Contexte est tout

On Oct. 1, 2014, the magazine featured Muhammed again.

I’m semi-fluent in Spanish, but know only a handful of words in French. (I’m perfectly OK with that…) So I went to babelfish.com and typed in “Context is everything,” translating it into French. The result, which may or may not be accurate, is the title of this piece.

As I’ve noted, I don’t know much about France, and I’m not a huge Francophile. For every positive thing that we can say about the French, there seems to be an equally off-putting thing that we could say about them. So I have mixed feelings toward the Frenchies, frankly.

Speaking of which, already we’re seeing starkly different depictions of what life is like in France for Muslims, and to be able to comment intelligently on the Charlie Hebdo killings of the past week, we need to understand the context in which they have occurred.

Salon.com’s Andrew O’Hehir, who should know better, essentially white-mansplains in his latest column that Charlie Hebdo was attacked because the “terrorists” hate France for its freedoms! This is the rosy portrait that O’Hehir paints of France:

… Amid its evident difficulties, France remains a peaceful, prosperous and culturally vibrant nation with a relatively well integrated and increasingly secular Muslim minority. (As has been widely reported, one of the police officers killed on Wednesday was a Muslim.) That model of democracy — or perhaps we should say that possibility — is exactly what came under attack from the Charlie Hebdo gunmen. Their aim was to pry open that model at a tender spot, expose its contradictions and undermine its stability. …

Again, this is analogous to the post-9/11 bullshit American claims of “They [those “evil” Muslims, of course] hate us because of our freedoms!”

In contrast to O’Hehir’s belle (again: babelfish.com…) portrait of France, left-wing editorial cartoonist and columnist/commentator Ted Rall, who has dual American and French citizenship because his mother is French, and who has spent a lot of time with Muslims in Afghanistan (about which he has written books), writes this of Muslims in France (I present it in whole, because I think it’s important information; emphases in bold are mine [and links are Rall’s]):

This week’s terrorist attacks at the Paris offices of the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine, leaving 12 dead at the scene and four others killed during the assassins’ attempt to flee two days later has prompted a political crisis in France centered around that country’s Muslim population, and whether it has been successfully assimilated into French society.

To most American news consumers, even those who follow developments in Europe closely, the debate over Muslim assimilation in France is difficult to dissect. This is because the situation there is significantly unlike the “clash of civilizations” between Islam and the West that Americans have been dealing with in the post-9/11 era.

The first thing that you need to know is that, in France even more than in the United States, assimilation is something of a national religion.

“A French government report has proposed a radical overhaul of the ‘assimilation’ model which requires immigrants to abandon their culture for that of France, including ending the ban on Muslim headscarves in schools and naming streets and squares after notables of foreign origin,” the UK Telegraph reported back in 2013.

“But it has drawn a furious reaction from the country’s conservative opposition, which said it amounted to an abandonment of French culture and secular values. ‘It will no longer be up to immigrants to adopt French culture but up to France to abandon its culture, its values, its history to adapt to the culture of others,’ Jean-François Copé, leader of the UMP main opposition party, said.”

For now, assimilationism stands.

In France as in the U.S., ethnic and religious minorities congregate in certain cities and neighborhoods. In France, however, these ethnic enclaves are viewed less as charming places to grab a meal than as a failure of the state. This is because, when foreigners are granted French citizenship, they are expected – not just culturally, but explicitly told by government officials – to become fully French in a traditional, pre-mass immigration kind of way.

Those who speak foreign languages are pressured to refrain from speaking them in public as much as possible, and to learn French not just enough to get by, but fluently in writing as well as in speech. This attitude isn’t not quite as attenuated as it was 75 years ago, when children who spoke internal non-French French languages like Basque and Breton were beaten by their teachers, but it’s still an expectation shared by both the political left and the political right.

Even today, when the government offers an immigrant French citizenship, he or she is even encouraged to “Francify” their name to a more traditionally sounding French name. So Mohammed might become Michel.

The second thing you need to understand is that France does not offer birthright citizenship, i.e. automatic full benefits as a citizen simply for being born on French territory. Americans take birthright citizenship for granted, though there has been criticism on the right over the possibility that some foreign-born parents might travel illegally to the United States in order to have so-called “anchor babies.”

Perversely, considering how important assimilation is to the French, the country’s lack of full birthright citizenship rights for everyone born in France, or full right of jus soli, has done more to breed alienation, systemic poverty and distrust than just about any other policy. Although I was able to obtain French citizenship (while keeping my U.S. citizenship) merely because my mother is French, there are millions of second- and third-generation illegal immigrants – people who were born in [France], and who may even have French foreign parents, but who have never been naturalized because their grandparents arrived in the country as undocumented workers.

Many of these people live in impoverished suburbs outside major cities which, not coincidentally, have on occasion been the site of violent uprisings. Don’t be surprised if the perpetrators of Wednesday’s horrific mass murder at Charlie Hebdo have their roots in the banlieue (suburbs).

Finally, France has accepted between 3.5 and 5.0 million Muslim immigrants in recent years, amounting to between 5 percent and 10 percent of the population. (This liberal immigration policy recognizes France’s history as colonial rulers of countries like Algeria and Morocco.)

Obviously, the overwhelming majority of these people are like everyone else, just trying to get ahead and make better lives for themselves and their children. But their presence — different clothes, different languages, different food — is jarring for “traditional” (i.e., white, Catholic) Frenchmen and Frenchwomen who yearn for the France of wine, coffee and baguettes. This is the constituency that France’s far-right political parties, like the National Front, are capitalizing upon.

Rall, himself an editorial cartoonist, of course does not support the slaughter of fellow cartoonists, and he has used the occasion of the Charlie Hebdo massacres to point out the plight of editorial cartoonists in the American media (such as here and here).

I give kudos to Rall, not only for telling the ugly truth about France’s other-culture-crushing assimilationism and nationalism — and its resultant Muslim ghettos — but also apparently for pointing out that the “Je suis Charlie” crowd don’t actually give a fuck about editorial cartoonists* as much as they are just using the deaths of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists as a vehicle with which to bash those “evil” Muslims, the perennial “bad guys” against whom the “freedom-” and “democracy-loving” Westerners can compare themselves in order to feel much better about their own hypocrisy, their own deep sins (such as the fact that in modern history the U.S. and its Western partners in war crimes and crimes against humanity, including Israel, the United Kingdom and France, have slaughtered far more Muslims than vice-versa).

Even a Charlie Hebdo cartoonist (who wasn’t present during the massacre at the publication’s offices) himself has called bullshit on the public outpouring of support for Charlie Hebdo. Reports the UK’s DailyMail.com:

One of the surviving Charlie Hebdo cartoonists has scoffed at the surge in support for the satirical magazine after the attack, which killed eight of his colleagues and four other victims.

Bernard Holtrop, who was not in the office during the massacre on Wednesday, admitted the publication’s new-found fame was “laughable” and comes from people who have “never seen it.”

The Dutch-born artist reportedly said the provocative weekly had unexpected “new friends” including the pope, Queen Elizabeth and Vladimir Putin.

He told Dutch newspaper Volkskrant: “We vomit on all these people who suddenly say they are our friends,” and added that most of the support has come from people who have “never seen Charlie Hebdo.”

“It really makes me laugh,” he added. “A few years ago, thousands of people took to the streets in Pakistan to demonstrate against Charlie Hebdo. They didn’t know what it was. Now it’s the opposite.” …

Bernard Holtrop is at least one Frenchman I guess I can like, even though that might be because he was born in Holland…

P.S. If I understand the Charlie Hebdo cover above correctly (French is somewhat similar to Spanish), it is positing that were Mohammed to return today, some jihadist would behead him as an infidel. Admittedly, this is in line with my position that were Jesus to return today, those who claim to be his followers would (mostly metaphorically speaking) crucify him as a heretic.

However, again, contexte est tout, and the Charlie Hebdo cover above is much more offensive to your average Muslim than would be a similar depiction of modern-day “Christians” crucifying a returning Jesus, methinks. Also, so-called “Christians” already are in the majority in the West, and so they have a lot of political power, so such a cartoon would not feel as personally threatening to them as the Charlie Hebdo cover above would feel to France’s Muslim minority (which, again, is estimated at 5 percent to 10 percent of the nation’s population).

*Frankly, I don’t know that I’m willing to call Charlie Hebdo’s cartoonists “editorial cartoonists,” because the word “editorial” elevates them to a level of discourse that I just haven’t seen in most of their cartoons thus far. Similarly, just as I can’t call Charlie Hebdo a “newspaper” (I call it simply a “publication”), I can’t call what Charlie Hebdo does to be “satire” or to be “satirical,” because to me, satire requires intelligence (in the form of wit), and to me, satire’s ultimate goal is to uplift the body politic. I don’t see that Charlie Hebdo is witty or uplifting.

Charlie Hebdo still has free-speech rights, of course, but, as I’ve noted, after having seen some of its content I’m not going to align myself with Charlie Hebdo. The Ku Klux Klan and the so-called “Tea Party” have their free-speech rights, too, and I’m not on board with them either.

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