Saturday, May 15, 2004

News Roundup

Micahel Moore is marching in the streets of Cannnes in solidarity with the Intermittents du spectacle, freelance and part-time entertainment industry workers who have been striking since last year in protest against cuts in welfare benefits. All of 14 French nationals understood their grievances.

According to Le Journal de Saône-et-Loire, a survey of 500 people finds that 74% of French people prefer to avoid discussing politics at the dinner table. (This makes me regret many occasions.) Forty-five percent prefer to avoid conversation about work, and 39% don't like talking about the weather. (They do like talking about children and family).

The same newspaper also reports that French consumers are beginning to prefer those products that are produced under virtuous circumstances or of which the proceeds benefit noble causes.
The Socialist party appear in an excellent position to win next month's European elections, according to the AFP, who cite a recent poll of 957 people, out-scoring the UMP by nine percentage points at 29% of likely voters. The report also refers in cravenly oblique terms to "speculation" that PM Raffarin "has been given" (note the use of the passive voice), until the euro elections in June 13 to t urn things around or be made to walk the plank.

The poll results are: 29% socialist, 20% UMP, 13% National Front, 10% Green Party. The AFP neglects to include a number for the UDF but says that the poll indicates that the remaining votes will likely be split between the Communists (4%) and the gaggle of far-right (e.g. MNR) and far right parties.

Meanwhile, socialist MP Jacques Floch has submitted a report (link not yet available) to the Assemblée Nationale stating that, France is Europe's class dunce. Floch has found that France routinely refuses to abide by European directives, that the absentee rate of its Euro MPs and ministerial functionaries in Brussels far beyond the acceptable.

"For several years, France has distinguished itself by its refusal to submit to common rule: disobedience of directives, a record number of violations proceedings brought against it, violation of the stability pact, awkward management of the 'Alstom matter' : so many items that tarnish France's image, credibility and authority in Europe. (For more on this matter, see eursoc's excellent post, First Among Equals.)
The Times reports that French police have arrest two Algerian men in connection with an investigation into a terrorist cell that had been in the process of developing chemical and biological weapons until it was disrupted more than two years ago.

The unidentified men were taken into custody as long ago as last Monday and were interrogated yesterday.

The Times also reports that this is part of a larger operation to ferret out a "complex web of Islamic militants — many with links to al Qaeda — who have spread through Europe since the American invasion of Afghanistan. The authorities fear that some maybe planning a major attack in Europe."

Regular readers will remember that Times also reported on Tuesday last week that 1,100 pounds of amonium nitrate had gone missing. The chemical can be highly explosive and was used in the Oklahoma City and Bali bombings.

In this most recent report, the Times' Craig S. Smith writes that "in December 2002, the French authorities arrested nine men [...] on suspicion of planning to bomb the Russian Embassy. [...] The men were found to have a list of chemicals that could be used to make weapons and a suit to protect against a chemical weapons attack. Investigators also discovered a laboratory equipped to make the deadly poison ricin and botulism toxin.

"One of the prime suspects in the 2002 arrests was Menad Benchellali, who the authorities say received chemical and biological weapons training in Afghanistan. A younger brother, Mourad, was taken into custody by American troops in Afghanistan in February 2002 and is being held at the American detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

"Four other Algerian terrorism suspects arrested in Spain in March are reported to have links to the French network. Some are also reported to have ties to an Algerian terrorist organization, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, which is fighting to establish an Islamic state in northern Africa and in the past has planned several foiled attacks in Europe."

Jospin against gay marriage

An AFP news bulletin reports that former French prime minister Lionel Jospin has written an essay to appear in to-morrow's Le Journal du Dimanche in which he reveals that he is opposed to the idea of homosexual marriage, asserting that marriage "is, in its principle and as an institution, the union of a man and a woman."

In so doing, Jospin is disagreeing with his own party, who are preparing initiatives to press for the legalization of gay marriage in France, and with 64% of the French, who, as ¡No Pasarán! readers recently learned, also favor gay marriage. Forty-nine percent of the French public also favor allowing gay couples to adopt children, as they can already do in the USA.

Jospin adds, "one can disapprove of and combat homophobia while at the same time not favoring homosexual marriage, as is the case with me." He also believes in "the meaning and importance of institutions" and says "I do not believe it correct to deny their meaning.... One can respect the amorous preference of each person, without automatically institutionalizing their practices."

Next Week: If you can't beat 'em, join 'em! France's former Socialist prime minister ponders the question: if a fascist can knock me out of the running for President, why not join the editorial board of the National Review?

We are all un-American?

(A translation of an editorial by Jean-Marie Colombani from Le Monde that appeared on May 14, 2004)

“It's impossible to describe what is necessary to those who do not know what horror means. The horror.” So says Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, the film that best represented an America at war, in Vietnam, divorced from itself. The nightmare that isolated America from the rest of the world and from the better part of itself has reemerged, revived by the quagmire created by Bush’s war in Iraq. One, perhaps, should say “crusade,” as Bush’s good conscience—this faith without any doubt that borders on arrogance and that distances America from the values that it is supposed to defend—is omnipresent. “They want to become Americans,” claimed Donald Rumsfeld, when speaking of Iraq. We are all un-American, one is now tempted to reply.

The American Secretary of Defense, with his proud use of the word “un-American” to distance himself from the torture scandals, has made America’s best friends desperate. We all felt American in the aftermath of 9/11. Donald Rumsfeld has made us un-American. Today, Rumsfeld is the greatest source of anti-Americanism—he is one of the people responsible for the greatest wave of anti-Americanism ever throughout the world. Every counter-terrorism expert agrees that this war has created precisely the situation that it was supposed to prevent: cooperation (a link) between Al-Qaida and the Jihadist groups who have migrated throughout the Middle East. Even more dangerous: Al-Qaida methods have been placed at the service of Arab nationalism.

Faced with this horror and with the question of “how to get out of it,” it is first necessary to gauge the political defeat and strategic reversal that is the occupation of Iraq. It is a political defeat because Bush invoked three goals of the war. Weapons of mass destruction: They represented a threat for the United States that could only be neutralized through war. These weapons no longer exist. Any where. The ties to Al-Qaida. They did not exist before the invasion.

War in the name of democratic “values.” This was supposed to liberate a country from a monstrous tyrant and to put in place a decent government that would influence the region. Sure enough, the monster was in Baghdad. But it is according to its own values that America must be judged in Iraq; and to quote an editorialist in Time Magazine: “this means, at the very least, that we should have made sure that Abou Ghraib stopped being a torture chamber.”

This is a political, strategic and moral failure. The United States has lost credibility at the moment when it wants to convince the leaders of the Greater Middle East that they must evolve towards…more democratic behavior? Romano Prodi, the president of the European Commission, accurately stated that torture is a war crime and that, henceforth, “it has become difficult to define” the American presence in Iraq “as a mission of peace.” It is likewise difficult to justify any participation in this enterprise.

Islamist terrorism feeds off of frustration and humiliation that results from the Arab
world’s inability to enter the modern age. The Islamists maintain a feeling of
Arab dignity that they claim is constantly demeaned by the West—Israel, the US
and Europe all caught up in their never-ending, anti-Muslim crusade. The Islamists brood on this fantasy and seek to benefit from it by describing the West, and first and foremost the United States, as a depraved, amoral and violent world. If the fight against terrorism is a battle of ideas—and it is, more than one imagines—and therefore of images, then Mr. Bush has just suffered a major strategic defeat. The war in Iraq has given ammunition to Islamist terrorism; the policy of physical mistreatment—designed to weaken a detainee prior to interrogation—conducted by Americans in an occupied Arab capital that is proud of its rich and glorious past, is the greatest gift ever given to Ossama bin Laden since the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Abou Graib confirms the impression that Islamists want to create of the United States in the Arab world.

This debacle has it origins in that mix of American power and Bush’s absolutely good conscience. This is a corrosive cocktail that blocks all inhibitions, erases doubts, and prevents self-criticism on the borders of the Potomac just as much as in the corridors of a Baghdad prison. This situation requires a double remedy: Return to the best American tradition of checks and balances that lies at heart of American democracy; listen to the veterans of Old Europe; in brief, remember that trans-Atlantic cohesion deserves renewed consideration. American leaders must agree—one time is not enough—to state: “We are all Europeans!” America must become more European. Americans must draw on that wisdom that Old Europe—so disdained by Donald Rumsfeld—acquired at its own expense, during a colonial past that had its share of somber hours. America desperately needs Europe—Americans suffer from an absence of old European skepticism. At the origin of the Iraqi tragedy is an almost theological conception of power that has driven the Bush administration from the very beginning: America is Good incarnate; all those not with us are against us; the enemies of the United States are Evil. At the end of this absolute conviction that America is “fundamentally good”—as President Bush said to Fox News last year—there is a logical corollary: the temptation to demonize the adversary. If the enemy is dehumanized, if he is evil, one can do anything against and to him. This boundary was crossed in Iraq and probably also in Afghanistan. The boundary was crossed as soon as the United States, with George W. Bush supporting Donald Rumsfeld against Colin Powell, put in place an enormous prison system beyond the pale of international law in Guantanamo.

This is essentially an idea that was once European (and specifically French) to conflate universalism and nationalism, to believe that a nation can legitimately anoint itself with a universal mission, to self-proclaim that it is the Chosen People.

Let’s take a step back and return to the tragic beginning of this century: September 11, 2001. All free countries—those that actually are free as well as those that aspire to be—immediately felt that they had to fight together. We would all be at America’s side. We were all Americans. This solidarity lasted six months. It was broken when George Bush decided, at the beginning of 2002, to open his Iraqi campaign during his famous speech on Good vs. Evil. Ever since, the two sides of the Atlantic have grown distant: Bush has succeeded in convincing American opinion that there is a link between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaida; he thereby turned America’s and the military’s attention on a more manageable field of operations, on an easier target (so he thought) than the nebulous Al-Qaida, on a more identifiable target (so he thought) than bin Laden and his Pakistani and—at one time—Saudi supporters.

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia: how could Bush have explained that the fate of bin Laden was in the hands of two American allies? Better, instead, to wage war against Saddam Hussein, even if this meant lying. Even if this meant going against international reason; against a half century of European-America cohesion that relied upon the strategy of “containment” (which has now been replaced by “preventive warfare”). If one wants to eliminate this divergence that has been built on government-sanctioned lies—on weapons of mass destruction, the ties with Al-Qaida—if one wants America to return to what is essential—the fight against terrorism whose true face was apparent in the Madrid blood bath and in the barbaric video from Baghdad; if one considers that free people are only being used to line the pockets of companies like Halliburton and Bechtel that control the Iraqi economy, is there any other path than to wish that George Bush Junior is thrown out by American voters—sent to his prayers and to go speak with his conscience? Let us hope then for the defeat of George Bush and the victory of John Kerry.

"People libel our nation in the most outrageous, abominable, and discreditable manner"

"We are face to face with tremendous, strenuous competition" said one of the leaders of the world's superpower. "We have to hold our own against other nations not too friendly. …

"We see every day that we, the most liberal nation the world has ever seen in its international connections, are also the best hated. Other people are envious of us, they libel us in the most outrageous, abominable, and discreditable manner, they misrepresent us and gloat over what they think is our approaching downfall."

Which leader spoke those words? Read the top comment for the answer…

Friday, May 14, 2004

Diplomatic News

France has awarded the Légion d'honneur to ten Australian soldiers for their bravery during the allied landings on D-Day.

France has also assured Bulgaria that it will intervene on behalf of the five Bulgarian nationals sentenced to die after being convicted in a Libyan court of willingly infecting hospital patients with HIV.

Edgar Morin Acquitted

France's famous sociologist Edgar Morin, 82, is Sephardic Jew whose family, the Nahoums, came from Salonica. A long-time socialist and erstwhile communist who claims to have once been an anti-Nazi resister (the time when he dropped the surname Nahoum for Manin and then Morin), he was friends with Marguerite Duras, author/actor Dionys Mascolo (Duras' second husband) and author Robert Antelme (her first).

He is also an acerbic and relentless critic of Israel.

Along with Citizen Movement MEP Sami Naïr and author Danièle Sallenave, who lectures at Paris X university in Nanterre, Morin published an essay (my full translation is available here along with a response from the recently deceased Françoise Giroud) in Le Monde in June of 2002. The three authors accuse Israel and its Jewish partisans of reproducing their own sufferings during the Holocaust at the expense of the Palestinians. (Accusing Jews of themselves being Nazis is a common trope in anti-Israel polemics — just ask Norman "stop acting like Nazis" Finkelstein).

In that essay, the three authors wrote:
The Jews, who were the victims of a pitiless order are imposing their pitless order on the Palestinians. The Jewish victims of inhumanity are displaying a terrible inhumanity. The Jews, scapegoats for every evil, are "scapegoating" Arafat and the Palestinian Authority, made responsibe for attacks that they [the Jews] prevent them from preventing.
For these statements, two organizations, Lawyers Without Borders (ASF) and France-Israel took the three authors to court for "racial defamation and apology for acts of terrorism."

Libération reported yesterday that Morin et al. have been acquitted of the charges, which Morin says he found "grotesque."

Funny. One wonders if he knows what that word means.

Morin has also an ambiguous relationship with his own Judaism. He considers himself a "neo-Marano" and rejects the idea of "a chosen people." He says, "I was a Jew who wasn't one. A non-Jew Jew."

Curiously, on this subject, Morin feels drawn to volunteer information about his family life that isn't relevant, at least not explicitly so. His mother died of a heart-attack in 1931 when he was ten years old, a moment he describes as an "internal Hiroshima" and after which he withdrew from the outside world, secretly cursing his father, who overprotected him. Later in life, Morin learned that his birth had also nearly killed his mother. He had been delivered in breech position, almost strangled by the umbilical cord. "I had to die that she might live. She died that I might live," he says. His father Vidal felt "connected to Israel," as Morin says he does, too, but not as a mother nation to defend at any cost.

Morin has two daughters, the issue of his three marriages.

A Junior Class on Jews, Arabs, Israel, the United States, terrorism, bin Laden and the media 

Two students from France's National Foundation for Political Science (Sciences Pô) conducted wide-ranging interviews with a group of "first year" (première, ages 16-17) high school students in a suburb of Paris. Subjects broached included the students' opinions on Jews, Arabs, Israel, the United States, terrorism, bin Laden and the media. The news Web site dedicated to Jewish matters,, has published portions of a transcript of these interviews. I'm including selected passages. The following anonymous responses come from a class of 34 students at a high school, the name and location of which are undisclosed.
[On the subject of racism] Are there such problems at your school?

- No.

And with people of other religions?

- I know somebody who won't talk to Jewish people.

Is it because of religion that people refuse to talk to others?

- There are people with a bad image because they're Jews.

- In the movie (Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ - Ed.), you see that it was the Jews who killed Jesus. So the Jews are hated even more. The problems piled up and then they resurfaced with the release of this movie.

How do you explain the problems surrounding this movie?

- The Jews said that it wasn't they who killed Jesus and that created controversy. But it's still a movie and I don't understand why it created such a controversy.

Are you shocked that Jews should be accused?

- It was the Jews who wanted to crucify Jesus. It was the Jews who protested against the film because they're afraid of another Second World War. The film came out any way because the director based his work on the bible which talks of the Jews' responsibility.

Continue Reading "A Junior Class on Jews, Arabs, Israel, the United States, terrorism, bin Laden and the media " ...

More Horrific Photos from Iraq

Sickening! The Expat Yank has more horrific photos from Iraq. (This must be one of those that the media has gratefully spared our eyes from…)

The Profundity of Plantu's Hilarious Cartoons

The fairness, the subtlety, and the eternally-wise-to-the-ways-of-the-world character of Plantu's latest cartoons are discussed on Europundits (in English), on Le Monde Watch (in French), and on Merde in France (in both languages)…

Growing Ever Deeper: the Trans-Atlantic Divide

The New York Times' Richard Bernstein has an in-depth article on the growing trans-Atlantic divide at the International Herald Tribune. This week's Europa column is pretty defeatist, dismal, and depressing, and although all the news from, say Poland, is not altogether good, it is comforting to read this:
In Poland, which with Britain is the strongest American partner in Iraq, the killing of the [Polish] journalists was seen as a reminder of a basic element in the picture: that Abu Ghraib was the United States failing to function as it normally does, while torture, beheadings and assassinations are normal procedures for those opposing the United States in Iraq.

"What's interesting is that the level of support in Poland for sending troops to Iraq went up from 55 percent to 65 percent in the last few weeks," said Andrzej Jonas, the editor in chief of the English-language Warsaw Voice. "Probably this is because Polish people believe in power rather than in withdrawal."


Head Scarf Keeps Woman From Attending Conference In Paris

Un groupe de pression américain musulman critique le refus de la France d'accorder un visa à une femme porteuse d'un voile

ReligionNewsBlog has more.

Gay Marriage

According to a survey published in Elle magazine (hey, the line at the grocery store was long and I had to kill time), 64% of French are in favor of gay marriage. 49% favor adoption of children by homosexual couples. This is 9 points greater than the 2003 figures with respect to gay marriage and a 12 point increase over the 2003 figures with respect to adoption. Even more surprising: 54% of those French who incline towards the conservative UMP party favor man-man/woman-woman unions.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Glucksmann on Chechen Resisters

An essay by André Glucksmann in Tuesday's Le Monde (dated to Wednesday) reminded me of Hitchens' recent reflections on ETA:
I can remember when I was a bit of an ETA fan myself. It was in 1973, when a group of Basque militants assassinated Adm. Carrero Blanco. The admiral was a stone-faced secret police chief, personally groomed to be the successor to the decrepit Francisco Franco. His car blew up, killing only him and his chauffeur with a carefully planted charge, and not only was the world well rid of another fascist, but, more important, the whole scheme of extending Franco's rule was vaporized in the same instant. The dictator had to turn instead to Crown Prince Juan Carlos, who turned out to be the best Bourbon in history and who swiftly dismantled Franco's entire system. If this action was "terrorism," it had something to be said for it. Everyone I knew in Spain made a little holiday in their hearts when the gruesome admiral went sky-high.
It's a sign of political daring in these times to express praise of any sort for the use of this kind of violence toward political ends. In this essay, André Glucksmann shows just how much he shares this trait with Hitchens.
Anti-Terrorist Resistance in Grozny, by André Glucksmann
LE MONDE | 12.05.04 | 14h07

He who can do most can do least. On March 9, "Victory in Europe Day," and "Army Day." the Russian troops are parading and singing to their glory, when the official viewing platform, thought to be untouchable, explodes.

In this place — the best protected in Grozny — the Chechen resisters executed the head of the pro-Russian administration (among other brass hats), leader of the army of occupation, who are known for their savagery.

It would have been easier for them to practice blind and indiscriminate terrorism. It is easier to blow up explosives-crammed cars at random as in Baghdad, to blow oneself up in cafés or a buses as Hamas' human bombs do or to "bin-ladenize" by targeting trains and stations packed with travelers, or homes or even petroleum refineries and nuclear power plants, which are far more vulnerable in the West. They don't do that. And nobody wonders why?

It's not for lack of inspiration. Some among them sometimes give in to the temptation; witness the 700 civilians taken hostage in a Moscow theater, a spectacular and mysterious operation: a Grozny-Moscow journey by an armed convoy that went unnoticed over thousands of kilometers of highway; in the end, 130 hostages killed by the Federal police and, last but not least(*), no surviving terrorist left to talk.

It isn't for lack of audacity: four hundred years of resistance to the Russian occupation forged men and a weighty tradition that Russian writers did not fail to praise. O, Pushkin! O, Lermontov! O, Tolstoy!

It isn't for want of despair: ten years of the latest war hidden from view, forgotten to the world, rubbed out of consciences; the capital, cities and villages razed; more than a fifth of the population dead — how many wounded, tortured, maimed and how many widows and orphans and how many more to come? Human firewood blown apart with grenades, towns surrounded by tanks, roundups, a population taken hostage by men in uniform, a commerce of corpses...

Continue reading "Glucksmann on Chechen Resisters" ...

Corner Kicks

=>A government organization nobody ever heard of, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is rebuking France over the law on secularism. France was the only country in western Europe to receive an entire sub-heading devoted to it in the 2004 annual report.

I told you it's out of the question: there will be no French soldiers in Iraq. Not now. Not later. — French Foreign minister Michel Barnier, quoted by Le Monde, in turn quoted by the AP.
Barnier then hopped on a plane for New York.

=>France's renowned anti-terror magistrate Jean-Louis Bruguière is heading to Australia to interview two Pakistanis, Sydney architecht Faheem Khalid Lodhi and Sydney med student Izhar Ul Haque, currently in detention and awaiting trial for conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism.

Bruguière hopes to obtain information from them about the case of Willie Brigitte. Various intelligence agencies and investigators have linked Brigitte, who has been interrogated by Bruguière numerous times and who is currently in a Paris jail, with the bombing of the Derjba synagogue and to both bin Laden and to Khaled Sheikh Mohammed (whom the Times reports to-day has been rather roughly treated by his CIA interrogators).

Authorities allege Ul Haque trained with terrorist group Lashkar e-Toiba (LET), of which they say Lodhi was the leader. Authorities also believe that Brigitte trained with LET. The AFP reported last November that French police had learned from another Islamist in detention, Ibrahim Keita, that Brigitte was planning an attack on Australian soil. Both Keita and Brigitte reportedly received "survival training" while in France between 1998 and 2001 in preparation for further training on the Afghan-Pakistani border. Curiously, Murdoch's Daily Telegraph adds:
French authorities have criticised Australia's "soft" anti-terrorism laws and regard us as a weak link in the war on terror.

They say a terrorist attack against Australia is inevitable and one senior official said he expected an attack this year.


Jacques Vergès has filed a complaint for war crimes against the United Kingdom for abuse of prisoners in Iraq. Just this once, I wouldn't mind hearing French spoken with a British accent, at least to say: Te fais voir, espèce d'enculé de merde!

UPDATE: The British government has refused to comment.

Doubts Surrounding GMOs

(A translation of a Le Monde editorial from May 13, 2004)

On Wednesday, May 19th, the European Commission is supposed to lift the moratorium on genetically modified organisms (GMOs), implemented by the EU’s environmental ministers in 1999. By authorizing the importation of the genetically modified corn, Bt-11, sold by the Syngenta company, Brussels—not the European States who could not reach an agreement—will decide a highly political question.

The EU’s authorization of GMO’s is legal. However the majority of European citizens are hostile to these products. It is no longer the case that only ecologists or, in France, the Confédération paysanne are accused of being “archaic” when they oppose GMO development. This complex subject has ended up in the public debate. In France, the Parti Socialiste has become anti-GMO. In Europe, anti-GMO regions have organized since the end of 2003, and the European Commission which is favorable to GMOs in the name of freedom of commerce, is obliged to pay attention.

For their part, French regions under the control of the Left will support, in the legal realm, judicial orders forbidding the testing of GMOs in open fields seized by mayors, who will then be called before administrative tribunals by civil administrators. The hope is that anti-GMO rulings will follow and will define a stricter framework.

All of these movements flow from the persistent uncertainties regarding the harmlessness or harmfulness of GMO’s for our health and environment. The section published by Le Monde on April 23 that was dedicated to the effects of GMOs on rats emphasized the extent of the uncertainties.

The German Government has taken an appropriate lead by adopting a bill that regulates the distance between the farming of classical crops and GMO’s. The Bundestag must now examine this bill. Amidst the growing controversy, the Minister of Agriculture, Hervé Gaymard, may follow the German example.

However regulating GMO trials is not enough. There is also the problem of placing GMOs on the market. They will eventually find their way into food. The authorization of Bt-11 seems, at the very least, premature. The French government, following the opinion of the relevant health agency—Afssa—opposes this authorization.

At the moment when the giant, Monsanto, has, itself, renounced the growth of genetically modified wheat in the fact of opposition (including opposition from North American farmers), the European Commission should shake off its own certainties and adopt a more cautious attitude. The Commission should wait until European citizens elect a new European Parliament. Otherwise, Europe will once more appear to be governed by technocrats. The deficit of democracy will be apparent on an issue which greatly concerns the public.

Sophie Shihab Reports...

Le Monde's Sophie Shihab reports from Sadr City:
In Sadr City, the Shia are tired of fighting
LE MONDE | 12.05.04 | 13h13  •  UPDATED 12.05.04 | 14h45

Baghdad from our correspondent

Twice destroyed, twice rebuilt: the offices of the leader of the "disinherited" Shia, Muktada al-Sadr, in the Bagdad neighborhood renamed for his family, rose again, brand new, on Wednesday, May 11, in the middle of Sadr City. The morning of the day before, it lay in ruins, destroyed in the night by fire from American tanks and helicopters.


"If they kill Sayid Muktada, a thousand others will rise to lead the Iraqi people's war," proclaims [director] Sheikh Salman [Al-Fureiji], in his freshly repainted little office. In the neighboring rooms, dozens of boys are working with shovels and trowels. Before the exterior walls, the first to be repainted, there are as many cleaning bricks. In front of reporters, they begin fervent declarations, lead by their elders, of their faith in the Prophet, in his son Hussein and, above all, in Muktada al-Sadr.

Sheikh Salman is receiving a reporter from Iraqi television, created under American auspices. The reporter complains that his cameramen, threatened by the Madhi army, no longer dare to enter Sadr City. The answer comes shooting back: "That's to be expected: the people no longer want their army to be called a 'militia,' as you call them." But, after consultations, he agrees to make a statement: "In this office, there were only administrators, jurists. It's destruction shall not go unpunished. If our intellectuals, our tribes or the international community do not rise to denounce this crime, it shall be done by our raging masses. You can see perfectly well that our people aren't thugs. They're building and all Sadr City is building with us."

But "all Sadr City" does not share this opinion. For Hayder, on shopkeeper, the "'Madhi army,' started the provocations as they did on April 4. They came out to block the streets on Sunday morning and they shot at the Americans before the Americans responded and put us through days of hell." The Shia neighborhood, with its two to three million inhabitants, was a dead city for three days. According to the Americans, the shooting killed "35 militiamen of Muktada al-Sadr." According to Sheikh Salman, the latter would have taken casualties of no more than "three or four martyrs." But Hayder speaks of an entire family killed by the bullets from Muktada's guys, who can't shoot straight."

The amateur nature of the youths enrolled in the "Madhi army" is only one of the locals' griefs, of whom "at least nine out of ten don't want any more fighting in Sadr City," says Hayder, "even among the third who are partisans of Muktada al-Sadr and who live here," he says. Since April, there has been graffiti in Sadr City threatening "spies for the Americans" with death — as has been the case in the Sunni areas since autumn. Threats that are carried out: Muktada al-Sadr's newspaper — The Voice of the Speaking Hawza — which replaced the banned newspaper, The Speaking Hawza — published the photo of body of an alleged "spy" —a young metal worker — hung from an electrical pylon with a sign: "Spy. Do not approach. Mines."

"He stayed up there for 24 hours," says Hayder, "but people don't like this; they say we don't yet have real courts for this. They say that now you can denounce your neighbor for being a "friend of the Americans" the way you could denounce him for having spoken ill of Saddam."

But these Shia majorities that, in Sadr City and elsewhere, fear a new and Islamic totalitarianism, have until very recently remained entirely silent. The Americans lament the fact that the moderate Shia authorities privately complain that the Americans have been or are still too conciliatory with Muktada while they publicly denounce the Americans' latest actions against Muktada's "soldiers"... It wasn't until this Monday that the first demonstration was organized to demand "the withdrawal of men under arms from the holy cities, to protect them from American attack."

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Horror and Danger

(A translation of a Le Monde editorial from May 12, 2004)

The situation in the Middle East took one further step this week into horror. After the death, Monday in Gaza, of six Israeli soldiers whose bloody remains were paraded before a crowd of Hamas militants, a young American was decapitated in Iraq by Al-Qaida Islamists. Twenty-six year old business man, Nick Berg, had been captured one month ago.

His assassins, foremost among which is the Jordanian Abou Moussab Al-Zarkaoui, stated that they sought to avenge the tortures inflicted on Iraqi prisoners by the soldiers of the American-British coalition. They described George Bush as a “Christian dog.”

Under no circumstances does one horrific act excuse another. To denounce abuses is one thing, and it is the privileged nature of democratic regimes that this denunciation is possible, even if painful. To commit worse atrocities on the pretense that the “enemy” first dirtied his hands is shameful.

The actions of Zarkaoui’s men were barbarous. It was morally inexcusably and politically disastrous for the cause that it claims to uphold. If the indignation provoked in Arab countries and throughout the world by the treatment of the detainees at the Abou Ghraib prison was legitimate, the crime and its video surpass understanding. And one hopes that there will be as unanimous of a condemnation of Al-Qaida’s crime, of this abominable one-upmanship.

How can one invoke a god, whoever that may be, when one rejoices in barbaric acts? How can one think that one’s Creator could rejoice at the sight of a man having his throat slit open to cries of “God most great?” How many times can Muslim communities throughout the world and in Europe continue to trust imams who refuse to condemn—clearly and publicly—these barbaric actions?

Yet this plunge into the abyss of Iraq two months from the transfer of sovereignty to an interim government shows, yet one more time, the impasse into which the Bush administration has strayed. Instead of holding itself, after 9/11, to a patient and determined fight against Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaida, their fanatics and metastases in Afghanistan and elsewhere—an objective which all democracies viewed favorably—Washington decided to throw itself into its Iraqi adventure.

Far from diminishing the danger, this Iraq detour has increased it. By overthrowing Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship, the Bush administration wanted to affirm American hegemony in the name of universal values, of which America is one the promised lands. But this choice placed obligations upon the great world power: she should have had a clear strategy for post-war Iraq and her soldiers should have respected those moral values that she trumpets. Unfortunately, the US missed on both accounts. Today, the Iraqi battlefield is a world threat. And it is up to the world, via the United States, to take control of the situation.

Taking out 1968's trash Sortir les ordures de '68
Cesare Battisti, ex-Red Brigade convicted of murder who refashioned himself as a writer of police novels has been OK'd for extradition to Italy. Throw him out.
Cesare Battisti, ancien brigade rouge coupable de meurtre recyclé dans l'écriture des polars, est desormais certifié bon pour extradition vers l'Italie. Basardez-le.

Bush as a KKK Member: How Much Truth Is There to Plantu's Charges of Racism Regarding Abu Ghraib?

Plantu has delivered another of those drawings which shows France's legendary subtlety, its unequaled sophistication, and its unique ability to think in a reasonable manner: Dubya as a sneering member of the Ku Klux Klan (renamed Bush Klux Klan). Douglas already mentioned this tribute to French raffinement, but I felt the need to take a further look under the robes.

Washington is in the middle of a major scandal. George W Bush says he is disgusted by the pictures from Iraq. Several investigatios have been launched. As for General Antonio Taguba, he concluded that no direct order had been given for the abuse: I believe that they did it on their own volition.

But — qu'importe! Who cares! Remember… any reason is more than acceptable to picture Americans as sadistical racists, ultra-nationalists, and dirty hypocrites. And who cares, then, about its validity or any evidence there may exist to the contrary.

The anti-Bush fight is of such importance, we are told, even sacred, that not one occasion must be passed to fire broadsides against Uncle Sam. Hurl as many partisan accusations against America as possible — no matter how reasonable or not they may appear — and let God sort out the mess.

In a similar case, across the Rhine, David Kaspar answers thus Spiegel's accusation ("America, the leading power of the West…is obviously continuing to kill and torture civilians in a systematic way by the hundreds, if not thousands, with the backing of the political and military leadership … The moral values (of the democratic West) appear, and are now officially documented, as pure hypocrisy"): the weekly "has gone into absolute feeding-frenzy mode over the abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib prison. It seems that the magazine, in its ceaseless quest to defame the Bush Administration, has completely lost touch with reality … The fact that America is investigating and rectifying the situation (as a democracy should) is minimized. SPIEGEL ONLINE makes it look as if the United States is killing and torturing on a daily basis in Iraq on orders from the government, putting the nation on the same level with Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong Il.

"But then one has to ask: If the government supports such actions, why would it apologize and investigate them? How could a government in which “the Senate voted 92-0 Monday for a resolution condemning the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison [and] urging a full and complete investigation” still support such actions? How could a President who has repeatedly expressed “deep disgust and disbelief" at the abuse photos still support such actions?

"The answer: The government does not support such actions and has already implemented mechanisms to detect and punish abuse which were already in motion before this scandal ever made headlines. SPON seems to be following a typical pattern which it has established for itself: If you repeat a lie loudly enough and often enough, people may start to believe it. Especially if those people are inclined to America-bashing as it is."

This, as a story arrives from Irak, in which one American was treated somewhat worse than the humiliated Iraqis, since he was beheaded. But — who cares! The perpetrators of that crime, somehow, "we must show some understanding for them". And no more ink (or tears) will used (or shed) on that event than necessary.

(W confirms on MiF: "The beheading of American prisoner Nick Berg is covered by a one paragraph note on page 6 of today's edition [of Libération] in a sidebar titled 'Today's events' containing 6 items (as compared to the 20 odd pages splashed with blown up photos of hazing of terrorists we have had in the last few days).")

To return to Plantu's picture of Bush as a member (or grand dragon?) of the Ku Klux Klan : as far as racism in America (and the US army is concerned, can we agree that it is supposed to be directed against people who don't belong to the majority defined as WASPs (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants)?

If so, some may be interested to know that the general who was responsible for the Abu Ghraib scandal report is a Filipino-American. To not go too far back in the past, a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is a black man (he has since moved to the State Department; previously, he had been the individual who had harvested the highest amount of percentage points in polls for whom Americans most wanted to become president). Another has Slavic origins. Two other generals are Asian and Hispanic. And of course, one of the top honchos in Iraq has Arab roots.

But let's not be naïve here, let's not be silly. These are facts that do not contribute to the sacro-sanct fight against George W Bush and the horrific country that he represents. So, insofar that those facts will be noted at all, they will be dismissed, or passed over very quickly, so one can concentrate on where the next attack on Uncle Sam should come from.

Lire la version française

The Peace Camp's UN-Based Humanitarian Scam in Iraq

"As a general rule, France is very reserved — indeed hostile — to all sanctions" says Jacques Chirac, "because we have observed that, historically, they are not effective and create more difficulties than they resolve." Sure. Why not? France — along with other "peace camp" members — has a long tradition of proving this in its usual altruistic manner. Which reminds me… of a totally unrelated subject…

We've all heard all the disgust and cynicism about how America's "neocons" were unscrupulous warmongers who wanted war in any case, haven't we? We've also heard about how Bush and his ilk are liars and how they missed a chance to "give peace a chance". We have heard how, basically, by bringing every actor on the international scene into the equation, discussion would have ensued that would have guaranteed a peaceful outcome that would have pleased everybody. We have heard how the failure to do that simple thing brought anger against Washington and fury over its "arrogance". We have also all heard all about how principled a number of leaders were, who tried to make the UN system work.

Well… guess what? It sounds totally unbelievable, but… it turns out that… the "Peace Camp" members were not as altruistic as they would have us believe. It turns out that… the world leaders working "to give peace a chance" were not as disinterested as they would have us believe. It turns out that the UN is not as beneficient as its supporters would have us believe… In fact, to be quite honest… those leaders' main reason for opposing Washington seems to have been to profit from "grand larceny" with one of the most blood-thirsty dictators born in the 20th Century…

There follows more on my website, although
a (much shorter) previous entry on this weblog
ran most of the same arguments,
most of them by Claudia Rosett…

PS: Be sure to bookmark the Friends of Saddam weblog


The French government's response to more US sanctions on Syria is less than enthusiastic:

"The French and American positions differ on the question of sanctions. The French position was made clear last October by the French President when he stated: 'As a general rule, France is very reserved--indeed hostile--to all sanctions because we have observed that, historically, they are not effective and create more difficulties than they resolve.'"

The Western Street

The “Arab Street:” It’s the Arabs who are angry and violent towards the West (and, in particular, the U.S.) for its relative prosperity, its at times hypocritical foreign policy and its support of Israel and of westernized, Arab ruling elites that rape and pillage Arab homelands but provide stable economic returns in Paris, London and D.C. In the disgusting violence at Abu Ghraib and in the revolting attacks against Muslims in France we can see the rising prominence of another “street:” the Western one. The Western Street saw the Twin Towers fall by men who cried “Allah” before massacring thousands of people. In the eyes of the Western Street, the Arab world, if not complicit in these acts, rejoiced at them. The Western Street merges the “Islam” of Islamic Jihad with the use of suicide bombers; and it looks scornfully upon the countless failed Arab governments lecturing others on human rights. Arab protestations are ignored because they are only turned upon the “infidels.” Muslim immigrants escape their homelands and pour into Western countries, only to seek to replicate in new lands the hell of intolerance that they fled. Such are the views of the Western Street.

It is too easy to dismiss as pure evil the soldiers who committed the atrocities at Abu Ghraib or the people who adhere to the anti-Muslim rhetoric of the Front National. It is more realistic to understand their actions in context. There is a dialogue, whether implicit or explicit, that is happening between the Arab world and the West. One may impute some (even much) of the violence in the Arab world to failed Western politics and communication skills. However, this is not a one-way street. The atrocities in Abu Ghraib spring from an anger that the Arab world must learn to address. If not, the Arab Street will meet the Western Street in a deluge of blood.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Imam Detention + School for Scandal

The AP reports that French authorities have arrested Iraqi imam Yashar Ali for failing to obey a house arrest order. "French intelligence suspects Mr. Ali, who is married with four children, of being a leading figure among imams of the Salafist movement which holds to a strict interpretation of Islam," write the editors of the Australian, citing the AP as their source.

Le Monde reports that Interior minister Dominique de Villepin plans to establish a school for Imams. An expert panel was to convene today ways and means of achieving this. The committee's activities are now closely guarded secrets and officials have been instructed to treat the matter with the utmost discretion. Le Monde's controversial reporter Xavier Ternisien reveals that the committee is meeting at the offices of the International Insitute for Islamic Thought (IIIT), a private organization founded in 1981 in the United States (Herndon, VA) by adherents of the Muslim Brotherhood, that describes itself as "an intellectual forum working from an Islamic perspective to promote and support research projects." Since 2000, its chapter in France has been located in Saint-Ouen, a suburb nort of Paris (Seine-Saint-Denis).

The French branch is directed by the Tunisian Mohamed Mestiri, a graduate of the Islamic university of Zeitouna, in Tunis, and holder of a doctorate from the Sorbonne, who, according to Le Monde, describes himself as "evolving in contemporary but not necessarily modernist Islamic thought."

Mestri admits playing a part in planning for de Villepin's school: "We're in charge of coordination and moderating the committee's reflections. But nothing is official...."

Ternisien writes that, surprisingly, few of France's better known experts in Islam (Gilles Kepel or Mohamed Arkoun) are present on the committee. He also says that the establishment of the committee is a clear attempt to circumvent the French Council on the Islamic Faith (CFCM) (which doesn't have great relations with the current government) because its commission on Imam's is not sufficiently active. Only two of its members are on the new committee. It also circumvents the Paris Grand Mosque (affiliated with the CFCM) and the Union of Islamic Orgnizations of France (UOIF), the only two other Muslim federations in France that have training centers for Imams.

As if forgetting that his article is news and not opinion, Ternisien also writes that "it is clear, at any rate, that on this score the current miniter of the Interior is seeking to distinguish himself from his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy." Ternisien quotes a source as saying that, "a new time has come, after the Madrid attacks" and that "we can no longer stick to the traditional game plans." There will be no "security management" of Islam, the source says, but an emphasis on "Republican principles and social cohesion."

Sarkozy was often accused of playing into the hands of conservative Islam with his tough tactics. However, last April, Sarkozy attended a UOIF conference, and sources close to de Villepin say that this will be quite out of the question for the current office-holder. "The minsiter in charge of religious faiths is not required to appear at such meetings.

News Roundup

It's official. The United States will turn over to France all "War on Terror" detainees currently held at Guantanamo Bay.


impérialisme culturel: In advance of the Cannes festival, there's a fair of amount of news emerging about the French film industry. The AFP reports that France is the largest movie market in Europe, with more than 174 million tickets purchased in 2003 for films shown on 5,295 screens, according to the National Center for Cinematography (CNC). Film production is at a "historic" level with 212 films. Five hundred thirteen films were distributed (a rise of 5.1%), of which 219 were French (the highest number in 20 years) and 160 were American (and that's counting Lord of the Rings as a New Zealand film). French films, however, are shown much less often than American ones. A French film is is distributed in 118 copies on average, against 242 for an American one.

According to the AP, an American film (Finding Nemo) is the first American film in five years to top box office receipts. Of the 12 highest grossing films in France last year, no fewer than eight (and, again, that's discounting LOTR, 4th) were American: (Finding Nemo (1), Matrix Reloaded(2), Pirates of the Caribbean (6), Catch me if You Can (7), Jungle Book 2 (8), Matrix Revolutions (9), Terminator 3 (10) and X-Men 2 (12).

Moreover, according to, CNC official Benoît Danard believes that 19% of French Web surfers (three million people, mostly between the ages of 15 to 24) download a million movies everyday. Here, there is no question of distribution (though there is one of age and class) and the preference for American films is still evident. Those surveyed preferred recent films to old ones and American films to French ones. When asked to name the films they download, respondents named more French films than American ones but the most downloaded films were: Finding Nemo, The Matrix, Matrix Revolution and the Lord of the Rings. Of the 60 films on this list, 25% were released in 2004 and only 35% were French.
Sans vergogne: According to the AFP, French lawyer Jacques Vergès is apparently not listed as part of Saddam's international defense team. Another French lawyer, Emmanuel Ludot, claims he has asked the US and UN to pay Saddam's legal fees. Funny though: he's defending the man the whose personal fortune is four times greater than that of Queen of England's (and that's a conservative estimate). Ludot says the Saddam family are in "a delicate financial situation" because "the American's have frozen all the accounts."

That should be news to the Americans as, according to the GAO (PDF: 268 kb; 16 pp), "U.S. efforts to recover Iraqi assets have had varying results... As of March 2004, Treasury reported that no more than 10 countries and the Bank for International Settlements had transferred approximately $751 million to the DFI. Little progress has been made in identifying and freezing additional Iraqi assets that remain hidden. While the amount of hidden assets accumulated by the former Iraqi regime is unknown, estimates range from $10 billion to $40 billion in illicit earnings."

Furthermore, the Times reported last May that, "In the hours before American bombs began falling on the Iraqi capital, one of President Saddam Hussein's sons and a close adviser carried off nearly $1 billion in cash from the country's Central Bank..."

And now he wants me to pay for his defense?
Astonishingly, French Elle magazine reports that a survey conducted on its behalf by IFOP finds that 64% of the French public favor gay marriage and 49% favor allowing gay couples to adopt children. At least something is going right over there.
But not everything, as you all know well. Chinese news agency XINHHUA reports that, according to the French Union for Foot Health (UFSPP), 20% of French people suffer from foot pains. A thousand podiatrists will be offering free consultations throughout France to-morrow so consider yourself notified. A UFSPP press-release states that "Every day, we take between 5,000 and 6,000 steps and every year we travel a distance equivalent to 2.5 times the circumference of the earth... Yet we 'neglect' our feet and while we react immediately to the slightest alert concerning other regions of the body, we do not have the same 'foot health' reflexes."

RAS in Chechnya

(A translation of a Le Monde editorial from May 11, 2004)

The war in Chechnya does not exist, at least according to Vladimir Putin. And since the Russian president largely controls the press, and in particular the television media, the Chechnyan war is non-existent—in Moscow at least.

The little Caucasus Republic, a member of the Russian Federation, has been pacified, explains Russian propaganda. A political process is happening. The Russian army is retreating and only specialized units remain. They are not fighting a popular up-rising but a residual, Islamist terror linked to Al-Qaida. Russians are thereby participating in the “global war on terror” launched by President George W. Bush in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Less than one week ago, during his inauguration speech marking the beginning of his second term as head of state, Putin barely mentioned Chechnya.

Then, three days later on Sunday, May 9th, a terrorist attack struck a stadium in Grozny, the wasteland that is the Chechnyan capital, reminding us amidst the horror that Chechnya is still at war. The pro-Russian “president” of the Caucasus Republic, Akhmad Kadyrov, and several others were killed. This massacre also blew apart the so-called war strategy of “Chechnyization” that the Kremlin has pursued for several months. It consists of using Chechnyan militias to combat the guerillas fighting for independence and to cordon off the population. In particular, Putin uses the well-known Kadyrov clan: it spreads terror, pillages, steals and kills with impunity. It is thus similar to the Spetsnav special forces of the Russian army which completes this parade of horribles by systematically using kidnapping for political (as well as other) ends.

Relaunched five years ago by Putin, the dirty war of Chechnya continues. Each morning, the corpses of the tortured victims from the night before are placed at the entrance to a street, to a village, or to a house. This war pits Moscow against the guerillas fighting for independence, and notably against those fighting under the banner of Aslan Maskhadov—a president elected in 1997 under conditions much more legal than any election that the Kremlin has since tried to hold. It is true, though, that the guerillas have tries to radical Islamism and that they use terrorism.

Mr. Putin does not want to negotiate with Mr. Maskhadov. In Putin’s eyes, this would be to signal defeat. He wants to subdue, overwhelm, exhaust Chechnya—the martyr of Russian colonialism for more than a century. Mr. Putin can count on Western, American and European complicity. No special Senate investigation, no military officers facing court martial, no NGO reports (NGO’s can no longer work on site), no photos published in newspapers. The dead number in the thousands; the tortured are no longer counted. But shhhhh! There is no war in Chechnya.

"Catastrophic" and "Disgraceful" Cell Conditions Leading to "Violence"

Is it Abu Ghraib? Riker's Island? Non, it's Vincennes, Lyon, Nice, and elsewhere dans l'Hexagone.

We've already heard about how suicides among France's inmates surpasses the number of death penalty executions in America (in a country five times less populous).

Now, it turns out — and this, as France's media and intellectual élite launches broadside after broadside on Washington's treatment of prisoners in an Iraqi prison, (noting the obvious racism in the fact that the prisoners that the Americans jailers were abusing are people of another color/race/religion/nationality) — that the jails of France aren't so gung-ho as they would like to think.

At the end of April, as Le Monde writes in an article, members of an ecumenical organisation for helping foreigners in France judged cell conditions in France's administrative retention centers (where illegal foreigners are placed) "catastrophic", "wretched", and "disgraceful", because of their (or leading to) filth, promiscuity, and violence.

Sylvia Zappi goes on to make a summary of La Cimade's list of delightful amenities, including: "intolerable promiscuity" in the Lyon prison; harassment of women refusing to prostitute themselves in the Seine-et-Marne one; and rats in Paris cells and toilets.

How about it, Plantu? How about a drawing of Chirac as a Nazi-era kapo?

(Thanks to Steve Flint)

The Second Liberation

Erik commented on this article in an essay and that made me think I might I should translate it.

LE MONDE | 06.05.04 | 13h52

Sixty years after the allied landing in Normandy, buried memories are resurfacing. At gatherings in town halls, some witnesses are telling their stories for the first time.

"From August 19 on, it was the apocalypse. Seven of us had taken refuge in a room of three by five meters. We couldn't go out for three days. We had nothing to eat, just a pitcher of water to drink. The noise was continuous. At one point, we were no longer afraid. We went into a kind of unconsciousness. It was a stupefaction of our entire beings. In the night of August 21 to 22, the noise died down over five to ten minutes. Then we got out, dirty, haggard. We couldn't get over being alive. The German who had hidden with us began to cry. Outside, it was a slaughter. Thousands of corpses of German soldiers and horses were rotting, swelling. And then I saw a dead man who was holding photos of his three children. One of them must have been my age, 14..."

Jean-Pierre Philippe falters and collapses in tears. In the party room at Chambois (Orne), too small for the 350 people who struggled to fit inside in the evening of Wednesday April 27 April, the silence is broken only by sniffling, clearing throats and the nervous tapping of shoes. Sixty years have passed, nearly a life. But among these white-haired witnesses, currents of images arise again with no apparent order, the anecdote alongside the drama, equals. The taste of chewing gum, fruit pastes, chocolate mix with those of blood and the dust of ruines, the smell of the first Virginia cigarettes with that of putrefying corpses.

A second man arises, mechanically: "Onfray Gaston, age 23 in 1944. Stop me if I go on too long..." He begins his tale, garbled, like a stampede, "We saw a tank with a star. So we cheered the Americans. They were Poles. There'd been a slaughter," he said. "It was we who removed the bodies. We threw the horses in a ditch. We dumped the Germans onto a metal sheet drawn by a horse and we put them where there was a hole. Six months later, a black juice was still came out of the ground. Civilians came to gather material, verging on looting. They cut off fingers to take wedding rings. They tore out gold teeth. It was unspeakable to do that, even if they were enemies." A couple more words stammered, a hesitation. "There. I'm done."

Chambois is the last and one of the worst episodes of the battle of Normandy, begun two and a half months earlier, June 6, 1944. In what was dubbed the "death corridor," a nine kilometer-wide gully, 5,000 to 10,000 Germans — it is still not known precisely how many — were killed, 50,000 were taken prisoner as they tried to flee the allied pincer. With flawless arrows, historical maps show the troop movements. But witness accounts tell of wandering, acts without rhyme or reason, lives shaken, toyed with by the maelstrom, civilians and soldiers maddened by the rage of battle.

Another ten people would speak that evening. The town of Chambois was chosen for one of the 25 events held since January 13 by the Caen Memorial, [radio station] France Bleu Basse-Normandie, and [newspaper] Ouest France. The last event was supposed to take place on May 6 in Caen. More than 10,000 people have attended these meetings, and, as was the case in Falaise, people sometimes had to be turned away. "We tried something similar for the fiftieth anniversary but with less success," says François Michaux, editorial director of France Bleu Basse-Normandie. "People really want to confide in each other and to listen. They feel it is surely the last time they'll get the chance."
Continue reading "The Second Liberation" ...

Monday, May 10, 2004

Army Times: Rumsfeld Must Go

In an editorial post dated to next week, the Army Times writes:
Around the halls of the Pentagon, a term of caustic derision has emerged for the enlisted soldiers at the heart of the furor over the Abu Ghraib prison scandal: the six morons who lost the war.

Indeed, the damage done to the U.S. military and the nation as a whole by the horrifying photographs of U.S. soldiers abusing Iraqi detainees at the notorious prison is incalculable.

But the folks in the Pentagon are talking about the wrong morons.

There is no excuse for the behavior displayed by soldiers in the now-infamous pictures and an even more damning report by Army Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba. Every soldier involved should be ashamed.

But while responsibility begins with the six soldiers facing criminal charges, it extends all the way up the chain of command to the highest reaches of the military hierarchy and its civilian leadership.

The entire affair is a failure of leadership from start to finish. From the moment they are captured, prisoners are hooded, shackled and isolated. The message to the troops: Anything goes.

In addition to the scores of prisoners who were humiliated and demeaned, at least 14 have died in custody in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Army has ruled at least two of those homicides. This is not the way a free people keeps its captives or wins the hearts and minds of a suspicious world.

How tragically ironic that the American military, which was welcomed to Baghdad by the euphoric Iraqi people a year ago as a liberating force that ended 30 years of tyranny, would today stand guilty of dehumanizing torture in the same Abu Ghraib prison used by Saddam Hussein’s henchmen.

One can only wonder why the prison wasn’t razed in the wake of the invasion as a symbolic stake through the heart of the Baathist regime.

Army commanders in Iraq bear responsibility for running a prison where there was no legal adviser to the commander, and no ultimate responsibility taken for the care and treatment of the prisoners.

Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, also shares in the shame. Myers asked “60 Minutes II” to hold off reporting news of the scandal because it could put U.S. troops at risk. But when the report was aired, a week later, Myers still hadn’t read Taguba’s report, which had been completed in March. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld also failed to read the report until after the scandal broke in the media.

By then, of course, it was too late.

Myers, Rumsfeld and their staffs failed to recognize the impact the scandal would have not only in the United States, but around the world.

If their staffs failed to alert Myers and Rumsfeld, shame on them. But shame, too, on the chairman and secretary, who failed to inform even President Bush.

He was left to learn of the explosive scandal from media reports instead of from his own military leaders.

On the battlefield, Myers’ and Rumsfeld’s errors would be called a lack of situational awareness — a failure that amounts to professional negligence.

To date, the Army has moved to court-martial the six soldiers suspected of abusing Iraqi detainees and has reprimanded six others.

Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, who commanded the MP brigade that ran Abu Ghraib, has received a letter of admonishment and also faces possible disciplinary action.

That’s good, but not good enough.

This was not just a failure of leadership at the local command level. This was a failure that ran straight to the top. Accountability here is essential — even if that means relieving top leaders from duty in a time of war.

Etch-a-Sketch Blogger

We've taken taken advantage of a few of blogger's new features. Sadly, that means that all of the judicious and pithy comments you left are gone. Believe me, it saddens me, too. I had to shitcan the stupid remarks as well. Sorry. But there's a new comments function available and we hope it makes reading this blog more enjoyable. (remember, the same rules as before: no trolling. Mind your manners or you're gone.)

False Alarm Alarming Nevertheless

The bomb found at the synagogue here was fake. They found another just like it, too.

Lafleur and the Pebble

(A translation of a Le Monde editorial that appeared on May 10, 2004)

Sixteen years after the signing of the Matignon Accords, the regional elections of May 9th have finalized the radical political divisions in New Caledonia. One could speak of a political landscape completely in flux in this South Pacific archipelago that is undergoing increasing political autonomy, which will climax in a referendum on self-rule between 2014 and 2019.

In addition to the divisions among the former lieutenants of Jean-Marie Djibaou (the historical leader of the independence movement) which were already evident during the previous elections in 1999, there is now a rupture in the so-called “loyalist” camp. Close to Jacques Chirac, Jacques Lafleur—the president of the Rassemblement pour la Calédonie dans la République (now called Rassemblement-UMP)—lost a majority in the southern province which is the most populous and the richest of the “Pebble.”** The Rassemblement-UMP will not be able to continue to head the Congress and the regional government unless it forms compromising alliances or unless there is further turn-over.

For more than ten years, the middle and upper classes originally from Europe have challenged the omnipotent Mr. Lafleur. Successive government administrations—from the Left as well as the Right—pretended not to notice and only recognized as worthy interlocutors the signatories of the Matignon Accords: Mr. Lafleur’s party on one hand and the Front de libération nationale kanak socialiste (FLNKS) on the other hand. This behavior on the part of the administrations ignored that the landscape had changed.

An increasing number of those liberal and modern individuals who support keeping New Caledonia within France are growing tired of Mr. Lafleur’s authoritarianism, paternalism and his omnipresence in economic circles. Moreover, those who support independence today are not the same as those who supported independence in the 1980’s. Although independence remains an objective, it seems increasingly mythical. The exercise of power, in the north and on the Loyauté islands, has convinced the most lucid, New Caledonian leaders that much must be done in order to build the country. This exercise of power has, unfortunately, also corrupted several people close to Djibaou.

The failure of Mr. Lafleur—who did not want to run for office and only did so at the request of the French president—also represents a set-back for Jacques Chirac. Six weeks after the defeat of Lucette Michaux-Chevry in local elections in Guadeloupe, another pillar of Chirac’s over-seas policy is vacillating. The only one left is Gaston Flosse in Polynesia.

The May 9th election risks weakening the process of independence set in motion by the Left in New Caledonia. As an extension of the Matignon Accords, concluded under Michel Rocard, the Nouméa Accord that was signed on May 5, 1998 by Lionel Jospin envisioned a progressive autonomy, followed by a referendum on independence after 2014. Tens years remain to invent a new New Caledonia. This is not much time to create “a single people,” as the Union calédonienne—the oldest part of the FLNKS—once proclaimed.

**NOTE: New Caledonia is nicknamed “Le Caillou” or “the Pebble.”

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…)

And We'll All Feel Joy When Juanito Comes Marching Home…

When Juanito comes marching home again, ¡Olé! ¡Olé!…

The Boston Globe's Charles M Sennott has an article about how proud Spain's soldiers are to have finished their job, how joyous la España is at seeing its "boys" again, and how Spaniards, high-ranking members of el gobierno, and the troops revelled together at the meeting welcoming the latter home. Excerpts:
"It didn't really feel like that much of a homecoming for us. It felt more like a political celebration for Zapatero and those who never wanted us there in the first place," said Manuel Garcia, 31, a sergeant in a brigade that was among the entire Spanish contingent of 1,300 troops ordered home.

"We felt like a used car being passed from one owner to the next," said Felipe Collado, 30, also a sergeant in the Plus Ultra II brigade, which arrived home Wednesday to a ceremony attended by Zapatero, his defense minister, and top brass. …

While all of the soldiers interviewed said they were relieved to be home and out of the harrowing dangers of serving in Iraq, most of them — even some originally opposed to the war — also expressed regret over Zapatero's decision. They said they were forced to abandon what they felt was a useful humanitarian mission. During their time on the ground, they said, they saw a profound need for international troops to stabilize the chaos and violence of postwar Iraq. …

"We should have stayed and finished our mission," said Jose Francisco Casteneda, 29, who was among four sergeants who gathered at a local restaurant Thursday …

Over coffee, the soldiers grumbled about what they viewed as the staged homecoming … The soldiers said they couldn't hide their disappointment that the prime minister did not directly address them and left it to Defense Minister Jose Bono. "A lot of us were wondering, 'Who is this parade for anyway?' " Collado asked.

[Although] Cesar Royo, 29, a communications specialist for the brigade who had just returned to his new bride [was against the US-led invasion, he] said he came away from his experience with a sense that the Spanish troops had something important to contribute, and he felt their mission was cut short in a way that smells of retreat and feels less than noble.

No Comment

"The person at Le Monde most likely to be accused of being anti-American is unfortunately the cartoonist you have before you. Even though I am not. Not at all." — Jean Plantureux

The Financial Times told us: Edwy Plenel, Le Monde's editorial director, says Plantu's cartoons are both "the front door" of the newspaper and its most prominent editorial. "Of course, there is an editorial in Le Monde, but the first editorial in the newspaper is Jean's," Plenel says...

[...] Between 8.10am and 8.30am every morning, Plantu learns which story will run as the splash across the top of the front page, and dashes off half-a-dozen sketches, from which Plenel will choose one. By 10.45am, everything needs to be finished and ready to send to the printers at Ivry-sur-Seine.

Your Average Friendly Europe Day in Paris

End of World War II Day. Dien Bien Phu Day. No Pants Day. All in all, it's been a good week-end for Days. (Those with a capital D).

You probably missed it, but there was also Europe Day, which was celebrated with Tony Blair meeting Jacques Chirac in Paris. As the International Herald Tribune tells it:
Despite their falling out over Iraq, Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain and President Jacques Chirac of France marked a cordial "Europe Day" in Paris on Sunday… The two leaders answered students' questions for more than an hour before breaking for lunch to discuss the issues of a future European constitution and the makeup of the new Iraqi transitional government …

The two leaders … answered questions about Europe's expansion last week from 15 to 25 members and the future of Iraq …"Today it is evident that the great majority of Iraqis have bad feelings about the forces of peace, which they consider occupying forces," Chirac said.
(Where did he get that evidence from? Le Monde? Oh, okay. I see.)
"So it is very urgent to transfer true sovereignty and powers to an authentically Iraqi authority that is recognized as such by the Iraqi people," said Chirac. The French president was one of the most outspoken voices against the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq that Britain took part in. The French president did not directly address allegations of coalition soldiers torturing prisoners. But he said that people who are "humiliated" would become aggressive.

Limited sovereignty will be restored to Iraqis on June 30, with a transitional government in power until a general election is held by the end of January.

The government that takes power after that must have the capacity to end the international mission in Iraq if it wishes, Chirac said.

Chirac, whose bitter diplomatic dispute with President George W. Bush over Iraq led to a post-cold-war low point in relations between the two countries, has since tried to mend fences.

On Sunday, he said that strong U.S.-Europe ties were in the "fundamental interest" of both sides — but he hinted there were still some hard feelings.

"This presupposes mutual respect, which isn't always the case," Chirac said.
(Meaning Uncle Sam, naturellement.)
But, he added: "Anything that calls this bond into question is dangerous for the future of Europe and the United States." …

On May 9, 1950, the first move was made toward the formation of the European Union when the French foreign minister at the time, Robert Schuman, proposed the creation of an organized Europe.
Earlier, The Economist had warned Blair of
the latest fashionable notion in Brussels: the idea that Britain might be chucked out of the EU if it refuses to ratify the new constitution that the 25 members are likely to agree next month. Tony Blair has promised a referendum on the constitution, and all the polls suggest that British voters will reject it. That, in theory, could mean that the whole document is still-born, since it needs to be ratifies by every EU member. So Jacques Chirac, France's president, has begun to exert what he calls a little "friendly pressure", by suggesting that any country that rejects the constitution will have to leave the EU altogether. Long experience has taght Mr Blair that nothing is more menacing than a "friendly" gesture from Mr Chirac.

In-Depth Article on EU 25

The Economist has an in-depth article on the new Europe.

Sunday, May 09, 2004

Makes me wanna holler

Blacks are the Victims of Marginalization in France
byJean-Félix Mouloungui

This title is not an opinion. It is a fact. French blacks are victims of sublte discrimination and marginalization at the heart of the Republic. The condescending attitude of the French elite twoard other countries (the United States, the United Kingdom, etc....) on this score, yet absent condemnation of recurrent discrimination in France, makes me shout with rage to tell all those who give lessons in morality: enough hipocrisy. Put the Republic's house in order first.

Diên Biên Phú and Iraq?

American and other foreign nationals being evacuated
aboard Air America, April 29, 1975.
For some reason or other, not one of the four bloggers in this space took any notice of yesterday's 50th anniversary commemorations of the battle of Diên Biên Phú.

General Võ Nguyên Giáp lead the Vietnamese attack and the battle lasted from March 13 until May 7, 1954, when France surrendered [*]. Three thousand French troops and ten thousand Vietnamese died there.

In yesterday's Times, French novelist Antoine Audouard published an op-ed, chosen for its obvious echos:
Fifty years ago today, at dawn on May 7, 1954, after 56 days of battle, silence fell upon the hills of Dien Bien Phu. The French had named the hills Dominique, Béatrice and Isabelle, sweet and feminine names, evocative of the mists of the northern Vietnamese countryside. They had been taken and lost, and taken again, and their shell-plowed soil was drenched in sweat and blood. For years to come they would deliver up fragments of human bodies and muddy jungle boots. This once calm mountain valley had become the symbolic graveyard of the 60,000 French soldiers who died in the Indochina war.

Cruelly, the night before, the Vietminh radio had broadcast "Le Chant des Partisans," [brief MP3 sample] the hymn of the French Resistance. Some of the 10,000 French soldiers there had, 10 years earlier, been part of the fight against the Nazis.
Supplies parachuted in to a French garrison. At Diên Biên Phú
Hearing the familiar lyrics, they felt their hearts being torn apart. What was defeat and humiliation for them — the surrender of their fortified camp to the Vietnamese and the end of French colonial rule in that country — was victory and liberation for their adversaries, the Vietnamese. It was one and the same reality: the two sides of the coin.
Audouard's father, who was born in Saigon, fought in that battle. He traveled to Vietnam to interview former combatants from both sides. He says he found that even in Vietnam "the silence after the battle had never been broken," and that the reasons for this were strange and complex. He continues
The reasons for the French silence are easier to understand: the vanquished lie low. Many survivors of the Indochina war are content to end their lives without answering the question their children never ask: Did you participate in acts of torture? Some did, burning villages, killing children they mistook for terrorists, raping women. "I did what a soldier is supposed to do; and for the rest, I did what I could." This medieval soldier's saying is no longer an excuse. To do "what one could" is indeed a far cry from doing what one dreamed of doing.

For those who lived through the humiliation of the German takeover of France in 1940, Indochina was an opportunity for redemption. They were soon to find out a simple and harsh truth: they were not welcome. The first Westerners to tell them so were hated and dismissed. They were American. Year after year, the French fought on, ignoring their own growing scepticism about the nature and objectives of the war. "A man of honor," De Gaulle once wrote, "pays his debts with his own money." Soon enough, the French war in Vietnam was heavily financed by American money. We might once have had honor, but we had certainly run out of money. All we had left to give was blood.
Audouard concludes with some odd and contradictory thoughts:
Can the echoes of the valley of Dien Bien Phu be heard in the streets of Falluja, at the prison of Abu Ghraib? Forty years ago, French friends of America tried to warn Washington about the pitfalls of Vietnam. The French themselves repeated their mistakes in Algeria. In Iraq every day even the best of intentions are cruelly put to test by the miseries and sorrows of war. As the promoters of a modern, "clean" war would have it, torture, humiliation, rapes, the killing of innocents, useless destruction are now avoidable.

But to go to war is to go to the bottom of the pit: what if those tragedies are not "collateral damage" but war itself, the essence of war? And when the damage is done, the pain and the shame are there to stay, and the dead (those bastards, my pals) keep coming back like ghosts.
What does Audouard council here? Is it just beatific pacifism? What exactly are the lessons of Diên Biên Phú if not even the French were able to draw them? Don't ever fight? Really? Crime and ignominy may very well be inextricable from war, but if Audouard is telling us never to fight, how could this realization have torn apart French soldiers' hearts if they didn't know that the Chant des Partisans and the violence it represented were righteous? And if war is "descending to the bottom of the pit," where exactly would France have been were it not for another earlier battle, the anniversary of which will be celebrated next month?

I may not see it but, if indeed there is a parallel between the torture employed by French troops in Indochina and the torture Abu Ghraib, Audouard maybe among the first in years — in France, or anywhere else for that matter — to give a damn about either.

[*] For those inclined to snicker at the sight of the words "France surrendered," take a few valium and think of fall of Saigon, and then go fuck yourselves.