Monday, November 16, 2015

My first comment on the Terror

I promised to write something about Friday the Thirteenth, but people have offered to pay for my thoughts, so I haven't given them away this time. You can read a piece of my mind here.

7 comments:

FrédéricLN said...

A masterpiece, Art (it's sad that such pieces have to be written). Maybe the final paragraph might bear further discussion on some points. But imho, you made the major points.

christopher delogu said...

Mr. Goldhammer would sans doute be able to give us a good translation of "Why do they hate us?" but his answer to that frequently heard post-9/11 whining, now transposed to the French context, -- the answer being "they hate our joie de vivre... they hate our universal 'valeurs republicaines'" -- gets it almost entirely wrong -- though of course every French person at his fancy Albertine rdv in NYC can be forgiven for finding such an explanation so seductive (because so flattering to the ego of France's overclass). Those 130+ people did not deserve to die, let's be clear, but "they hate you, you the French overclass" because your "republicanism" is trying to force a strait-jacket of laicite on everyone. AG might have written a truer piece if he had first reread his own book review of Chabal's "A Divided Republic," especially this: "the promotion of laïcité to the rank of central republican value allowed the extreme-right Front National, once considered a party outside the republican orbit, to recast its opposition to immigration as a defense of republican values, on the grounds that Islam is doctrinally opposed to the exclusion of religion from the public sphere and therefore inherently 'un-republican.'" So, no, the terrorists are not the nightmare version of the Debrays and Finkelkraut's denouncing a "hedonist... consumerist society," they are angry people who feel badly screwed: screwed by having laicite rammed up their butts, and screwed by systemic social and economic inequality that has worsened in recent years and shows no signs of abating. I would have thought the translator of Thomas Piketty would have mentioned that elephant in the room... perhaps next time. Readers of this blog might like to take a detour through George Packer's "The Other France" (New Yorker, 31 Aug 2015) for an open-eyed account of the French "unwinding."

FrédéricLN said...

@ christopher delogu : I must say your comment looks a bit aggressive, and in the present circumstances, out of tone. But I, too, may express myself a too sharp way from time to time, so let me look more at the substance in your comment.

Basically, your understanding of the situation is not that far from Art's.

First, Art did not endorse Debrays or Finkelkrauts positions (he will be very surprised to read he is suspected of sharing their present views!). As we mourn René Girard, I understand Art's description of this violence by French terrorists, as nearer of Girard's description of mimetic violence — A is angry against B for what B seems to desire, that A desires too, at his/her own despair.

Second, I agree with you that some French have a "sovietic" understanding of "laïcité", i.e., according to them, religion should belong to the private life only, and not have any social dimension, not be visible in "l'espace public". But this is just an opinion, not a fact — religious events, collective prayers, religion-oriented media, do exist in France. Sure, laws about "laïcité" may be considered too restrictive by some other people (for example women who would want to hide their face in public places), I see no rationale showing that this would be the key reason for the behavior of ISIS terrorists.

And look at the pictures of the terrorists, as displayed in media: do they really look like "angry people… badly screwed"? Rather like unconscious immature young adults, like many soldiers of many wars. Imho. Granted, pictures won't show everything that was in their minds! But what is the evidence for portraying them as "angry people… badly screwed"? The activists, even terrorists, of the far left in the 70's, were mainly "petit-bourgeois" (and some came from higher bourgeoisie, as far as I remember). Why would it be lumpen this time? I mean, it MAY be the case — but where is the evidence for this?

I suggest you read again Art's paper, maybe you'll find many things you may agree with :-)

Art Goldhammer said...

I would suggest that Mr. Delogu rid himself of certain misconceptions by reading the NY Times account of the life of Abdelhamid Abbaoud, the alleged "mastermind" of the Paris attacks, who may have been arrested this morning in St.-Denis. From the article:

Mr. Abaaoud showed far more interest in thievery and drugs when he was a young man than in Islam, particularly the highly disciplined, self-sacrificing Salafi strain favored by many militants.

Nor was his family impoverished. His father, Omar, owned a clothing store off the market square in Molenbeek, a borough of Brussels, and the family lived nearby in a spacious if shabby corner home on Rue de l’Avenir — Future Street — near the local police station.

Despite his subsequent denunciations of the mistreatment suffered by Muslims in Europe, he enjoyed privileges available to few immigrants, including admission to an exclusive Catholic school, Collège Saint-Pierre d’Uccle, in an upscale residential district of Brussels.

christopher delogu said...

Bien reçu. Thank you for your thoughtful replies and I will try and make time to calmly follow up on your recommended "pistes". For now, my thoughts are with the families of the 130+ victims but also with young people (in France and elsewhere) whom we oldsters are giving a "broken present and stolen future" and who, since they see "no future," or else a very dim one at best, are all too willing to disfigure (with drugs) or end their lives and/or the lives of others prematurely. Last time I checked France still had an alarmingly high suicide rate, so that joie de vivre and those "valeurs republicaines," as currently presented and practiced, are just not doing it for large numbers of young people in- and outside the hexagon.

christopher delogu said...

I may have overplayed my hand in that first comment above, please accept my apologies, but the irony remains -- and AG says as much in the snippet I quoted from his review of the Emile Chabal study of the "Divided Republic" -- the "Republicans" of France (on the center right and center left; i.e., "UMPS"), by bringing laicite out of the closet where it had been sleeping since 1905, and by essentially turning it into a stick, have played right into the hands of the anti-immigrant extreme-right and, worse, it has made France's declarations of "fraternite" sound tribalist (ie, "brothers vs. others") instead of universalist ("solidarity", "family of man", etc.). This sense of fake "fraternite," which leaves immigrants (one day even whites like me, perhaps) as second class citizens or residents, is sorely felt by us "etrangers" -- and most of all by those of us who have fewer economic opportunities and face more daily bumps and bruises from job and relationship rejection, discrimination, poverty, etc. Far from strengthening France's three-pronged national motto, laicite ends up weakening all three: Liberty (less), Equality (don't see it), Fraternity (fake). The French Dream captured in the country's motto is once again in crisis -- with how much asymmetrical risk and suffering this time we shall see.

FrédéricLN said...

@ christophe delogu: I fully agree with your feeling that "la fraternité", brotherhood, is actually "le parent pauvre", underdog (?) in the French debate constantly running between "liberté" and "égalité". Yet, imho, only with brotherhood will freedom and equality become mutually consistent. And, very clearly, many French, likely a significant minority, will not easily consider muslims as *brothers*. While "fraternité" is a keyword in the muslim community (at least in the vocabulary of shops' names!) and a key value of "Umma". But many French Muslims, likely a significant minority, will not easily consider all "Français" as *brothers*.

Such things may seem trivial from a North American perspective (many States, many "communities"), but directly hurt the "French dream".

The French dream has its "texte fondateur", la Déclaration des Droits, that I'm happy to see cited in http://www.lemonde.fr/attaques-a-paris/article/2015/11/19/au-centre-de-recrutement-des-armees-ce-coup-la-c-est-bon-je-m-engage_4813846_4809495.html

BTW, this source http://www.lefigaro.fr/actualite-france/2014/11/18/01016-20141118ARTFIG00158-le-profil-inattendu-des-djihadistes-francais.php suggests that 67% of youngsters joining jihad are from middle class families. But this is not a representative survey — this is a portrait of the *families calling* the specialized NGO CPDSI in order to counter the projects of their son or daughter.