Monday, January 18, 2010

French Islam

Anyone interested in a detailed look at how Muslims are adapting their religion to French norms (or resisting adaptation) will want to have a look at John Bowen's new book, Can Islam Be French? Bowen, the author of Why the French Don't Like Headscarves has now moved beyond the headlines and into Islamic schools and mosques and community associations. He reveals the many strands of French Islam, disagreements among teachers and religious authorities, and emerging compromises on a range of issues.

De Gaulle Replaces Pascal

It seems that the third volume of De Gaulle's memoirs will replace Pascal's Pensées on next year's Bac L under the rubric "Literature and Debates of Ideas." And Pascal Quignard will replace Choderlos de Laclos. As much as I admire the chosen works of le grand Charles et le petit Pascal, I can't help feeling something has been lost in the exchange, but perhaps that's just my cultural conservatism speaking.

Oddly enough, I just saw for the second time "Ma nuit chez Maud," the late Eric Rohmer's 1969 film, set in De Gaulle's final year in office and featuring a debate about Pascal between un coco et un tala* who are rivals in two liaisons dangereuses. It's an engaging little film, whose social and political overtones (a Catholic engineer employed by Michelin vies with a Communist philosophy professor for the favor of a bourgeoise suspended between the fixed comforts of yesteryear and the morally ambiguous promise of tomorrow) I of course completely missed when I saw it circa 1970.

* coco = Communist; tala = Catholic (from va-t-à-la-messe).

Another Franco-American Contretemps ...

... in Haiti, where the French feel pushed aside by the American "invasion" (the word "occupation" has also been used). No surprise, of course, and never did the course of true humanitarianism run smooth, but cooperation rather than confrontation would be particularly useful here because of the language issue (although at this point I suspect that English is about as common in Haiti as French, owing to the Haitian diaspora). Still, the French pride themselves on l'humanitaire, American emergency assistance tends to take a military form ("How many divisions has Médecins sans frontières?"), and diplomatic sensitivity is not the forte of military logistics teams. The airport, a major bottleneck, is under American control, and French humanitarian flights need clearance to land and depart. Solving this problem will require intervention at a high level. I hope Hillary Clinton takes notice. But French petulance such as that displayed by M. Joyandet, who grabbed a mike from an air traffic controller's hand, is hardly likely to help. De Gaulle casts a long shadow (and Kouchner in particular has inherited aspects of his style), but some omelets can be made without breaking eggs, or balls. If this continues, Sarkozy's projected visit to the island is likely to become another flash point, and result in another pissing contest with Obama, at least as reported in the French press. La presse américaine s'en fout comme de l'an 40.

Misuse of Power by Teachers Union?

Here is an anecdote, relayed by Luc Rosenzweig, which I call to your attention despite having no way of knowing whether the facts recounted are accurate or not. I would be interested in hearing from anyone with knowledge of similar allegations.