A friend asked me to write something about my (obviously premature) enthusiasm for “Republican France” after the trial, in view of last week’s judgment. I have now read the judgment, which is, from the point of view of an historian who tries to reconstruct past events, a monument of the kind of facetious reasoning that I’ve already complained about both among French medievalists and among French/European media.
To say that the decision was disappointing is obviously putting it mildly. But it was not unexpected. Numerous people wrote me to say, watch out. As one American blogger who lives in France wrote:
I followed closely your reports on the first part of the trial. I’m still pessimistic. The reason I’m pessimistic is because they’re only asking for the symbolic euro. France2 wants the case just so they can say the courts ruled in their favor, not in order for sanction actually to be applied. I’m afraid the French courts are so politicized that they will give them what they want.
Others noted that the absence of any effort on the part of France2 — no witnesses, no questions for hostile witnesses, no presence of either Enderlin or Chabot — could indicate not a lack of preparation (alone), but a secure knowledge that they need do nothing since they knew they’d win. Several people who claimed to know, informed me and Karsenty independently, that the fix was on before the trial. When I suggested that to an Israeli lawyer I know after the first trial but before the decision, she responded indignantly, “No. The French judiciary is really independent.” I wanted to believe that.
The current joke runs, “Why did Mme Amblard not make the slightest effort during the trial?”
Answer, “Are you kidding? She could have slept through it all.”
Unfortunately, the reasoning of the decision suggests just that. It is at best incredibly one-sided, more likely, intellectually dishonest. I will post the decision in translation with some invited opinions at a later point. In the meantime, I will reiterate my response to the early newspaper quotations from the document: It is nothing short of breathtaking to accuse Karsenty of a “lack of seriousness” as an “information professional” for depending “only on one source,” when he, a marginal figure trying to critique the MSM, has attacked the work of an “information professional” of enormous prestige and influence, who was revealed in that very courtroom as incompetent, dishonest, and staggeringly negligent, and who based his broadcast on only one source, Talal, a Pallywood cameraman of the first order.
I note parenthetically that when I read the decision I couldn’t help notice that in all those 19 pages, with the names of the players cited in CAPS, including people who were not witnesses, my name did not appear. “So what am I, and what is Second Draft, chopped liver?” thought I.
But the key to the above reasoning, including chastizing Karsenty for only one source when he used multiple, including me and my viewing of the rushes, appears here. The clearest evidence of Enderlin’s incompetence as a journalist — not, mind you, as a story-teller; he’s a first class professional story-teller — came from his response to my remark, “But they’re all fakes.”
In casually saying “Oh, they do that all the time,” he admitted not only that he knows his cameraman and the rest of the crowd — and the rest of the Palestinian cameramen — do this kind of stuff, but that he, Charles Enderlin uses that stuff all the time. His newsbroadcasts draw regularly on Pallywood. He takes their product, funneled by his trusty cameraman, and makes it into news for the French public. And he’s handsomely rewarded in prestige and honor by the European elite.
Not only do “they do it all the time,” Enderlin does it all the time. Indeed, Bob Simon (featured in Pallywood), Gerald Holmes (who was stationed in Israel for ABC from 1999-2002 and “never saw any Pallywood”), and the rest of the harried, pack-mentality, access-oriented Western correspondents use this stuff all the time.
Charles Enderlin’s remark had left me, an earnest believer in the “fourth estate’s” journalistic privileges and responsibilities in a civil society, astounded… it was outrageous, inconceivable. How could such obvious nonsense be so complacently accepted? And my report of it did not even make it into the judge’s minds.
Indeed at one point in the decision, as they defend Enderlin from Karsenty’s accusation that Enderlin misled people in giving the impression he was there, we come across the following gem:
Furthermore, the images in question had been taken by his own cameraman who worked for France2 for two decades and whose professionalism had never been put in question.
This line could have been written by Enderlin. After all he wasn’t in court that day. But by the judges, who heard about Talal’s work from an eyewitness? How could they say: “et dont le professionnalisme n’a jamais été mis en cause”? Unless they share Enderlin’s complacency.
Whether penned by the judge or by the legal team at France2, the decision contradicts itself here, since it at least acknowledges and discusses Leconte and Jeambar’s Parisian viewing of the rushes (which was similar to mine — from expressing astonishment to being told, “but you know, they always do that“). So either the sentence is an interpolation (language offered by the France2 team, drawn from Enderlin), or it’s the internalization of this “line” by the judges. In either case, it shows a minimal grasp of what the evidence before them implies, and an extraordinary capacity to ignore inconvenient evidence. The judges work like journalists, bad journalists.
In the larger social and national context, the court’s decision illustrates the basic principle of prime divider societies: inequality before the law. Karsenty has to meet a very high bar to have the right to criticize Enderlin; Enderlin has no bar. As an esteemed member of a nationally-owned public station, he is protected. His failings are continuously passed over, and in the end, by attacking Karsenty, the court then permits the media to spin the story: “Image Choc de l’Intifada is not staged, says the court.”
Never mind that the court did not say that. Never mind that the MSM showed no interest in this story when we tried to talk about it, but then appear from nowhere, well informed, when they get the story that they want. Why do the MSM media only feel comfortable weighing in on this case when they can put another nail in the coffin of Israeli responsibility for the Intifada? No rethinking, no picture of the scene Enderlin cut, and then lied about, but images of the icon, money pictures of the boy before he’s been “hit.” First draft regurgitated. As many told me when I embarked on this venture, “you bring it up again, and people will just say, “you see, the Israelis did it. They kill children.”
But in so doing the media have merely blinded us at a time when we need our wits about us, and we need good information. By replaying the first draft, with no attention to the huge reconsideration that’s gone on since 2000, on both this case and on what dynamics played in the outbreak of the second intifada, by closing off any discussion of its relationship to global jihad, and even the current French intifada, the media have administered their valium.
Our ability to deal with the situation depends on our understanding of its dynamics.
And instead, the French courts and media have given us a classic case of aristocratic justice, the kind that Dreyfus elicited initially. As one of my French lawyer friends put it about a different case where a Jewish (lawyer) was being condemned as a scapegoat for the misdeeds of higher-ups, when he appealed on behalf of the truth and humanity, “La justice ne peut pas agir ainsi. Il faut savoir diriger un pays.” [Justice can’t work that way. One has to know how to direct/govern a country.]
The tragedy here is that justice becomes the handmaiden of social order defined in terms of the “honor” of the elite. When faced with the classic dilemma of the Dreyfus affair, and here, the Muhammad al Durah affair — honor or honesty — those in favor of “social order” choose honor.
I understand that everywhere, judges take into account “a larger good” in decisions, that there are corrupt and corruptable judges, and that even a principle so noxious to civil society as “honor over honesty” might — even often — direct judicial decision-making. But I think in terms of batting averages. No one bats a thousand. But there’s a huge difference between a .333 hitter and a .250 hitter.
The real test of a democracy is not whether its courts are corrupt, but how it allows the news to reach the public and how it responds to that discovery. As an historian with limited evidence here, but a close understanding of the evidence I have, I’d say that the French justice system is in serious trouble. You can’t bat in the low .200s in these matters (or lower?) and last long in the big game of civil society. And in so serious a case as this… which has so much to say about so vigorous and underestimated a cultural challenge as global Islamism… the bottom can fall out.
Civil society is a magic trick. Like Wiley Coyote out over the cliff, still up because he hasn’t looked down — civil society survives because of attitudes — positive sum over resentment, honesty over honor, courage over placation. No one can be positive-sum all the time, no one can always choose honesty, generosity, courage all the time. But in the crisis, people need to level up.
We thought it was a real game, and instead we were agitating ourselves among sleepwalkers. We will continue to agitate with words of reason and reasoning in the hopes of awakening them while they can still win in the world of discourse.
After all, the definition of honor-shame culture is one in which you are allowed, expected, even required to shed the blood of another for the sake of your own (alpha-male) honor. And the definition of a civil society is one that systematically substitutes a discourse of fairness for violence in dispute settlement. When a civil society uses the very courts that were created to make that transition from violence to discourse, in order to unfairly protect the honor of dishonest people who pump poisons into its information stream, it corrupts the very life-blood of its republic.
Two more trials, two more chances.
Next one: this afternoon.