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. »
En savoir plus sur