Monthly Archives: November 2005

Hydra in the Augean Stable

Peaktalk reports on Alain Finkielkraut, a noted French professor of philosophy, who has just entered the Eurabian vortex. His comments in an interview with the Israeli left-wing newspaper Ha-Aretz are nothing more than what any sensible blogger might post — this is a not a mere socio-economic phenomenon, the rioters don’t want to be French; on the contrary they hate France and Western culture; it’s racist to look the other way and excuse and minimize what’s going on.

And I have been just horrified by these acts, which kept repeating themselves, and horrified even more by the understanding with which they were received in France. These people were treated like rebels, like revolutionaries. This is the worst thing that could happen to my country. And I’m very miserable because of it. Why? Because the only way to overcome it is to make them feel ashamed. Shame is the starting point of ethics. But instead of making them feel ashamed, we gave them legitimacy. They’re `interesting.’ They’re `the wretched of the earth.’ Imagine for a moment that they were whites, like in Rostock in Germany. Right away, everyone would have said: `Fascism won’t be tolerated.’ When an Arab torches a school, it’s rebellion. When a white guy does it, it’s fascism. I’m `color blind.’ Evil is evil, no matter what color it is. And this evil, for the Jew that I am, is completely intolerable.

Sylvain Cypel of Le Monde, France’s pre-eminent left-wing newspaper, went through the lengthy interview excerpting everything he could to make Finkielkraut look as racist as possible. As a result, a firestorm broke out in France, with AF becoming the object of accusations of racism, incitement to violence, death threats, and libel prosecutions by MRAP, a group that claims to be anti-racist, but is a full-fledged demopathic organization dedicated to silencing any criticism of Muslims in France. Finkielkraut ended up forced to back down.

The best take so far on this affair is Hillel Halkin in The New York Sun today, where among other things, he points out the unsavory behavior of the two “papers of record” in France and Israel, Le Monde and Ha-Aretz.

Of all the parties involved in l’affaire Finkielkraut, Haaretz undoubtedly comes out looking the worst. For the sake of a sensational and incorrect story, it vilified a man courageous enough to accept an invitation to be interviewed in its pages and express unpopular thoughts there.

Le Monde does not come out much better. What it excerpted from the Haaretz interview was deliberately chosen to represent Mr. Finkielkraut in the worst possible light. Both newspapers, each generally considered the best in its country, illustrate a truth that anyone who has frequent dealings with journalists and the media knows well: They are often not to be trusted – not only to get the facts straight, but even to want to.

Whether AF’s “recantation” was an actual apology for the Ha-Aretz interview (MRAP’s opinion since they dropped threats of a suit), or a subtle dig at Le Monde (my impression listening to AF’s debate on France Culture), the fact that he is under such intense attacks indicates that in France the media are not the Augean Stables, but the Hydra. They can’t think clearly about what’s going on not because they might be embarrassed by being called a racist, but because they can lose their jobs, get sued, be bullied even violently by people who claim to represent enlightened forces.

Over and above this, however, l’affaire Finkielkraut is a sad illustration of how the culture of political correctness, as stultifying as it is in the United States, is even more so in Europe and especially in France. Whether or not one agrees with Mr. Finkielkraut’s analysis of the French riots, they are racist only if it is racism to look the facts in the face. As a French friend of mine, who knows the immigrant suburbs of Paris well, put it in a conversation with me: “I could never get away with publicly saying this in France, but it can’t be an accident that the rioters were all Arabs and African Muslims. There are plenty of other poor immigrant groups in France, including many African Christians, but none of them were out there torching schools and their neighbors’ cars.”

True, many social commentators have been smeared as racists in America, too, for arguing, as does Alain Finkielkraut, that it is not so much prejudice that keeps disadvantaged youngsters from escaping the ghetto as it is their own anger and sense of victimization, which cause them to turn their backs on the education and job training that might enable them to get ahead in the world.

Yet in America such propositions are nevertheless legitimate subjects for debate; one certainly does not face court proceedings, let alone a possible conviction, for advancing them. In France, on the other hand, virtually the whole subject of ethnic minorities is taboo. No one in France has even the vaguest idea of what, say, the average per capita income of a North African immigrant family is, or how immigrants from Mali do relative to immigrants from China, because astonishingly enough, it is illegal to compile government statistics on such things.

You can’t deal with a problem unless you first identify it – and l’affaire Finkielkraut is one more indication that the French have yet to identify their problem. In a country in which the official line is that everyone is a Frenchman and that ethnicity and religion have nothing to do with anyone’s status, ethnicity and religion will come more and more to define the status of many French citizens, since there is no way to ameliorate what one refuses to acknowledge. As Alain Finkielkraut says at the end of his Haaretz interview, as long as this continues to be the case, things will only get worse.

There’s an urban legend (I think) that when the first pilots broke the speed of sound, their planes started diving, and the controls reversed, so that what they did to bring the plane up actually sent it further into a dive. It may not be true about flying, but the way the French are responding to this problem suggests just that dynamic.

timely quote, alas

“The best lack all conviction while the worst are filled with passionate intensity.”
William Butler Yeats, The Second Coming, 1919

Greatest Quote

“To those who doubt
but who have the mind to conceive
and the sensibility to feel
the disorder, the futility, the meaninglessness,
the mystery of life and suffering
and who can only find peace through
a satisfaction of the whole being”

T.S. ELIOT