happens, my Greek political science friends haven’t been too optimistic over the prospects of a Syriza government or Tsipras transforming himself into that homme d’État. My go-to man on anything having to do with Greece, Stathis Kalyvas, the Arnold Wolfers Professor of Political Science at Yale University—and who is not a Tsipras fan—has an instant analysis of yesterday’s election in Foreign Affairs (registration required), “So Long, Austerity? Syriza’s Victory and the Future of the Eurozone.” If you read just one article on the Greek election, let it be this.

Yesterday Stathis posted on social media “An improvised crash course in recent Greek political history,” which is both useful and cleverly put together.

Michalis Moutselos, a sharp political science doctoral candidate at Princeton, has also not been too impressed with Syriza. Back in November, in a social media response to a starry-eyed tribune in The Guardian, “Europe’s new left parties can make the dreams of 1968 come true,” authored by the starry-eyed Croatian gauchiste philosopher Srećko Horvat, Michalis thus let loose

I have had enough with the normalisation of SYRIZA and ensuing love affair with European leftist-progressives. Friends, those of you who think that these guys are the European avant-garde, you really should know what you are getting in bed with. These are people who talk about creating a Ministry or some kind of state sub-committee for about anything that you can imagine, from tourism to dancing to IT. They repeatedly call the German government occupiers and neo-colonialists in public and make speeches in the European parliament about World War II reparations. They are against any kind of reform of the Greek public sector (anything, from simple evaluation to firing people who have not showed up to their posts in months). They make sure to justify Russian foreign policy and shake hands with Putin’s ministers. Their MPs repeatedly justify acts of vandalism in Greek universities – and I mean not sit-ins and occupations of auditoriums to prevent votes -, but locking up professors who disagree in their offices. In terms of nationalism, populism, and sheer staleness of opinions and policies, they are a Leftist version of the Tea Party. Greeks are voting for them out of spite for the old parties and that is understandable. But at least foreigners who follow Greek politics and are not affected by the polarised atmosphere of the country should know better before getting too excited. You might have to do a big volte-face once SYRIZA are in power.

Aïe. As we say here, Michalis n’y va pas par quatre chemins. And on social media today, he slammed the budding Syriza coalition with the right-wing souverainistes

For those abroad following Greek election results: it might come as a surprise that Tsipras chooses to form a coalition with populist/nationalist/right-wing Independent Greeks rather than more centrist parties, like POTAMI or PASOK. However, it should not be… What you see as a progressive, leftist electoral uprising is really a negative coalition around anti-austerity and the desire to restructure the national debt without any conditions attached. For SYRIZA it is thus preferable to sacrifice progressive, left-liberal policies (cutting down on defense spending, recognizing gay rights, regularizing second-generation immigrants) or leftist tax-and-spend policies mending the pitiful welfare state in Greece, in order to retain a united “national” front on debt negotiations. There is also no deeper sociological, working-class/historical experience to unite SYRIZA voters – sorry, but unemployment and “humanitarian crisis” do not cut it. Thus the precariousness of the anti-austerity vote. Which will try to find new radical “harbors” when it is realized that SYRIZA+ANEL cannot achieve a new haircut without isolating the country and causing bank runs. The vicious circle of pseudo-radicalization will only stop when there is a realization that debt maturities have been (and will further be) extended so far in the future that debt repayment is not the foremost issue behind Greek exceptionalism, and that the inability to produce our way out of the stalemate is really the issue.

It would be a real shame if the coalition with ANEL causes Syriza to scrap its progressive policy proposals on migrants and nationality acquisition. A question to Michalis: You mean “leftist AND RIGHTIST NO-tax-and-spend policies,” n’est-ce pas? Hasn’t the problem in Greece been lots of spending—by both PASOK and ND—but with no tax revenue to pay for it?

When I asked Michalis the other day for a good link or two on the Greek election, he offered this WSJ piece, dated January 23rd, “Greece: Austerity, Relief, or Exit.”

He also recommended “Who Is Afraid Of Alexis Tsipras,” originally published on January 18th in El Mundo.

I found informative a lengthy interview with King’s College London political theory prof—and Syriza central committee member—Stathis Kouvelakis, published January 22nd in Jacobin, “Greece: Phase One.” The lede: Syriza is the Left’s best chance at success in a generation. But for socialists, the hard part starts after election day.

Writing in OpenDemocracy as last night’s election returns came in, University of Georgia prof—and specialist of European populist movements—Cas Mudde offered “five predictions of a much similar future” after Syriza’s landslide.

André Sapir, economics prof at the Université Libre de Bruxelles and adviser to former European Commission president Romano Prodi—which means he’s mainstream—was interviewed by Libération’s Jean Quatremer, where he said that “La volonté de réformes de Syriza peut être la solution.” Inshallah.

Americans abroad

the other americans in paris

Victoria Ferauge—American in Paris, voracious reader, and friend—has a great American diaspora reading list on her (excellent) blog, The Franco-American Flophouse. She’s read far more on the subject of Americans aboard than I have, that’s for sure. One of the top books she mentions—and highly recommends—is American in Paris, historian, and friend Nancy Green’s The Other Americans in Paris: Businessmen, Countesses, Wayward Youth, 1880-1941, which was published last summer by the University of Chicago Press (and whose forthcoming publication I mentioned in a post 3½ years ago on David McCullough’s best-selling—and quite certainly less good—book on Americans in Paris). Nancy kindly had a copy sent to me, though I have yet to read it (but I will, promis juré), so here’s the description from the U of C Press website

While Gertrude Stein hosted the literati of the Left Bank, Mrs. Bates-Batcheller, an American socialite and concert singer in Paris, held sumptuous receptions for the Daughters of the American Revolution in her suburban villa. History may remember the American artists, writers, and musicians of the Left Bank best, but the reality is that there were many more American businessmen, socialites, manufacturers’ representatives, and lawyers living on the other side of the River Seine. Be they newly minted American countesses married to foreigners with impressive titles or American soldiers who had settled in France after World War I with their French wives, they provide a new view of the notion of expatriates.

Nancy L. Green thus introduces us for the first time to a long-forgotten part of the American overseas population—predecessors to today’s expats—while exploring the politics of citizenship and the business relationships, love lives, and wealth (and poverty for some) of Americans who staked their claim to the City of Light. The Other Americans in Paris shows that elite migration is a part of migration tout court and that debates over “Americanization” have deep roots in the twentieth century.

In her post, Victoria also recommends my mother’s memoir of the two years our family lived in Mogadishu, Somalia, in the 1960s, and which I mentioned in a blog post 3 years ago. C’est gentil de ta part, Victoria.

Understanding Charlie Hebdo

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. 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, entre autres, gave a eulogy 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 overstate the facility with which people in France can obtain firearms; hunting rifles are sold over-the-counter 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 ستيف

Hussein Ibish, the well-known Palestinian-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.”

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.

À suivre, évidemment.

B6_ozmuIQAAhWPS

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:
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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.

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I am Charlie, Jewish, policeman.

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Marine [Le Pen]: Beat it!

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[OMG] He’s coming back.

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

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Solidarity against all fascisms, be they nationalist or religious.

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Lycée Voltaire. Appropriate.

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Atheists are right.

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The banlieue is here too.

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Together united for democracy.

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The hiers of the Enlightenment.

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We’re all French today (en anglais).

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We are Charlie.
Love is stronger than hate.

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

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Blood flows but ink remains: CharLiberty.

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

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

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

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

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Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies!

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

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All the metro stations along the parade route were closed.

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

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

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America.

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Love is the path to peace.

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Not afraid.

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Tunisia.

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I am Charlie
Cop
Jew
Don’t touch my France

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

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

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I think, therefore I am Charlie.

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We are Charlie
Jews
Muslims
Seculars
Long live France
Long live the Republic

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Where is Charlie? I’m here!

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Morocco.

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Intersection of Avenue de la République & Boulevard Richard Lenoir.

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

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Police vans heading up Boulevard Richard Lenoir.

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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.

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

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Turkey.

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

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

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

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It’s moving slowly.

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France, LGBT, European Union.

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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.

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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.

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Looking down toward Place de la Bastille.

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

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

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Uncle Bernard.

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

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You wanted to kill Charlie
You have just made him immortal

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

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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