Thursday, December 3, 2015

Is There a Problem with “Solidarité”?

La tour Eiffel illuminée en bleu blanc rouge - Fluctuat nec Mergitur - Liberté, égalité, fraternité

La tour Eiffel illuminée en bleu blanc rouge - Fluctuat nec Mergitur - Liberté, égalité, fraternité

La tour Eiffel illuminée en bleu blanc rouge - Fluctuat nec Mergitur - Liberté, égalité, fraternité

In the wake of the Paris attacks weeks ago, French citizens have been encouraged to show more outward displays of patriotism then they traditionally have in the past. While patriotism in France has long existed, it has usually not been manifested in flag waving and displays of the flag in private residences, as is commonly seen among Americans, as the French (and Europeans more generally) have viewed that kind of patriotism traditionally as crass, exploitative and potentially dangerous.

That, however, has changed in the last few weeks, at least for the moment. That is understandable, given the nature of the shock value of the attacks that have served to bring the Parisian community specifically, and France more generally, together.

One thing in the aftermath of the attacks that I personally found to be great, and quite refreshing is that France suddenly is being portrayed in a sympathetic light by Americans in general.

Indeed, I think that there is a historical and cultural connection between Americans and French that has drawn them closer than those of other countries, whether fair or not. France was there to help the United States become a country to begin with, and it was Napoleon's France that sold the Louisiana Territory to the United States, doubling the size of the young American nation, in what is still the largest peaceful acquisition of land in history. France presented the United States with the gift of the Statue of Liberty late in the 19th century. In the 20th century, the United States entered two world wars to help the cause of France, outright liberating France from Nazi tyranny in the second war. Some of the greatest intellectuals from the two countries have visited the other. Jefferson, Franklin, and Adams went to France in the early days of the new nation's history, Lafayette and De Toqueville came to America to help the new nation solidly achieve independence from Great Britain. Hemingway and some other incredible authors went to France.

Admittedly, the United States and France have had an on again, off again kind of relationship historically. Allies during and shortly after the American Revolution, France felt slighted when it was not involved in the peace treaties recognizing the new country. Some years later, the two countries almost went to war during the Jefferson years.

More recently, there was the whole invasion of Iraq episode, when most Americans favored intervening in Iraq, while France, among numerous other nations, stood opposed. Even Americans who were against the invasion acted offended by France's seeming impertinence, and there was a widespread movement towards French bashing. Many neocon pundits expressed vehement outrage towards France, and some suggested that France should be the next country that the United States invades.

So, to see the two countries truly back on friendly terms again was, on many levels, refreshing. It felt that this is as it should be, and I was moved on the evening of the attacks, when President Obama reminded Americans that the French were America's oldest allies. I also appreciated the words of comedian John Oliver, when he mentioned the rich cultural traditions of France, and how greatly outmatched ISIS was in declaring a cultural war against the French.

That said, there are some other things - other trends - in the aftermath of the attacks that caught my attention and/or made me wonder.

The first that I will mention are the allegations of racism in what is commonly perceived as selective sympathy by people of the West. There was a Facebook post that showed a map ( of this selective sympathy. I recommend taking a look by clicking on the link. It suggests that wealthy, predominately white nations (excluding Japan) in North America, Europe, and Australia were privy to the most sympathy following terrible tragedies, such as the Paris attacks. There was a hierachy of sympathy following, with strong reaction to tragedies in Latin America, New Zealand, Eastern Europe, India, South Africa, and Egypt. The next level read "Well, Life is Like This", and the territories this encompassed included Russia, China, the Arabian peninsula, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey, as well as Venezuela and Central American nations. Then there were countries that most people did not know existed, which included Mongolia, the -Stan countries in Asia, Guyana and Suriname in South America, and southeastern Asian nations east of India and all the way to Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Finally, the last category read "Who Cares?" and encompassed North Korea and the rest of Africa (other than Egypt and South Africa).

There were criticism of people showing public sympathy with France in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, with rather relentless suggestions of racism.

Here is the thing, though: while I agree that there is some considerable prejudice and ignorance when it comes to world tragedies, and I think that the attacks in Beirut should have received more attention, as well as the Mali attacks since, the attacks in Paris had particular resonance in the United States, and indeed much of the rest of the world, because it is a city, and France is a country, where culture, education, and the arts are very valued and in public abundance. Paris is known the world over as a city of romance and art, a cultural hub with world class museums and gardens and institutions of higher learning. Also, France has cultural and historical links to numerous countries around the world, including (as mentioned earlier) the United States. So, I am not suggesting that we should not give attention to the Lebanese bombings, or the more recent attack at a hotel in Mali. However, the shock of the highly coordinated attacks with six different, somewhat simultaneous attacks in Paris, a European capital city, had more of a chock value, I think. It is not the kind of city that you hear about things like this happening often, yet this was the second time this year that Paris particularly has been so targeted, and these attacks were particularly brutal. Also, much of the aftermath of the attacks was captured by cell phone cameras and videos.

So, I placed one of those French flags over my Facebook image, as did many others. Of course, I am a French citizen, so these attacks held particular resonance with me. But I just did not like feeling guilty of racism for being particularly shocked by the violent terrorist attacks in Paris, although it did make me wonder if I, too, was guilty of selective sympathy that showed strains of racism.

Also, I wonder what the reaction in France particularly, and Europe more generally, will be. France closed it's borders afterwards, and I wondered if this was the beginning of the end of open borders in Europe. Also, would this trigger a dramatic rise of the far right in France and other European countries? The Front Nationale seem to be gaining, as they take advantage of the anger that many French citizens are feeling since. France began to pick up on air strikes on ISIS targets, and that whole scene seems to be escalating to the level of a tinderbox. Russia is there bombing, too, but there are tensions between them and the other powers, including the United States and the United Kingdom, where Prime Minister David Cameron just announced that his country would step up military efforts to combat ISIS. I wonder about Pope Francis's words that this was a "piecemeal World War III."

There have been times when, indeed, this looks like it is truly a world war in the making, and I worry. I look at all of these horrific events, and I regard my son, so young and still largely free of understanding such things. I wonder about the world that he is inheriting, the legacy it is leaving, and the questions that remain.

I do not know everything, and have no answers right now. The attacks in Paris admittedly resonated with me more than those in Beirut, because I am French, because I have been to Paris numerous times in my life, including some of the places that were attacked, while I have never been to Lebanon or Mali. But I do appreciate the constructive criticism that made me wonder about my own potentially prejudicial leanings.

However, I suspect that the West itself was at least partially responsible for the rise of ISIS, although there are so many conspiracy theories these days, that you just do not know what is the truth, and what is more easily dismissed. I also wonder how Saudi Arabia remains officially an ally, when much of the tyranny of extremist or fundamentalist Islam stems from that country in particular. I worry that war is what a lot of people, and not just ISIS, were itching for to begin with, and that the Paris attacks will be used to justify exactly that: more violence, more killings, more war.

Below are some links relating to the Paris attacks that might make you think more deeply about it, as well, and I thought it appropriate to share them here:

The Problem with “Solidarité” by Sierra Freeman / November 15, 2015 

Boris Kodjoe Ask Why No One Marching for 2,000 Murdered Nigerians By Furious -  January 13, 2015

142 students killed in Kenya. Where’s the international outrage? by Kimberly Brooks, April 14, 2015:

Here’s Why Wall Street is Cheering After the Paris AttacksTom Cahill | November 16, 2015:

John Oliver's 'Last Week' Paris Attacks Rant Turns The Air Red, White And Blue The Huffington Post UK  |  By George Bowden, 16/11/2015:

How Saudi and Gulf Money Fuel Terrorism With the death toll in the Paris terror attacks still rising, French President Hollande is condemning an “act of war” by the Islamic State, but the underlying reality is that France’s rich friends in the Persian Gulf are key accomplices in the mayhem. By Daniel Lazare | November 16, 2015

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