Saturday, March 20, 2004


My translation of a painful report in Le Monde is up over at Watch:
"While the American leadership is compounding error upon error in Iraq, the Europeans and the French in particular are even stupider because they determine their stance only in reaction to Washington. They do not take Iraq and its inhabitants into account at all," says Fakhri Kareem, editor-in-chief of the newspaper al-Mada, trying to sum up popular sentiment. "Iraqis think France doubly betrayed them, first with Saddam, then with the American occupation. France cares only about its anti-American position. It is forgetting the Iraqis. Chirac and de Villepin must understand that no Iraqi finds their position courageous... What did France do to help Iraq free itself from the dictator and then to help Iraq regain its sovereignty? Nothing!"
As Mårten notes in his presentation, I found this originally through an essay by the intrepid Erik Svane, who points out that appears opposite an interview with the FM, "Dominique 'Who is a Man' Villepin™," as he's called these days. Writes Svane, "what's extraordinary is that the article by Rémy Ourdan completely contradicts (though one can feel that the reporter wrote this article grudgingly) the cartoon by Plantu and also the editorial line of the paper of record and of the French media, and that of the French government."

Two other noteworthy things: Mårten also points out that I wrote to him in an email that "even though it appeared in today's print edition, they've already taken the link to the story off their Web site and I can't find a direct link through the usual means." Svane doesn't link to the story either so I'm assuming he couldn't find it either but found it in the print edition. The only link I can find is to the archived version meaning that, on the date of its publication, it couldn't be found on Le Monde's Web site. If it weren't for Svane, I never would have seen it. How many other politically inconvenient articles have I missed this way? Le Monde does this on occasion: an internet chat with filmmaker Sa'ad Salman (which derided France and Europe's position on Iraq in violent terms) was quickly pulled after it first appeared and replaced with another, more ideologically acceptable one. Salman laughed about this when I interviewed him last summer. (See him talking on French TV: dialup/broadband).

Secondly, Svane observes that Ourdan was one of the French reporters fingered by whistle-blower Alain Hertoghe in his book for having written on more than one occasion that the taking of Baghdad would be a "21st Century Stalingrad." Hertoghe writes that some French journalists seemed ready "to fight to the last Baghdadi."

ALSO: See this little article over at LOTF.

Friday, March 19, 2004

journalism... ?

"'A lot of French journalists are shit,' Wady, the sculptor, observed one afternoon as we shared a narghile filled with apple-flavored tobacco. 'They come here and talk against the U.S. in a stupid way. They don’t care about the crimes of Saddam Hussein.' And it’s not only the French, noted Esam Pasha, a painter and translator for the U.S. military: 'European and Arab journalists talk to us, but they don’t care about our happiness in being liberated. They only want us to make anti-American comments.' Even a cabbie who took me to the Shabander one afternoon weighed in. 'Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabia TV, no good,' he said. 'They only show pictures of bombings and killings of Americans -- always how things are bad in Iraq, never how they are getting better.'

"Worse, I heard many stories at the Shabander about foreign correspondents staging news events to discredit the U.S. One young man introduced me to a Spanish photographer who, he later reported, had just finished posing an Iraqi woman in a nearby pile of rubble looking plaintively toward heaven, as if seeking deliverance from U.S. bombs. Rasim, the painter, claimed he witnessed Arab TV journalists pay idle Iraqis to light a car on fire and throw rocks to create an 'anti-American' demonstration. 'These journalists come here with their minds already made up,' he groused. 'They’re not interested in anything that contradicts their anti-American viewpoint.'"
Steven Vincent in this month's Reason. (Hat tip: the Web-majestic Erik Svane.)

Political Manipulation

Is the French government of Raffarin hyping the terror threat in order to scare French voters who go to the polls this weekend? That's the accusation leveled by François Hollande of the Socialist Party. In addition to publicizing a suspect letter from a Chechnyan fighter whose name was misspelled in the letter (see Douglas' 3/17 posting below), Raffarin recently held a meeting of high-level politicians to discuss the threat of terrorism. Hervé Morin, of the UDF, found the timing of the meeting--three days before elections--to be convenient.

Meanwhile, a recent poll indicates that Chirac is popular in France and abroad.

Europe's Middle East

A No-Pasarán exclusive! For the first time in English, here are insights into the French-German proposals for the Middle East to be presented at the G8 summit in opposition to Washington’s Greater Middle East plan. The following translation from Géopolitique (subscription required) reveals the mixture of good ideas, naiveté and self-serving machinations that the French and German governments are preparing for a new EU-Middle East alliance.

The French-German Plan for Security in the Middle East
(translated from Géopolitique)

Diplomats are preparing the European response to Washington’s “Greater Middle East” plan which is likely to be proposed during the G8 summit on Sea Island (U.S.) on June 8-10. But Jacques Chirac and Gerard Shroeder’s aides are already set to propose to other EU countries the adoption of a 7-page document entitled: “A Strategic Partnership for a Shared Future in the Middle East.” This plan, in our possession, may constitute the basis of Europe’s future, world-wide response at the next G8 meeting and will be adopted March 25 and 26 at the European Council. In the array of proposals, drafted before the Madrid attacks, France and Germany’s plan differs from the United States’ in several respects and most notably with respect to security. One fundamental difference in the European plan: the security plans will differ from one country to the next. This is far from the “Greater Middle East” stretching from Morocco to Afghanistan that has been envisioned by Washington.

According to the drafters, Europe plans “to intensify initiatives in order to create a closer dialogue within the framework of the PESD [Politique Européenne de Sécurité et Défense]; to pursue anti-terrorist and non-proliferation campaigns as well as fights against organized crime and illegal immigration; and to contemplate the revival of the Mediterranean Charter for Peace and Stability.”

Washington’s idea of involving NATO in these operations has left Brussels and Paris perplexed. In contrast, they, together with Germany, seek “to encourage and to cooperate in the examination by the Middle Eastern states of a regional, security architecture” that will handle “the prevention of conflicts.” This will include: the inviolability and protection of borders, the fight against terrorism and the trafficking of WMD, and the revival of discussions surrounding a WMD-free zone. The approaches with respect to the Mediterranean and the Gulf will be distinct, as will the cooperative frameworks: either the EU or NATO. “Information” seminars and “sensitivity awareness” campaigns for Middle Eastern countries may be conducted, the guidelines of which will be taken from the conflict prevention experiences of the EU in areas such as the Balkans and Africa.

Other differences of opinion emerge between the French-German approach and that of the Americans. For example, Paris and Berlin hope to implement a response to the “needs and aspiration of the region.” The goal is to avoid the stigmatization of Islam and to take into account national sentiments. Europe has “every interest in the positive development of the region,” but “the success of any initiative depends, first and foremost, upon the countries themselves.” The plan seeks to truly link Middle Eastern states with the EU in a common future, rather than imposing “democracy and good governance” à l’américaine. France and Germany therefore hope to propose, on the sidelines of the G8 Summit, “a separate meeting with the heads of state of the Middle East,” which would “symbolize the support of these countries” to the initiative. The focus will be on those countries involved in the Barcelona Process and the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Last but not least, the document emphasizes the “simultaneous revival” of the Middle East peace process, in contrast to Washington which has not made such a peace an integral part of its plan for the Greater Middle East. Chirac and Schroeder also insist upon the establishment of a “responsible and sovereign” government in Iraq. The German-French drafters believe that it is impossible to achieve any long-term success if the Middle East does not move closer to peace.

Thursday, March 18, 2004


Taiwan's President, Chen Shui-bian, finally realizes that which others have long known: France is a "problematic country." Meanwhile, "Chinese and French warships carried out a joint exercise Tuesday, marking the largest naval drill China has ever conducted with a foreign country." (via Spacewar). Perhaps the French and Chinese are using China's inmates as target practice.


Chirac kills two birds with one stone: He responds to France's problems with the Growth and Stability Pact while giving Aznar a farewell kick goodbye.

The Letter

Regarding the letter below, Mosvar Barayev is apprently this guy. However, the authors misspelled his first name, which is supposed to be Movsar. He was the leader of the Chechen group that took a Moscow theater audience hostage in 2002.

The letter was also received by Le Monde and Le Parisien. Authorities are now stating that the letter doesn't fit normal patterns and the police are openly skeptical, saying they've never heard of the group (feh!) and that Islamist terrorists don't usually announce the steps they intend to take. Le Monde's Piotr Smolar also says that the reference to Charles Martel is more reminiscent of far-right ideology.

Whatever the doubts of the police, the public is very much on the qui vive, as can be seen from the behavior of the delirious motorist Jonathan blogged below. To-night, the 8 o'clock nightly news on France 2 showed the Paris bomb squad blowing shit up all over town and dynamiting the tailgates of abandoned trucks. The Prime Minister's office is stepping up it's a security plan known as vigipirate (the name of which is a combination of vigilance and pirate, or "high-jacker" or "terrorist." Not obvious what an English equivalent would be... "operation vigirist"? There's a reason this sort of thing is rarely immitated.)

UPDATE: The Beeb reports that "a suspicious object on a railway line north of Paris hit rail services, including the Eurostar, but it turned out to be an oxygen canister. ¶ The bomb disposal experts who examined the object marked 'AZF, do not touch' dismissed the threat as a bad joke."

FURTHER UPDATE: [deleted: it was boring]

Red alert

In 2003, public debt reached €16,000 per French citizen: The state's finances have seriously deteriorated and the shortfall in Social Security is growing. The accrued deficit is now as high as €63.4 billion. Faltering growth will not bring things back into the black. Fees withheld have risen for the first time since 1999. [...] Since December 31, 2003, France has effectively no longer met the two Maastricht criteria that established a ceiling for public deficit at 3% of GDP and debt at 60%: the former has reached 4.1% and the latter, 63%. [...] Nevertheless, the deterioration of public finances is unprecedented. Since the 1974 oil shock, France has never been able to end a fiscal year with a budget surplus; it always spent more than it took from taxpayers. In 2003, it spent €273.8 billion for €239.8 billion in revenues, generating a record deficit of €56 billion. One fifth of spending is not covered.

2004 will not be the year of reversal: the forecasted deficit is €55.5 billion, which means that come the end of September, the administrations will be living on credit. The deficit is not due to investment, capitalizing on low interest rates. Only 10% of state expenditures are invested. [...]

The state isn't the only one in the red. In 2003, public corporations — health and unemployment insurance — watched their deficits explode, reaching €9.4 billion. Social security now has a discovery authorization of more than €30 million with the deposit insurance corporation [did I get that right? — D] In all, 43.9% of the wealth produced by the economy that is received in the form taxes and withholdings is not enough to cover the cost of services.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Bombs 'to split Spain from allies'

A document published months before national elections reveals al Qaeda planned to separate Spain from its allies by carrying out terror attacks. (Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan)


French Pedestrians

"A driver in the southern French city of Montpellier who tried to run down a pedestrian he believed was Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden on Tuesday was given a three-month suspended sentence."

--via Drudge

Poll Numbers

1/3 of French believe that the Iraqi people are worse off after the fall of Hussein (in contrast to Iraqis' own opinions)

30% view Muslims unfavorably

60% believe that the US is over-reacting to terrorism

37% view the US favorably

"Despite concerns about rising anti-Semitism in Europe, there are no indications that anti-Jewish sentiment has increased over the past decade. Favorable ratings of Jews are actually higher now in France, Germany and Russia than they were in 1991. Nonetheless, Jews are better liked in the U.S. than in Germany and Russia. As is the case with Americans, Europeans hold much more negative views of Muslims than of Jews."

--from the Pew Research Center

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Are they any safer?

TF1 news reports that "a letter signed 'Mosvar Barayev commando,' addressed to the prime minister, threatens France with attacks if the law on secularism which specifically forbids wearing the Islamic veil in public schools is not withdrawn. Here are the main elements."

'In the name of Allah, forgiving and merciful on behalf of the the servants of Allah, the Mighty and Wise to the servants of the French Republic (...), this message is addressed to the leader of the government, Mr. Raffarin:

'On 10 February 2004, a new height was reached in the war being waged against Islam by the Coalition with the passage of a law barring the hijab from grammar and high schools and public places by the Assembée nationale. (...) We had excluded you from a certain category among your infidel brethren because of your opposition to the unjust aggression of the Crusaders in Iraq but you yourselves have taken the decision to put your names on the list of the most dogged enemies of Islam. (...)

'We take France for an avowed enemy of Islam along with the rest of the Coalition and the Maghreban and Arab governments that collaborate with you and we intend to retaliate. With this hateful, discriminatory and anti-Muslim law, you have shown the whole world and all Muslims that you were well and truly on the side of the devil and we shall treat you as such until the Final Day unless you reverse your decision and comply with the will of Allah who is also your God.

'Know that we have succeeded in penetrating, and establishing ourselves on your soil, the same land in which Charles Martel and his troops defied us, land of pride and arrogance, people of wine and pork, of licentiousness and nudity (...)

'Our organization, though wounded, has been able to right itself, thanks be to Allah and even to become larger and master new technologies and secure massive recruitment of volunteers specifically for jihad, and Europe is a new land of jihad.

'France will be safe neither on its soil nor in its interests abroad (...).

'Present in France for some time but also very mobile, we were waiting for three sings before making ourselves known:
• The passage of the 10 February law constituted a first sign to us

• The signal clearly and explicitly given by Sheikh Ayman al-Zawahiri (
Osama bin Laden's second in Command. A February 24 audio recording attributed to him explicitly denounced France for having forbidden the wearing of the veil in public school, — Ed.)
'It has been forbidden to us to reveal the third sign but this is the one that will determine for us the moment when we shall act.

'Mr. Raffarin, know that what is promised to you is certain (...). We ask that you immediately withdraw your law on secularism (...). If you do not withdraw it immediately, we shall respond severely and with an intensity not seen before in your country since the acts of 1995. We ask Muslim men and women to avoid crowded places and to cling to Allah's moorings.'"

UK vs. Spain, France & Co.

The Foreign Office replies.


This is an old skeleton in France's closet yet it appears the MFA has no prepared response. It came up when the final subject was discussed during to-day's press conference. The matter elicited a pregnant reply:
President Kagamé has leveled extremely serious accusations against France, which he accuses of having participated in the Rwandan genocide. What is your initial reaction to these statements?

Spokesman: I have no reaction.


I was listening to RFI this morning, which covered the topics of Spain, Iraq, and Israel. RFI also broadcast part of a speech by Chirac yesterday in which he argued for an aggressive stance against terrorism combined with an understanding of the causes of frustration in the Arab world. Interestingly, neither RFI nor Chirac have given much attention to the Kurdish riots in northern Syria, in the towns of Hassakeh, Qamishli and Amouda. Le Monde notes that the riots broke out during a soccer game, after some Syrian Arabs marched with pictures of Saddam Hussein in order to provoke the Kurds. Over a dozen Kurds were killed (including 4 children) in the subsequent violence and police crackdown (the police fired bullets into the crowd). In addition, over 50 Kurds were arrested and around a dozen are to be expelled (exactly where is unclear). The Syrian government is promising an investigation, but it has already blamed "foreign, Kurdish elements."

Writes Le Monde:

"The Kurdish minority in Syria, which numbers 1.5 to 2 million people, suffers various forms of discrimination. Following a 1962 census that recorded ethnic and religious affiliation, 120,000 Kurds--which has become 250,000 to 300,000 today if population growth is taken into account--were stripped of Syrian citizenship. They have been deprived of the most basic civil rights."

Le Monde goes on to note that Syria launched an ethnic cleansing campaign in 1963, designed to rid Syrian land of non-Arab inhabitants.

Although Le Monde devoted an article to the subject, the Kurdish situation in Syria is getting little public attention. I can't find a single article on it in Al Jazeera (perhaps because that media outlet reflects traditional Arab biases against Kurds). Nonetheless, fifteen Kurds at the Kurdish Institute in Brussels have begun a hunger strike to protest the Syrian government's crackdown, and there have been protests in Berlin as well as Geneva.

Although Le Monde would never suggest this, the Financial Times provides some insight into the timing of the riots: "The civil unrest is the first for decades in the tightly controlled Ba'athist state and is a sign of growing discontent among Kurds, but also, some observers say, of a feeling among many Syrians that the regime can be challenged as it faces uncertain times after the defeat of the Ba'athist regime in Iraq and growing US pressure."

In your face, Zapatero!

The BBC reports on the results of a study (PDF, 249k/27 pp) — one the Beeb commissioned itself and which it calls "authoritative" — of Iraqi public opinion on the occupation and the future of Iraq:
An opinion poll carried out in Iraq will make good reading for US President George W Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The poll suggests that Iraqis are happier than they were before the invasion, optimistic about the future and opposed to violence.


It suggests that the reporting of the daily attacks on the occupying forces in Iraq could be obscuring another picture.

Seventy percent said that things were going well or quite well in their lives, while only 29% felt things were going bad.

And 56% said that things were better now than they were before the war.

Monday, March 15, 2004


A none-too-diplomatic de Villepin stated on RTL this morning that, in voting for the Socialist Party, "Spaniards have clearly opted for change and for the truth with respect to the attacks."

Can you imagine?!!

French forces nearly captured Bin Laden — perhaps several times
AP Paris Osama bin Laden narrowly escaped capture by French troops working with American forces in Afghanistan, perhaps several times, the head of France’s armed forces said Monday.
French soldiers are determined to capture the fugitive head of the al-Qaida network by the end of the year, Gen. Henri Bentegeat said Monday.
‘‘Our men were not very far,’’ Bentegeat told France’s Europe-1 radio station. ‘‘On several occasions, I even think that he slipped out of a net that was well closed.’’ I was saying

"'¡No pasarán!' was the message of those defending ballot-box democracy during the Spanish civil war. As the full horror of the Madrid atrocity unfolds, surely the time has come to unite against terrorism — the new fascism of the 21st century, wherever it takes place." — Rotherham MP Denis McShane in Thursday's Guardian, in case you missed it.

Who is Right?

Strange contradiction between The NY Times and Le Monde regarding the race between the Socialist and Popular Parties. According to the former:

"Before the bombings, Prime Minister José María Aznar's conservative Popular Party had a slim lead over the Socialist Party in its effort to stay in power for a third term."

Yet Le Monde writes:

"...before the Madrid attacks, the Popular Party was assured an easy victory against the Socialist Party."

So how big of an upset was the Socialist Party's win?

Sunday, March 14, 2004

keynote address: Sheikh Yassin

Tim Blair wonders in a recent post about the dubious suggestion by the Guardian that terrorism should be warded off by some sort of interfaith conference that could slake the anger of the Muslim world. Can they really be unaware that such conferences occur regularly and that they this isn't already happening? Window in Lebanon's entry for February 25 reads as follows:
For those who had doubts, the views that the radio station RFI (Radio France Internationale) holds on the Middle-East remain rather pronounced. The proof: the visit by Richard Labévière, world service editor in chief of the and editorialist for RFI, to study and documentation center, linked to Hezbollah, which contacted him so that he could participate in a conference on dialogue between Europe and the Islamic world. M. Labévière claims that it is important to converse with everyone, and not to be sectarian. This is very naïve. Accepting the invitation of a party that openly calls for the destruction of Israel is not discussion. It's taking sides. And this isn't the first time RFI has taken sides against Israel as a state.

Good reporter that he is, Mr. Labévière nevertheless got a scoop: "First off, I'd say that al-Qaeda no longer exists. At any rate, it's no longer an operational organization since September 11, 2001. That date was in a sense the result of the rise in power of an organization that is now no more than an empty shell, a kind of franchise, an ideological logo."

In a book hailed by the talking heads, Gilles Kepel, eminent Islam expert from the Center for International Research and Study [a.k.a. Sciences-Pô], also once ventured that Islamist terrorism was no longer a threat. Six months before September 11, 2001.
Do a search for Mr. LaBavure... sorry Labévière and you'll find he appears in all the wrong (read paranoid) places. Recently translated into Engish, his book, Dollars for Terror, was a boon to conspiracy theorists everywhere. Here's a Brazilian Web site accusing him of "base anti-Americanism." Since I once studied Portuguese for all of ten days, hold your applause while I try my hand at translating the first sentence:
Richard Labévière is an editorialist for Rádio França Ineternacional and a well-regarded journalist, however, it remains that his theses are always permeated with an anti-Americanism, which stands out and is similar the Brazilian kind, which bears the marks of primariness.
I'll appreciate pointers if I screwed this up.