International Politics

It has only been a few days since Libya has been liberated from Gaddafi, after forty years of authoritarian rule, a staunch police state created to indulge the ego of an erratic leader. Long gone are the days when developing countries needed the helping hand of the West; the Arab Spring has proved that direct action and a nationwide thirst for freedom can also pave the way to democracy and individual liberties. Most western countries have watched in silent shock and admiration the steadfast rise to freedom in Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt. Many lessons have to be drawn from this seemingly unstoppable quest to free one country from the shackles of dictatorship: one, that the era of western-led colonialism is over, and that we must stand on a pedestal of equality. Two, that our foreign policies need to stop feeding blood thirsty tyrants in our quest for domination over national resources. A piece by Antonio Fernandez on heroes, monsters and men.

“Clearly, the narrative tells more about the corrupt nature of international politics than about Gaddafi himself”

Recent events in Libya point in the direction of the fall of 40 years of Gaddafi’s rule in that country. Witnessing the cascade of articles and editorials written on the subject not only these days but since the uprising began, it is difficult to say something original or add some new illuminating perspective on the conflict, how it began, how it might end and what to expect for the people of Libya who, after all, have been trapped in a mostly western-led geopolitical turmoil. What we have seen in most media as regards the escalating violence in Libya is yet another narrative of monsters and horror. In a peculiar turn of events, the one-time considered authoritarian despot by the West, Muammar el Gaddafi, became its ally in a so-called “war against terror”, to finally be turned overnight into a grotesque monster that bombs its own people. Clearly, the narrative tells more about the corrupt nature of international politics than about Gaddafi himself and the people of Libya; their democratic demands did not raise much interest in the West until Gaddafi the friend got out of control like a maddened Frankenstein. From this perspective, the Libyan uprising contains all the ingredients of a horror story, which is the very same story of colonialism, as Frantz Fanon described so well in his analysis of the psychological effects of colonial rule on Algerian people (1). It has monsters and grotesque creatures (Gaddafi), vampires (colonial bloodsuckers) and ghosts (the people of Libya represented through the  decorporealising lens of the media). Creating monsters has always been a useful strategy for colonial powers in order to legitimise the control and appropriation of natural resources out of their territory.

“The myth of Frankenstein is also a rich source of metaphors in the horror story of Western domination over foreign countries”
In the 19th century, the Palestinian population of what is now Israel and the West Bank was described by explorers and travellers with terms that made them resemble grotesque human creatures rather actual human beings; Mrs Mary Rowlandson, a colonial American woman, described the Indians that captured her for eleven weeks as children of the devil so, alas, we have another element in the horror story of colonialism. (2) I do not want to suggest that Rowlandson herself is responsible for the denigration of the culturally different other, but her views were certainly part of the zeitgeist as many pamphlets and caricatures of the indigenous found on those years do show. The British Empire did not fall short of creativity in their representation of Asians as dark, passion ridden creatures as Edward Said so cleverly describes (3). If we want more recent examples of horror stories, we just have to turn our eyes to the Nazi propaganda of the Russians during the Second World War or the North American propaganda of its own Gulf War, where Iraqis were said to take children out of incubators and let them to die in hospitals during the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait. Years later the story was shown to be a bluff, like so many others, but as I said before, the end justifies the means and the US gathered massive support to their military adventure in Iraq. A horror story was instrumental.

The myth of Frankenstein is also a rich source of metaphors in the horror story of Western domination over foreign countries. There we find Augusto Pinochet, who was responsible for creating, literally, rivers of blood in Chile. His description certainly fits that of a monster in his lack of humanity and excess of cruelty towards a large part of the Chilean population he governed. He showed as much insensitivity and lack of empathy towards the suffering of Chileans just like a psychopath for its victims: none. Pinochet, like Frankenstein, can be seen as the monstrous creation of a lunatic who crosses all ethical thresholds in his pursue of power and glory. The CIA brought Pinochet (and many other tyrants in South America) to life in the laboratories of the School of the Americas. It was there that Pinochet and his army were trained to commit monstrous deeds against a part of the population whose dangerous demands for a better society caused them to be rendered by the military juntas as communist monsters that deserved to be killed. And let’s not forget Saddam Hussein, a monster “fed” and cared by the United States, who, in a quintessential Frankensteinian turn, rebels against his creators. Paradoxically, the only act of rebellion -invading Kuwait- makes his creators realise he actually is a monster; massacring an entire Kurd village with chemical weapons did not suit the creators’ definition of monstrosity while he was under control.

“Gaddafi came to power claiming the right to exorcise the colonial demons from Libya. The revolutionary rhetoric gave way progressively to 40 years of authoritarian rule”

The Arab world is replete with Frankenstein-like creatures who have been supported and trained by power-thirsty western (and other non-western) elites in order to help them extend and perpetuate their domination of oil and gas resources. Among them, Gaddafi excels in theatrical extravaganza. (4) He is a good example of the dangerous games played by Western elites in their constant fabrication or transformations of simple despots into monstrous creatures with the help, of course, of the media. Like Frankenstein, Gaddafi came to power rebelling against those whom he saw as colonial oppressors only to become a close friend and ally of those very same oppressors when he realised that large sums of money could be drawn by allowing them to vampirise the country’s resources. Perhaps, after all, monsters have a deeper and close affinity with each other that humans can’t understand. The Libya Gaddafi came to save from colonial domination back in the late 60’s had already experienced the vampirisation of its natural resources by Italy. It was in 1911, when Italy claimed that the Turks were arming Libya to justify the launching of a war and the occupation of the country. Needless to say, commercial interests and colonial envy (France took the neighbouring Tunisia, perceived by Italians as closer to their sphere of influence) underpinned Italy’s actions and, of course, the myth of liberating Libyans from the Turks rang high in the Italian war propaganda. A few years later Benito Mussolini considered Libya part of his new Roman Empire (again, like Viktor Frankenstein, infatuated by his own megalomaniac dreams of power) to extract resources and promote settlements for unemployed Italian workers and farmers. Libyan resistance was fierce, which prompted Mussolini’s reaction of creating a number of concentration camps where around 100.000 people were imprisoned; it is also known that Italy’s use of mustard gas against the Libyan population, deportation and displacement were strategies for subduing the population. (5) Monstrosity and horror is probably well embedded in the collective psyche of the Libyans. Gaddafi came to power claiming the right to exorcise the colonial demons from Libya. The revolutionary rhetoric gave way progressively to 40 years of authoritarian rule that showed its more amiable face to western powers as he took a series of steps seeking international acceptance. Little by little, Gaddafi’s well-earned reputation as a terrorist sponsoring ruler (the Lockerbie bombings are a good example) did not seem to matter that much as Gaddafi offered his collaboration in the war on terror in exchange of softening economic sanctions. Now, the friend of the West is portrayed by the same Western media as a grotesque, megalomaniac monster who massacres his own population, but the monster has been fed by the West when it served their geopolitical interests, in what could be called the opposite of vampirisation, namely, the flow of poison (namely european-made weapons) that keep the monster alive.

Another important ingredient in any horror story is the ghost and Libya is no exception in this case either. Seen through the Cartesian distance of the media, the few images of Libyan rebels or Gaddafi supporters that have reached the media appear like shadows, like decorporealised entities, with no trace of human density, like undifferentiated masses of bodies, just like high technology weapons of the NATO provide a surgical distance with the enemy, be it rebel or Gaddafi supporter. It is this surgical distance that dehumanises the inherent humanity of the fighters on both sides as they appear through fragmented pieces of news TV networks covering the conflict. At this point, it is difficult to know how many  thousands of Libyans have lost their life in this conflict; human beings with families, personal narratives, hopes, dreams…they are the ghosts that haunt the emergence of a post-Gaddafi Libya; these ghosts were human beings to whom political elites in Great Britain, Italy, France or Saudi Arabia (who has provided weapons to rebels on demand of the United States) have shown no concern or human empathy in their geopolitical calculations for the region: it is far more crucial for them a “stable” government that gently grants access to Libya’s natural resources, in another vampiresque turn. According to Alessandra Migliaccio, “Eni [the Italian oil company] rose 0.5% to close at 13.46 today in Milan. The shares have gained 7.9% this week after rebel fighters reached the capital, signaling a possible end to the six-month conflict”. (6) Migliaccio’s words point to the irrationality behind the West’s apparently “rational” discourse of humanitarianism and exposes the corruption of European (and some Arab) political elites. Like Viktor Frankenstein, megalomaniac political elites play God with the megalomaniac monsters they sometimes create, finance and destroy when they cease to be useful for their interests, as is the case with Gaddafi.

“in the context of the horror of colonial and neo-colonial history, the not-so-new song of humanitarian intervention used as a pretext for military operations in Libya sounds perhaps more cynical than ever before”

It is time politicians (or politishams as South African poet Seitlhamo Motsapi describes them) (7) stop behaving like zombies (alienated and unaware of the world that surrounds them and of the damage, pain and suffering their decisions create) or, like Viktor Frankenstein, stop playing God with dictators that ultimately pretend to grant political elites absolute control over entire countries. The consequences, as we have seen in Iraq and in countless many other examples, can be catastrophic. Nobody know where Libya is heading now; whether the rebel factions that have been supported by the NATO will split in the absence of a clear and identifiable enemy or how Gaddafi supporters (in the event of a likely and imminent defeat) will fit in the new political scenario. Also, rumours and fears of Al Qaeda cells infiltrating the country begin to spread, casting a shadow of unpredictable violence. In the context of the horror of colonial and neo-colonial history, the not-so-new song of humanitarian intervention used as a pretext for military operations in Libya sounds perhaps more cynical than ever before, as if western leaders did not even have to make the effort anymore of masquerading the real geopolitical motivations behind the military intervention. To finish with one more horror note, oil in Libya is a curse more than a blessing and it needs to be added to the three traumas suffered by the Arab world, according to Marc Ferro (8),  the creation of the state of Israel and the partition of Pakistan. As I write this, Al Jazeera is reporting evidence of mass execution by Gaddafi troops. Again, the price to pay to keep Libya’s veins open to foreign vampirisation is too high and unacceptable form an ethical perspective, but for how long will horror be manipulating the democratic aspirations of Arab peoples? For the Arab spring to grow, the former colonial elites and allied Arab regimes must stop interfering in the internal affairs of these countries and respect the right of these countries to manage their natural resources with the freedom they deserve. Continuing the narrative of horror (destabilising the countries with dictators or supporting the most convenient side for geostrategic interests) will not be conducive to democracy and stability as western powers claim, but will only perpetuate the cycle of horror and monstrosity we have witnessed for decades.      .


(1) Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, Penguin, 2006.

(2) Mary Rowlandson, Narrative of the Captivity and restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson, Nu Vision Publications, 2007.

(3) Edward Said, Orientalism, Penguin, 2003.
(4) Ronald Bruce St john, Libya: from Colony to Independence, Oneworld Publications, 2008.

(5) Ruth Ben-Ghiat and Mia Fuller (ed.) Italian Colonialism, ed., Palgrave-Macmillan, 2005

(6) Alessandra Migliaccio, “Eni Lobbies to keep oil dominance in Libya after Qaddafi
(7) Seitlhamo Motsapi, “soffly soffly nesta skank

(8) Marc Ferro, El Conflicto del Islam, Catedra, 2004.

Further reading

Michael A G Bunter, The Geopolitics of Libya, Maris BV.

Simon Rogers, “EU arms exports to Libya: who armed Gaddafi?


Sebastiàn Piñera: his son's taste in music might also become a problem.

On Sunday night, Chili elected a new president, with outgoing socialist leader Michelle Bachelet passing the flame to right-wing teeth-baring Sebastiàn Piñera, a controversial new influence over the Latin American country due to an extremely wealthy bank account and paradoxal views on Augusto Pinochet, the former tyran accused of genocide and providing shelter to Nazi war criminals.

Piñera is a bundle of contradictions, from his Berlusconian input on the economy to his self-proclaimed « humanist » conservatism, that he seems to wish closer to Helmut Kohl’s than Silvio’s. However, his own fortune being estimated by Forbes to be of approximatively 860 million euro, the 60 year old football club owner and Harvard graduate paints a picture of himself ranging from affectionate grandfather to greedy businessman with a shady historical conscience.

On many social and civil rights issues, Piñera proves to be more open-minded than many conservatives on the northern hemisphere, especially concerning gay rights – he was the first political leader to give civil and administrative recognition to homosexual couples. The « humanist » has also tried to take a stand regarding the complexity of Chili’s past by declaring that no previous employee of the Pinochet administration would ever have a seat in his government – whilst adding that « working under Pinochet does not constitute a sin ». A hasty addition to a political discourse trying to bring about cambio (change) and disruption from previous governments, socialist and conservatives alike, when it is no secret that his brother, José, was Minister of Labour under Pinochet and has made a name changing the retirement system from repartition to unabashed capitalization.

So who is really Piñera, and does he personify a strange and potentially harmful change for South America ? Supported by similar-minded parties National Renovation (sic) and Independant Democratic Union, Piñera is a nice-looking facade for a business-oriented neo-conservatist right-wing ideology modeled after its northern american twin, and will benefit from an interest economic growth in 2010 and 2011, evaluated at 4.5%, that will definitely help bringing about the cambio Piñera is so fond of. This change will however not be mild in any way – the free trade market wished by Piñera and on which he built his own wealth under the dictatorship (by introducing the concept of credit cards to Chili) is one that is radically different from the economy based on socialist platforms that has been implemented by successive governments ever since the fall of Pinochet.

What Piñera is sure to bring to the plate is a renewal of left-wing forces that will no longer take their leadership and popularity for granted. Does that mean the era of whispering Pinochet’s name in-between corridors and purging the governmental apparatus of any former Pinochet members? Is Piñera helping Chili get out of the guilt of the tortured and murdered? Although he committed himself to the condemnation of human rights violations and subsequent ICT convictions, undermining the very nature of those used as tools in the dictatorship might send the wrong message, that of trying to wipe Chili’s historical slate clean. Let’s make sure it doesn’t happen.

This is the time of year when one would compile the top 5 Desert Island things that made their year, from album releases to mom’s dishes. Here at SaC we thought we would continue our hard work fighting general illiteracy and list the books that have inspired us the most throughout the year. Be careful, you’re about to enter a zone of serious knowledge. All these books are available for less than $15.

Naomi Wolf – Give me liberty (a handbook for American Revolutionaries) order at Amazon here

Naomi Wolf is one extraordinary writer who puts her English language skills at the service of the Founding Fathers, coming back to the roots of the principles of freedom and justice that make up the American Constitution. Fearing another type of “gathering storm”, Naomi Wolf travelled the country and met scholars, ordinary people, pro-life activists and young software users who were all ready to resist the powers that be in the name of the freedom that was granted upon them as Americans. In that book, she claims that freedom can only be attained by learning the true meaning of democracy and taking it back into their own hands. Her detailed account of how the electoral system is manipulated in favor of certain consistuencies and her intensive research on the laws erecting themselves as obstacles to the right of expression, instead of facilitating it, is empowering.  Probably one of the most important book of the decade, Give Me Liberty is bringing revolution to what it really is: by the people, for the people, giving “patriotism” the meaning it had before the Bush Administration turned it into “imperialism”.  A tool of knowledge and self-awareness for all western countries, it even provides a bullet-point list of all the non-violent possibilities we have to put the citizenry back in charge.

Chris Hedges – The Empire of Illusion (the end of literacy and the triumph of spectacle) order at Amazon here

Chris Hedges is no stranger to the powerful meaning of words. A member of The Nation and blogger at salon, the former war correspondant carries an in-depth, profund and stunning analysis of the brainwashing media system corrupting the minds of Americans and coercing them into passivity. Now, if this sounds like a conspiracy theory, Chris Hedges brings out all the arguments into a well-crafted, incredibly constructed book with an amount of research that would make his fellow Harvard graduates cry in shame. From the illusion of literacy and the failure of the educational system, to the illusion of love and the role of the pornography industry in desensitizing people to torture, Chris Hedges tells a tale that we know all too well, paints portraits of people we might recognize ourselves in, and pleads for self-awareness, knowledge, and self-empowerment. Completely disconnected from circonvoluted speeches and party lines, he slams so-called liberal media when needed be, and tries to reinstaure a significant truth among  a puddle of lies: we are being fed distraction so as to stop participating in the forum, the same way Romans citizens were given games to watch in order to turn a blind eye to Julius Caesar’s endless wars and their own hungry stomachs. Where Noam Chomsky did not shy away from calling the United States a “failed state”, Chris Hedges goes further and depicts a failed population, with little to hope for and not much material to think over. Depression, degradation and desenfranchisement are at the heart of this masterpiece that feels like a giant suckerpunch to the jaw. Deconstructing a so-called successful society brick by brick, Hedges is ringing the alarm and hoping there is still time to turn around before we lose everything that made us human.

Frank Shaeffer – Crazy for God: how I grew up as one of the elect, helped found the religious right, and lived to take it all back (or almost) order at Amazon here

We have never been kind to religious extremists over there, but have done our best to understand why they have been trying so hard to undermine the fabric of a society that had already been targeted by other religious extremists on 9/11. After the passing of Proposition 8, it became increasingly clear that the battle of civil rights will be a religious one, and that the divide between atheism and the growing need for a secular state will be met with violent refusal and rebuttal from every fringe of christianity, judaism and islam within the United States. Frank Shaeffer, famous for travelling all over the country preaching the Gospel of Jesus in the 70s then turning his back on what made him rich and famous, is here telling his own story, that of a rebellious, art-inclined little boy who grew up isolated from society in Switzerland, and came to terms with the hypocrisy and contradictions of televangelism, calling out Pat Robertson and cohorts with uncompared grief and anger. This is the story of a father of three trying to find his own path outside his father’s, and seeking for his identity when being religious means being conservative. Too bad Frank Shaeffer is an uncompromising liberal. Aggravating at times, frustrating by moments, but overall terribly touching, Shaeffer isn’t hiding any flaws from the picture he paints of his own family. If there is one book to understand where the religious right comes from, it’s that one. Taboos and prejudices are quickly defeated.

Matthew Alexander – How to break a terrorist (The U.S. Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq) order at Amazon here

Don’t be fooled by the cover. Don’t be fooled by the main title. Matthew Alexander – writing under a pseudonym – tells the hard story of a man sent to Iraq to capture, preferably alive, Mohamed Al-Zarqawi, presumed head of Al-Qaeda in the region. Yet Alexander did not receive the same training than his future employees. Far from the tragic abuses of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, Alexander studied the Geneva Convention at the same time he was studying arabic and the Q’uran, and came to Iraq with intelligence methods in accordance with human rights law and based on the deepest knowledge of the prisoner, not a battle of brutality and violence. This book, which parts were blacked out for Secret Defense reasons, reads like a thriller, with intel on Al-Zarqawi being retrieved at the very end, after Alexander fought resistance to non-violent methods, bureaucracy, legal red tape, and the infamous ticking clock that is supposed to justify the use of torture. A compelling testimony on how intelligence can use brains instead of fists and cultural relativism to its own advantage, instead of retreating to imperialistic and white supremacist techniques that never proved themselves useful. Alexander’s loneliness however proves there is a long way until human rights are used into prison cells in the Middle East, but this is a fantastic start.

Paul Rieckhoff – Chasing Ghosts: a soldier’s fight for America, from Baghdad to Washington order at Amazon here

The first words set the tone of the book: “George W. Bush better be fucking right”. A voluntary soldier entering the US Army after graduating from the prestigious Amherst College, Paul Rieckhoff was not the typical unknowledgeable trooper some would have depicted. A commanding officer in charge of leading his men through one of the deadliest wars of the last three decades, Rieckhoff is quick to realise that not only was this war not properly organized or thought through, but that it wasn’t justified as well. Watching his men die or be wounded, facing dangers and mutilated kids on a daily basis, Rieckhoff came back to America with one ideal in mind: restore the America he had envisioned when he joined the Army. Founder of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, which has fought for the GI Bill and relentlessly lobbied for veteran health care and the recognition of PTSD as a war injury, Rieckhoff is a soldier in mind and in heart – and his account of his year in Baghdad is concise, precise, funny at times, but certainly like nothing you may have heard before. This is not the war as our media would want us to know about; this is a soldier’s perspective, losing his ideology and faith, and regaining it through the brotherhood and fraternity only brothers at arms can find. Struggling against phony definitions of patriotism and the overwhelming military-industrial complex (see: Eugene Jarecki, The American Way of War), this book is a mandatory read for anyone wanting to dabble in the never-ending Iraq war debate. Once again, his field experience sets him far away from any of the homeland’s partisan lines, and only reveals an internal monologue revolving around the need of a soldier to find purpose in violence, to find ideology in fear, and to know the rationale behind his actions. As Rieckhoff’s confusion increases throughout the book, so is ours; supporting the troops is not necessarily supporting the war. Driven by the necessity to take care of his men and other CO’s men, the work of the IAVA is priceless, and we strongly encourage you to visit their website as well and follow Rieckhoff on Twitter.

Happy Chanukah, citizens of the world, something has taken place on this beautiful day to remind ourselves of the presence of a Lord that probably doesn’t exist but in his mercy has decided to bless us with something hilarious, totally spontaneous and just what we needed to end 2009 on a happier note than the rest of the year.

Silvio Berlusconi, guarding over Italy ever since too many years, a man who believes that totalitarianism is not such a bad idea and who entertains a certain fondness for young, beautiful Barely Legals he carefully places in his entourage so he can behave like a sleaze anytime he pleases, Silvio Berlusconi, the right-wing douchebag who has been a thorn in Europe’s side ever since his hair gel abuse graced the cover of his party (“Forza Italia”)’s paper, has been punched in the face.

© Reuters

Now I know that abuse against heads of state will never really match the spontaneity and glory of the Iraqi shoe-tosser; but it happened in different circumstances, and by someone whose country was occupied by the leader standing in front of him. If anything, tossing a shoe at George W. Bush is certainly tame considering what he really, really should be accounted for (war crimes tribunal, anyone?) but punching in the face the leader of your own country and kicking a few teeth out in the process, man, that’s kind of beautiful, and please pardon my atheist self when I say it resembles a Christmas miracle.

The irony of it is that Berlusconi has not been smacked in the jaw by a very self-righteous fist; he was attacked by a cheap replica of the Milan Cathedral. The 42-year-old man who hit the Prime Minister in the face “had been undergoing mental problems” for a certain time, according to early reports by Reuters, but I think this is a sign he’s on the road to a perfect recovery. Now don’t get me wrong, I will certainly not advocate physical violence on the internet, where so many influentiable souls could take this as a call for duty. The 73 years old Berlusconi said he’s “fine”, repeatedly, not like his counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy who was rushed to the nearest hospitals after fainting while jogging. Because of low blood sugar. No, Berlusconi is “doing just fine”, he can take a sucker punch to the face, even when said punch was performed by a tiny version of the House of God. Two teeth were the collateral damage of the incident, but Umberto Bossi, whose name is too easy to make fun of, quickly jumped to the conclusion that it was “an act of terrorism”.

Bossi, the head of the far right Northern League and close friend of Berlusconi (you don’t say!) assimilated the incident to 9/11, the Mumbai attacks, the London 2005 horror, well, any other act of terrorism in which a number of lives are lost, others are wounded, and … teeth are gone to the wind. Accused of being an “absolute monarch” by the President of the Lower Chamber, Berlusconi has been stripped of his favorite privilege – second to his sex scandals -, that of immunity from prosecution, and is facing trials on charges ranging from tax fraud to … corruption and… more tax fraud…, this said, losing two teeth is “an act of terrorism”.

According to Berlusconi, all of his recent falls from grace are all due to the acts of some mischevious “communist” members of his government plotting against his divine self. Like the Milan Cathedral, for instance.

When Switzerland decided to ban the construction of minarets – nothing more than the Muslim equivalent to the christian belltower – it was not without a cacophony of responses from both sides of the Alps, whether they supported the Swiss in their decision to “preserve their identity”, or in their vehement condemnation of what they consider to be an infringement to the freedom of religion. Regardless, Switzerland not being a member of the European Union, this decision is not going to bleed all over Western Europe. Yet, similar decisions have been taken – in Ireland, for instance, where a South Dublin neighborhood complained that the call of prayer disturbed their peace – or are threatened to be taken, all in the name of this “identity”, which I can only understand as being “Judeo-Christian identity”.

Nicolas Sarkozy, who loves nothing more than being on the spotlight, discussed the topic in a long-winded editorial in leading French newspaper Le Monde today, with his habitual rhethoric: walking around the topic in circles and well-crafted sentences whilst never touching the ground on what is going to be not just the debate, but most possibly the conflict of the next decade. Slightly overshadowed by Copenhagen, the question of French – and European – identity is raised in a way that does not bring any answers. More questions, yes. Answer, we may have to wait for the next election in 2012.

In the first part of the editorial, Nicolas Sarkozy manages to question the referendum itself, implying that the process has been mocked by neighboring nations with longstanding traditions of representative democracy. Could a decision be considered null and void, unconstitutional, or liberticide if taken by referendum? What could be more at praise than direct democracy when the size of the nation and the density of the population makes it applicable? I am more than skeptical, considering the debacles in California, Maine, Florida, ad lib, in which referendum have enabled the majority to push the minorit(ies) back into the (proverbial) closet. Western Europeans, as depicted by Sarkozy, “are welcoming, are tolerant, it is in their nature and in their culture.” This is not a battle of ideas. This is a battle of words.

Only two years into his four-year long mandate and his new creation, the Minister of Immigration and National Identity, created controversy, hatred, and among all, sparked a lot of tension between the Muslim community – who felt targeted and specifically led to believe they were unwanted – and the powers that be. Between the 2006 riots and today, nothing much changed in the kingdom of France, except the willingness to create a special kind of Islam, French Islam, an Islam that would respect France’s tradition of secularism, a republican value inherited from various revolutions and resulted in a bill crafted no later than 1905 and guaranteed a strict, uncompromising and irrevocable separation of Church and State. Any Church. Any State. Elevated to “principle of constitutional value”, France’s “laicite” has often been misunderstood by its non-secular counterparts, who mistook secularism for godlessness. So far, France’s secularism is what protected the country from a crisis of culture and identity when the ticking bomb of its immigration policies exposed to the wide world that its infamous “assimilation” was nothing more than a lie: France is not a melting pot, just an over simplified juxtaposition of religions, cultures, beliefs, holding onto their traditions so tightly we can hear the foundations of the Republic crack under its burden.

Brice Hortefeux, the first Minister of this extremely obscure National Identity ministry, only managed to illustrate himself through repeated extraditions and much-publicized racist remarks in the press. Changing him with former left-wing leader Eric Besson, who switched camps during the 2007 elections, Nicolas Sarkozy is hoping to place the public opinion in his favor.

National identity is the antidote to communautarism and tribalism. It is precisely for this reason that I wished for a great debate on national identity.  This grinding threat so many people are feeling in our great and old european nations, be they right or wrong, are menacing their identity, we must talk about this together if only not to repress this feeling that may give birth to resentment.

In regular talk, Nicolas Sarkozy wants everyone to come together and debate on whether our “identity” includes the respect of Islam and its traditions, otherwise we might have to face that clash of civilizations Samuel Huntington warned everyone against, until terribly defeated by historian Edward Said who sadly died without knowing that the world of the third millenium would once again place its power and ressources in the hands of ignorants driven by fear.

national identity: er, no thank you.

But ever since this ministry has been created, no debate has ever taken place, and the words “national identity” are being tossed around at every possible occasion without having any solid meaning attached to them. How can one define an identity in a country with a history so complex and so intertwined as France’s? From world wars to imperialism, to wars of colonialism to independance and enlightment, France has known waves of immigration and emigration, ethnic cleansing and commitment to human rights, leader of the European Union while digesting a slow process of european expansion.

Truth is, an entire generation of French citizens, born on French soil and educated in French schools, are feeling entirely disenfranchised and perhaps even deprived of their civil rights. Anyss Arbib asked the question so strongly and painfully: what does it mean to be French but a product of first, second or third generation of immigration? What does it mean to be French when you practise a religion that is not in France’s tradition? Who is French, and who is not? Nicolas Sarkozy, no matter how long his editorial – four columns – never answers this question. He simply says,

Any man of belief, regardless of said belief, or faith, everyone must keep away from obnoxiousness and provocation.

The obnoxiousness reference here is from my translation: here Nicolas Sarkozy refers to a law on “ostentatious signs of religion” banned in public buildings (from public schools to government buildings) after a 1994 reaction from two Muslim girls expelled from a public school for wearing the hidjab. The line between what is ostentatious and what is not, what is a regular duty for a believer and what is an add-on for an overzealous practicioner remains blurry. Once again, the Muslim community felt targeted, more than the Christians, the Jewish, or the minority of other religions who had until then kept quiet. Violences between Jews and Muslim rose in urban zones, as a pathetic paragon to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, without anyone calling them “ostentatious signs of religion”. Who is provoking who? Who started who over?

Sarkozy ends his editorial by saying he welcomes Muslims, but

in our country in which Christian traditions have left such a deep mark, where Republican values are an integrant part of our values, everything that could be felt as a defiance against those values will condemn the practice of a french Islam to a failure, an Islam that must find within itself the roots of its integrations and the common values that could tie it to our culture.

It is no longer “national identity”, but “national culture” now. We have moved onto an entirely different ground.

It is not without a certain sneer that the reader will note that next to those Republican values so close to Sarkozy’s heart, and so deeply embedded into France’s legal system, are standing Christianity, side-by-side, as an equal to the Constitution, as an equal to a nation and a culture that pledged to remove any faith from the public debate. Long gone are the days when then-MP Christine Boutin shocked both the political community and the public opinion for holding a Bible up high whilst voting against civil unions. There is no clarity in this editorial, whether Sarkozy is trying to preserve Europe’s Judeo-Christian traditions – and would therefore renegade Turkey from entering Europe – or whether he simply acknowledges a history and a cultural heritage that can not simply be forgotten and wiped out in the name of a recent outnumbering religion.

So, here we are: no answers on what being French means, except it means the constant dilemma between secularism and christianism, between acceptance and tolerance, between integration and immigration, between assimilation and rejection. Not only must any country in the world unite against the rise of muslim fundamentalism – there is no single doubt about that – but Europe now has to decide whether secularism means what it technically implies: that even the Church steps down and bows before the Constitution, the only supreme value on which every French citizen pledges their allegiance.  Leaving the options wide open, as any failing leader would do, it is now up to the French Muslim community to regulate themselves and understand that they are alone in their fight against isolationism, ghettoism, radicalism, and racism. Good luck with that.

Finally. It felt like it would never happen. Negotiations were at a standstill, secretaries of state could no longer hide their irritation, and it felt like there was nothing left to be done but wait. A long, painful, agonizing waste of time orchestrated as blackmail. Finally, Netanyahu dropped the towel. Or at least part of it.

Yesterday, the controversial and irritatingly uncompromising Prime Minister of Israel took one step towards maturity and inclusion. He conceded to Washington a ten-months freeze of settlements in the West Bank, requested by Europe ever since the death of Itzhak Rabin and by the United States the moment the moment the Obama Administration came into power. Netanyahu had become the thorn in every diplomats side. His submission is not whole: although his promise was clear on the status of the West Bank, East Jerusalem remains in the vagueness of a hugely compromises statu quo.

Benjamin Netanyahu: between a rock and a hard place

So why the sudden gesture towards peace? “we want to show the world a simple truth, that of knowing the Israeli government is willing to start negotiating with the Palestinians, that it is taking concrete measures in that direction, and that it is serious in its peaceful intentions.” the message is hopeful and beautiful, but the ten-month limit allows us to doubt the veracity of those claims.

What will happen once the term limit is reached, and will it be long enough to craft a lasting peace process? The Palestinians remain skeptical on the subject of Netanyahu’s commitment precisely on his unwillingness to clear the East Jerusalem fire. “In [our] eyes. East Jerusalem represents a red line not to cross. Any return to negotiations has to be made on the basis of a complete stop to settlements in the West Bank… Jerusalem included”, declared Nabil Abbou Roudeina, Mahmoud Abbas’ spokesperson. Those negotiations are therefore not that close to happening, since both authorities wish to claim the Holy City as their capital.

Netanyahu, first entirely opposed to any compromise and used to unconditional support from the White House, is finding himself in a situation where he can’t win. On one side, he came to realise the new American administration were not lax on international law as the previous was; and on the other, his own party line – elected along with right wing party Likoud – is heavily relying on nationalism and the expansion of Isreaeli territory. Who is Netanyahu trying to please the most? Danny Dayan, leader of the Yesha Council, representing the colons, feels betrayed by his Prime Minister to the point of claiming that colons feel “persecuted” and that the Likoud’s ideal of a Great Israel is being washed away in the name of international compromise. Nationalists are learning the drawbacks of diplomatic relations and pay the price of international alienation.

Several protests have taken place from the most radical fringes of the colons, most of them commanding officers of the Tsahal. Netanyahu, who himself ha never been more inclined than his predecessor to satisfy the utmost Zionist dream, is now facing the same threats progressive leader Rabin did before being assassinated in 1995 for participating in the Camp David summit.

Ten months during which the world will hold their breath and wait to see if the majority of Israelis – who do want peace and no longer wish to be world pariahs for living in a state perpetuating war crimes in their name – will once and for all take over the handful of right wing radicals menacing to perpetuate a conflict that has shed blood for way too long.

Extensive coverage of police violence during the Democratic National Convention shocked and psychologically tasered the liberal American population who believes in civil rights and the necessity for a state to promote a trustworthy, reliable, and respectful police force on which the citizens can lean in times of inorderly conduit and criminal violence. Democratic societies have been failing one after the other to prove their population they knew how to control internal security issues, make the difference between political trouble and peaceful protests, anarchy and political activism… as well as not making any difference between any citizen, whether the bias is racial, religious, or political. The irony lying within the same countries’ foreign policy being based on exporting their own so-called democratic system is not lost on the victims of police violence. If the Grant case was easy for you to stomach, let’s turn to Paris where the question of national identity, that has been plaguing the nation of Voltaire ever since the independance of Algeria, is now reaching new heights of violence.

Last Wednesday – November 18th – Algeria wins over Egypt in a football match many French citizens of Algerian descent wish to commemorate. Anyss Arbib, a twenty-two year old student at the well-connected, internationally renowned National Institute of Political Science, decides to join the party on the Champs-Elysees in the capital, from his suburb in which most of the population is of northern african origin. North Paris, and specifically the 93rd regional district – Seine Saint Denis – has only gained a reputation through repeated violence, riots, and organized crime. Luckily for Arbib, who is himself entering the preparation for the National School of Governance, France is a soccer country, in which it is widely accepted to honk, scream, yell, and wave flags at whichever country has managed to shoot a ball inside a net.

Anyss Arbib has two major flaws going against him: he is coming from the aforementioned district, and is of Arab descent. Regardless of his qualities as a student, his deep and humble knowledge of the law, his ambition to become part of a government someday, and his writing abilities, Anyss Arbib, born a French citizen on French territory, is suddenly forced to question his own identity. Once the Champs-Elysees are invaded by a group of violent rioters, Arbib and his friends decide to leave and come back home, not willing to be assimilated to people whose behaviour they have always disapproved of. Back on the freeway, they suddenly encounter the police forces, stopping cars at random, dragging their drivers out on the road and beating them severely in front of terrified families and young people. Insults flow from members of the police: “get the fuck out, you dirty Arab”; “what the fuck are you looking at”, to a witness screaming that someone is going to die, before being teargassed by the same polician. Anyss Arbib tries to keep his composure.

Anyss Arbib here on the left with Richard Descoings, director of the National Institute of Political Science

“I have been nothing but polite”, he tells the policeman pushing him against his car. “There is no reason to behave so aggressively.” “Shut the fuck up”, replies the policeman. “I know my rights, I am a political science student”, Arbib calmly replies. “Well fuck political science!” is the reply he gets before being teargassed at close range, and losing consciousness. He comes to still on the freeway to watch a father of several children being dragged out of his seat and beaten up by batons. His friend has also been teargassed and is partially blind. “Go away, you Arab” says a policeman. “I’m French”, Arnyss replies. Was it at that precise moment he realised he wasn’t? A friend later told him, “Ivy League or not, you’ll always be an Arab, even with a French ID.”

When Nicolas Sarkozy introduced his best friend Brice Hortefeux at the head of a new yet controversial Ministry Of National Identity and Immigration, he knew he was just throwing more fuel into a already burning pan. Immigrants – often from the Maghreb, issued from France’s former colonies – are confined into suburbs and withdraw into a dangerous tendancy to communautarism and religious defiance to France’s secular system. With a crumbling education system and a government exacerbating violent opposition through cheap provocation, the 2006 riots so heavily documented worldwide were just one detail of a much bigger picture. France, unable to deal with its colonial past and fully integrate the sons and daughters of those who rebuilt the country after World War II, is now facing religious integrism clashing with other communities of faith, a growing illiteracy rate, decaying women’s rights in the face of integrism, and civil unstability. President Sarkozy was elected on agenda based on tough control and “zero tolerance”. In return, the difference between the upper middle class and the lower working class has grown to a deep, incrossable manhole, and national identity is nothing short of tacky patriotism sprinkled with daydreams of a glorious past that looks nothing like the contemporary bleak, dull reality.

Anyss Arbib is lucky; educated, smart, righteous, and well-guided, his story reached the frontpage of a national newspaper (Libération, November 24); complaints reach the inspection of the police forces, the IJSS; his outcry, firstly published on his Facebook page, touched national consciousness. But for the hundreds of thousands with no access to a network of media consultants or the knowledge of the complex administrative legal process, the mass of those left behind, no recourse is possible and ghettoism is the only answer.

In a word, Arbib is not just seeking accountability. He’s also searching for himself, tied between two worlds – one he barely knows, but is forced to reach out to for support; and one he thought he was a legitimate part of, but rejecting him on the basis of difference. France has never been a homogenuous melting pot of faiths and ethnicities. Under the pretext of assimilation, France just pushed every identity under the rug of the shining Republic. The Commission overseeing and evaluating police forces (CNDS)  will be dismantled by the end of the year despite increasing number of registered complaints  -19 in 2001, 152 in 2008 and 158 for the first three months of 2009). Now what’s a Republican to do?

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