Wednesday, March 30, 2011

"Le culte de l'humanitaire"

Dominique Vidal reviews Didier Fassin's Le culte de l'humanitaire. I haven't read this book, but it sounds as though it ought to be read in conjunction with Sam Moyn's The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History.

Copé, tapis

If politics were poker, Jean-François Copé would be "all in," as we say in English, or tapis, as one says in French, on his bet that the way to capture the presidential nomination in 2017 is to make Islam the central issue of French politics. Of course Copé is too intelligent to say any such thing, so instead he makes the most of an opportunity like the upcoming debate on "laïcité" to demonstrate, in the face of criticism from the likes of Fillon and Juppé, which ambitious politician of the Right will fight hardest to hold the line on Muslims. If the voters who are currently drifting or even running from the UMP to the FN want a reason to return, Copé is determined to give them one and to attach his name to it.

To be sure, he hides his game--maladroitly, but not without chutzpah. Consider his "Letter to a Muslim friend," written at the behest of L'Express. For the most part, it's sweetness and light. He pretends that his Muslim friend shares his "concern" that Islam has been misrepresented in France. His only desire is to help correct the record. But eventually he comes to the point, which is to say that, of course, Islam doesn't intend  to reduce itself to "the burqa, prayer in the street, or the rejection of mixité." And there, of course, he manages to echo the very images that Marine Le Pen has been hawking as the essence of Islam. Instead of considering the injuries done to Muslims by French policies and behaviors that have led to residential segregation, employment discrimination, and educational side-tracking, Copé suggests that the plight of Muslims is their own fault. If only they would embrace the separation of church and state imposed by the Law of 1905, if only they would dress as the French dress, if only they would cease their alleged oppression of women, all would be well. He neglects to observe that most Muslims do accept separation, do not hide their faces, and have no greater problem sorting out relations between the sexes than their non-Muslim counterparts yet still face problems not of their own making in their struggle to achieve full assimilation.

Disingenuousness is a fault that Copé shares with many other politicians. But this letter strikes me as particularly disingenuous. Copé is no Chantal Brunel, the UMP deputy who proposed to "put them back in boats." He is in full control of what he says, and measures his words to the millimeter. If he chooses to include in his thoughts about Islam the very images that the Front National wants to stand for all Muslims in France, very few of whom wear the burqa, pray in the streets, or keep harems, then you can be sure he has a reason for doing so. And that reason does him no credit.