A Day in Life
I am writing this for light relief after days (not yet over) of steady news and consulting information sources and writing about Islam, French culture, Charlie, laïcité, religion and war. I can’t handle events like this as I once did. At least this time it happened where I didn’t need to locate all “the places” and research “the people” and do crude historical research. I know something about France, not a lot, but enough so I don’t have to look stuff up on Wikipedia. Although I have done a bit of that this last week as well. Too much I don’t know about nearly everything.
So today I still read a few more articles, especially those friends are beginning to send me. I think we are all getting fed up with the kind of media view which treats this thing as a simple issue on which all French people united and can feel solidarity and support for the freedom of expression. Like there is nothing else going on. Although some commentators and interviewed normal people talk about other things, but there is the idea that we are a people united as one, showing how much we love France and its ways. Truth is, lots of people are not united in real life, and are not deeply in love with France. Even if they buy copies of Charlie for the first time. I still haven’t got one. So I added a couple of paragraphs to the Charlie dairy, which I hope is also posted by now.
Went to the gym for seniors at 9h00 and was a bit less tired than normal afterwards. Then it hit me after lunch. It was a bit of work. Long nap. I would almost like to start each of my days with some form of gym, central core work, stretching, taiji class, physio treatment or bike ride, and then see how much I could do the rest of the day. I have limits. I get tired more easily than I once did. Had a good physio treatment the other day, even got rid of the back pain for a few hours. Anyway, I read more after the gym, and popped in to get some meds refilled. I secretly hope these quick trips into the centre of town, three minutes walk, will bring me a random significant encounter, but today I was without. Did a bit more reading, then napped. Several friends on my personal email list reacted, more than usual, to some posts I have been making about Charlie. I consider my “correspondence with friends” to be one of my activities. Although I suppose it is now communications, but for me it is correspondence.
I had a chat with a very old friend who had for some reason read some of my blogs. He said “Tom, you have become a local”. I knew what he meant. In fact, I am an immigrant, not terribly happy to be here, but also a local.
Then a superb lunch, cooked as out main meal every single day by Naurika. One of life’s msall luxuries in my view. Every day! As usual, we also watched some percentage of the national news at 13h00.
After my somewhat longer than usual nap I took a little walk to ease things up a bit, over to the library. A lovely urban walk which gives me a number of choices of the exact trajectory. Even with the Passarelle still closed after flood damage, I have options. I wandered through the narrow street to the little bridge and followed the quai along the small semi-contained, cement bound river, until it flowed into the real river through the middle of town. They just built a little walkway for pedestrians, along the river, next to the very small road. It projects out onto the river and is a wonderful treat for at least 45 to 60 seconds, until you cross the old bridge over the main river. There are some fine grade B+ local scenic outlooks here and there; not cosmic, but if some of these poor riverside houses were bought by people with money and painted in lovely colours on the outside, it would be a great post card site. That whole quartier should look quite different in five years, there is a big plan afoot to redevelop it. Right now it is cheap housing with no light. Then I have some very minor choices to get to the library. I picked the main road this time, just a street really, where there are shops and the cinema. Checked out what was on, did some exceedingly fast window shopping and turned up to the library.
During the winter when the bike season is not on, I don’t buy l’Equipe each day. I buy it sometimes, for example, to see that they had cartoons about Charlie on four successive covers recently. Totally unusual to have anything but sport on the cover, totally. No writing about Charlie, but there were some cartoons. Charlie is always scathing about sports, doping, money and so forth. Still. I caught up on the cycling articles in the paper. There is often one a day, but in deepest winter, normally, not even a serious article, just some shorts. Found out about the new scoring system for World’s Best Rider. That Cav is back, and ready for action. Wiggo is riding until Paris-Roubaix, then the Hour, although I knew that already. Nice article on Arnaud Demare, the young French sprinter who still trains and lives in his family home in the north of France. Apparently building a new house 2 minutes away. A nice, white local, French lad. Then found out that Nacer Bouhanni, not so nice, not at all white, bit of a bad boy reputation (still some local tendencies). He is training hard for Milan-San Remo with his new Cofidis mates, whose only purpose all season long will be to get Nacer 300 metres from the line or so, and wait for him to sprint for a win. Quite fun really. I looked at the latest Politis (semi-soft left, alternative mag). Realised that the last issue came out before Charlie and just skimmed through, finding not one article I wanted to read. I really am totally finished with leftism. I am not even all that curious what they think any more. Even though of course I do read a bit, and friends send me stuff, and the Reading Group sometimes reads leftists.
Then a walk home (six-seven minutes max) along the main drag, where I checked things out. Nearly everything I buy is from that main drag (or a quick trip in the car), and so I don’t have remember what I need to get. Oh yes, my market is the internet as well. I just walk along the street, and when I get to the intended shop, I will remember that I have to go there and get something. A kind of semi-casual wandering with purpose. I had nothing to do in fact, so I got home quickly to write this. Although I do like walking down the lit up street, still Xmas lights, so I think I am in an urban area.
The rest of the day will be more work on Charlie, maybe sending off the diary today. I did do that, but this blog draft just sat around for days on end. Then fix dinner for myself (we eat separately at night. Then watch the latest Tv series I downloaded, ending it for the moment. The Fall. Not that great, but we have done it now and need to find a new series to watch. Neither French nor British TV appeal much to us these days, so we watch series or films, without ads and stopping when we want.
Should have a few minutes after that to do some more reading and polish off the diary. I need to be sure that although some things I hardly mention (like the Jewish connection, or the Algerian historical spiritual effect on France, or whether this will bring on repression and fascism or ….). Still I wanted to write something light and this is it. Plans probably won’t work out perfectly, but for me that is a normal day. I did ring up a friend up the valley to see if he was home after my nap. But he was going out, so I had to make a new plan to catch up on l’Equipe. I like being retired.
A Charlie Diary
I knew it would be hard to write something about Charlie. Especially since I finished and realised that all the bits were written at different times and will be confusing. Not even an orderly diary. Wednesday was the arrival of the new issue. Instead of 60,000 copies they will print 5 million for sale throughout the world, to feed comment on their choice of Cover and what it Means, which means more sales. They used to have 7,000 subs and now they have 120,000. They have donations of 1.4 million Euros. Charlie is set up for at least two or three years. But I still not been able to buy a copy and it is Friday night. This “guys killing people”, terrorism or war, will just keep rolling on for years, not every day, but possibly “any” date at all, with no warning, in any country. Since I wrote the body of the blog, there has been the HUGE demo in Paris, biggest since The Liberation, they say. We are told that everyone was on the streets for the same reason, the same goals, one team, one nation, united. That will be the biggest political media myth to crack. French humour (even satire) is sometimes not really all that funny to me. But the “rebirth” issue is where they simply could not avoid “poking a bit of fun” at the Prophet Muhammed. In my preferred world, there would be something else on the cover, and some kind of strong and deeply felt need for reconciliation and wildly emotional needs to be a bit more friendly, to treat each other like good neighbours, some kind of easing up. We shall see. I am getting the impression that the lads on the mag are “random fun-pokers”. Must edit and send this! Of course by now I realise this is more of a diary than an essay. It has been written over several days, after reading new material and talking to people. So there is no coherence at all, except that I wrote it. Just turned out that way. And it really is long, you would have to set aside a good fifteen minutes to read it.
Saturday was the day for the demo in Bedarieux. Sunday was the day for the big demo in Paris. So from the immense distance of nine days, I am going to try and set down my thoughts. I have no specific policy suggestions. I don’t believe the problem (whatever it is) can be sorted in one or two decades, much less in a couple of months. It is an issue like “immigration”, there will (nearly) always be more immigrants than the “native” people would like. No one really wants to live with “the other”. Same for any issue that is important, justice, equality, freedom. It immediately gets totally complex and full of emotions. There is no way to deal with these deep problems through normal legislation of the state. Movement and change in those complex areas requires deep engagement with the emotional problems. Anyway that was my first clear thought. This issue is utterly insoluble without massive changes in emotionally based thoughts or feelings.
As soon as I got the drift of the “events”, I thought immediately that the two killers, then the third, would go down guns blazing. This is the well-known, gun-toting, macho man who goes down fighting “movie”. It is not just extremist violent Muslims who have this vision, but anyone who watches Westerns, thrillers and team efforts against an alien invader. Especially men. You go down guns blazing. Realising this was the movie being played out made it easier for me to not slip into Islam-based notions or Islamophobia. All those kinds of guys like to go down guns blazing and whether they are serial killers, one-off slaughter makers, or the enemy, or undercover terrorists, going down, guns blazing, is the movie. Frankly, I don’t like that movie and think that “movie cultural” behaviour like that is a massive problem for humanity. In fact, one of the most horrible examples of macho Islam culture added together with “traditional patriarchy” is Saudi Arabia, although probably Abu Dhabi, Qatar, etc are as bad. The Saudis are generally so badly behaved, looked at from a certain “Western” Enlightenment viewpoint, a Charlie one, for example, that is it hard to be anything by scathing about their way of life over the last century, at least. That’s why I am non-violent in ALL my thoughtful politics. I do certainly admit to having the feeling that I would be quite happy to see those killers blown away. Even though of course, I am not a big believer in capital punishment, think the judicial system is better than gunfights for settling things, and know that we might learn more about ourselves and about “the other” if they were alive.
There is no doubt that this was one of those fairly infrequent, but overwhelming times when a more or less emotional, heavily irrational wave swept through France, and to a lesser degree, all over the world. Certainly in the UK there is much talk about this incident. I hear it on the UK radio in the morning and I can see it on FB and my emails. There are lonely voices saying they think Charlie was not such a great mag anyway, even calling it racist or Islamophobic, or I might add, a bit macho. People will gradually realise they have been “voting for Chirac”, by almost blindly getting swept up in the truly powerful social energy of fear and anger. In my experience it is similar to the feeling I had during the beginning of the Falklands War in Britain. “Arguing” for NOT invading was nearly impossible in public. Just as not “being Charlie” is difficult here. And later during the duration of the “Las Malvinas” war, the same powerful consensus emotions were overwhelming. This time, I did my best to surf this wave, letting my feelings guide me. I risked becoming a bit “je suis charlie”. I almost went into the shop which run by a city counsellor who is National Front, and who did NOT display a “JSC” photocopied A4 in his window until several days after the killings and took it down very quickly. As a result, I got annoyed at the guy, defying the consensus emotional behaviour. Stunning how fast “Je Suis Charlie” signs went up on the day after, nearly every single shop in Bedarieux, well, 90% anyway. None of the banks, for example. Anyway, I didn’t go into the “bad” shop, as I know the guy also is the town aikido teacher and I don’t have any normal business with him either. Why did he not put up a sign? That is the kind of immediate reaction I had. Later, when I don’t care, I still wonder why he didn’t.
As for my experience, my wife was far more in tune and at one with the huge French wave, burned two candles in the windows on the night after the events. Although we did miss the national moment of silence, just forgot about it. She is not surfing the wave, like me, she WAS the wave. But after the Bedarieux demo on Saturday, she said “she is no longer Charlie”, but is happy to have “been Charlie” for the time she was. I suspect this is the same feeling a huge number of French people have. Big subject of conversation in France.
I had a chat with an Anglophone immigrant, one of the few I saw at the town demo. She was genuinely shocked by the speakers for the Mayor’s organised demo. The mayor of course had the first go, and we also had “the imam” or President of the local Islamic Cultural Society, who have a building in town given to them by the mayor. But I never see anything happening in there. My friend more or less grasped the imam and the mayor. But she was deeply shocked by the presence of the Parish Priest of the Catholic Church, who incidentally sometimes sounded like he didn’t know Bedarieux very well and talked way too much about God. She is going to do the research about this question that really seemed to bother her. Probably she will do her research by asking her French neighbours, with whom she and her partner are quite close, “why the Parish priest?” At first the French won’t even understand the question, as it would be so obvious for “a French person”. But not for an Anglo-Saxon without a deep knowledge of French political history and a strong sense that “normal” means French normal. I took ages working this out when I first settled here. It is possible to figure out something about the peculiar form of “laïcité” that the French have created, so confusingly different to the “secularism” we “Anglo Saxons” know and love. Mind you there is English secularism and American … and it IS confusing. I shall keep you up to date, assuming I write another blog before I forget the notion. Why the parish priest?
Just got a call from an old close American pal. She is Jewish, of a non-religious, more socio-cultural type of path. But she said, what about the Jews? Although in France that angle on things came up instantly, big-time, with choice of the Kosher Market. So I knew about the Jewish angle, but have to admit that this particular angle does not have as strong a narrative for me as for French (and other) Jews. I take an interest in that side of things because I am reminded of the Jews I know. But in my experience French Jews tend to be quite alert, quite powerful and quite able to state what they think and feel when threatened or bothered. I do know about the factual-historical, and emotionally rooted Jewish fears the need for to survive, as do lots of people. Up close the Jewish/Israeli/Arab/Muslim/Palestinian problem seems just wildly insane, historically endless, and full of religion (always a problem). Israel is a place I never want to go because it would probably be way too upsetting and grossly uncomfortable. So don’t ever look to this blog for deep insight into that problem area. I am simply glad that I am neither Palestinian, nor Arab, nor Muslim, nor Israeli, nor Jewish (Euro or other), otherwise I would HAVE to have strong views. Whew, that is heavy enough just writing it. A given simple person cannot be passionate about everything. I figure the successive Israeli governments and successive American governments, for various reasons at various times, have conspired to keep a special place for Jews to go live after some of those Euro nations behaved extraordinarily badly with Jews in Europe (and others). Since then the Israelis have been doing pretty well, ruling a tiny country surrounded by more or less hostile enemies “it” has made over the last couple thousand years. What a mess! The only people that could possibly come out of this problem area are people who advocate non-violent methods and goals. The Palestinian Problem, the archetype problem of our age.
I don’t ever read Charlie, although I will try to get a copy tomorrow. I have looked at it in the past, but never really shared the interest that grabs many French intellectuals of the Parisian Left type. Some of the cartoons have been really funny, but they do have the tendency to randomly or not so randomly poke fun at “everything”. There are debates in the press as to whether they really are “equal” fun pokers. The consensus is that they seem to poke much more fun at Muslims, and much less fun (maybe NONE) at Jews, than they do at criminals, politicians, the Pope, the parties, and so forth. I tend to think that those who are “devil’s advocates”, humour extremists, or tend to poke fun at everything, for whom nothing is sacred, are not really being honest, or else they are “simply” fun-pokers. I am not that fond of random fun-pokers. I don’t usually find them funny at all, after the first few laughs. Especially when they poke fun at stuff that is important to me, that I care about. And those random fun-pokers are nearly always men. Like many women during the early days of the “second wave” of women rising (and I guess many Muslims), I just don’t find some things funny. Certainly not for more than a second or two when I catch the “pure humour” of something, before I realise it is totally not-funny, just random fun-poking. However, some people claim that the Charlie humorists are actually in the forefront of anti-racism and are not anti-Muslim, you just have to look hard to see it. Big discussions about that.
The Bédarieux demo on Saturday was impressive, and also disappointing. There were hundreds of people there, maybe 6-700. Less than for the demo in 2003 just before the USA bombed Iraq, but still mightily impressive (population of Bedarieux (ca. 7,000). Many more people come to see the fireworks on 13 July in Bedarieux. Way more. Or visit to the semi-annual, big deal Market. There were more than for the Xmas Fireworks and Light show. The mayor made a good speech, full of all the right words, justice, freedom, peace, liberty etc. He often does. He does not say what I would say or necessarily agree with. That would be paradise. But he says things better than almost any mayor of a small town in France that you could imagine. The imam from Bédarieux or the “President of the Cultural Organisation” (or whatever Muslims have in Bedarieux, that I know nothing about it) was soft-spoken, not terribly interesting and by far the most brief. The other speaker was a parish priest, the curé. No one else spoke. It was the Mayor’s show, he dictates the programme. We have a very delightful, but totally dictatorial mayor. Six terms in a row now, maybe five. Antoine is 76 or so and born in Lodeve, which is half an hour from here and definitely not “here”. Nothing from the Buddhists or the Protestants, the third and fourth most popular religions in France. Nothing from “citizens”. The priest was really boring, mentioned God way too many times. More than zero on a day like this is simply inappropriate, even though he didn’t think so. The priest seemed way out of it, and unless I transform myself into a deeply French, deeply local and not too original bloke, I cannot for the life of me figure out why that guy should even be there. I don’t even think he was very local. Very disappointing. No march, just standing around listening to three speeches. Chatting with the neighbours after was quite enjoyable, maybe why many people came.
However, mostly I was looking around carefully to try and see who was there, not really listening to speeches. My French is still at the level where if I am not actually listening, it just drifts by me leaving no trace. I still have to “listen” consciously in French. There were young and old, tending toward older. Men and women. Nearly all white, but I am not sure what the percentage of brown/Islam/North African roots people there are in Bedarieux (or others like “black African”). No gitans that I could see at all, although we have two large families living in two large sites in town, plus many in normal poor people’s houses. So a pretty good cross section of people for Bedarieux. I could see nearly everyone from my perch, although in the distance it was hard to gather accurate data. I saw only three people I recognised as Anglo-immigrants. But most of Anglo-immigrants live in outlying villages anyway, so might not have made the effort to drive to town on a Saturday morning. Seldom do I see any Anglo immigrants at any socio-political event. I guess it must be that they are either not interested in politics (except for Murray and me), or their French is just not good enough. Mind you, I was looking for a few other people I thought would be there, and didn’t see them, so maybe this data gathering is not so accurate. But it was mostly local people, tending toward older.
One thing is clear. The “security business sector” will get a huge boost in France and perhaps elsewhere. Somebody will be able to buy and sell security services and equipment of all sorts more easily now. Like after 9-11, it will be a piece of cake to justify more spending for security reasons. For that matter, there should be a big change in the law as well, allowing them to reduce all sorts of civil liberties, privacy and freedoms, in the name of checking out more bad guys, that is, Islamic extremists. Since this security spending will not do anything much to solve the problem, and won’t even be enough to actively suppress the forces of insecurity and otherness for very long, nothing much will change. Apparently there are over a thousand KNOWN individuals ripe for close surveillance. Already the police in Paris seem to be able to mobilise in a military-style state of preparedness fairly quickly. They were dressed like the American, heavy duty, citizen suppression police. They had the gear, and soon every police force will have the gear. In America they even have local tanks. Maybe Bedarieux might not have all that stuff for the municipal police, but the local Gendarmerie, the national police who are “formally” military troops, will have the gear now or soon. I did notice that nobody on TV or in writing talked much about drones and their role, which surprised me a little. I didn’t notice whether we saw any “drone feeds”. So that market alone will really bounce. The French and the Israelis apparently are tops for civilian drones (the ones without bobs and missiles).
The framing of this conflict as a “war” is perhaps the scariest. This incident, and the forces underlying it, are being summed up as a war between the forces of good and evil. Violation of Freedom of Speech, yes, that too. Anti-racism. Anti-Semitism. Many framings are possible. But a “war” between good guys and bad guys, forces of freedom and the forces of darkness is the line everyone understands easily. The groundwork has been done since 9-11, or even earlier. In this case, it is something like immigrants/French persons of colour/Islam/Arab vector which is what this war is about. There are other possibilities for “big conflict”. It could be the poor and rich having a conflict. But that framing is less likely since the people who control the media and “politics” are in fact the rich, directly or indirectly. This “war against terror (insecurity, uncertainty …)” will be used to justify all sorts of terrible atrocities, from casual small time limits of free speech to arrests and deaths and life disruption for anyone who dares to be “anti-war”. I don’t know exactly which simple framing will win the battle and thus the war. People like me who protest a bit and write a bit will not be arrested, I am pretty sure. They need to simply the conflict so action is possible by the rulers. If, for example, the three killers were white, brown and black (and they almost made it), had “further education”, all born in France, and converted to Islam after going to Catholic Church for many years, then things would be complicated. Or one killer was a woman. Or if one used to be Jewish. But it would still be Islamic Arabic Bad Guys vs the Good Guys. A war to the death.
It was a good spectacle, a good show. I am not sure what was the case in other countries, but in France we could watch, especially in the “Paris Jewish supermarket” incident, the unfolding of the live action, almost like a movie. Somehow, live on the 13h00 news, we could see the detective, undercover guys (who got there first) yielding gradually to the military type police (the ones with all the gear). That was a good spectacle. Guys scurrying about live on TV, lots of uncertainty, outcome not yet developed. But then the police just waited for a few hours, instead of “doing something”, so I went to take my nap. I can imagine people all over France … not everyone of course, people have to work, have families, no time for TV … watching hour by hour as the drama of the bad guys and the sheriffs played itself out. I even found myself saying that if it were a movie they would have done this or that. But once you accepted it was live (not edited in the studio), then it was a media event without precedence. For three days, practically the entire 13h00 news was one topic only and was extended way past the usual time. L’Equipe, which hardly ever says anything about anything in the world outside sport, had four Charlie-related cartoons in a row on the Front Page, and even a special double page on what sports people did on the Weekend to indicate their views. Nothing inside, just the cartoons. Turns out, you might not know, that one of the Montpellier football players did not wear the special Je Suis Charlie T shirt before the game. Later he claimed that he just did not want to bring politics into sport and he had the T shirt on underneath his kit. Yes, he was a Maghrebin roots guy.
One thing I didn’t know is that the mag was actually named after the cartoon character Charlie Brown. But I don’t get it fully as one Charlie’s humour is so different than the other’s. Still, nice fact.
(This para is a jumble, but I really must get this gone) Whatever people may say about “unity” and so forth, I think, on the contrary, this incident brings into sharp focus, the fear, division, racism, Islamophobia and “real French people are white” cultural paradigm. It has not really changed all that much in the recent decades, except for the youngest generation. The white French have stayed the same, basically racist and xenophobic. The not quite white enough French people have got way more pissed off than before. The young ones have lived all their lives in a society of brown, black and white, with a bit of yellow tint, but on the other hand it has been years since young people had an easy time of getting jobs, especially if they leave school without a trade. Unemployment rates in the poor parts of France are stunningly high. Almost certainly the young are still racist in some way, but at least they are used to and know people who the older generation do not know, and have not grown up with. I think a lot of the affirmation of liberty, equality, freedom of speech and so forth was the explicit and intentional coverup/repression of the very negative division and attitude toward “difference” that is part of contemporary France. White Catholic people are pretty much convinced that Islam wants to trash the civilisation they and their ancestors have built, and they don’t like it. The Republican, Enlightenment-based, rational arguments (NOT emotional) are simply unconvincing to many poor people who have not been “properly educated” into the French paradigm (failure of school system). In fact, it is (nearly) impossible for a person of colour or a person with an immigrant’s accent, to be accepted as a genuine authentic “French person”, even if they have been born here. Although the Prime Minister is “really” Spanish. So complete Frenchification of an immigrant is simply impossible. Even kids born here who are brown have trouble being instantly accepted as French. Ask any French person, who is “really “ French.
A number of quite sensible people think that Charlie went too far, made stupid decisions, they mocked and laughed at things that are too serious to laugh at or certainly to put on the front page. Random fun poking annoys people ultimately. It annoys me for sure, quite often. And it is not clear what the point of random fun-poking is, as laughter, chuckles and even sniggers and joy can happen without the random fun-poking mentality. The Charlie cartoonists could have showed some of the most dangerous and risky cartoons to their mates, not to everyone who can go to a newsagent. You can be utterly sure that there are cartoons which Charlie does not publish because they “go to far”. Must be some every issue. Charlie knew full well they were constantly taking a risk, but they should not be gunned down by a couple of pissed off youngish Muslim French men for a bit of bad taste, or humour that does not make everyone laugh. “A bit of fun, a bit of a laugh” is not an ironclad defence against bad behaviour in a given social situation. I need not tell you how many “bit of fun” behaviours get out of hand. But you just DO NOT bring automatic weapons to the daily editorial meeting of a paper in Modern France.
By the way, in case it is not obvious, I think it is totally out of order to go into a workplace or supermarket and blow away all the employees you can. Even if it is a rightwing arms factory, a nuclear plant manufacturer, an extreme right newspaper or military ship or plane builder (of which there are many in France). Just plain out of order. And frankly, my intuition is that when people do that kind of thing they should just be blown away themselves. Which is nearly always what happens. To be perfectly honest, I am not sure that huge, long, celebrity trials with expensive lawyers and news stories all the time is a better way than having a big gunfight, which the state always wins. But of course I am against the death penalty, or am I?
And then, in episode two, the third cretin picked a Jewish supermarket. NOT Auchan or even a Carrefour City. I won’t even begin to try to deal with the Palestinian problem here, or the Jews/Israel/Muslims/Arabs problem. Unpacking this incident is like turning over a rock, plenty of life and complexity down there. There were loads of signs on the demo saying Je Suis Juif, presumably all not carried by actual Jews. Although I don’t really know how “the media” treat things since I don’t read all the straight papers, in fact NONE of the straight papers. I think the various impacts on Jews living in French, French Jews, is getting a lot of airing. Jews are very well organised in France, they get their voice heard more easily than some groups. As usual it is complicated.
Speaking of Jews, I heard (from his wife) that my American friend, lets call him Joe, thinks this is “going to lead to fascism”, or is fascism. Gotta figure out what that means exactly. Very drastic comment. I really don’t like using the word fascism. I always have to discuss exactly what someone means by “fascism” before I begin to talk. And then figure out if that is the only word that sheds light on what is going on. Still. Fascism … I do NOT ever want to live in such a place, a fascist place. At present I am obviously NOT. Hmmm.
The whole Charlie thing is a Big Deal here in France. I don’t know how many thoughtful understandings will appear. Maybe enough have already, I have already spent many hours reading some of the more creative interpretations than I get from mainstream TV. I have noticed that many of the critical comments in Britain and America, do not seem to accept or sometimes don’t even know much about France or the peculiar French way of dealing with religion and the state. They call it laïcté. This strange conception of religion and state relations comes from two or three centuries of conflict between the “French Revolutionary” State and the French Catholic Church. This is a French story and we might easily and mistakenly think that “secular” is common to France, UK and America, plus many other places. On the other hand, it is not that different. Fear of “the other” can pop up in most religions conflicts quite easily. Religions tend to create very well rooted conceptions of “others”, which inevitably creates a conflict at some level. Inevitable.
So what do I make of this Charlie thing? I am a little bit more excited about life than usual. I have had to learn a lot and read a lot more than I usually do. I am getting many suggestions of good analyses. There has been a disruption of normality with this incident. I am not sure how deep this incident will go. But whenever there is a rupture, a change, a heightening of tension, I have to admit that I get more excited and more of a sparkle in my eye. Like most people I am also afraid of it as well. I do prefer that things don’t change drastically, too quickly, too often. I do fear it when I see the “mass emotions” that drift into our lives that seem to affect us strongly. Obviously there are people, including part of me, that can dismiss all this as “nothing much”. That part of me could be right. In one month, or one year, what will have changed because the three extremist, Muslim, French killers blew away the staff of a borderline humour journal? One thing for sure, or almost for sure, if I stay in Bedarieux, I won’t have to deal with bombs or hostages in the complex asymmetric global conflict that is developing around the Arab/Israeli/Palestinian/Christian/Muslim/rich/poor/immigrant/native dimensions. Or will I?
One last comment, as it seems that I am saying this a lot lately. Beware the Fallacy of the Unitary Actor! If anyone tells you that “everyone” on those demos was “united”, this will be utter rubbish. If anyone says they were all there for the same reason (say, defending freedom of speech or press), it is a certainty they were not. Just ask. And if they seem to be saying exactly the same words, then ask again, as many people have complex views, but recite what is fed to them on TV first, THEN what they really think. If anyone ever makes a mistake and conflates Arabs, National Frontists, Muslims, Christians, French, non-French, Leftists, Racists, Charlies or anyone into one big lump, then wait until they can do a bit better. Nearly everyone knows in their hearts this kind of “big lump analysis” is simply wrong, too simple, and not even very interesting. I was listening to some friends on the left talk about people who are “Je Suis Charlie”, as “sheep”. I was never Charlie, but my wife was for a few days. She is no sheep. They are not sheep. And to their dismay, the leftists are not shepherds.
Mind you, among friends, where all authentic political discussion takes place (Arendt), I talk about women, men, young people, Americans, English, French working class, middle class, Bedariciens, Anglo-immigrants, Parisians. But only amongst friends, and always with a semblance of a smile.
Muslims have their nutters, their extremists, their fundamentalists. In fact, in some cases nearly a whole country full of them in Saudi Arabia (not counting the servants and wage slaves of course). Talk about an appalling country that should be boycotted totally, Saudi Arabia is a brilliant example. But of course they have oil and buy lots of arms and European real estate, so …. If I were a Muslim I would be totally embarrassed and severely annoyed by the Wahabists/extremists and their rule.
Oh yes, did I mention I have said nothing about a framing emphasising the Algerian element in all this? It does get complicated.
Must stop now and send this off. I will make the next blog very light indeed.