Sunday, September 11, 2011

Personal Memories of September 11, 2001, in Paris

Since commemorations of 9-11 are taking place all over the world, I thought we should search the archives of No Pasarán for the personal memories of two of the blog's bloggers. Erik and Bill's posts will help explain why they started to blog:

September 11, 2001, in France

(September 09, 2005)

For no particular reason (except that the anniversary is this weekend), I thought I should recount my experience of 911 and the numerous instances of French solidarity I encountered in the following days.
On the afternoon of September 11, 2001, I was having a drink in the TGV's dining car (yes, I know, I take the train a lot), heading north to Paris.
Cel phone communication is hard to come by on trains, but at one point I heard I had a message on the answering machine. I called the number to hear the message. It was my (New York-born) mother, and all the message said was to please call back: "There has been a series of catastrophes in the States".
Befuddled, I headed out into the corridor and called my parents, and after answering, my mom said I should talk to my dad. I listened incredulously as my father explained that planes had been deliberately flown into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and that both Twin Towers had collapsed.
Needless to say, I headed back to the dining car in another state of mind, totally closed off and unable to communicate with anyone.
At one point, three or four members of some state-owned company (they may have been EDF) entered the dining car. . Although they discussing the day's events, they were obviously heading to Paris to demonstrate against the government, and during their conversation, I overheard one of them making a joke (sic). With a snicker, he said "Ils l'ont fait exprès pour saboter notre manifestation" (They [obviously meaning the Americans] did it on purpose, in order to sabotage our demonstration). Alhough the others barely laughed at what was obviously an instance of sophisticated humor à la française (smiles were in order, though), the comment should give a better idea of the real state of friendship harbored towards America then the presumed one extant in the myth of the squandered sympathy.
I was too emotionally drained to react to this comment, and anyway without a radio and a TV set to get a better idea of the situation, the extent of the terrorist attacks was hard to believe. I had listened to learn more, and had certainly not expected anything but empathy for Americans.
(Meanwhile, fellow webmaster Bill was taking a drink in a Paris café — listen to his experience with French proclamations of ever-lasting friendship [or read it below].)
Anyway, another two hours went by without news, without images of any kind, and when I arrived at Gare de Lyon, I rushed home faster than I ever have before, arriving drenched with sweat just in time for the 8 o'clock news. That night I hardly slept, as I stayed up in front of the TV all night long, wishing, wishing drastically that the news wasn't true.
For the next couple of weeks I wore a bandanna with the Stars and Stripes everywhere I went.
At my office the following day, there was certainly nobody among my fellow journalists who had anything sympathetic to say about 911 (or what they had to say they certainly weren't sharing with the guy wearing Old Glory on his head).
The previous August, I had joined a group of a dozen hikers (all of them French) in crossing the Himalayas at a point in northern India, and we had decided to meet again at one of our apartments on the Saturday three weeks after our return from the trek. This turned out to be September 15.
A couple of people brought their companions along. Eventually discussion turned to the events of the previous Tuesday. I never expected anything but sympathy to be shown (like I had on the train), but one female hiker's boyfriend obviously had none. I don't remember if he actually said he was happy about 911 or in so many words that Americans deserved it, but he certainly had not the smallest empathy for them, saying he hated their guts.
That is where I lost my cool.
"So that is the famous French solidarity, huh?!" I interrupted from my chair.
He tried to say something, but he wasn't about to get the chance.
"So that is the famous French generosity, huh?!" I bellowed.
He again replying, but…
"So that is the famous French tolerance, huh?"
I got up.
The others were begging me to drop the matter, to shut up.
"So that is the famous love of fellow human beings, huh? I am so-o-o-o impressed!"
His girlfriend was begging me, begging both of us, to let the matter drop, but I piled on with acerbic irony.
"Do you have any other examples of France's famed lucidité, we would love to listen to them!"
The other people were alarmed, they seemed to think we were going to come to blows, and, truthfully, both then and later, I felt like I was battering him, except by the use of words instead of fists.
"Oh, I am so impressed by your avant-garde feelings of solidarity towards the entire world — please, please, can you give us some lessons!"
Suddenly, the guy got up, crossed the room towards the front door of the fifth-floor apartment, and — walked out. Leaving his girlfriend behind, he started running down the stairway. In my fury, I still managed to register surprise, because that was the last thing I expected.
I sat down again, fury still registered on my face, and the topic quickly changed to something totally unrelated to international news.
The point is that, as John Rosenthal (among others) has pointed out, the story of the squandered sympathy is nothing but a myth: Over the following months, or years (weeks?), we are told, America's president (i.e., Bush) and his government squandered the sympathy that the world generously bestowed upon America in the immediate aftermath.
As it happens, the comment I heard in the apartment occurred four days after the terrorist attacks, and the comments that I heard in the train and that W heard in the Paris café occurred within hours (if not dozens of minutes) after learning of the terrorist attacks.
Those give quite a different context to the expressions of friendship such as those seen by clicking on the photo above. As many of our French commentators make clear, what is said in public (and nobody denies Europeans' mastery in handling the délicatesse of diplomacy) and what is said behind one's back can be quite a different matter; in any case, the friendship is tinged (soaked, rather) with (self-serving) paternalism.
Close friendship with America: it is all a lie, folks, it is all a lie. (Or if you want to be charitable, at best it is self-deception.)

Let's set the record straight for all the politically correct, terrorist appeasing, revisionists out there

(March 18, 2003)
9-11 in Paris 11-9-2001 à Paris
Quite a few falsehoods are being spread about America 'squandering' French sympathy in the aftermath of 9-11. So let's set the record straight for all the politically correct, terrorist appeasing, revisionists out there. There was no French sympathy, period. The first images I saw of the attacks were on the TV in a Paris café shortly after leaving the office. As images of people jumping from the Towers were shown a French guy at the bar made a back handed wave at the TV screen and said, 'to hell with them'. All the customers' discussions in the café were along the lines of 'its a terrible thing BUT ...' quickly followed by vague justifications why it was not such a terrible thing after all. Kids were running down the street yelling 'the States are fucked'. In the days following the attacks, graffiti praising Osama bin Laden appeared daily on the ATMs throughout the neighborhood. Dope using French judo champ Djamel Bouras, appearing on the first edition of 'Tout le Monde en Parle' following the attacks, stated 'Why do the French newspapers declare that we are all Americans? Why a minute of silence for the dead Americans? What about a minute of silence for the dead Palestinians?' Answer to Bouras: because the Palestinians are bloodthirsty murdering terrorist scum, that's why. Now go use your smack. French celebration of 9-11 continued thereafter. Dubya said it best, 'Never forgive, never forget'. Enormément de mensonges circulent au sujet de la sympathie française qui a été 'gaspillée' par l'Amérique suite aux attaques du 11-9-2001. Remettons les pendules à l'heure pour tous les révisionnistes politiquement corrects qui font des accomodements vis-à-vis du terrorisme. Il n'y a jamais eu de sympathie française, point barre. Les permières images des attaques que j'ai vues étaient à la télévision dans un café parisien peu de temps après avoir quitté le bureau. Au moment où les images étaient transmises de gens qui sautaient des Tours un mec français au comptoir a fait un geste de la main vers le téléviseur en disant, 'qu'ils aillent au diable'. Toutes les discussions parmi les clients consistaient à dire 'c'est une chose affreuse MAIS ...' vite suivies de justifications pour dire qu'il ne s'agissait pas de quelque chose de si affreux en fin de compte. Des mômes courraient dans la rue en criant, 'on a niqué les USA'. Dans les jours qui ont suivi les attaques, les guichets automatiques du quartier étaient recouverts de graffiti faisant l'éloge d'Oussama ben Laden. Djamel Bouras, champion français de judo et consommateur de produits dopants, lors de son passage à la première émission de 'Tout le Monde en Parle' après les attaques, a déclaré 'Pourquoi les journaux français disent qu'on est tous des américains? Pourquoi il faut faire une minute de silence pour les américains morts? Pourquoi pas une minute de silence pour les palestiniens morts?' Réponse à Bouras: car les palestiniens sont des fumiers de terroristes meurtriers et sanguinaires. Alors, occupe-toi de ta came. Par la suite, le culte français autour du 11-9-2001 a pris de l'ampleur. Bush l'a bien dit, 'Ne jamais pardonner, ne jamais oublier'.

See also:
The Legend of the Squandered Sympathy

The America-Bashers' Use of Symbolism on September 11

• 911 Commemorated in Paris's Luxembourg Garden

The Skies Shed Tears During Paris Commemoration of 911 Attacks

• Looking Over TV Shows Inspired by 9-11, Le Monde Discovers (Surprise!) "a Culture of Fear"

Still Looking for "Another" September 11th?

• André Glucksmann: Bin Laden Is Gone, Not The Strategy of Radical Hatred Without Quarter

Le Monde's 911 Commemorations