Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Yazid Sabeg Speaks Out

Sabeg (Commissioner for diversity and equality of opportunity):

De la gauche à l'extrême droite, l'essentiel est escamoté. Aux questions de fond telles que l'emploi des jeunes, la lutte anti-ghetto ou l'accès équitable à l'éducation et à la formation se sont substitué des pseudo-débats centrés sur ce qui serait une confrontation de l'islam avec la laïcité.
Since it is the man who appointed him, Nicolas Sarkozy, who is promoting a "debate" in which Islam vs. laïcité will be a central focus, one wonders if Sabeg will remain for long in his job. Perhaps. He's a useful cover, even if he constantly strays off the reservation. But since the highest authorities in France are supposedly searching their souls about how they could have missed the brewing uprising in Muslim countries they supposedly knew intimately, they might want to consider whether Islam is as incompatible with laïcité as they apparently assume. Here is a discussion of this point:

The fact that the Egyptian, the Tunisian and now the Lybian revolutions did not have Islamic fundamentalism as their common denominator suggests that most of this so called global Islamic fundamentalism was in fact imaginary. Historically speaking, global Islamic fundamentalism was similar to the phenomenon of the Eastern Question, meaning that it was mainly cultivated in the Western minds and turned into a practice with Western financial aid in order to fend off socialism and communism. When the Cold War ended, the economic and political data still indicated that the cooperation of capitalism and democracy wouldn’t be tenable forever. Western civilization was forced to re-imagine itself in this conjecture, unfortunately with a renewed emphasis on domestic authoritarianism, so as to hush and tame its native critics. At that stage, global Islamic fundamentalism emerged as a newly discovered evil half brother of global capitalism. It became the leading hero of all fear factors and justified domestic authoritarianisms.

Court Finds ENS Guilty of "Inhibiting Freedom of Expression"

I blogged a while ago about the cancellation of a meeting at the École Normale Supérieure at which Stéphane Hessel and others were to speak in the context of a debate about the status of Palestine. The organizers of the event were clearly anti-Israeli in orientation but promised to allow contradictory views to be expressed. The Administrative Tribunal of Paris has now ruled that ENS was guilty of "inhibiting the freedom of expression." The school must now revisit its decision.

2002 Reversed?

So, the question of the hour is this: Has Sarkozy fallen so low in the polls that the Right risks being edged out in the first round of the presidential elections by the Extreme Right? I don't think we're there yet, but Patrick Jarreau raises several interesting points. First, if Sarkozy goes far enough in FNizing the UMP, he risks driving a part of his electorate into abstention or even a vote for the candidate of the Left, especially if that candidate is Strauss-Kahn. On the other hand, by raising issues that seem to be grist to Marine Le Pen's mill, Sarkozy helps her to rise in the polls, but this could force wavering right-wing voters to circle the wagons around him for fear of plunging the country into just such a scenario, 2002 reversed. So perhaps his encouragement of the FN is deliberate, like Mitterrand's two and a half decades ago. A dangerous game either way.

And to think that I was foolish enough to write several years ago that Sarkozy's one great achievement had been to marginalize the FN. I failed to reckon with several factors: the generational shift in the FN, with its concomitant reorientation on themes of economic populism and nationalism (akin to the de-emphasizing of social and culture-war issues in favor of hard-core tax and economic issues on the US right); the massive rejection of Sarkozy by the popular classes among which he had gained support in 2007; and the political acumen of Marine Le Pen, who has been able to exploit this shift in sentiment much more effectively than the Left of the Left, which, curiously enough, has failed to "modernize," for lack of a better word, its "communications strategy."

Fillon Steps Out

Steven Erlanger reports:

But Mr. Fillon, like Mr. Sarkozy, spoke cautiously about any military intervention in Libya, which Western diplomats said France has opposed inside NATO and at the United Nations. Mr. Fillon said the prospect of a no-flight zone over Libya needed a United Nations Security Council resolution, “which is far from being obtained today,” and would require the involvement of NATO.
“No one today in Europe has the means to carry out this operation alone,” Mr Fillon said. “It would be necessary to involve NATO, and I think that has to be thought about. Should NATO get involved in a civil war to the south of the Mediterranean? It is a question that at least merits some reflection before being launched.”
He questioned whether NATO should get involved in a civil war in a North African country, in part because of the bitter history of European colonialism there. But he said that a no-fly zone is an option under study.
 Now, this is interesting for two reasons. First, is it really the "bitter history of European colonialism" that is Fillon's concern? Or is it that he wants France, which has stepped up its humanitarian aid to Libya's liberated zones, to retain its national brand on any further operations, including military ones--which he is right to approach cautiously?

Second, just the other day, Henri Guaino said that foreign and military policy is and always has been la chasse gardée of the president in the Fifth Republic. But this is the prime minister speaking out forthrightly on the major foreign policy issue of the moment, as if to rebuke Guaino in public. It's worth noting.

Finally, on the dilemmas of intervention, I commend this piece by Judah Grunstein. A less cautious response is outlined here.