Friday, April 09, 2004

Smoke gets in your eyes

Rémy Ourdan continues his passage through Baghdad's wistful thinking classes with this report on an aging, chronically depressed Baghdadi pianist who's now planning to emigrate to the US. Samir Peter plays Gershwin for Americans and Brel for the French. He is currently being followed around by BBC documentary filmmaker Sean McAllister. Peter is also old enough to remember the glittering 1960s Baghdad under president Abd al-Salam Aref (1963-1968): "It was fabulous. There were cabarets. The Moulin rouge, The Embassy. Some staged revues from Paris and Las Vegas with their splendid nude dancers. Baghdadi couples went to see them. You could invite your fiancée. When I see Baghdad to-day, these ignorant types and veiled girls..."

Though he may be melancholy and particularly unhappy with the present state of Iraq, Peter says he is "delighted" with the fall of Saddam which is the "most important part" of this American episode. Ourdan reproduces generous portions of Peter's statements about Saddam:
This man was the nightmare of an entire people. He insulted, raped and martyred our country. He killed. He rewrote history. He tried to teach us to love war. He taught our children to hate others and to hate art. He taught them to live only by his so-called "values," those of a pathetic dope and a criminal. ... Saddam became president of Iraq by killing all his friends and then he immediately launched a war. This man worshiped the idea of war. You could read the joy and excitement in his eyes when he brandished a rifle. I was able to avoid the call-up for a long time because I taught at the music school. But, one morning, when I was returning from a party, still drunk, three men knocked on my door. They took me away and forced me to sign a document stating that I was a "volunteer" to fight Iran. After two weeks of training at shooting a Kalashnikov, I found myself on the front, in a trench near Basra.

"We were board stiff in the trenches. So I spent my time sharpening a hunting knife that I'd brought with me, a knife that over the days became sharper than a razor. One night, I was on guard duty. I was thinking about my lot, me, the music professor, the resident pianist for the Sheraton hotel chain, who now found himself in the mud. I was sad. I fell asleep. I had a dream, a nightmare, in which Jesus came toward me. I woke with a start. The moon was shining. I saw some Iranians who must have snuck in through the no man's land while I was asleep, at the end of the trench. I wanted to grab my rifle but it had disappeared in the mud. I grabbed my knife and stood facing them, shouting like a madman. One of them ran off. The other jumped on me. We fought. I ended up finding his throat. I slit it. His blood squirted out on my face. Then he agonized, coughing with a hoarse breath.
Ourdan writes: "Samir is haunted by the face of this Iranian fighter, 'a handsome youth, with a well-trimmed beard.' He will never forgive Saddam Hussein for having made him into a man capable of killing another, even if during an honorable battle. 'I was demobilized soon afterward. A bullet had hit me in the face. And I've been trying to leave Iraq ever since I got back.'" But Peter's luck has been rotten.
I was supposed to get my first American visa in 1990: Saddam invaded Kuwait. Then, two of my daughters married Americans of Iraqi origin in Jordan but, every time I planned to leave, there was a problem. Their mother, my ex-wife, went to live in the United States, but not me. After each marriage, I was interrogated by the secret police when I returned to Baghdad. Why were my daughters marrying Americans? Was I a CIA spy? I was supposed to get my second American visa in 2001: I arrived at the American embassy in Jordan the day after September 11. All the visas were canceled: thanks, bin Laden. That time, I was detained and tortured for 12 days when I got back to Baghdad...
Since he couldn't get out, Peter lived through the two American wars.
I was terrified, especially during the first war. I'll always remember the first night. The planes arrived. I can still hear the sound of these planes. I was very scared but I didn't want my wife to know. And then, boom! The bombs. My wife, who is very pious, prayed the whole night. But I sat on the bed and drank and drank and drank. During the weeks of the American bombing, I think I drank at least 200 bottles of whisky and wine... Then, during the last war, I switched to Valium and whisky, too. The worst part was the ground war, the entrance of the American army into Baghdad. The tanks came, the machine gunners shot up houses, cars, passersby. I was surprised, while taking a bath, by a shell that fell on the roof of my house. There was shooting everywhere. I stayed lying on the bathroom floor for seven hours, naked, wrapped in a towel. I really thought my heart might give out... At last, I rejoiced: it was the end of Saddam. The end of Saddam!
In a few days, Peter is to receive one of his daughters and his American grandchildren who have never seen the land of their origins. Peter is overjoyed that they are coming but worries about leaving behind two other children, a son and a daughter who plan to join him in San Diego.
Their arrival worries me. Right now, Baghdad is only violence, kidnapping and banditry. I tried to dissuade them from making this trip but my daughter wants her children to see Iraq at least once in their lives. ... How is America? Do you think a 55 year-old Iraqi pianist has any chance of finding work? Of success? ... I gave the scores for all these ballads to the women I wrote them for but I think I remember almost all of them. Maybe I could record an album? Or a Jazz album? Or be an actor in Hollywood?
Peter had two names at the music school, "the skirt chaser," given him by the ballet teacher, and "Tom Cruise," because of the tinted aviator sunglasses that he's never without. Ourdan writes:
In the evenings, Samir Peter often disappears into a long silence. An abyss of silence. Who or what is he thinking of? Of Saddam, the Iranian soldier, of the women loved and lost? Of this moth-eaten corner cubbyhole that the al-Hamra hotel gives him and where he spends his cavernous nights? He says simply, with a very solemn air, that he's doing "very, very badly."

Then, a pretty foreign women appears at the corner of the stair case. So his eye perks up. Then, a glass of wine in his hand, a cigarette stuck between his lips, he gets back behind his piano. He plays. He sings. "Because of you... there's a song in my heart...." A song in his heart, Samir forgets everything. He forgets Saddam and the Iranian soldier. He forgets the past and the future, when he has a piano and a woman.

The Proper Perspective

Over at LOTF, I posted a translation of the latest Baghdad dispatch from Le Monde's Rémy Ourdan. You'll remember the astonishment that accompanied another of his recent articles.

I get the feeling Ourdan may be undergoing something of a transformation. This article is even less equivocal in transcribing Baghdadi feelings about the fall of Saddam. And given the current strife, it makes for a somewhat nourishing read:
"When I look at all these faces in my photographs after I've got home, I realize that something has changed..." He looks around the room, all the men sitting on benches, discussing, complaining, laughing.

"The difference is joy," says Nahid. "Before the faces were closed and sad ; today they are open and joyous." The funniest part is that even those who can't stop cursing and predicting a "catastrophe," those who say "it was better before," reveal in Najid's photos a shining face that they did not show a year ago.

"Every Friday, it's a shouting match. Conversations among friends are at once greater and more difficult than before. We've lost our only common ground: life under the dictatorship," says Zuher Radwan. A political analyst and literary critic of Palestinian origin, Zuher, though an Arab nationalist opposed to the United States, admitted in 2003 that he wanted war. "I was right," he said. "The change is wonderful. It was well worth a war..." And Zuher repeats the argument of all his fellow Iraqis who favored the American intervention. "Alone, the Iraqis would never have been able to topple Saddam Hussein."
This makes me think of reconsidering my post below on having the jitters. If a Palestinian pan-Arabist in Baghdad finds it so easy to be optimistic, even in this climate, should I lose heart so soon?

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Panic on the streets of...

According to the BBC, this evening the CIA warned French authorities of a bomb threat with actionable details: the Company understood an attack might occur between 7:30 and 8:30 pm. French authorities halted traffic on the RER A (red) line and cleared a few stations, stranding 40 - 50,000 passagers. The alert was lifted and traffic normal circulation has resumed. The tip reportedly came from a "Spanish CIA agent" who transmitted this information to the DST.

Moment of Truth

In addition to this ghastly development, any number of horror stories and nightmares are playing themselves out in Iraq. We haven't had much to say about this and perhaps with good reason. My guarded optimism is growing decidedly more defensive.

I'd be lying if I said I couldn't hear my knees knocking together but, as Andrew Sullivan said, "the reality is so opaque and events so fluid that it's hard to know what to say." The only reaction I feel confident in expressing at the moment is that we cannot escape our problems: we must face them. It may sting now, but not half so much as it will if we withdraw. The priceless Shia Pundit comments: "There is a point at which we will unambiguously have fallen from the grace of our own self-interest, let alone Iraq's (however the two are bound). Muqtada Sadr has taken refuge in Najaf today and he will do his utmost to try and make us cross that line."

Keep your fingers crossed for the Arba'in on Sunday: let's hope it's less bloody than the Ashura. Remember Democracy, Whisky, Sexy? Seems far off now. Spencer Ackerman quotes the LA Times as having reported the following:
Some Najaf residents expressed disgust at Sadr's battle with the U.S. "We can hardly believe that we finally got rid of Saddam after 35 years and could start a new life, and now with this new crisis of Moqtada, everything that we have tried to build is collapsing," said Abu Mustapha, an agricultural engineer.
If you're looking for some good news, that dear soul AYS tells us that
some districts here in Basra came to a great idea, the Sheiks of many tribes held a meeting and decided to sign on papers promising that any person dares to breach the peace in their areas will be arrested or killed immediately and no one will protect him even if he was one of their tribes.. this meeting relieved the people so much…

Rwanda Revisted

Stephen Smith
This post should have come much earlier and for that I'm sorry. I meant to get to it last night but life prevented this.

Tonight, Erik flew in from Paris for a stopover on his way to Texas where he's pursuing a research project and he, Jonathan and I met at the Cedar Tavern for a — hic! — ¡No Pasarán! brain storming session. Now I'm home again and have had a moment to work on this post.

Today marks tenth anniversary of the first full day of slaughter in the Rwandan genocide. There have been a number of astounding revelations about French and Rwandan rebel involvement in the genocide. To cover them, Le Monde let loose its Africa specialist, Connecticut-born reporter Stephen Smith (above right). In a matter of days, his reporting set off a chain of international events and discoveries that have profoundly altered the state of public knowledge on the genocide and I thought I'd do the world a favor by putting them all in one place.

The world already knows that, since 1959, Rwanda's Tutsi minority had been the subject of periodic pogroms on the part of the country's Hutu majority. On 04.06.94, the private jet belonging to then Rwandan president Juvénal Habyarimana, a Falcon 50, was shot down, touching off in a matter of hours the most intense genocide ever recorded: almost a million people were killed in 100 days.

Recent developments began on March 9 when Le Monde published excerpts of the final 220-page report by the crusading anti-terror investigating magistrate Jean-Louis Bruguière following his six-year investigation in the airplane crash of Habyarimana's plane at the request of French nationals also killed in the crash. A firestorm of recrimination and scandal has followed the publication of this article.

Bruguière's report names former rebel leader and current Rwandan president Paul Kagamé is the main organizer of the attack and puts him at the top of a list of high-ranking rebel accomplices, members of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (FPR).

Bruguière's investigation collected hundreds of accounts, filed dozens of letters rogatory, required numerous missions abroad in collaboration with other investigators and included testimony from anonymous FPR dissidents under witness protection, of which one was a member of the "network commando," a clandestine group allegedly under Kagamé's direct control and allegedly responsible for carrying out the assassination.

This witness explained a hypothesis according to which Tutsi rebels sacrificed Rwanda's "interior Tutsis" (Tutsis who remained in Rwanda following the end of minority Tutsi rule in 1959) by provoking the Hutu into killing them so that the rebels could exploit the situation by seizing power: "Paul Kagamé had little care for the interior Tutsis who were almost assimilated to the Hutu in his eyes," says captain Abdul Ruzibiza. "The interior Tutsis were potential enemies that had to be eliminated, just like the Hutus, in order to take power, Paul Kagamé's main objective." Though under protection, Le Monde's sources claim Ruzibiza has received death threats.

Continuing Reading "Rwanda Revisited"...

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Our, No, Their Man in Port-au-Prince

In its editorial on the drug antics of Haiti's former president (Aristide the Godfather), Le Monde cannot resist taking a potshot at Uncle Sam.
For a long time, the United States closed its eyes, showing consideration for he who had become its man in Port-au-Prince.
I have nothing against detractors taking on Washington. However, you might expect the critics to show some consistency rather than double standards. You wouldn't guess it from this extract, but the policies of both America and France are described extensively in the editorial. Yet, America alone bears the brunt of the paper's finger-wagging and head-shaking.

Given the French tendency to always laud the ties between France and the francophone countries, isn't it kind of odd that les Français should not make more out of Jean-Bertrand Aristide's ties to Paris? And concerning the cynical "our men in (place)" observation, isn't it strange, also, that the newspaper of reference should adopt a much softer attitude (not to call it entirely conciliatory towards the powers that be in Paris) about, say, France's man in Ivory Coast. (Not to speak of this fellow.)

Free-Marketers Enter Raffarin Government

According to Le Monde's Jean-Baptiste de Montvalon, a number of free-marketers in the Alain Madelin vein have entered the new government of Jean-Pierre Raffarin. (In France, "libéral" means exactly the opposite of "liberal" in the U.S.)

antifascisme oblige

Some time ago, the great Norm pointed out that the higest ranked page on Google under the search "Jew" is an anti-Semitic site. At his suggestion, we are — albeit belatedly — posting a link to another page related to Jews in order to bring this one up to first place (currently 3rd).

Norm is periodically updating his list of "jooglers."

On another note: stay tuned to-night for a post on the tenth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide: a round up of lots of information relative to France.

Reform Is Perceived as a Universal Threat in France

John Vinocur is back for the second installment of his new Politicus column in the International Herald Tribune. He writes that France and Germany find reform doesn't get any easier.
Is it possible for France and Germany to reform — despite the word's new certification as both terrifying and a vote-loser — and stop what is seen in some places as their decline as poles of allegiance and emulation in Europe?

The presumptive answer is mostly yes, say the countries' most aggressive heralds of decline, depending on the price in comfort the two societies and their politicians are willing to pay. But as President Jacques Chirac of France acknowledged last week (he could have been speaking for Germany, too), a national undertaking that requires leaving a cozy, risk-averse, statist couch for a more open, more competitive, more growth-oriented world is a very awkward business.

In Chirac's case, this statement followed a sharp defeat in regional elections that was mostly a protest vote against his government's tentative jabs at reducing the enormous cost of the French public sector's overhead. …

All [that is proposed under the r-word] is far, very far, from the kind of grand, bold politics and dramatic change that is being demanded by the German and French critics who describe their countries as being locked in decline.

This week, the fastest-rising book on the main German nonfiction best-seller list, at No. 5, is called, in rough translation, Germany, the Decline of a Superstar [by] Gabor Steingart … It follows a spate of books in France last fall that focused on the argument that the country was a diminishing force in Europe. Now, Nicolas Baverez, the author of the most notable of the French books, France in Free Fall, has returned to his theme with new intensity in two major articles …

Baverez (La France qui Tombe), an economist, historian and lawyer, who is sometimes described as a French nationalist, attacked Chirac in time for the elections for avoiding the most urgent reforms, and in a long, separate article in the current issue of the review Commentaire said the failure of the French-German couple signified the eventual "takeover" of the EU by Britain.

Baverez believes Germany's situation is a more positive one than that of France, an idea that Steingart — who has not read Baverez — shares to the extent he thinks the critical role of the press in Germany is far stronger.

The essence of France's current negative exceptionalism, Baverez contended in a recent telephone conversation, was in its homogeneity. That meant "a political class, left or right, that is completely fused with the highest level of the bureaucratic establishment. It's a total monopoly and it extends to culture and the media."

Extrapolating from Baverez's view, this signified that most change in France was perceived as a universal and indiscriminate threat because virtually everyone's self-interest, through unions, state benefits and the vast public sector, was wired into the system. …
And that, malheureusement, includes the nominatively independent press.

Monday, April 05, 2004

Le Monde to Viggo: Make No More Films in the Arabian Desert (Unless It Is an Anti-Bush Political Statement)

Did I leave anything out? The French just can't keep themselves from giving other nationals lessons, especially Americans. Even in their film reviews, they have to vent their sourness. Reviewing Hidalgo for Le Monde, Florence Colombani (who is she? Jean-Marie's daughter? the newspaper director's wife?) writes:
Cruelly deprived of any political message, but filled with clichés (the taste of liberty for the American, perseverance and cunning for the Arabs), Joe Johnston's film would probably have benefitted, in the current context, from taking place in another region of the world.
Excuse me? Hollywood should refrain from making movies in (or concerning) the Middle East? Until the last G.I. leaves Iraq? (I suppose because every American citizen should feel a black veil of shame over his or her shoulders? At least until someone lording over them naturally — like Florence Colombani — tells them they have been punished enough and it's alright to lift their heads again.) And Viggo Mortensen and Omar Sharif should refuse to accept a role unless it is to make a political message? Really? Do we have enough things under Florence's control yet?

What should the political message have been? I wonder? Oh yes, I get it. The American should have been ashamed of his country and leadership, while someone like a Le Monde journalist or intern should have dazzled everybody with her humanitarianism, her lucidity, her militancy, and her boundless love for equality and human rights. Wow. I can't wait to read the screenplay.

Lire la version française

Desde la caverna neoliberal

A warm welcome to readers from la caverna neoliberal, especially to the reader who thinks that the image of Che in our banner is 'cojonuda.' Just a note: s/he says: Me la voy a guardar para ponerla de firma en mis correos adoctrinantes. If you do, please include a link to our blog, muchas gracias.


kind of an AFP bulletin is this?
Bourse-Ams Don't be left out From Elinor Cabrera '' To Lima '' An associate of yours has set
AFP | 05.04.04 | 19h01

you up on a romantic appointment with someone. Click here to accept the invitation: ].ª¹gain de 0,9% à 23,85 €.La compagnie aérienne KLM, qui a annoncé des chiffres de trafic positifs pour mars, a clôturé en progression de 2,7% à 17,45 €. L'offre publique d'échange d'Air France sur KLM s'est ouverte ce lundi.

Who to Blame in the Haiti crisis?

Les Américains, bien sûr! (Why do you even bother to ask?) Underneath his How Jean-Bertrand Aristide presided over Haiti's drug traffic, Jean-Michel Caroit has a box entitled In Port-au-Prince, "everybody knew" (scroll to bottom) and ending with what seems to be his answer to the frank speech of a former American ambassador (bold letters throughout in the print version). Good thing, by the way, that French journalists know they're not supposed to allow American officials to get away with any comment, without adding some sort of wry commentary. They didn't do this for Saddam and his henchmen in Iraq, of course, but that's unimportant.

"'Everybody knew about it', a diplomat confirms. Everybody, and first among them, the Americans. Why didn't they use this case against Jean-Bertrand Aristide, as they did against Manuel Noriega, the former Panamian president rotting in a Miami prison since 1989?"

Far more important than Haiti's drug trafficking, or its poverty, or any of its other crises, therefore, is the fact that Uncle Sam is greedy, treacherous, hypocritical. Not only in relation to the Caribbean (and Iraq!) today, but also to Central America 15 years ago. Poor Aristide. Poor Noriega. Poor Saddam. Done in by America's greed, treachery, and hypocrisy. Wow. That's good to know. Thanks for telling us that, Le Monde. Again.

A homogeneous European press

An unexpected event has taken place in the European media: Jean Daniel, editor of Le Nouvel Observateur, the highly influential Paris weekly, rebuked his colleagues for the manner in which they cover suicide terrorism. "All of the media outlets in France, and there are many, condemn terror and extremist fundamentalism, but the same media report on events in the Middle East with emphases that can only arouse in the reader a forgiving attitude toward terror," he wrote. "The Palestinian case is always presented as motivating - suicide attacks carried out by Palestinian martyrs - and the bloodshed is always depicted as the consequence of Israeli colonialism. This generates a forgiving attitude toward violence. We must end this." — Amnon Rubinstein in Ha'aretz (via Gene, of the excellent Harry's Place)

Le Monde Admits Bush Did Not Lie About WMD...


…promptly buries the story at the bottom of page 32!

And no wonder: the gist of the article shatters the entire controversy that has been damaging George W. Bush and Tony Blair with regards to their alleged lies when they mentioned Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction as a reason for attacking the butcher's régime.


Sunday, April 04, 2004

Sheikh Yassin, False Martyr, Real Malefactor, by Pascal Bruckner, Iannis Iannanakis and Michèle Tribalat

LE MONDE | 03.04.04 | 15:23  •  UPDATED 03.04.04 | 19:56

While our president was at the sides of Madrid's victims at a solemn gathering, how were we to understand why his representative at the United Nations Security Council was authorized to vote for a resolution proposed the next day to condemn the assassination of sheikh Yassin by Israel? One might have thought, after Madrid, that Europe would grasp the scale of the terrorist war declared on September 11, 2001.

However, far from leading to an awakening of the conscience, this event reassured our diplomats in the conviction that this act of terrorism visited on the one of the pillars of the American coalition was the inevitable sanctioning of an unjust war.

The doubled contempt of Europe that refuses to see this as a new provocation of democracies, whichever they may be, and that commits the same error as George W. Bush in linking terrorism to Iraq. Thus the victim is once more responsible for his lot: the West is necessarily guilty and, convinced of being so, deserved it!

The death of a terrorist leader who called for the murder of "the Jews," who manipulated a national struggle (itself legitimate), who, without the least moral objection, urged his own children to commit suicide in order to kill other children and who diverted charitable donations to fund his all out war, has been transformed in official European parlance into an "unacceptable and unjustified" (Jack Straw) murder of a spiritual leader of a movement some described as "political." Miguel Angel Moratinos, the future head of Spanish diplomacy, said that, at this rate, "there will be no more Palestinian interlocutors."

Did Sheikh Yassin — the charter of whose movement calls for the "total destruction of the Zionist entity" and not for a simple retreat to the 1967 borders — ever participate in a single negotiation? Do we in Europe desire a democratic Palestinian state or an Islamic republic from the river Jordan to the sea? One can wonder with good reason about the European goal of a pacified Middle East. In the heaven of "spiritual leaders," can one believe that the "paraplegic old man" will join the ranks of Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King? He will rather go to his strange heaven, that of the shahid, those "phony matyrs" that he armed spiritually...

It is striking and worrisome to observe that in Europe compassion for victims, fed by post-colonial guilt, has lead to an equalizing martyrology that, in the same sincere lamentations, confuses the victims and their murderers. A few exceptions are nevertheless noteworthy: tears dry up for the Israeli victims, the soldierly American woman or her Iraqi "collaborators"...

In his time, Spinoza enlightened us about the perverse duo, remorse and resentment. The Islamists have succeeded in deriving political and cultural gains from the European propensity to self indictment. Convinced that it must make amends for a mistake, Europe turns the other cheek. It does not see that such resentment has only fed hatred for a model of society — albeit imperfect — in which freedom and equality among citizens are established. This declaration, death to its essence, has not been heard, and we can even fear that, the more it is struck, the more Europe will be convinced that it's its own fault.

This is why Europe must "attack the roots of Evil" that are "injustice, resentment and frustration" (Dominique de Villepin), not combat but "seek to understand" the enemy, for "to understand the other is fundamental" and "the use of force leads nowhere" (Mario Soares). This effort to seek out the rational in criminal deliria continues to obsess Europe despite the lesson of the totalitarianisms taught in its midst.

So what are the foundations of our collective memory? What of history have we retained today to see war criminals portrayed as political actors? Is this to prepare the pacifist public opinions of democracies for a new, bipolar order? Is the contemporary world, united under American ægis, so anathema to us that sharing our planet with a new totalitarianism would be preferable? First the Zhdanov doctrine and nuclear deterrence, then the charia revised and corrected by jihadis and the deterrence of indiscriminate terrorism? But is "peaceful coexistence" with the devout enemies of life desirable?

The insuperable strength of our democratic model is the genuine political power of its public opinion. Citizens have the power and the duty to lead their elected representatives and to take stock of a reality that sometimes eludes diplomats. And when terrorism strikes, in stead of accusing our leaders of being the "real guilty parties," it is urgent that we unite to avert the worst: the collapse of our system under the effect of violent internal and external pressures.

Pascal Bruckner is a writer. Iannis Iannanakis is a political scientist and Michèle Tribalat is a demographer.