Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Always Being "Lucide" Means Never Having to Say "Merci"

Or, How the French Mindset Is Conditioned to Deal with Unsavory Subjects Such as the Ivory Coast

Part of the psychological benefits (if such is the appropriate word), consciously or subconsciously, of always being lucide, i.e., always being right, is never having to say "Thank you" (or "Sorry", for that matter).

So when America votes with the other members of the United Nations Security Council to put an embargo on the sale of weapons to the Ivory Coast (i.e., when it is doing France a favor), do not think that Paris will be thanking Washington, either for its gesture or for simply refraining from doing a tit-for-tat on France's 2003 vow to veto any UN measure as to action on Iraq.

And when a top American soldier, the deputy commander of the U.S. European Command, comes sharply out in favor of France's jets wiping out Ivory Coast's entire air force ("We strongly believe that the French took exactly the right action", said General Charles Wald), do not expect the slightest gesture of remerciement.

No, of course not. It is only common sense, it is only proof of lucidité on the part of the Americans (however little they have of that or however little they make use of it) that they would follow in the sensible footsteps of the specialists in humanitarianism, rationality, tolerance, solidarity, and wisdom.

This is also why the Ivory Coast footage (thanks to LGF and Grégoire) will not be played up (or even shown) on French TV. When the French media spent days, weeks, months playing up the Abu Ghraib snapshots, that was for a good reason. (To demonstrate to all the reality of the unbelievable callousness of America's leaders.) Conversely, when they hardly mention the shooting of civilians in Africa, it is because it would be too much of a shame if France's visionary humanitarians and their promising (I almost wrote "prophetic") vision of an equal society and a peaceful world were allowed a setback because of something (that in the final analysis is) inconsequential.

The New York Post commented as follows:

so far, the closest thing to WMDs that's been found is . . . chocolate. (It can lead to deadly obesity, n'est-ce pas?)

Which raises a question: Did that cowboy, Jacques Chirac, fear President Laurent Gbagbo's forces would attack Paris?

… The irony in the strike by the French, who criticized President Bush's war against a real threat in Iraq, is, of course, hilarious.

Oyster puts it less diplomatically:
If the French condemn us for Iraq saying that Saddam was not an imminent threat to the US then what exactly is their excuse for this crap?  Were these people a direct threat to Paris?
Now, here comes the funny part…

The French do not have to answer these questions — because the issue has already started to be deflected.

Any time I start mentioning the Ivory Coast situation to French people I know, I hardly have the time to finish my sentence before they start interrupting me: "Oh, but that has nothing to do with Iraq", "Ce n'est pas du tout la même chose", "But France used to own the place, c'est normal that they should be there", "It used to be a French colony, vous savez", "What do you think the place would be like if we weren't there!? Hein?!" etc, etc, etc (not to mention the downright ugly comments of a racist nature)…

While I was watching the Radio Côte d'Ivoire news footage, the phone rang. After a few moments, the demoiselle asked what the noise in the background was…

"Oh, I am watching the news from the Ivory Coast…" I answered laconically. (The demoiselle is a cute long-legged blonde, so I didn't feel this was the right time to get into an argument.) Just then, the shooting — and the screaming — started.

"Mais qu'est-ce qui se passe?…"

"Well, uh… Not much… just some French soldiers who seem to be shooting on the crowd…"

Her attitude changed faster than you can say auto-congratulatoire.

"Comment?! Comment peux-tu regarder de la pareille propagande!? How can you watch such base propaganda?!" After that, I could not get a word in. It was all fake, exaggerrated, or bogus. And this, although she knew hardly anything about the story (other than what had been in the French news, at least — more of that, later). And this, although she is one to always tell people to put into doubt the reporting of the American press. Needless to say, she refused to let me email her the link for her to take a look at the footage itself…

In other conversations, I have gotten replies ranging from "Well, the crowd was threatening" (or "the soldiers probably thought the mob was armed") to "We don't know the whole story". (Strange, again, how the use of these "deeper truths" is always reserved for the French — or, in America, for the liberals — and never for Dubya, for the conservatives, for the American war in the Middle East, etc, etc, etc.)

Indeed, this is from a nation of intellectuals who like nothing better to put into question all things American, from the real reason for their presence in Iraq to the real meaning of the Normandy landings in World War II through the credibility of American journalism. In cases like that, we rarely hear, "Oh, but it is too early to make a judgment" or "We will have to wait a few years for History to decide". (I have said it before, and I will say it again — all this posturing and relativising is profoundly and inherently self-serving.)

As for the official media…

First of all, we get stories such as the one from Le Figaro in which we learn that "never has the French army been so dangerously implicated". Entitled "14,000 Frenchmen Taken Hostage" Jean-Louis Tremblais tells us about the Ivory Coast's "extremists" and "professional riotors" engaged in "pure racism", adding that "with such protagonists, everything is possible, hélas…"

Good thing they aren't "activists" and "insurrectionists" like the terrorists — sorry, les résistants — in the Middle East… Yup, them Ivory Coast thugs are far more dangerous and have far less claim to being nationalists than them Yemeni and Syrian "freedom fighters" setting off bombs in Iraq…

Meanwhile, pundit Alain-Gérard Slama opines in a reassuring tone:

If it is true that the [Ivory Coast] affair has been badly managed, it is certainly not be an excess of macchiavelism. On the contrary, it is an excess of trust in the power of the rule of law. … the efforts of the Elysée to help solve the country's renewed ethnic conflict had a humanitarian justification. Those inititatives were based on a lucid [there's that word again!] premonition [there's that inherent Gallic wisdom again] of the massacres to come … All that is crystal-clear and juridically impeccable. [I.e., don't even think of seeing things in a different light, chers lecteurs et felleau citoyens…]

The only, but also the vast, weakness that one can reproach [the French government] for is to have exercised angelism in its [intervention]. …

And you bemoan Dubya for saying Americans are fundamentally good, Monsieur Slama, and for believing in good and evil?!

But hopefully, the reader of this website can start seeing the extent to which this mindset is/becomes a vicious circle, where the media, the citizenry, and the ruling classes of a nation feed each other constantly in self-serving opinions; how they are (or seem to be) conditioned to immediately react to dissent (through mockery, castigation, or dismissal such as "how can you believe such propaganda?" — which is even more powerful for a French(wo)man than for an outsider like me — along with "Eh bien, if you do not like it here [or, if you like l'Amérique so much], maybe you should leave"); and of course how this will (or at least, can) go on for generations… (Children growing up among citizens, members of the media, and leaders lionizing French humanism and complaining of foreign propaganda become citizens and, for some, members of the media and/or leaders…) Now, do you see why I have written that it doesn't make much sense to argue?…

But wait, Slama's column isn't over yet:

In order to intervene without provoking disasters, it is necessary to have a deep knowledge of men and the terrain. In June 1990, at La Baule, François Mitterrand expressed the wish to link economic aid to the assisted countries' efforts to democratize; he only succeeded in encouraging a chain reaction in coups d'état. For the past year, the George W. Bush team has been making the world pay a very heavy price for its unfathomable ignorance of Iraqi society.
No "lucid premonition" (about WMDs or the future activities, planned or not, of Saddam Hussein), here, much less "angelism" or "humanitarian justifications" or "trust in the power of the rule of law" (meaning, not the type of international law that allows psychopathic dictators to remain in place, obviously, but a systems that keeps a country's leaders answerable to the population and the laws passed by their duly-elected representatives)…

But what is Dubya — and what is America — doing in a column about France and the Ivory Coast in the first place?

Why must you even ask that? We knew this one was coming, didn't we?…

Do you remember how the French tried to cast the blame for the Haiti episode on Uncle Sam… And how they tried to cast the blame for Kofigate (!!!) on Washington … And how they tried to cast the blame for the failure to secure the release of their hostages on America (and don't expect them to thank the Pentagon, either, for securing the release of Malbrunot and Chesnot's Syrian driver)…

Well, guess what… That's right, the rumor mill has started whispering that the perfidious actor behind the Ivory Coast unrest is, directly or indirectly, Uncle Sam… (Well, why not?)

Edwy Plenel writes in Le Monde 2 that

It turns out today, that, hélas, an African socialist, Laurent Gbagbo, converted to the same pentecoastal illuminations that throw American politics into a panic and turn them to extremism, to radicalize [the] chimera [of Ivoirité (Ivorianness) or Ivory Coast nationalism]
— the "alas" meaning of course, how could a fellow socialist have fallen so low, as to embrace something so basely American?! Something both so basely American and so baseless rightist as the "poison" of "narrow identities, both closed and invented, exacerbated and hysterical identities, dangerous because ill-induced".

But it gets better. In Metro, a "journalist-writer" named Alain Chevalérias writes ominously that the current mess in Ivory Coast…

is not a coincidence. Starting on November 4, it erupted on [dramatic pause] the day after the proclamation of the victory of George W. Bush [!!]. Last June, as it happens, Gbagbo made a one-week private trip to Washington. … We do not think that Washington is behind Gbagbo, but, along with his wife Simone and his chaplain, "the Prophet Koré Moses", we know that they are in the hands of fanatic Protestant networks, extremely active in Africa and powerful in the United States. … The madmen of God [i.e., the religious fanatics] in the Star-Spangled-banner vein may not be the only ones implicated …
And Chevalérias goes on to invoke a stock market trader of …British origin! And to speak of the willingness to risk a blood-bath for cocoa.

Oh. So it's not only treacherous America's fault. It's a conspiracy… A conspiracy involving the greedy Americans, the war-mongering Anglo-Saxons, and the Protestant fanatics. Against the humanistic, tolerant, reasonable, and peace-loving Frenchmen (as well as, presumably, the world-wise Catholics).

Well… why didn't you say so in the first place…?

(…And no wonder they never say "Merci"… or "Sorry"…)

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