Saturday, October 30, 2004

The Battle for Democracy

Where is it taking place?

In the United States, of course.

That's the lesson readers got from Le Monde last week, as the independent newspaper embarked on a three-part series in which Sylvie Kauffmann reassured its readers that it was Americans, not they, who were in need of opening their eyes and who were living in a false democracy (or in a democracy in constant danger of being undermined by dark, evil forces)…

A Case of Principle deals with the legal situation following 9-11, notably the prisoners at Guantánamo. It's all about "excesses" in the "world war against terror" and individuals, within and outside of government, deciding to "follow their conscience" (Tom Wilner, William Taft IV), meaning, of course, their decision to oppose… the Bush administration. Sylvie Kauffmann tells us about previous wrongs committed by the Supreme Court, without once providing any kind of historical context. ("In 1943, it agreed to the internment of over 100,000 Americans of Japanese origin. Under Maccarthisym, it waited until the mid-1950s before condemning the abuse.") Ever heard of the Japanese Imperial Army, Sylvie, or the gulags and expansionst plans (Eastern Europe, China, Korea, etc…) of Josef Stalin?

Where Is the Fourth Power? deals with the "emptiness left behind" by the media, "accused of self-censorship, conformity, and a lack of objectivity" since September 11. The first person quoted is a Kerry supporter who is half Egyptian and who thinks Al-Jazeera is a "force for democratization". Jehane Noujaim, of course, is the director of The Control Room, and she was "ecstatic" that the documentary could be shown in America at all. Towards the end of her piece, Sylvie Kauffmann also manages to pay homage to weblogs:

And then, there is … the latest inferior product of the Web, the blogs, powerful means of dissemination.

But apart from sone leaders in the élite, blogs do not furnish scoops. … Journalism and information remain the prerogative of the fourth power …

The "inferior products" thank you and promise they will do their best to make it to your lofty heights…

Alerts and Balances deals with government whistleblowers, including an Iranian-born translator who was "revolted" by the silence of her superiors inside the FBI and the media-savvy diplomat (Joseph Wilson) who said that "when I discovered that my government had lied, I took my responsability as a citizen." We learn that "most of these men and women are convinced that they brought a halt to an anti-democratic drift inside the United States." Beyond a single mention of whistle-blowing being "a very Anglo-Saxon tradition", there is no thought given to the fact that French society does not have this tradition or even that France might be in (dire?) need of such a tradition.

Of course not. In France, the citizens are taken care of, they know they are safely protected in a country with republican principles (principles constantly being defended by their leaders). Secure in the knowledge that they are living in the most democratic society possible, they can safely look judgmentally and condescendingly across the Atlantic to see all that is so wrong over there. In short, three page-long articles in the newspaper of reference to give us the usual hexagonal fare.