Saturday, June 20, 2009

Question primaire, question fondamentale

Arnaud Montebourg, the smooth and photogenic deputy, and Olivier Ferrand, the director of the think tank Terra Nova, are in charge of a working group of the PS whose mission is to figure out how to accomplish the famous "renovation" for which party militants have been waiting since 2002. They've just submitted a report to Martine Aubry advocating an open primary as the route to salvation. It worked for the American Democrats, they suggest: Obama was able to sweep away the tarnished older generation. Montebourg would no doubt like to be the sweeper, if his proposal is accepted, but he'll have stiff competition. This interesting note considers le profil beau gosse as one element of a tripartite typology of présidentiables:

Sur ce registre, les candidats ne manquent pas et la liste s’allongera à mesure que le PS restera éloigné du pouvoir : Vincent Peillon (52 ans en 2012) Arnaud Montebourg (50 ans) Manuel Valls (50 ans) Benoit Hamon (45 ans) sont les principaux, mais on peut en imaginer bien d’autres puisque l’essentiel est d’être jeune et neuf. On pourrait même aller à faire comme en Allemagne et organiser un jeu de télé réalité pour dénicher la nouvelle star qui saura séduire les foules, cet « Obama français » que toute la classe politico-médiatique attend depuis un an. Après tout pourquoi pas, si c’est ce que la politique est devenue ! Il y a certainement des talents cachés qui ne demandent qu’à éclore, et même peut-être au sein du PS !

But in the end this writer believes that the best candidate to head a "republican front" opposition to Sarkozy would be Hubert Védrine. A suggestion I hadn't heard before. What do readers say?

New Blog of Interest

There's a new blog whose author appears to be a Ph.D. student working on the political consequences in France of the use of torture during the Algerian War. Here's a post on that subject. And here's another on the burqa controversy, which refers to my previous post (that's how I learned about the blog).

The Burqa

The burqa is back in the news. Is it because Obama, while in Cairo and again in France, ruffled some republican sensibilities by suggesting that a free society oughtn't to tell individuals what they ought to wear? Be that as it may, the current line of argument turns not on the defense of laïcité but rather on the defense of womanhood. In one petition, the burqa is described as une prison ambulante--a description ratified by 4 Communists, 7 Socialists, and 43 elected officials of the UMP. On France2 last night, the objection to the burqa was expressed as an opposition between compulsion and free choice: this garb is subi, it was asserted. But the reportage then shifted to England, where any number of burqa-wearing women were interviewed, and all described their dress as a conscious choice, personal preference, and form of self-expression.

I'm not sure that any of us is entirely "free" in the way we dress. In Washington yesterday to talk with people in government, I wore a tie; at Harvard I occasionally do, but mostly not; in ordinary life, never. Why do I make these choices? Are they subis or libres? Am I the prisoner of (perhaps imagined) traditions or a free individual responding to perceived situations? Such questions are badly framed, I think, and simply avoid the real issue, which is, Why do societies choose to regulate some types of behavior and not others? Which such regulations are legitimate and which are not?

A number of officials have commented on the burqa in "personal" as opposed to "legal" terms. They find it particularly "troubling," moreso than other types of "traditional" garb. Xavier Darcos is one, and he has said that it would be "a horror" if a woman were to arrive at school wearing a burqa. Well, I'm personally horrified by men who cover their bodies with tattoos, but I would be equally horrified if they were to be banned from school for that reason. Darcos finds the burqa a symbol of oppression even if worn in the streets. Perhaps, but then one might ask if the woman who, rather than cover her body, bares much of it is a victim of the culture's repressive tolerance or a beacon of the liberated Occident. Since we would likely find a range of answers to that question, we tend not to legislate the issue. If we listened carefully, I suspect we would also find a range of answers on the burqa question and choose not to legislate, or at least legislate only very cautiously. No doubt the current mini-furor will dissipate, but the recurrence of this theme is symptomatic of an underlying disquiet that needs to be discussed with an open mind. A member of the Stasi commission recommends a similar caution.

Or am I guilty of proffering "propos de salon alambiqués face à des intégristes prêts à tout" (Jacques Myard, UMP).?

A jurist's view.

Some background.