Thursday, January 29, 2015

Center for European Studies, Harvard

The Contemporary Europe Study Group

Invites you to a lecture by

Gérard Araud
French Ambassador to the United States

“France After the Terror Attacks”

Thursday February 5, 2015


Cabot Room
Center for European Studies
27 Kirkland Street

This event is free and open to the public

Blog readers: I will be chairing this session.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Policing Speech

The French crackdown on the crime of "apology for terrorism" has netted not only Dieudonné but an 8-yr-old boy who said "I'm with the terrorists." But when asked by the police to define terrorism, he said he didn't know. Clearly, the police protocols need some tweaking.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Post by FrédéricLN

FrédéricLN, a regular reader, has posted remarks he made at a meeting in Argenteuil to discuss what can be done about the social rift in France today. They're worth reading.

Syriza and the French Left

Greece votes this weekend, and all signs are that Alexis Tsipras's Syriza party will lead the pack and perhaps even win an absolute majority of deputies. The prospect has kindled a mild euphoria in the left of the Left in other European countries, including France. Je dis bien "a mild euphoria"--milder, indeed, than the euphoria that greeted the election of François Hollande so many eons just over two and a half years ago. That comparison alone should already give one pause.

It's hard to remember now, but back then it was Hollande who was going to lead the beleaguered states of the south in an anti-austerity coalition. Now it is Tsipras--admittedly a more charismatic fellow than Hollande, but the would-be leader of a tiny state with a gigantic debt, whose banks are at the mercy of the ECB's liquidity spigot and whose public profligacy and consequent debt were always misleading symptoms as to the true nature of the European crisis. France was better suited to this role but failed to play it. Greece, on the other hand, is not suited at all. Tsipras is un jeune ingénu, not un premier rôle.

I will not attempt to handicap Syriza's chances. While electoral success seems likely, success in governing and in negotiating with the Troika may prove more difficult. A compromise is possible, but will the heterogeneous coalition of partners who make up Syriza stand for it? After reading an 18,000-word interview with Sttatis Kouvelakis in Jacobin, I'm even more dubious than I was before. But I don't know Greek politics, so I'll refrain from further comment.

I do know a bit about French politics, though, so I read an article like this one with a quite skeptical eye. Yes, indeed, Cécile Duflot, who is supposed to represent the Greens, is looking for a dance partner, and so is Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who is supposed to represent the far left. But in fact both Duflot and Mélenchon represent not actual political parties but fractious and amorphous segments of public opinion. For them, Tsipras is an ink blot onto which they project fond fantasies of what a better tomorrow might look like. "Another policy" is possible, headlines Le Monde, but what that other policy would look like remains a will-o'-the-wisp.

Meanwhile, even Marine Le Pen is applauding the likely Syriza victory. Of course, for her, Tsipras in power is expected to lead to precisely what Tsipras says he does not want to happen, namely, a Greek exit from the euro and perhaps from the EU. This prospect is butter on Le Pen's spinach: she hopes it will prove that exit from the EU is not equivalent to economic disaster. But more likely it will end in disaster for Greece if Grexit does occur, and Le Pen's wish, when fulfilled, will only invalidate the instinct from which it derives.

I would be the last person to deny the role of dreams and fantasies in politics, but this infatuation with Greek radicalism strikes me as an infantile disorder in the French left, no matter how comprehensible Tsipras's emergence is as a response to Europe's incorrigibly obtuse treatment of the exceptional Greek case.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Le Pen Family Romance

The dissensions within the Le Pen family, which I touched on in the previous post, are fascinating to watch. Despite the title of this post, I will refrain from Freudian speculation. Political speculation is quite enough. The fundamental difference between Jean-Marie and Marine (née Marion but later manned up to "Marine") is that the latter actually seeks to wield power while the former was content to lambaste those who did. Slowly but surely, the seductions of power have turned Marine away from la politique de la provoc' that her father developed to a pitch of perfection. Instead, she has begun to make the compromises that people in power have to make: to consider sensibilities outside her immediate orbit, to muffle her speech, to resort to circumlocation and inuendo au lieu de dire les choses, to resort to double language, and to purge the party of members unable to adapt to these new and unfamiliar disciplines.

She cannot, however, purge her father, and she cannot purge her niece Marion Maréchal-Le Pen. The father is in his dotage, and in any case he can be written off as a relic of precisely those old ways that Marine is trying to move beyond. But Marion is another matter. She represents the future. She's young and popular with party militants, precisely because she preserves some of the father's blunt-spoken ways as well as his affection for the touchstones of the old extreme right, all wrapped up in a package much more presentable than that of the scowling ex-para and elderly street-brawler. She may not refer to gays as "sidaïques" fit to be confined in a "sidatorium," but she feels no need to defend Florian Philippot's "life style" either. If he's with us, fine, but leave the multi-culti appreciation of the gay contribution to French society to Tante Marine.

The lesson that Marion seems to have learned from Jean-Marie is that power cannot be held with impunity. What has made the success of the FN is that its outsider status affords it the luxury of speaking as its followers would at the Café du Commerce. There's no need to châtier sa langue, and the bluff grande gueule with the off-color wit and fearless iconoclasm is more amusing to listen to than the usual langue de bois from the tonier neighborhoods. It's also good business and easy work, whereas governing is a hard and thankless task. Marine is prodding the party toward power, which requires fundamental changes in style, but Jean-Marie and perhaps his young protégée know that this new strategy on the part of the héritière could well ruin the family business, and they're not about to let that happen.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Some Post-Charlie Surprises

In the immediate aftermath of the terror attacks, the assumption was that the big winner would be Marine Le Pen. Few if any observers predicted that François Hollande would double his approval rating from 19 to 40%. Fewer still foresaw that 67% of those polled would say that Marine Le Pen had not "measured up" in her response to the attacks.

What is more, the ensuing weeks have revealed a deep split in the Front National. The head of the FN's EU delegation, Aymeric Chauprade, has been removed from his post for blurring the message that MLP wished to send to her countrymen. Chauprade announced that France "was at war with Muslims," that the Muslim minority constituted "a fifth column" inside France, and that Islam posed a "grave threat" to French values. This contradicted MLP's desire to soften her Islamophobic image by directing her fire against only those Muslims who opted for militant jihad. To complicate matters, her father, honorary president for life of the party, backed Chauprade (after adopting for himself the slogan "je suis Charlie Martel"), as did her niece, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, one of the party's two deputies. So, contrary to all expectation, the attacks have been devastating for the FN.

As for the UMP, Nicolas Sarkozy appeared yesterday on France 2, carrying on as if he had never left the presidency and abetted in his comeback by anchor David Pujadas, who allowed the former president to speak for minutes on end without interruption--minutes in which he indulged his penchant for rhetorical excess and muscular hyperbole: France was engaged, he said, in a "war" to defend "civilization." But Sarkozy erroneously portrayed his own record (claiming that he had not reduced the size of the police force during his presidency, even though Pujadas's own program had presented figures the night before showing that he had). He also called for reinstating police overtime, which doesn't need reinstatement because it already exists. Rather than looking presidential, he seemed confused and hapless, an appearance compounded by his uncharacteristically hesitant delivery.

Meanwhile, Manuel Valls made headlines by declaring that France suffered from being an "apartheid" society. The term was immediately challenged, not least by Sarkozy, who called it an error--which, in a literal sense, it was, since there is certainly no legal regime of segregation in France. But Valls chose the term deliberately to provoke, and his use of it got the attention he desired. It also gave him an opportunity to hit back at Sarkozy, which he did by playing the statesman card: in this time of national danger, leaders ("those who govern and those who governed yesterday," he said, leaving no doubt about whom he had in mind) must rise to the occasion and not descend to petty polemic, etc. etc. Insincere, perhaps, but effective. And the issue of the abandoned banlieues and their role in alienating a generation of Muslim youth is now squarely on the table.

Finally, François Hollande continues to live in a state of grace, as though his presidency had been reborn. He has been dignified, but, more importantly, he has not succumbed to the temptation an "all guns blazing, with us or against us" response. He has allowed his ministers to emphasize the need for a social as well as a security response to the crisis. In short, he has at last been able to appear presidential and has something to do other than seem inadequate in the face of economic crisis. I hesitate to use the phrase "divine surprise," knowing its history, but it seems remarkably apt.

The Generational Divide

Suddenly, everyone is worried about the younger generation--younger Muslims in particular. François Hollande announced new measures for the schools today, includying "lay instruction about religion as social fact," a proposal that immediately drew negative commentary from teachers: "He wants us to teach the sociology of religion to ten-year-olds," one said. "Let him try it."

Politicians of course need to come up with quick fixes. But two sharp-eyed observers of the French scene, Judah Grunstein and Gilles Kepel, see a much deeper problem of social alienation affecting the 30-something generation in particular. Grunstein puts it this way:

There are many reasons why the 30-something generation represents a dividing line within France’s Arab and Muslim population, separating an older and more resigned population from a younger and more alienated one. Part of it is a socio-biological phenomenon: After all, 40-somethings have families, responsibilities, more maturity and less of a chip on their shoulder. They also have an accumulation of lived experience that makes them less prone to appeals rooted in quests for meaning and identity. But part of why the 30-something and younger generations seem so at odds with the country that surrounds them surely has to do with the very different social landscape in which these younger generations grew up.
Kepel, an authority on political Islam, also notes a generational shift of a somewhat different order:
La société musulmane en France a changé depuis la guerre civile algérienne des années 90. La génération des pères, des «darons», n’est plus aux manettes. Les manettes sont désormais, pour les plus religieux, entre les mains de quadras qui ont réussi, notamment ceux que j’appelle les entrepreneurs du halal, qui gèrent les sites de «vigilance islamique» en ligne. Pour eux, il est très important de se poser en défenseurs de la religion «intégrale», comme ils disent, et il en va de leur légitimité communautaire de combattre Charlie Hebdo. En revanche, il leur faut traiter au quotidien, ne serait-ce que pour faire du business, avec d’autres Français, juifs notamment. Qu’ils exècrent les «impies» et les «sionistes», c’est dans un autre registre. Cela différencie l’impact symbolique des deux attaques, dans ce qui apparaît sinon comme une tragédie unique.
The problems that Grunstein and Kepel highlight cannot be addressed by tweaks to the school curriculum. France will have to change the way it looks at its immigrant communities. The shock of the attacks may have started that change in motion. At least people are talking about the problem much more openly than before. More Muslims need to join the conversation, however. We need to hear from the inside what is going on.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Knitting Up the Ravel'd Lien Républicain

Manuel Valls regrets that France has become an apartheid society:

Les émeutes de 2005, qui aujourd'hui s'en rappelle ? Et pourtant... les stigmates sont toujours présents », a-t-il souligné avant d'insister sur « la relégation périurbaine, les ghettos ».
Well, I, for one, remember the riots of 2005, and I have frequently regretted, including on this blog, how little political response ensued. Valls is to be applauded for facing the facts squarely today, but it cannot be said that this problem was a priority for his or his predecessor's government prior to the events of January 7 and 8.

In the same issue of Le Monde, the historian Benjamin Stora notes one sign of this de facto apartheid in the absence of young people from the banlieues in the great republican mass held on the Sunday after the killings. By way of explanation, he too invokes the riots of 2005 along with many other things:

Cette faible présence nous dit plusieurs choses. D’abord, la crise du lien républicain, crise installée depuis plus de dix ans. Et dix ans très exactement après les émeutes de 2005, la fracture ne s’est pas résorbée. On en connaît l’origine : l’effondrement des idéologies collectives, le refuge dans le religieux comme idéologie de substitution aux engagements naguère menés par les gauches (politiques ou syndicales), les retards pris dans le regard porté sur le passé colonial, les crises des sociétés de culture musulmane prises entre des Etats autoritaires et des oppositions islamistes, la tragédie terrible des événements algériens des années 1990 juste après la chute du mur de Berlin, etc. Ajoutons la montée de l’antisémitisme et l’aggravation de la crise économique, avec près de 4 millions de chômeurs…
But what exactly is this "crisis of the republican bond"  and this de facto apartheid? Perhaps it's the "republican" ideology itself that needs to be re-examined. Can immigrants and children of immigrants and grandchildren of immigrants integrate themselves into the fabric of French life if they can't organize as a community to demand their rights? "Everything to the Maghrebis as individuals, nothing to the Maghrebis as a nation"--Clermont-Tonnerre's promise to the Jews, mutatis mutandis--won't work today. Arguably, it didn't work for the Jews either: it took World War II to get them fully integrated, in compensation, as it were. North African immigrants have a different hurdle to overcome: they were and in some respects still are seen as a colonial people, an internal colony. What they need, as Stora suggests, is a civil rights movement to counter the tendency to take "refuge in the religious as a substitute ideology for [political and trade-union] commitments formerly led by the left." But such a movement would be immediately denounced as "communitarian" by the more zealous defenders of "republican values." So be it, I say. The experiment must be attempted. France needs a Martin Luther King.

Monday, January 19, 2015

An Apology

Yesterday, this blog was inundated with obnoxious comments from an unknown source. I deleted them, but in doing so I inadvertently deleted one comment by Bert, a regular reader. I regret this. I do not as a rule censor comments on the blog, but these were both offensive and unsightly, so I got rid of them. Apologies to Bert. Unfortunately, there is no way to undo a deletion.

Marine Le Pen Begins Her Long March through the AMERICAN Institutions

With an op-ed in the Times, quoting Camus, no less, and an interview in the Wall Street Journal, Marine Le Pen has shrewdly set out to persuade American opinion that she is the rampart against European terrorism that Americans want and need.

Mme Le Pen's rhetoric is impeccable. She seizes the occasion of the terrorist attacks to claim that she was right all along--about everything: border controls, the euro, the nature of Islam, the fecklessness of French elites, the identity of UMP and PS, the loss of French identity, the tragedy of the EU, the ravages of globalization, etc. And suddenly she is respectable. The Times plays her game by giving her a forum; the WSJ blandly repeats her claim that she has "been ahead of others in sounding the alarm against anti-Semitism."

Useful idiots? Or useless idiocy? I suppose the great organs of our press have decided to make good their ringing endorsements of free speech by according a platform to a political leader whose ideas they deplore. Such an honorable intention--but you know what they say about honorable intentions.

A Great Leap Forward?

In the wake of the terror attacks, François Hollande's popularity has jumped from 13 to 40 percent in a matter of weeks--a historic record. Is this a Great Leap Forward, to borrow a phrase from the late Great Helmsman, or a confirmation of Michel Houellebecq's prediction that Hollande would win re-election in 2017 only to lead his country to its ultimate Berezina in 2022?

As we Americans saw on 9/11, a terror attack can do strange things to a nation's psyche. Democratic judgment, fallible in the best of times, falls prey to the demons of mass psychology. In a consensus of generalized fear and suspicion, few are willing to say, "That way madness lies." Thus far, at least, Hollande has committed no major faults. Many commentators are saying that the events gave him an opportunity to embody the presidential function in a way that has hitherto eluded him. Frankly, I think incarnation is in the eye of the beholder. Hollande has thus far taken no major decisions, unless it was the decision to kill the attackers, which his press service has let it be known was an order issued by him personally. This was not a challenging decision. Those that remain are.

What we still don't know is whether the events of the past two weeks will have affected the balance of power in Europe. Frau Merkel, now facing the dangerous anti-Islam Pegida movement at home, showed unusual emotion when she came to mourn in Paris. At last the two most important leaders in Europe have been forced to take off their accountants' eye-shades and stare at bodies rather than the bottom line. The experience may have reminded them that their economic decisions have implications for the health of the body politic that do not appear in the spreadsheets presented to them by their finance ministers. Since they are facing a new form of terrorism, perhaps they will recognize in time that what is required is not a war on terror but a rigorous exercise regime. They need to recondition their bodies politic. It won't be easy. No pain, no gain. But it's time to get off the starvation diet and start pumping iron. I'd best stop now, before the calisthenic metaphors run away with me. But you get the idea.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Will Terror End Austerity?

Since the terror attacks last week, the French government has 1) discovered that its budget deficit for last year was smaller than it thought; 2) dispatched an aircraft carrier to the Middle East (President Hollande flew out to sea in order to see the ship off, in a move reminiscent of George Bush declaring victory in Iraq); 3) canceled scheduled troop reductions, a move necessitated by the deployment of tens of thousands of troops to patrol potential terrorist targets in France; 4) discussed a costly restructuring of its prisons, where radical Islamism has been breeding; 5) discussed costly new security measures in troubled suburbs; 6) promised, in response to the perception that many teachers were unprepared to deal with student reactions to the events, restoration of teacher training eliminated as an economy move under Sarkozy. The cost of these new measures is not clear, but suddenly it seems that austerity-related commitments to reduce spending and cut the deficit are not as binding as they were a week ago. Could this be the beginning of the unraveling of the European modus vivendi--one can't say consensus--regarding the failed theory of "expansionary contraction?" Will Angela Merkel, faced with the Islamophobic Pegida movement at home and unnerved by the events in France, finally admit that the imperative to act means that money must be spent, deficits tolerated, and societies stitched back together after the pummeling they have taken for the past 5 years?

Two Frances? A New "Social Fracture"?

In the wake of last week's attacks, the thesis of "the two Frances" is spreading widely. The idea is simple. As philosopher Marcel Gauchet put it on the radio this morning, there are people in France--no one knows how many--who say, "We are not like you, we're not going to play your game." Gauchet was speaking in particular of the schools, in the wake of reports that many students (again, no one knows how many) refused to observe the moment of silence or insisted that the prosecution of Dieudonné on charges of "apology for terrorism" demonstrated the existence of a double standard in France in regard to free speech. Education minister Vallaud-Belkacem, speaking on another station, said that she had received 200 reports of teachers unable to control their classes because of such incidents, reports that had been passed up through the hierarchy. Undoubtedly there were many more incidents in which teachers did not lose control and therefore did not report to superiors.

So how bad is the "social fracture?" The phrase "social fracture" sends us back to the 1995 presidential campaign, when Jacques Chirac employed these words, borrowed from Emmanuel Todd. Of course, he was then talking about the divide between established France, employed France, secure France, and the minority of the unemployed, precariously employed, and generally disaffected. Then it was only in part an ethnic and religious divide. Today, the ethnic and religious component is essential. But still we are not talking about all Muslims. As I argued in a previous post, the usual institutions of integration are working as they have in the past. What has happened, however, is that the socioeconomic fracture of which Chirac spoke in 1995 has come to be concentrated within an ethnoreligious and ethnocultural divide reinforced by geopolitical conflict between Islamic radicals and Western powers. This changes the way the problem is perceived.

Whenever there is a palpable social fracture, criminality takes on a new dimension. Crime becomes more than simple lawbreaking. It becomes a political act, an attack on authority deemed to be alien and oppressive. The convergence of jihadi ideology with everyday criminality transforms a foreign threat into internal subversion. This has a corrosive effect. It magnifies fear beyond all reason. People cease to feel secure in their homes, because, they believe, the enemy is already within the gates. Suspicion feeds on itself.

France faces such a moment now. Sunday's mass demonstration--the largest in French history, which is saying something--reflected a yearning for unity in the face of this social fracture. It was an impressive statement but also, as such statements always are, misleading. As French history has shown time and again, "Paris is not France." Indeed, the Paris of les honnêtes hommes is not even Paris. On Sunday, even though there were marches in cities across France, the marchers, despite their numbers, did not represent all of France. Paris is not France: the perpetrators were also born in Paris, and they still have friends and supporters in Paris as well in other cities and especially in the tough suburbs, as the incidents in the schools demonstrate (we need a better geography of where these incidents occurred). So France is uneasy. Both Frances are uneasy, each afraid of the other. Decisions will soon be taken that may determine whether this anxious standoff results in a withdrawal from the brink or spills over into more overt expression of what until now has been sullen mutual suspicion, if not contempt. It is a fraught moment, a dangerous moment, and I can't say which way things will go.

UPDATE: A hopeful note, perhaps:

Après une nuit blanche suite à l’attaque de Charlie Hebdo, passée à relire l’histoire de la République, Zimba Benguigui, enseignante d’arts appliqués dans le 20e arrondissement de Paris, est arrivée dans son établissement avec une conviction : la nécessité de se donner du temps « pour écouter les élèves ». « Et c’est eux qui ont pris l’initiative de se recueillir. » Dans cet établissement chargé de prendre en charge des adolescents en grande difficulté scolaire et sociale, parfois handicapés, le temps est, depuis, comme suspendu. « Impossible de faire cours depuis mercredi, raconte Mme Benguigui. Les jeunes ont besoin de parler, ils oublient la récré… La prise de conscience a jailli. On frôle parfois le concours d’éloquence. Je suis éblouie. »
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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A Profile of Me

In case you'd like to know more about your humble blogger, Canadian journalist Jeet Heer has published a profile of me at the new TNR site. He's far too generous, but you'll get the general idea.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Au charbon, citoyens!

For once, I think, the politicians of France recognize that words and symbols and gestures are not enough. This time they actually need to get something done other than shifting the basis of some tax from A to B or subsidizing a few thousand jobs.

So far, most of the responses have been in the area of tightening security. Sarkozy and his minions were out and about yesterday with an agreed set of talking points: isolate radical prisoners to prevent proselytizing in prisons (but what about the streets?); strengthen passport checks beyond Schengen levels; prevent French jihadis from returning home (but even Guéant recognizes that only those with dual nationality can be stripped of citizenship; barring native-born French citizens from returning would require a change in the law); extend electronic surveillance (but not as far as the US Patriot Act, which even the French right finds objectionable) and above all the capability to analyze the data collected (since the authorities had plenty of information on the Kouachis and Coulibaly but failed to detect the passage à l'acte). Surprisingly, the Socialists who were talking yesterday made many similar suggestions. So there will be action on the security front forthwith, as one would expect. But it won't be enough, even if one Socialist, Malek Boutih, suggests that the state take over crime-ridden radical breeding grounds like Grigny and "cleanse" them, whatever that means:

« S’il y a un potentiel de danger, ce sont des territoires qu’il faut nettoyer », estime pour sa part le député PS de l’Essonne Malek Boutih, qui propose que certaines communes de banlieue comme Grigny (Essonne) – d’où était originaire l’un des auteurs des tueries, Amedy Coulibaly – « soient temporairement mises sous tutelle par l’Etat ».

The real problem, of course, is that there is all too much fertile ground for terror recruitment, and there are all too many military weapons on the black market, so low-tech, inexpensive kamikaze assaults are likely to be limited only by the number of suicidal youths on offer. The most alarming reports from France, therefore, are those of young students in some suburban schools--kids as young as 10--who refused to observe the moment of silence on the grounds that the dead had profaned the prophet. This is upsetting news, but in the nature of things the problem is not going to be solved by assigning a team of security agents to keep tabs on these kids for the next 20 years. Something has to change at the base. Daniel Cohn-Bendit suggests hiring more sports educators--a suggestion that seems a trifle short of the goal from a man who usually aims well beyond the feasible. There is also talk of "licensing" imams to ensure that only the "right" Islam is preached--as if such a thing were possible.

Alas, what the disaffected future radicals need most of all is hope--hope of a future other than the bleak one that a foundering France with high unemployment concentrated in minority communities can offer them. But that, too, is an oversimplification. Coulibaly had been employed by Coca Cola, of all things, and even went to the Elysée in a program intended to dispense presidential attaboys to kids from the suburbs who had somehow scrabbled their way into jobs. The former leader of the Buttes-Chaumont network, who had enlisted the Kouachis for jihadi service, was in a nurse training program at the Salpêtrière run by former Sarkozy minister Martin Hirsch. He might have been on duty treating victims of the Vincennes shootings if his past had not been belatedly recognized, leading to his removal from the duty roster and the training program. So was the problem a failure of integration or a failure of successful economic integration to induce cultural and geopolitical identification with France? Solving this problem will be much more difficult than tightening security, and much more fraught with deep disagreement and ugly emotion.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Vive la France!

Tangled Web: The Complications of Politicized Mourning

There is--there long has been--a troubling ambiguity about the word républicain in France. It has become a polemical term, a way of excluding on grounds of respectability or frequentability what cannot be excluded on legal grounds. Thus the Front National has been mis au ban de la République even though it is a legal party representing as much as 25 percent of the electorate. This exclusion was and remains a perfectly normal and legitimate part of electoral practice when it results in the resignation of the least well placed candidate of the "governmental" or "republican" parties in une élection triangulaire, an election in which 3 candidates make it to the second round. In that sense the idea of une république that does not encompass the entire population is one I would not contest.

The practice is more questionable, as I have already argued, when the word républicain is used to exclude from a national day of mourning, intended as a show of unity of the entire French people, the official representatives of a legal political party. It is of course true that the dead being mourned detested the Front National. But they weren't tender toward the rest of officialdom either, and no other party has been explicitly excluded. What is more, these dead, who are being mourned in the name of freedom of the press, will find among the mourners the representatives of countries where freedom of the press is less than fully honored: Russia, Turkey, and Gabon, for example. The head of the Palestinian Authority will also be in attendance. All this is perfectly legitimate, indeed welcome. One wants to see crimes against humanity denounced by as much of the human race as possible. If the Front National wishes to declare its allegiance to the decent portion of mankind, I don't see why it should be prevented. Certainly it can't be hypocrisy that is being alleged, since there is plenty of hypocrisy to go around.

And now for a rare word in defense of the president of the Republic. I have seen comments to the effect that while France and the world have reacted en masse to an attack on freedom of the press, the specific attack on French Jews has received less attention. Philip Gourevitch puts it this way in The New Yorker:
The attack on the press shocked the conscience of France and of the world. The attack on the Jews, not so much.
This may be true of the world but it's not quite fair to France. President Hollande made a point of saying in his address to the nation that the terrorists had committed a grave antisemitic act. Today, to underscore this aspect of the tragedy, he will go to the Grand Synagogue of France, which was closed yesterday, on the sabbath, for the first time since World War II because of security concerns. Given that laïcité is a core value of the Republic, and, what is more, a value defended with particular vehemence by Charlie Hebdo, this is not an insignificant gesture on Hollande's part. He is recognizing the particular pain of French Jews within the general pain of the French people. Since the essence of the French conception of republicanism is the uncompromising subsumption of the particular in the general, the symbolism here is worth noting.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Speaking of integration ...

This is quite moving.

France's Integration Problem

A correspondent of mine stated this morning that the recent terror attacks demonstrated that France had "spectacularly failed" to resolve its integration problem.

Here is my reponse:

How do we judge relative success and failure of integration? Have we been spectacularly successful in the US in integrating African-Americans (who have been here longer than most of us but still face challenges all their own)? The French journalist Jean Quatremer pointed out this morning that because France doesn't keep ethnic/racial statistics, we don't know how many Muslims serve in the French military and police, but we do know that they are "spectacularly" overrepresented. They are also well represented in the state bureaucracy. These institutions (at least the military and bureaucracy, not so much the police) were, despite the Dreyfus Affair, the royal road to Jewish assimilation in France, as Pierre Birnbaum has shown. They seem to be working for Muslims as well.

In another broadcast from France this morning, Alain Finkielkraut, Alain Duhamel, and Eric Zemmour discussed the integration issue. Finkielkraut and Zemmour are often classed these days as "neo-reactionaries" if not "neo-fascists," but they're worth listening to, because they are representative of a substantial body of thinking. They would agree with my correspondent that there has been a "spectacular failure of integration," which they attribute to a failure of the school system in the wake of "massification of education." Another word for this might be "democratization" of education. The Third Republic in particular vaunted the schools as the primary integrating institution, not just for foreigners but for the native-born, who needed to be turned into good republicans ("peasants into Frenchmen," as Eugen Weber put it). But education in the Third Republic was narrowly based and highly elitist. It did provide upward mobility for a very select group of talented pupils but did little for the rest. For Finkielkraut and Zemmour, the problem is that the French schools, because of "massification,," have abandoned the old system's emphasis on "la culture classique" and instead of inculcating Racine and La Rochefoucauld try to meet students half-way on their own turf, thus opening the door to the horrors of American multiculturalism, which for them is the root of all evil, or at any rate the opposite of the French monoculturalism they prefer. To me, "back to Racine" does not hold out much promise for integrating the disaffected, however.

What about today's terrorists? The Kouachi brothers, it seems, although born in the 10th Arr. of Paris, were educated in the countryside in a school run by a foundation to help children of immigrants find their way (if I remember correctly what I heard; I have no printed source for this, so it may be inaccurate). They fit in well, according to those who remember them. But when they returned to Paris they fell under the influence of an "unlicensed" Islamic preacher cum criminal with a bit of flair. Eventually they wound up in Yemen, where they were indoctrinated by an American-born radical who taught them that Americans were out to exterminate Muslims in Iraq. That message had nothing to do with conditions in France. Their alienation seems to have derived from an interpretation of geopolitics rather than a "spectacular failure" in France.

I would be the last to deny that France has an integration problem. But what exactly should it be doing to resolve it? Earlier generations of immigrants in other countries also at times succumbed to violence related to the geopolitical situation, as any reader of Joseph Conrad's Secret Agent or Henry James' Princess Cassamassima will recall. I'm sure I suffer from having gone a bit native on the French view of things, and I do recognize the specific difficulties of integration stemming from France's colonial past, but are French integration problems really so different from the problems of other countries in this regard? What is "spectacular" about France's failure, other than the fact that it issued in a spectacular display of violence?

Friday, January 9, 2015

Post-Terror Politics in France

My article on the post-terror political landscape in The American Prospect.

L'Union sacrée fait pschhhht

Just as the atmosphere of religious communion in the streets of Paris was beginning to give me the willies, it all went poof in a moment. Sunday's manif de tous pour Charlie is now the manif de tous sauf le Front National. The Socialist organizers of the event have made it clear that the FN is not welcome as such, though they will graciously embrace any of the party's minions who wish to march. So the great chorus of voices raised in defense of the freedom to lampoon, ridicule, and offend has been instantly drowned out by the usual cackle of squabbling about the extent of the "republican arc," to borrow a phrase from Julien Dray.

It's a good bet that the slain satirists would have been the first to mock the sham unity induced by grief at their murder. They would have been both right and wrong. The emotion was real. It was only the idea that it connoted any unity of thinking about how, henceforth, to vivre ensemble that was illusory.

Unfortunately, the Socialists are living in a dream world. It was one thing to stigmatize Frontistes as untouchables when they were vastly outnumbered. It is another when they constitute, at least on some days, the largest party in France and include in their ranks numerous former Socialists. It is inconsistent, to put it mildly, to confront the FN at the ballot box as a legitimate political party while at the same time declaring it outside the national community for the purpose of national mourning. And especially when that mourning is ostensibly in the name of freedom of speech.

To be sure, the FN's political speech is not being suppressed. Marine Le Pen can say how little she thinks of François Hollande whenever she likes. But if she wants to mourn the dead she once sued (for calling her, with customary crudeness of dubious political value, la chienne de Buchenwald), it is an affront to the former Socialists who now support her to say that their political error should deny them the opportunity to join in the expression of a grief and horror that belong to the nation, not to the Socialist Party.

No one is more opposed to what the Front National stands for than I am, but this is not the way to combat it. What we are witnessing in this moment of national derangement is the transvaluation of all values. We are through the looking glass. Nothing is what it seems. Marine Le Pen, Charlie Hebdo's mortal enemy, weeps over its demise. The Socialists exclude nearly a quarter of the population in the name of national unity. The Republic proclaims its tolerance of disturbing satire but forgets that it only recently banned the disturbing satire of Dieudonné. It is le bal des hypocrites. Mort aux cons might have been Charlie Hebdo's motto, but as General de Gaulle once remarked, "Vaste programme!"

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Tragedy at Charlie Hebdo

Like every decent human being, I am aghast at the slaughter that occurred today at Charlie Hebdo. I've been discussing the event with various correspondents and thought that the response below to the indented remark might be of some more general interest:

Victor Navasky's "The Art of Controversy" is worth revisiting in explaining the power of images in particular to give offense (having to do, Navasky argues, with the speed at which images can cross cultural borders).

What doesn't cross borders, however, is the context out of which different styles of satire grow. There is an old Parisian tradition of cheeky humor that respects nothing and no one. The French even have a word for it: "gouaille." Think of obscene images of Marie-Antoinette, of priests in flagrante delicto with nuns, of devils farting in the Pope's face, etc. It's an anarchic populist obscenity that aims to cut down anything that would erect itself as venerable, sacred, powerful, etc. It's not exactly apolitical (attacks on Marie-Antoinette surely had a political valence), but it has nothing in common with John Oliver or Jon Stewart, whose use of obscenity is tame by contrast. It is a humor that is at heart blasphemous rather than political, and it is a tradition of blasphemy from which it derives. So the fanatics are not wrong in that respect: Charlie Hebdo is out to undermine the sacred as such. It is their enemy. In a sense, reproducing their imagery tends to sacralize them as an embodiment of an ideal of free speech--exactly the opposite of what these anti-idealists are about. It transforms the shock of their obscenity into the exaltation of their martyrdom. But it has, alas, proved their destiny to become martyrs: Tels qu'en eux-même enfin l'éternité les change.

UPDATE: I've expanded this post into an op-ed for Al Jazeera America.

Monday, January 5, 2015

La Sauce Hollandaise

How time flies. I see that my last post was about President Hollande's New Year's greetings to the nation, and here it is January 5 and I am obliged to write again about Hollande communicant without any intervening post. This is a measure, I suppose, of the immobility of French politics. It seems that we have been in suspended animation now for months, awaiting the final passage of the Loi Macron, which assumes larger and larger symbolic proportions as the extreme limitation of its actual content comes more clearly into focus.

This morning's 2-hour radio event is also a measure of Hollande's desperation to appear in command. His advisors no doubt told him that his New Year's intervention had not inversé la courbe de la popularité, despite having been conducted in the magisterial manner sous les ors de la République, as the saying goes. So now, less than a week later, we have reverted to the original formula of le quinquennat: le président normal goes to the studio himself, rather than having the interviewers come to him, and he takes calls from "ordinary Frenchmen," as if he were a workaday pol prospecting for votes on RMC's Les Grandes Gueules.

In the event, Hollande's gueule was no more grande than usual. If "whiny confidence" isn't a contradiction in terms, it's an apt description of Hollande's manner. When asked if he had chosen "the right path" for France, he said that we'd know "at the end," that a path is "where it leads, and I'm doing everything to make sure that France is stronger and more just at the end of my quinquennat." Was it a "left path?" "It's a path that will see to it that we can make our economy as strong as possible without undermining our republican values or our social model." A veritable tag team of interviewers tried to pummel him into saying something more solid, or merely more thoughtful, than this, but you can't push Hollande off his talking points any more than you can push on a string, or build on a foundation of Flanby (TM) (the famous caramel custard, you will recall, to which Hollande was compared during the campaign).

Hollande did announce that he will see Merkel this Sunday to discuss "the future of Europe." He may have thought this would enhance his stature, but it's more likely to reinforce his image as the chancellor's lapdog. He also said he had learned that Putin did not want to annex East Ukraine. How did he know? "Putin told me."