Friday, January 9, 2015

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!"


Jeff said...

And (as often the case in situations like that), it's hard not to wonder: what would have happened if the slaughtered journalists had been from "Minute", and not "Charlie hebdo". Would we have witnessed the same degree of national mourning and "defense of republican values" ?

Anonymous said...

Art, Dieudonné is a bully who targets basically one group only. It's different from Charlie Hebdo, who targeted/targets anyone. I don't like Charlie Hebdo (its humor was neither funny nor smart to my taste, except for occasional pictures like "c'est dur d'être aimé par des cons") but they're not like Dieudonné.
As for the march, it's hard to stand for unity and refusing discourses that confuse Islam and terrorism, if you invite the representatives of such discourse. I agree it's problematic, but it still makes sense to me: I don't have a problem with FN voters coming to the march as citizens shocked by what happened, but FN leaders who until a 3 days ago played with muslims = terrorists aren't welcome at a time when a kid was assulated "because he looked muslim", mosques are being tagged, and being Muslim in France is really, really tough. Not to mention that JMLP was the first to try and exploit the event by saying something along the lines of "in order to prevent further tragedies, vote for Marine".... Having MLP, Philippot, Alliot at the march would be too exploitative and disrespectful of the Charlie cartoonists.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely spot on. Either France is a pluralist democracy or it is no democracy at all. Cambadélis and his shortsighted cronies pushed the government into making a grave political error viz "The Socialists exclude nearly a quarter of the population in the name of national unity".

Mitch Guthman said...

I see nothing wrong with excluding the FN. My feeling is that the FN shouldn't be included because it isn't a normal political party. It has a long and sordid history that more than justifies its exclusion from civil life in France.

It is as much an enemy of the republic as are the Islamists. I would no more want to invite Marine Le Pen than I would consider inviting Ayman al-Zawahri. Inclusiveness does not require marching together with monsters.

I have another quibble: I don't agree with describing Dieudonné as a satirist. I don't see how "dead Jews, ha ha ha!" really meets any reasonable definition of satire or even qualifies as humorous or as biting social commentary. I don't think Dieudonné is really in the same field of endeavor as Charlie Hebdo.

Cincinna said...

I am no fan of Marine le Pen, her father, or her neo-fascist National Front party. But I have to agree with Art on this one.

If the FB is a legal party in the French Republic - a legitimate political party that is recognized under French law, it is hypocritical, not to mention illogical, to exclude it as a party, from the national day of mourning. They have elected representatives in the government, and as mentioned above they do have the votes of 25% of the population.

One also has to wonder about what is, IMO, the over the top glorification of gratuitous insults and mockery under the guise of humor at Charlie Hebdo.

If we are all Charlie, after the massacre at Charlie Hebdo, will we have the courage and conviction to stand up and say "we are all Jews" after the massacre today at a Jewish grocery in Paris,?

Cincinna said...

CORRECTION: My post should read
"If the FN is a legal party in the French Republic - a legitimate political party that is recognized under French law, it is hypocritical, not to mention illogical, to exclude it as a party, from the national day of mourning."

Mitch Guthman said...


You know perfectly well that while the FN may be a legal party, it isn't a normal party and virtually all of French society (until the election of Sarkozy) has worked hard ever since the end of the Second World War to show the world that FN and its predecessors will always be outside the normal political realm.

Can you imagine what it would mean to France’s image in the world if its equivalent of Golden Dawn were allowed to march in this ceremony? It’s simply unthinkable.

Also, allowing the FN to march presents people across a very broad swatch of the political spectrum with a Hobbesian choice. I think there are a lot of people on the left, or who are Gaullists, that would not, under any circumstances, march in solidarity with the FN. It would be unfair to tell them that their only way to express solidarity with republican principles is to march with a leader whose party they consider to be an enemy of those very principles.

Why not let those who believe in “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité” march together to celebrate the republic and mourn those who died in her defense?

Let those who believe in “Travail, famille, patrie” march to celebrate their heroes like Anders Breivik and mourn those who died for their cause such as Marshal Pétain.

Alexandra Marshall said...

Art you are so right on here. The irony of barring the representative of a political party from a national unity rally in support of free speech is richer than a wedge of Camembert. The FN is a legal party, so even if they have dirty hands, and stand for things most right-thinking people don't, they have a right to be present, and should be present, even if only as a gesture. Free speech is easy when everyone agrees. I find the FN abhorrent and when I first heard the news of MLP being barred, a cheer erupted from somewhere deep in my lizard brain. Then I thought for a moment, and realised this was a huge error.

If people want to exclude the FN from the national discourse then they need to find a legal way to abolish the party. Absent of that, in a free society, people are free to be awful. I think some of the baser of Charlie Hebdo's work comes pretty close to just as awful, even if it comes ostensibly from the left (i.e., "my team") and not the right.

I'm once again blown away by how poor Hollande's instincts are when it comes to the big show of national politics. Maybe behind the scenes he's formidable, but up front on the national stage, once again, he stumbles really badly.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Mitch but "You know perfectly well that while the FN may be a legal party, it isn't a normal party" is equivocal nonsense. The Left does not have a monopoly on morality as much it likes to assume it does. The FN may espouse views you and many others abhor, but as Cincinna rightly states, after its recent electoral showings, FN accounts for 25% of the vote. A democracy either defends pluralism or loses its meaning.

FrédéricLN said...

I find Art's post relevant, and agree, as almost always :-)

Some small additional points:

1) The demonstration was not initiated by any 'union nationale', but by the parties of the left. It was a way to express their own view after the tragedy. The almost unanimous move in the French population pushed our rules (either at Solferino or Elysée) to invite the leader of the opposition, former president Sarkozy. As far as I know, they did not invite UDI, Modem, Cap21, or Front démocrate, and I understand that party-belonging was no longer the point.

2) I'm hearing the expression of two main concerns for our society after the tragedy. One of them, mainly from ''militants associatifs'', from the left, and from muslims as far as I hear, is the fear of violent and growing fractures: islamophobic violence against mosques, growing discrimination in all fields, "pogroms" or other kinds of riots, and of course growing repression, that is, less freedom for all of us. The other concern, mainly from… I guess, all other kinds of people, i.e. a broad majority: the fear of growing place of islamism: more veils, more refusal to shake hands with a female public agent, narrower education of kids, and as a foreseen result, more terrorists and more bombs.

The first ones say: we must remain a united society, whatever terrorists do. The second ones say: we must unite against these terrorists (and djihadists, and "intégristes") in our neighborhoods.

(At this point, I can't hide my feelings: I feel the first speech powerless, and the second dangerous).

Inviting the FN, from a leftist militant point of view, means opening the door to the second speech, to islamophobic fracture, renouncing to the dream of a united (in the meaning of: not ethnically divided, not religiously divided), society.

3) My and our opinion, as militants of the center, is that: these two concerns and priorities must be integrated and overcome by a broader ambition, better rooted too in the present French society, for any valuable outcome to be obtained.

Our hope is that the present, spontaneous or organized, demonstrations, where people of all kinds can meet, may be the melting pot for this new agenda.

That's the reason why nationalists should be in, too. And internationalists too. And others too.

"Something got to be done, No one is alone." (Alpha Blondy, Rock and Roll remedy)

FrédéricLN said...

BTW - you recall very accurately the Dieudonné case. The difference in handling both may be quite surprising for some American readers, I guess.

To make in short: Dieudonné (also with Elie Seimoun in the beginning!) joked against Jews (and others) since years, and nobody imagined that should be condemned or forbidden.

Concern came when Dieudonné didn't joke at all any more. When humor became (according to opponents) only a pretext for antisemitism talk.

Your column in Al Jazeera hits the point: the French society views humor against all kinds of powers and hierarchies, as the necessary balance of powers and hierarchies. Even the least republican King deserves a fool. But the French society considers herself as One nation overcoming all pre-existing communities: deliberate attacks against any of them are attacks against the nation.

The border is quite narrow and fuzzy (as the Dieudonné case shows). But that is where it lies, imho.

BTW, Charlie Hebdo's managers understood it quite the same way, as the Siné affair shown in 2008é

Anonymous said...

If I'm to understand your definition of the term "normal", then upwards of 20% to 25% of French aren't normal.
As for "virtually all of French society...", I begin to draw the conclusion that you live in a bubble that cuts you off from a good swath of French society.

FrédéricLN said...

My former comment (10 Jan, 9:48 am) was wrong on "As far as I know, they did not invite UDI, Modem, Cap21, or Front démocrate". Actually I read somewhere they were invited at some point and joined the call to demonstrate (that's not on wikipedia so far). Art rightly writes it in a comment on