Saturday, March 06, 2004

You forgot your turtle-neck!

Hi! I'm a horse's ass!
—Robert Harvey
I did say that France had been unlucky recently in the quality of people publicly associated with it. Here's yet more proof.

Surely, Yale professor Farid Laroussi's essay, "Why I became an American," was a painful moment for Le Monde's readers. Into the breach comes Stony Brook professor of Comparative "Studies" Robert Harvey, with his essay, "Why I became French" :
When Farid Laroussi brandished his "Why I became American" (Le Monde, 10 December 2003), without ever really explaining why he had become American, but rather to spit on the country where he obtained the degrees that have allowed him to take a position at an important private American university, I was outraged.
And this, from a man who is supposed to teach comparison!!? Pity the poor students at SUNY Stony Brook who have this doddering idiot inflicted on them. I found that Laroussi's incisive and deft language resisted translation, as is often the case with good writers. An immediate comparison reveals that Harvey is decidedly out of his depth (and if anyone fails to address his stated subject!... note that Harvey spends much of his essay, explaining not why he became French but rather his frustration with the conventional misuse of the word "American" to refer to US nationals).

Let's recall what Laroussi said about migrating to the US:
I chose the United States. It is moving to learn that you are offered a second chance without having to prove your hands are clean [i.e. “white”]. Neither my name, nor my professed religion or ethic origins have been an obstacle in this. The police leave me alone because here one is not subject to spot identity checks. My friends never feel it necessary to share a good Arab joke with me. ... I was already an American the minute one of my ancestors left his village on the edge of the Sahara, leaving behind him a world without possibilities.

Today, while there may always be things to be criticized, they are less decisive, less cutting, than suffering the judgment of more than five million of my former compatriots who, during the last presidential elections, told me by voting for the far-right candidate that they would never want me around.
How did Harvey miss that? The foul stench coming form his direction indicates that the "outrage" he felt was in seeing criticism of France, the object of his devotion and the instrument of his thick-witted vanity. Of those who saw Laroussi's essay, the ones more nearly approaching literacy understood that his French/Arab origins make his criticism of France all the more stinging. Harvey, who describes himself as a "privileged" white Christian and "international academic" (not a playboy), sees only an Arab doing what he thinks Arabs aren't supposed to do: criticize France and praise the United States. Pressed to respond, Harvey stumbles all over himself and, in their eagerness to print an American in praise of France, Le Monde's editors overlooked Harvey's embarrassing stupidity.

"Agreeing with Laroussi on many points," writes Harvey, "I prefer here to offer a few thoughts on my recent decision to 'become French.'" This, Harvey tells us, is because he wants "to continue participating in the public life of the two countries where I still principally practice my profession." (Which is comparing things, in case you've forgotten.)

Yet, having said this, Harvey doesn't feel he's achieved his appointed task (i.e. explaining why he's now French). He continues and reveals, perhaps unwittingly, the real reason:
At bottom, I don't believe a given individual is of a determined nationality from birth.
Which is as much to say that for many long years of anguish, Harvey could only be French when his head hit the pillow.
It remains that isolationism, protectionism, obese arrogance and the irascible theocratic reaction of the United States have become atavistic. In this country, which is nevertheless my own, the power does what it wishes. No discussion with it is possible. In my view, the US model is at once inexorable and intolerable.

....Ah! An American who hates himself: this is the peak of "anti-Americanism." Let's be clear: I am a US citizen; I have a great many reservations about the domestic and foreign policy of the United States; I don't much like the US mentality.
So, it's clear to those of us who might have thought that Harvey was a dork on Long Island who couldn't get tenure: he is in fact a post-national citizen of the world, one of the enlightened, the great and the good, dusting off American provincialism like so much dandruff. Let's just hope that he renews the prescription on his wire-frames in time for that Lars Von Trier retrospective...

...and that one day he reads this post after googling his own name

Thursday, March 04, 2004

¡socialismo sí!

Hola camaradas!

We have made some changes to the appearance of our blog. In bolshevik terms, of course, this is a matter of indifference. Yet we feel that, for our readers, nothing is too good.

We are none of us the best at Web design so if you encounter any problems viewing this blog, please avail yourselves of the comments function or email us through our respective blogs to let us know about these problems.

¡Vivan los héroes de las Brigadas Internacionales!

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Get To Work

Tonight, you've a chance to save a woman's life merely by wiggling your fingers about on a keyboard. An Iranian friend in Paris emails to say that he has received word that the execution of Ms. Mandana Nik-khou Monfared, 25, called "imminent" Amnesty on February 3, is now truly drawing near.

The word comes from among Iranian exiles in contact with Amnesty, who are asking concerned individuals to write to the Iranian authorities, asking for clemency. They say the Supreme Court has upheld her death sentence for the murder of her fiancé — barring a pardon, this can only be commuted if the victim's kin waive their right to retribution and accept blood money.

Amnesty also reports that last year, Mandana retracted the confession she reportedly gave police while in custody and insisted she was innocent, stating that it was her husband (whom she planned to leave for Masoud Khazi, the victim) who committed the crime. This January, Mandana's nine year-old son wrote an open letter to Ayatollah Shahrudi, head of Iran's judiciary, saying "We do not have a father and only have our mother. We ask you to let her come home to us... Our mother is innocent."

Only the French-language "urgent action" alert gives the addresses of those persons to whom pleas for Mandana's life should be addressed. They are

Judicial Authority:
His Excellency Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahrudi
Ministry of Justice, Park-e Shahr
Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
Telegrams: Head of Judiciary, Ministry of Justice, Tehran, Iran
Fax: +98 21 879 6671 (send messages, "care of Director of International Affairs, Judiciary")
Term of address: Your Excellency
Spritual Guide of the Islamic Republic of Iran:
His Excellency Ayatollah Sayed Ali Khamenei
The Presidency, Palestine Avenue
Azerbaijan Intersection
Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
Telegrams: Leader of the Islamic Republic, Tehran, Iran
(In the subject field, write "To the attention of His Excellency, Ayatollah al Udhma Khamenei, Qom")
Term of Address: Your Excellency,
President of the Islamic Republic of Iran
His Excellency Hojjatoleslam val Moslemin Sayed Mohammad Khatami
The Presidency, Palestine Avenue
Azerbaijan Intersection
Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
(please resend the message if it bounces)
Term of Address: Your Excellency
Send copies to:
Mr Mohammad Hassan Zia'i-Far
Secretary, Islamic Human Rights Commission
PO Box 13165-137
Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
Fax: +98 21 204 0541

and to the Iranian diplomatic representatives in your country.

For more information, please also see this matter, which may also require immediate action, though Amnesty's French language alert writes "after 23 February 2004, please check with your section about whether intervention is still necessary. Thank you."

They say each letter genuinely helps. Please write.

Monday, March 01, 2004


In recent weeks, France has been particularly unlucky: some ugly characters have come to the fore to greet the public and hey have not made the greatest of ambassadors.

In addition to Mr. IsraHeil, or Dieudonné, there was our friend Franck "boum!" Moulet. On Thursday, Libération told us (misspelling "Rikers" yet again) that Franck lives with his younger sister, has barely any belongings and earns his living doing odd jobs (packaging, pizza, handing out flyers and two years in a university library in Marseilles). He also "cries easily and sometimes his tears have nothing to do with America and prison. But he doesn't want the help of a psychiatrist. His family regrets this."

Worst of all, however, was the reemergence of Pascal Boniface, who published an unusually stupid essay in last Saturday's Le Monde. In responding to an earlier essay by Francis Fukuyama — who had argued that France's Arab minority has an influence over French public policy — Boniface demonstrates why audacity is sometimes a minor virtue, writing:
It is amusing to see an American criticize a country on the pretext that its foreign policy is supposedly influenced by the electoral weight of certain communities. Isn't this one of the characteristics of American foreign policy?
The fact that Boniface is insinuating that Jews control the United States isn't the only cause for upset. Close readers will notice that he is once again stepping on the very same land-mine that forced his resignation from the Socialist Party in 2003. In an internal memo on campaign strategy to Socialist leader François Hollande (which was later leaked to the press), Boniface wrote:
I am struck by the number of young beurs [i.e. Arabs] and French Muslims of all ages who claim to be on the left but who, due to the situation in the Middle East, say they won't vote for Jospin in the presidential election. An attitude toward the Middle East question that is perceived as unfair and, of course, one they think is yet again at the expense of the Arabs, demonstrates to them that Arab/Muslim community is not considered, if not rejected by the Socialist family. The situation in the Middle East and the timidity of the Socialists in condemning Israeli oppression encourages the alienation of Muslims in France, for which no one, Jew, Muslim or Pagan, can be happy. It is doubtless better to lose an election than one's soul. But, by putting the Israeli government and the Palestinians on equal footing, we're risking the loss of both. Is support for Sharon worth losing 2002?
When this memo is mentioned publically, Boniface makes oblique efforts to deny he ever wrote it but his opponents simply trot out the direct citation above. In August of 2001, Boniface also published an essay in the pages of Le Monde entitled "Letter to an Israeli friend" that read, in part, "By permitting too much of the Israeli government's impunity, France's Jewish community could end up the loser in the medium term. The Arab and/or Muslim community is surely less well organized but it seeks to be a counterweight and will fast outweigh the Jewish one in numbers, if this isn't already the case."

For having essentially told French Jews that they'd better sever ties with Israel or risk alienation, Boniface came in for a bit of a drubbing. Then Israeli ambassador to France, Elie Barnavi shot back with his own essay:
I can't tell what revolted me more about the "Letter to an Israeli friend" (Le Monde, 4 August, 2001), by Pascal Boniface. The insincerity of the title, which infuriatingly reminded me a pamphlet once published by Ibrahim Souss [former PLO Paris representative and author of the pamphlet Letter to a Jewish friend] ? The saccharine and unctuous tone which fails to disguise an implacable hostility? The gulf between the tonality of this text and the brutal one he committed for internal consumption by his party? The content, rich in ideological insinuations but politically vacuous? It was all of the above, probably.
Boniface demurred for 22 days before responding and when he did, the essence of his reply was that he found "unacceptable such intellectual terrorism that consisted in accusing any person of anti-Semitism that dares criticize the Israeli government, an accusation which ought, incidentally, to apply also to Israeli pacifists and to those French Jews who share this point of view."

The title of this response, "Are we allowed to criticize Israel?" lent itself to a book that Boniface published in April of last year (ranked 4,526 on Amazon, even now). Yet soon after this, things got too hot for Boniface and he was made to walk the plank, after a "friendly" luncheon on July 18, 2002. An article appearing that day in Libération (available for free here) revealed that in a note to François Hollande (ya think M. Hollande is simply turning these notes over to the press?...) Boniface wrote that "communitarianism has returned in force to the Socialist Party" (note that it was good old Tariq Ramadan who sparked so much controversy by accusing France's Jewish philosophers of "communautarisme"...) and that certain "friends of Israel" were to blame for his demise, particularly former Finance minister Dominique Strauss-Khan, "When I'm being violently attacked by the Jewish far right, seeing DSK throw me to the wolves among a hostile crowd [...] and call me a 'wretch' is troubling," wrote Boniface. It was deputy mayor of Paris and friend to Lionel Jospin Pierre Schapira who was among the first to point out that "it's rather outrageous of him to criticize communitarianism when he's the one who brought out the idea with his note to Hollande."

Sunday, February 29, 2004

Hi there, Clowns

Despite how things may appear, there are, in fact, three of us working on this blog. It's just that I've been busy. Sorry to have so been derelict in my duties, folks.

Here's an update on the Dieudonné matter. At W's request, I'm posting a translation of an open letter to Dieudonné that appeared in Libération last Monday. It's written by Elie Semoun who was once Dieudo's sidekick. (Oh... and he's Jewish.)

Letter to Dieudonné, caught up in controversy
Hi there, clown

Monday 23 February 2004

Hi there, clown, it's the Jew "converted to show-biz" writing to you... I'm just writing to say that I like you a lot and it hurts to see you like this. Not because you're a so-called victim, censored by a lobby of slave-owning ancestors, because you've got no more work, no more audience and no more money (that, I can't believe). But because you are no longer the one I used to know and with whom I laughed more than I ever had with anyone else.

Back then, I didn't even know you were bi-racial and I'd forgotten that I was Jewish. And that's of no more importance than if I were Belgian or Breton.

You and me, we didn't give a damn for the whole world, least of all ourselves. People loved that. Among the anti-racists, we were the best. I continue to carry the torch for our humor, even if sometimes I play the nightingale for the young ladies!

This world still scares me as much as it used to and we both dislike the same things. We both laugh at the same idiots. My characters are often yours and vice-versa. I think humor is the best way to talk about what's real in life.

But that's why I feel like I've been betrayed. You're not the same Dieudo. You've had funnier days... you seem to want to remake "Cohen et Bokassa" but you've either forgotten the script or the second character.

I can see you jumping around like a bad minstrel in a two-penny circus, applauded by people who are out of view, lit only by the foot lamps. I see some pretty dodgy guys... some have yarmulkes or keffiyehs. I see one who brought his daughter. He's got one eye and he's rubbing his hands together.

I don't want to get involved in the politics. You're worse at that than I am but talent doesn't excuse everything and some little words start a fire that nobody — except for a few mad men, but not you, I hope — would want to see go out.

I hope that I'll see you again doing what you know how to do best.

I'm writing from the island of Réunion, an exemplary land of miscegenation. That's why it's called Réunion, anyhow, and they all seem to get on well. Makes you wonder, right?

Alright, man. Take care.

ELIE SEMOUN is a comedian.

Note that, though Dieudonné was banned from the Olympia theater, Amazon is offering a DVD of Elie Semoun's performances there. What Semoun told Le Parisien was far less conciliatory than what he's written above. Semoun apparently said:
Before he turned into a fraud, [Dieudonné] made me laugh. When we were a duo, we laughed about everything, the Jews, the blacks the Arabs, but we did it with finesse and smarts. To-day, he's reaping the consequences of his attitude. [...] I don't know if he's aware of what he's provoking but I do know that if today, some people can be unabashedly anti-Semitic, he's contributing to that. Dieudonné exists only through provocation! Right now, he's drawing the whole world into it: he's talking about a plot against him, playing the martyr, but I guarantee you that in fact he is very happy. This whole business has put his name in the papers and serves his own interests.