Monday, May 10, 2004

France's Efforts to Equate Iraq with Algeria

In its ever-present efforts to demonize Uncle Sam and keep the pressure up no matter what (all the while minimizing French sins, however serious they may be), today's print edition of Le Monde has a special eight-page supplement on Torture in Wartime (which can be obtained by downloading "Dossier : La torture dans la guerre (pdf)"). Parts of the last two pages are devoted to France's experience in Algeria, so the goal is obvious: minimize (in relative terms) the French army's experience in the matter while maximizing the U.S. military's experience. Good for future reference : "Ah, but you did ze same s'ing. Oh non, arrêtez ; vous voulez rire?! — yours was no better zan ours!"

Of course, some will say point to the beginning of Florence Beaugé and Philippe Bernard's interview with Pierre Vidal-Naquet, and say it reveals that the human rights fighter shows some admiration for America (its media's rapidity in uncovering the scandal), but the point here is to make the two cases comparable in the public mind. And the French are ever and always pointing to admirable details (large or small) in America only to follow it immediately afterwards with an ugly generalized picture.

Indeed, in his very next sentence, Vidal-Naquet comes back to say the usual &mdash to regret that America's media outlets are not entirely admirable (they haven't demonized the Bush administration enough) and to huff that "the United States claim to be imposing [democracy] with cannon fire and other, less savory methods".

Vidal-Naquet goes on to say that "the French state has remained virtually mute to this day", but makes no analogy between what still seems to be a state secret 50 years later and the Iraqi one, uncovered after less than six months.

Later, he speaks of what really riles him and gets his temper to rise: he expresses his disgust at the way Americans have "dehumanized the adversary" and at the way Saddam Hussein was treated when he was caught (c'était absolument abject); he qualifies one of Dubya's pro-Sharon statements as "one of the most montrous lies ever uttered by a statesman"; and he says that "what is perhaps the most worrying" is that John Kerry has made almost no comments about the prisoner abuse story. (This — consensus — is "the worst risk for democracy in America".)

And certainly the Le Monde reporters' questions are meant to give the idea that the twin instances of soldiers committing torture ("yesterday in Algeria, today in Iraq") are one and the same. Except that: probably, Americans could — as in so many other subjects! — learn a lesson from France's new generation, which — obviously, so obviously — has advanced far beyond that mentality in the intervening years.

(The ¡No Pasarán! editors will take a deeper look into the file, and we may get back to you…)


Anonymous said...

The National Front (FN) candidate, Jean-Marie Le Pen, for the presidency of France in 2002 has been implicated in the commission of torture during his service as an elite French paratrooper in Algeria. Le Pen's FN party has managed to drag the French right, who currently govern at the national level, into finally making efforts towards improving the security situation for the French people in France. Whether one approves of Le Pen's or the FN's political agenda, whether one approves of either's influence upon the French political process, one must admit that a man very likely involved in torture of Arabs in Algeria is an enduring and prominent political figure in France.

Douglas said...

Indeed, anonymous, there'll be lots more about that this week if I can get to it.