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08 Jan 2015 - 05:55:25 pm

WHAT RELIGION IS ATROCITY?

I have a great love of France and things French. Mainly it's a sort of intellectual affair; for the art, philosophy, literature, music, and also to a certain extent to the way of life. I have spent long periods in Paris, but Paris is not France, as Dublin is not Ireland. There are many faces to France. Some of them are scarred and ugly.

I was introduced to the weekly Charlie Hebdo some years ago and must admit that I enjoyed its irreverent political taunting. It was on the ball in terms of French politics, a sort of French version of The Phoenix here in Ireland. It poked at sacred cows. The recent murder of its journalists must strike hard at journalists all over the world as an atrocity and, some will argue vehemently, an attack on free speech. From a Western perspective, it was certainly these things. But the Western perspective is, after all, the only one we really ever receive. It would seem to be the only one that counts.

It has been pointed out on social media by Galway's Dickie Byrne that a massacre in Yemen, which took place very recently, received scant attention from The Irish Times. And we are being fed the line that the killers in the case of Charlie Hebdo were trained in Yemen, though there's not a lot of corroborating evidence. The assailants were, at least two of them, Algerian. Anyone looking at their surnames would've known that straightaway. So can we make the leap to thinking that French deaths - Western deaths - are more news-worthy than Mid-eastern deaths? One look at the Gaza outrages by Israel would certainly suggest this. And Israel, we know, can murder Gazans and even Americans with impunity - while Barack Obama, United States president and supporter of Israel, can without a blink go on television immediately, with David Cameron and others, and condemn the murders in Paris. The imbalance is it's own comment. 

Racism assumes many forms. When the great Victorian British explorer, Burton, found himself under attack from African tribesmen, he stood up in his boat, considered his position of being attacked by Africans, muttered 'How utterly absurd!' and shot one of them dead. Yes, Victorian mores, different days. But little has changed. The West-against-the-Rest battle continues. But there are some who would not tolerate such comparisons, at least on social media. George W. Bush's famous remarks about the perpetrators of the Twin Towers outrage contained the word 'crusade,' rather unhelpfully, and the note that the people who allegedly carried out the attacks 'are not like us.' When in 2005 Paris suburbs erupted, Nicolas Sarkozy referred to the rioters as 'racailles' and 'voyous' (this last word probably where we got the much milder 'boyohs' from) two words which are much more pejorative than 'scum' and 'riff-raff.' That these people were poor, many of them immigrants, jobless and with a lousy education matrix was irrelevant; as was, apparently, the fact that Sarkozy himself was the son of a Hungarian, Pál István Erno Sárkozy de Naga-Bócsa, his maternal grandfather a Greek Jewish convert to Catholicism. Some Paris suburbs are, as the film 'La Haine' so vividly depicts, no-go areas even for the police, the poverty and hopelessness overwhelming and enraging.

The French record on racism is not good. On anti-Semitism, it is deplorable. France boasted one camp during the Second World War that contained ovens, though not alone for Jews; German soldiers had little to do but smoke cigarettes and kill the boredom as French police 'managed' the deportations of Parisian Jews to the infamous Vel d'Hiv, where many were transported directlty to Auschwitz. This operation was named, without irony, 'Operation Spring Breeze' and was Nazi directed. Drancy meant Sobibor. To their credit, the Vichy regime made considerable efforts to prevent the deportations of Jews; yet there are few French villages where a 'rue de Juifs' is not an empty street with crumbling houses. This has played on the French psyche for a long time. Yet, a few years ago, as I sat drinking coffee in a Breton village, a young, drunk man planted himself beside me and, laughingly in the course of conversation, remarked in French: "I would be arrested for saying this, but the unemployment situation in France today is all the fault of the Jews." I was sickened and shocked. It was 1942 all over again. 

This, in a country whose great historic hero suffered insult and degredation for being Corsican, and not French, until he became Emperor; perhaps Napoléon never forgot the slight. And then there's the Dreyfus Affair, which requires no comment or retelling from me. One cannot love France without acknowledging her sins.

The Charlie Hebdo atrocity - and let's be clear, it was an atrocity - has already created an anti-Muslim backlash, with notice from Marine le Pen to reintroduce the death penalty if she wins the 2017 election. Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu, who has sworn that no members of the IDF - let alone himself - will ever stand before the International Criminal Court over certain events in Gaza, is busy using the Hebdo killings to mouth adjectives such as 'savagery,' though clearly arresting and even murdering Palestinian children is not savagery. Oh, don't give me that old nonsense of comparisons, some will shout. Comparisons are not excuses. No one could excuse what happened in Paris a few days ago. But let us understand that Palestinians and many other Arabs seriously believe that the Western world does not care about their fate, that justice is untranslatable into their language, that thievery of their land and money is permissable in Western political philosophy. It follows that making jokes about their religion doesn't matter either, they have been rendered such a non-people. Yet in the West one can be prosecuted for depicting Jews in a scandalous and mocking way. While Netanyahu, a New Yorker, can rant, rave, invade and dispossess Arabs as he wishes. 

It isn't so long ago - 1998 - since Terrence McNally's play 'Corpus Christi,' depicting Christ and his disciples as a group of Gay men, elicited this response from Texas Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst: "No one should have the right to use government funds or institutions to portray acts that are morally reprehensible to the vast majority of Americans," and a planned performance was banned on the grounds of 'safety concerns.' (No one said much when a US nuclear submarine was named 'Corpus Christi,' however.) In 2012, in Athens, where a production was planned, the fascist parliamentyary party Golden Dawn went ape, leading to 'violent protests' by politicians and clergy alike. So we in 'the West' can get quite touchy when Christ is not portrayed to our liking, but seem to have no concerns when the Prophet Muhammad, sacred to 1.6 billion people in the world, is allegedly mocked in a cartoon. 

What we're looking at is, yes, hypocrisy; but it's more than that. The West is seemingly 'at war' with predominantly Muslim countries, and for base reasons. Many of have never met a Muslim. I have lived among them. They have the same daily concerns as any of us and love their children no less. The West wants whatever it can grab from most of these countries. It does not care how it obtains it. Sham shows of concern surface now and then, but not at the top tables. Though many good people in the West and Middle East detest vehemently, and publicly, what their rulers are up to, the vast media resources and economic grasping of the élites out-shout them. Military and economic deals are done which always fail to take into account the needs and even lives of ordinary God-fearing people wherever they may be. And people with dark agendas will always use the consequent atrocities for their own ends. 

The murderers of the journalists of Charlie Hebdo must face justice. We're agreed on that. So also must those who at present cock a snook at the ICC and the rest of the peace-loving world, while continuing to pillage, direct their killing drones, plunder and invade - or else what was Nuremberg for? For Christians only? 

After all, many high-ranking Nazis were Mass-going Christians, even as the ovens blazed. None were Muslims.


 - What would Victor Hugo say of Gaza?


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Admin · 551 views · 2 comments

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Comments

Comment from: Garreth [ Visitor ]
You know your France - Paris & Brittany - quite well Fred; so your background cultural remarks are welcome. I too am a longstanding admirer of french cultural achievements, while being mindful of its stains - chauvinism (a word brought into English from French), a tradition of metropolitan disdain for the provinces including la France Outre-Mer, racism in the colonies (the word evoule 'evolved' was used to designate Africans like the brilliant Leopold Senghor of Senegal who had gone through the lycee system and third level education successfully), the systematic anti-jewish defamation of the 19th century, the writings of the Marquis de Sade, the ghettoisation of the poor including the muslim maghrebians. [Pardon: les 'accents' ne se trouvent pas sur mon ordinateur chinois.]
So it is humane to sympathise with French people on the shock caused by the cold calculated massacre of twelve journalists in their Paris workplace, and the jihadi murderous invasion of a kosher supermarket near the Bois de Vincennes; while not endorsing french cultural hauteur and military intervention in Africa and the Middle East.

France has produced notable thinkers on the right and the left. It has produced mischief-making thinkers like the postmodernist Barthes and Derrida. At this critical period of social fissure France needs independent thinkers of the caliber of Camus (a white Algerian) who can reflect with detachment on the agonies through which french society is going and will continue to go. French foreign policies have been hypocritical and inconsistent.
   2015-01-10 @ 04:31:22 pm
Comment from: Brenda Malloy [ Visitor ]
thoughtful article, Fred. Thanks for sending it.
   2015-01-09 @ 04:13:21 pm

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