Saturday, March 13, 2004

...can't believe the news to-day

Tomorrow's edition of Le Monde, which hit the streets this evening, contains the following editorial on the recent purchase of one of France's largest media groups by one its largest defense contractors.
Le Monde Editorial

The French Exception
LE MONDE | 13.03.04 | 11h32
Do we have any idea what the reactions would be in the United States if the Washington Post were purchased by Lockheed Martin, maker of the F-16? In France, Dassault announced on Thursday, March 11, that it would buy up the remaining shares in Socpresse [a newspaper group that owns numerous French papers] owned by the heirs of Robert Hersant and take its ownership of Socpresse from 30% to 80%.

Not only has Le Figaro fallen into the hands of the company that manufactures the Mirage, but with it, L'Express, L'Etudiant, Le Progrès, Le Dauphiné libéré, La Voix du Nord.... Seventy publications in all. Curiously, this maneuver has not caused national upset over the future of the press and its independence from the economic and political powers. When one adds that groupe Lagardère, formerly Matra, owns the Hachette empire, one can calculate that in all 70% of national newspapers are the property of two weapons manufacturers. At the very least, this ought make one think.

France has also entered into the grand movement that is concentrating the world press, with smaller newspapers being absorbed into big corporations. The reasons are the same for the press as they are for other industries: a need for internationalization and greater reach. But France adds other incentives for concentration by imposing very poor general conditions on its press groups. That French newspapers should be reduced to throwing themselves at the feet of companies in other industries (weapons, in this instance, but also construction for Bouygues [a telecoms giant] or luxury goods for LVMH and Pinault) speaks volumes about the many difficulties: want for capital, inflated printing costs, distribution hurt by a dramatic reduction in the number of points of sale. The handicaps are legion against those who would survive in the information business. The government should be alarmed by this French exception, a deplorable one, and consider it relevant to democracy.

The things at stake here are at the heart of causes taken up by Le Monde, be they editorial or economic. It is in response tot this that our newspaper has sought to join with others in a group predicated on independence from the political and economical powers. In so doing, our desire is to help better the structures of a sector that is ill and frail.

Therefore we must hope that the arrival of Dassault won't mean a return to the days when the press danced for billionaires. We must also hope that it doesn't see the media come under political influence. Suspicion may be heightened by the friendship that exists between Jacques Chirac, president of the Republic, and Serge Dassault, the CEO of the family business, who was also a regional advisor to the Rally for the Republic [France's governing party] and mayor of Corbeil-Essones. A suspicion that can grow still further, given the direct dependence of the very same groupe Dassault on State contracts for its fighter planes.

One would want to think that a reversion to the customs that once existed between the power and the press is impossible, Today they are forgotten. The journalists of every editorial board, including those in the Socpresse group, know the price of independence: the credibility of their newspapers depends on it. Yet Italy shows us that there is still a vivid temptation for the power to take the media in hand.

Anti-corruption crusader and former investigating magistrate Eva Joly (previously discussed here, here and here) writes in her memoires (pp. 274-75):
Of the 16 largest companies in France, 11 are active in an area where the practice of high corruption is common: Total, Vivendi environnement, Bouygues, Vinci, Airbus... [based on 2002 figures, see here for 2003 figures]. But this fact is rarely mentioned; above all because most of the national media belong to these groups, which encourages neither to curiosity nor to debate. [The TV station] TF1 belongs to the Bouygues group [NB: Bouygues was part of the consortium involved in building Osirak], Le Figaro and L'Express are controlled by the Dassault group. [Radio station] Europe 1, Paris Match and the majority of publishing belong to Lagardère.
Joly doesn't take the time to lay the full extent of Lagardère's presence in the publishing, broadcast and advertising industries. Separate from its defense activites, Largardère Media is has considerable operations in four areas: publishing, print media, distribution and broadcast. The site reads that "Hachette Filipacchi Médias, a Lagardère Media subsidiary, is the world’s top publisher of magazines. Its 238 titles in 36 countries total over one billion copies and more than 130,000 pages of paid advertising annually. HFM has turnover of 2.2 billion euros, 54% of it generated abroad." Tenth largest publisher in the world, Lagardère also owns 40% of Editis (formerly Vivendi Universal Publishing).

Relative to Dassault's relationship to the government, page 70 of Notre allié Saddam (a book I have discussed here and here) gives us an illustrative anecdote:
In February of 1991, Olivier Dassault, RPR member of the Assemblée Nationale and son of Serge, president of the group, revealed one aspect of these ambiguous relations: "I chose to sanction Michel Rocard (this was a censure motion at the Assemblée Nationale). So my father, who thinks that one does not vote against a government to which one is selling planes, pulled me from my position as head of planning for his factories, a position I'd been in for six months [Paris Match, 14 mars 1991].
Just to give you an idea of what exactly we're talking about, let's consider one example of how the French defense industry reacts when people get too close to sensitive matters. On pages 70-1 of her book, Joly writes:
Such a threatening reality sometimes becomes hazy in my mind. I learn to live without thinking about it. But the backlash is hard. As was the very high-ranking French general with star-spangled epaulettes whose acquaintance I made during an impromptu cocktail party at an embassy. We engaged in light conversation for a few moments. Then suddenly he put his blue eyes right in mine.

"I imagine it must not be much fun for you everyday, ma'am. Such agitiation, the pressure, the threats. But I'll think you'll make it in the end."

I didn't answer. He paused for two seconds. I started to smile in thanks. Then he continued, coldly.

"It'd be another matter if you left the petroleum business to look at weapons sales. With us, there's no warning. If you start an investigation, I'll give you 48 hours..."


L'Express is reporting that AZF has again contacted the French government, increasing the amount demanded (which was previously 4 million dollars and 1 million euros).

Friday, March 12, 2004


Le Monde jumps on the bandwagon, comparing the 3/11 attacks to 9/11 and claiming that Europe has become a battleground for "hyper-terrorisme." I don't want to minimize the horror of what happened yesterday; however the analogies between 9/11 and 3/11 strike me as misguided, even if we eventually discover that Al-Qaeda was behind the Spanish attacks. The principle difference, in my mind, is not in the number of casualties in the two events. Rather, it is the terror provoked by the two attacks.

Prior to 9/11, I would guess that few Americans outside of the intelligence community were aware of Al Qaeda. The 1998 attacks on US embassies in eastern Africa and the 2000 attack on the USS Cole seemed distant acts of aggression in an unstable terra incognita. Not only did the act of 9/11 surpass the imagination of most individuals (outside of Tom Clancy fans), the terror for those alive in the aftermath was the specter of a faceless enemy. We knew that America had been attacked. But by whom and from where? Reality only became less real when the enemy materialized in the form of a bearded lunatic, stringing together verses of the Koran into hate speech from the bowels of a cave in a war ravaged country.

We do not yet know who perpetrated the terror in Spain yesterday. Yet Spaniards know that one of two odd combinations of vowels--ETA or Al Qaeda--was likely behind the attacks. And regardless of the terrorist organization, this act was not the volley that began the war, but a battle in a conflict that is well advanced. The Spanish government knew before 3/11 that ETA and Al Qaeda were capable of ruthlessly striking civilians, and the groundwork for combating these organizations has already been laid with the help of Aznar.

Although one could not have foreseen the details of the Spanish bombings, the 3/11 attacks were hardly a surprise to the same degree that 9/11 was.

That said, it is shameful that Bush is not in Spain right now to express his support of the Spanish people (instead, he is contenting himself with a visit to the Spanish embassy in D.C.). Given Aznar's recent support of American policy, Bush's failure to pay a condolence call stinks of ingratitude.

Responses to Comments (see below):
A couple of points in response to Douglas:

I do not mean to undermine the political significance of the 3/11 attacks. However I still believe that the comparison to 9/11 is misguided. Assuming that Al-Qaeda was responsible (which makes 3/11 and 9/11 more comparable than if ETA were responsible), we should ask ourselves what concrete changes would Spain make in the wake of the attacks. Will Spain invade the country harboring Al-Qaeda? Already done. Will Spain launch an international hunt to track down Islamist terrorists? Already happening. Will Spain launch an initiative to increase political representation and respect for human rights in the Middle East? Reformers in the Middle East in combination with the EU and the US have already undertaken that task. Will Spaniards become more conscious of the threat posed by Bin Landen’s henchmen? Perhaps. This is where your point rings most true, Douglas. To the extent that an individual believed that 9/11 was a just reward for American’s foreign policy sins, then such an individual might be surprised that Al Qaeda would pursue targets other than the Great Satan. However such an individual should have realized, given Spain’s history with Islam and Aznar’s support of the US, that Spain had likely become a legitimate target in the eyes of Bin Laden. The point remains: even if some Spaniards previously viewed Al-Qaeda as an American Frankenstein and a Yankee problem, I don’t believe that the Spanish government’s policy will change significantly as a result of these attacks. Aznar, after 9/11 and under American pressure, had already reoriented his country to fight Islamism. All that these attacks will change is some more effort and cash funneled into already established political and military channels.

Aramis is undoubtedly correct that Spaniards have no love affair with Bush. Yet I don’t agree that the response is for Bush, and American foreign policy in general, to go underground. Bush is the object of widespread criticism, but he only compounds the problem by hiding from it. If Al-Qaeda is behind the attacks, then whether Spaniards like it or not, America and Spain have a common enemy who can best be defeated through joint efforts.

A question: Timothy Garton Ash argues that, if Al-Qaeda was responsible, then Europe will be brought together around a common tragedy. If ETA is responsible, then Europeans will view the attack as a Spanish problem. However is Ash over-stating his first point? Won’t the French and Germans view the Spaniards as the dupes of a misguided American foreign policy who have received their just rewards? Will this be viewed as a “European” problem or merely the problem of Spain, UK and Eastern European governments who were less hostile to the American government?

Thursday, March 11, 2004


Libération provides a list of the deadliest terrorist attacks on European soil in the past 30 years. The deadliest attack prior to today seems to have been one in Bologne by political extremists in 1980 that took the lives of 85 individuals. In reading down the list, I'm struck by the fact that, although one terrorist attack is too many, European casualties due to terrorism are much smaller than I expected. Europeans may have lived with the fear of terrorism for the past several decades, yet they seemed, up until today, to have escaped its true deadliness.

United Nations

"There is no doubt that the U.N. relief effort in Iraq has been a global scandal. A monstrous dictator was able to turn the Oil-for-Food program into a cash cow for himself and his inner circle, leaving Iraqis further deprived as he bought influence abroad and acquired the arms and munitions that coalition forces discovered when they invaded Iraq last spring.

A U.N. culture of unaccountability is certainly also to blame. And Security Council members share responsibility for lax oversight, no doubt one reason there is so little appetite for an investigation.

But Saddam's ability to reap billions for himself, his cronies and those who proved useful to him abroad depended on individuals who were his counterparties. These deserve a full investigation if the U.N.'s credibility is to be restored and its role in Iraq and elsewhere trusted. Especially now, with the U.N. taking a more active role in Iraq, it's time we knew more about how the oil-for-food scandal was allowed to happen."

--via The Wall Street Journal (registration required)

The National Review notes possible nepotism in "the ties of Annan's own son, Kojo Annan, to the Switzerland-based firm, Cotecna, which from 1999 onward worked on contract for the U.N. monitoring the shipments of Oil-for-food supplies into Iraq. These were the same supplies sent in under terms of those tens of billions of dollars worth of U.N.-approved contracts in which the U.N. says it failed to notice Saddam Hussein's widespread arrangements to overpay contractors who then shipped overpriced goods to the impoverished people of Iraq and kicked back part of their profits to Saddam's regime."


Statement of the Quai d'Orsay:

"France most strongly condemns the cowardly attacks that took place in Madrid this morning and that have already claimed the lives of 60 people and resulted in numerous injuries. France has communicated its total solidarity to the Spanish authorities during this terrible time. The French government expresses its sincere condolences to the victims' families and loved ones. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. de Villepin, has just communicated his strong concern to Ana Palacio [the Spanish Foreign Minister]. Terrorism, under all of its forms and regardless of its origins, must be tirelessly fought."

The UK Foreign Office views the bombings as "a disgusting assault on the very principle of European democracy."

Meanwhile, France has increased security on its Spanish border.

Bland Spongiformity

Before he became the lightening rod that he is today, member of the Académie française and philosopher Jean-François Revel traveled to Italy and returned with the accounts that would form the book Pour l'Italie ("For Italy"). The book was an argument about the nature of Italian society, its social conservatism, sexual practices and its treatment of women. Yet even before his transformative Vietnam-era visit to American University campuses (after which he wrote his pro-American polemic Without Marx or Jesus), one can see traces of the figure that was to emerge. Here's a quick rendering of a passage from page 136:
The commonplaces of international psychology are as stubborn as they are numerous and false. This is why the quality (and the demerit) of being cartesian is attributed to French intellectuals. The author of the most wooly-minded page will write: "We French, born cartesians...," etc. However, in our time, the French are anything but cartesian: they are claudelian, heideggerian, Christian, spenglerian or malrausian but not cartesian. Even scholarly works are beset with obscurity, prolixity and disorder. Given that the entire French system of evaluation and examination is founded on the art of dissertation, it is surprising to learn that most French academics can neither write not compose.

By contrast, the only true cartesians to-day are the English. Their academic works are the only ones that are rigorous and well-written. It is the same with their newspapers: reading the weekly The New Statesman [Oh! How the mighty have fallen!] is consolation for the bland spongiformity of so many French weeklies that think themselves "alive" and "spirited," etc.
UPDATE: I posted some of the dirty bits over at LOTF. In case you're interested...

Wednesday, March 10, 2004


"Ousted president Jean-Bertrand Aristide plans to take legal action against the French ambassador in Haiti for allegedly helping in his abduction."

--via Al Jazeera

Aristide is also suing the French writer, Régis Debray and the sister of Dominique de Villepin. Both individuals were part of a French delegation sent to Haiti in the fall of 2003. The delegation released this report in January of 2004, calling for a more involved French policy towards Haiti.


"The EU will be shaped by Britain and France – also by its other 23 Member States."

Denis MacShane, UK Member of Parliament and Minister for Europe

It is statements like these, in which the influence of the 23 other Member States seems like an after-thought, that rightfully makes some wonder whether certain European states are exercising too much power in the EU.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Update on Dermouche

You'll recall that Aïssa Dermouche is an Algerian-born French Muslim who was appointed to become the prefect of the eastern Jura region. Over the course of 10 days in January, small bombs exploded in the business, car and mailbox of Aissa Dermouche. Fortunately, Dermouche was not hurt.

Now, French police are focusing their investigation on the extremist groups, Adsav and Réaction française. The former advocates greater independence for Brittany, and its website states: "Adsav is dedicated to the restoration of Breton nationalism, the independence of the Breton nation, and the defense of all aspects that constitute the Breton identity. We declare ourselves to be nationalists. In addition to this struggle for national liberation and development, Adsav vigorously defends European ethnicities. It seeks to defend Brittany and the Breton people from Americanization and the growing uniformity that afflict our society. Adsav firmly opposes globalization as well as liberal and uncontrolled immigration policies that are resulting in an invasion..."

Réaction française is a movement that seeks the restoration of the French monarchy.

This article notes other attacks on Muslims in France, including:

"In March 2003, an Islamic center in the northern city of Nancy was ravaged by a fire. In the same month, a gas cylinder was found in a prayer room in the southern city of Nice.

In June 2003, a number of mosques were sprayed blue, red, and white – the three colors which make the French flag – and large crosses drawn across the walls of a mosque in the northeastern city of Colmar.

The hall prayer of a mosque in the southern city of Montpellier came under an arson attack in October 2003."

Monday, March 08, 2004

Far East

Although not widely publicized, France is contributing around 4,200 military personnel to the US CENTCOM. The French efforts seem to be focused on Afghanistan.

Dieudo gets the egghead treatment...

Prof. Eric Marty, author and editor of numerous books, gives a rather abstruse analysis of the content of Dieudonné's statements.

Take heart, Dieudonné!, by Eric Marty

LE MONDE | 06.03.04 | 13h58
Israel, the land that, in its flesh, is surely the most comfortably universal and cosmopolitan of all.

The Dieudonné scandal is pronounced in three parts. The first is his appearance on the Marc-Olivier Fogiel's show dressed as an orthodox Jew, with the accouterments of a Palestinian terrorist and shouting "Isra...Heil!" : here the Jewish victim materializes as his two executioners.

The second part are the political statements in which it appears that Jews are "slave drivers converted to banking" and that Israel has "financed apartheid its final solution projects" (Le Journal du Dimanche, February 8).

Third part: his appearance through numerous media, yelling about conspiracies, particularly on Canal+, on the evening of Saturday, February 28, for example ("7 jours au Groland"), where he acted the part of the banished, and where it emerged that his banishment illustrates the fact that he is speaking a truth that everyone wishes to silence.

This anti-Semitic farce in three acts is easily recognizable; so much has it been played out in history that now it only exists in parodic form, in which until then, the last known actor had been Jean-Marie Le Pen.


It shall be said that a victim — and blacks are obviously victims —ultimately has two choices: he can either condemn his genuine, historic tormentor — and this is the case with current historical projects on slavery — and thus cease to be a victim; or he can play on what René Girard has called mimetic rivalry: the victim choses not the enemy but the rival, that is to say the one who appears, in his eyes, unjustly, as identified by the world as being more of a victim than he is.

The rival victim is the one who prevents the victim from being, and proclaiming himself a victim the way he wants to. In the mind of anti-Semites, such is the place of the Jew. The ideas emerging from this small but virulent fraction of anti-Semites among the black community eliminates the Jews as victims by making them into executioners (executioners of the Palestinians), but, as if this weren't enough to cancel out the weight of mimetic rivalry, the Jews must be made into their own executioners: the Jew is a slave driver, a financier of apartheid, etc.

[...]Dieudonné and his friends should take heart: Israel is the first civilization in the world to have admitted the absolute anthropological equality of blacks by viewing the sons of Cham as the direct descendants of a universal parent (Adam), and this isn't the least benefit of monotheism that the self-proclaimed atheist that is Dieudonné might think on.

Moreover, because the notion of "race" is foreign to the Jewish being, there are even Jewish "Negroes" — the Falashas — that Operation Moses, starting in 1984, and then Operation Solomon, in 1991, have saved from the discriminations they suffered in Ethiopia and integrated into the land of Sem, Israel, the country that, in its flesh is surely the most comfortably universal and cosmopolitan of all.

During the Dieudonné scandal, an AFP bulletin informed us that the mayor of Nablus resigned in the face of the terror that the Palestinian militias (including the al-Aqsa martyrs brigades) had been inflicting on the population since the start of the Intifada (September 2000) and of which the latest incidents had caused the death of 30 people, including the mayor's own brother. That I know, the French media took little notice, if any. That's another one for Dieudonné and co. to think on: the real criminal is rarely the scapegoat!

Eric Marty is professor of contemporary French literature at université Paris-VII - Denis-Diderot.


Sunday, March 07, 2004


Remember Tim Blair's Beat-up of the week? Le Monde has just fallen for it, hook, line and sinker. It's also shot up the reader recommended list to first place.

UPDATE: Le Monde responds over at LOTF.

Death Penalty

Why is it that the president of the French National Assembly personally visited the United States to protest American use of the death penalty; however the Palestinian Authority's resumption of executions (in a much more flawed judicial system) meets with a complicit silence?