Monday, December 13, 2004

Are French Anti-Americanism and America's Current Irritation with France "Perfectly Symmetrical Lunacies", as BHL Claims?

Its a good thing that they got rid of that warmonger Aznar!
writes Gregory Schreiber as he looks at a picture of an empty Santiago Bernabeu stadium.

Meanwhile, RV forwards a Jean-Pierre Stroobants article from Le Monde which explains how the absence of Islamic attacks in Europe can only mean one thing: that the Europeans' indulgence for terrorism is working and that dialogue and understanding is the only thing, in fact, that does work — certainly more than the Americans' emphasis on violent tactics and on law and order (and why can't those thick-headed Americans understand that?!)

Bernard-Henri Lévy, in the meantime, takes a potshot at John J. Miller and Mark Molesky's Our Oldest Enemy. The New York Times published the potshot, as Gregory points out, as the French media has turned on France's favorite philosopher. For Jean-Paul Enthoven, editorial chief at the Grasset publishing house,
the campaign against his friend is ideologically-motivated, with most of the critics coming from the anti-capitalist left: in their eyes BHL has betrayed the cause by his refusal to rush to condemn the US and his uncompromising views on radical Islam.
Maybe wanting to get back some respect (and prove his independence — from Uncle Sam, that is!) helps explain this article of Lévy's.

But, more likely, he is, consciously or not, using the old trick; after spouting out anger and mockery about America, French citizens, leaders, and members of the media will often retreat to a position (embraced by such entities as the NYT editorial page) that both countries must work to overcome their respective antagonism and caricaturing of the other, or, in BHL's words, "the opposition of two apparently antithetical but actually perfectly symmetrical lunacies." (I call this a mental trick — a conscious or a subconscious one — because the person making the argument, by the very fact that (s)he is making it, comes out appearing more reasonable, more detached, more willing to compromise, more open to dialogue, more in search of a peaceful solution, more lucide — and thus more superior.)

Except that what BHL says about Americans' hardened attitudes towards the French isn't true. Nobody in his right mind can fail to notice the difference between French anti-Americanism which has gone on, for decades year in and year out (and even centuries — see next para), concerning every subject under the sun, on the one hand and, on the other, the current attitude in the United States, which has far less (hardly anything, in fact) to do with amounting to being a "parodic counterpart of French anti-Americanism" than with the sentiment — real or false — that in the Iraq crisis, Marianne not only refrained from coming to Uncle Sam's help, but that she tried to stick a knife in his back. And that, as far as I can tell, is what the book is about. It is not written due to an "eagerness to contrast evil France with a virtuous and radiant America", but due to the feeling that Uncle Sam was given a bum deal (to say the least) by Marianne, and that this was not the first time in history…

In fact, John J. Miller and Mark Molesky appear to be doing hardly more than echo L'Ennemi américain, Philippe Roger's study of anti-Americanism in France over the centuries, an anti-Americanism that carries nary a counterpart in the United States vis-à-vis France. Moreover, it is not a book like the one called 50 Good Reasons to Hate Americans, and it certainly has not become best-seller in the U.S. the way the latter has in France.

To counter some of BHL's arguments:
In their eagerness to contrast evil France with a virtuous and radiant America, Miller, a national political reporter for National Review, and Molesky, who teaches history at Seton Hall University, offer us an assortment of arguments — extravagant at times, nauseating at others — intended to prove the perversity of the French mind.

Consider their use of a quotation from Francois Mitterand, the most pro-American French president of our time, to establish that France is ''at war with America.'' Or their implication that Mitterrand's successor, Jacques Chirac, applauded the destruction of a McDonald's by the followers of the antiglobalization sheep farmer José Bové.

Then there is the long series of collages, inflating Clemenceau's remark about America as a nation that has gone ''directly from barbarism to degeneration without the usual interval of civilization'' to a statement of principle, and crediting the philosopher Jean Baudrillard with the notion that the destruction of the World Trade Center was a French dream fulfilled by Osama bin Laden.
Except how many quotes can you find from American leaders and the élite towards France? Before 2002-2003, not many. And, more importantly, insofar as anti-French quotations can be found (and I can't think of any), to what extent does the leader owe his popularity (if any) to his anti-French remarks?
The fact is, yes, there is a kind of racism in dragging out as evidence a text by Mark Twain that contains, we are told, ''more than a little truth'' and according to which ''the race consists of human beings and the French.'' Go ahead, these careful readers of ''Tom Sawyer'' urge, ''scratch a Frenchman'' and you will discover ''a savage'' if it's a man, a ''harlot'' if it's a woman — a brutishness, in any case, ''unknown in civilized lands''!
Dave Barry, too, has written about the French in similar terms, and Art Buchwald's first columns (for the New York Herald Tribune's Paris office) are replete with funny observations about France and its inhabitants. Except both also wrote that way about other nationalities, being harshest with… Americans themselves! And so, of course, did the "racist" Mark Twain…

I, personally, would be perfectly happy to see and read Le Monde, Fabius, De Villepin (when in opposition) castigate American foreign policy if only they would apply the same standards to the French interventionist society and French foreign policy.

Which brings this to mind: At times, French readers write to complain that I don't criticize the American government enough. That is misunderstanding what this blog (or at least my understanding thereof) is about. This blog, in my mind, is not about criticizing France or the French government (under Chirac or anybody else). It is about double standards. Double standards in the French media, among French citizens, and in French education. Double standards which certainly have no equivalents (no matter what one thinks) in the United States…