Ever since Greece more or less collapsed in 2008, the country as a whole as become a major thorn in the European Union’s side. Perhaps the most glaring example of the devastating collateral damage caused by the financial crisis and the subsequent recession, the complete sell and dismantlement of a nation sees the citizens as its first victims. Erupting into riots and rarely ever emerging to catch a breath, Greek people are struggling to find solutions and alternatives to a very bleak future. Three years later, as the European Union is staring at Greece in horror, witnessing what could well be the last days of the EuroZone, a civil movement emerges, reaches far back into its democratic roots to redefine what democracy means, and what its identity could mean to a nation fighting for its right to live. Tasos Karakatsanis explains the concept of Plateia.

“The movement is an ongoing consultation in the pattern of the Athenian democracy, hereby giving a strong legitimacy to the movement”

I was very skeptical when I heard about the first protest opposing the memoradum in the square of “Syntagma” opposite the Parliament. The media first reported it as an answer to the Spanish “indignados”. I thought it would turn out to be a weightless, quick and meaningless demonstration imitating the “indignados”. However its endurance and gradual self-organization convinced me of two things: – First that the Greek movement of “Plateia” (1) represents a very strong leverage to the Greek ruling parties as an opposing force to the policies dictated by the memorandum that Greece was forced to sign in order not to bankrupt; -Second and most importantly the movement raises questions about the quality of today’s system of representative democracy. It calls for direct democracy. The movement is an ongoing consultation in the pattern of the Athenian democracy, hereby giving a strong legitimacy to the movement.

An ongoing consultation is held every evening, during which anyone can speak up and express their idea or point of view. Anyone can make a proposition that will be put to a vote. Minutes are kept and  a website (www.real-democracy.gr) is updated regularly. The whole process goes back to the very essence of direct democracy.  “Plateia” is pushing for a new meaning in civil society.

taken on February 23rd, 2011

“Plateia” vows for justice and democracy. Greek citizens refuse to pay the debt caused by the corruption and the waste of public wealth – nothing less than taxpayer’s money. The “PASOK” (PASOK “Pan-Hellenic socialist movement) and  “Nea Democratia” (Traditional right wing party) administrations have been holding onto power for thirty-seven years after the fall of the Junta in 1974. During these years both parties have been cultivating customer-like relations with their voters. Party voters would be offered a state job or funding through state-run or programs sponsored by the European Union. Furthermore both parties have been building networks between state organizations, party people and businessmen who would undertake state or EU-sponsored projects without clear and transparent procedures – just by nurturing special relationships with particular ministers and state officials. The lack of competition in the business sector and the lack of transparency have created a blurred and complex interdependency between state officials, who would get commission for their services, businessmen who would have “friendly” relationships with government and state officials, judges and barristers which would stay provocatively inactive over a long time to chase these scandals – and finally, the media which would spread false information as a distraction from the public opinion. In some cases even monasteries and members of the clergy would be involved in such scandals ( like the Vatopedigate). Greek citizens face the same situation in state owned universities where academic nominations, in vast majority, are made on the basis on who you know and what contacts you have with members from the ruling party.

The misuse of the Greek public sector is even worse and would take pages to give a detailed analysis. Plateia’s argument in the matter is not to trust the politicians negotiating and bargaining, if bargaining at all, with the IMF and the EU on the terms of the loans. Plateia stresses that Greek politicians have been unreliable. The heavy taxation  implemented by the Greek government in order to pay for the loan is targeting low-income workers and pensioners. The rapid privatization of Greek state organizations and property results in increasing unemployment rates, officially reaching 15%.

Greece has a long history in political rioting. The days before voting on the memorandum in the Greek parliament for the second loan by IMF and the EU, the rioting reached its climax on the 14th and the 15th of June when unions went into the streets
for a pan-Hellenic strike. “Plateia” joined in the protest with lots of singing and dancing. Although “Plateia” proclaimed they would circle the parliament so elected officials couldn’t come in and vote,  the full scale mobilization made it impossible for any such plans. Riots erupted pretty soon first from the “Bachalakides” (2) and later by political activists who believe that violence is the only way to overthrow the corrupted government. However , although the “Plateea” people remained peaceful and tried to stay within the “Syntagma” square, an unprecedented fire of chemicals from the police attacked non-hostile protesters with extreme violence in an attempt to destroy the very core of  “Plateia”. Yet protestors keep coming back when police retreated and never quit until the protestors themselves took over the square.

“Allegations came from different parties that extreme right wing members acted as provocateurs and had strong ties with Greek police”

The Greek media chronicled the first days of the movement with really positive commentary of “Plateia” across the country. However as the movement became “permanent” and seemed to causing problems to the government on passing the memorandum,  a strange silence hit the media. When “Plateia” joined forces with the syndicates for a pan-Hellenic strike and protest, the media turned around and against the movement blaming it for the violence. The public opinion would have been turned against the movement, but an amateur video which first was circulated in the web and finally went in air by a private channel showed two of the troublemakers which carried bats and have taken part in the violence to be smuggled by the police. Allegation came by different parties about extreme right wingers acted as provocateurs and having strong ties with Greek police. Although the government and the police leadership promised publicly that they would hold an investigation, the issue was buried quickly.

“It is a fact that the European Union paid little attention to dealing with democratic deficiencies caused by the regional state integration and chose to focus more on economic and technocratic issues”

If one must decipher the meaning of civil society to give Plateia its full importance, the official definition is as follows:

Civil society refers to the arena of uncoerced collective action around shared interests, purposes and values. In theory, its institutional forms are distinct from those of the state, and market, though in practice, the boundaries between state, civil society, and market are often complex, blurred and negotiated. Civil society commonly embraces a diversity of spaces, actors and institutional forms, varying in their degree of formality, autonomy and power. Civil societies are often populated by organizations such as registered charities, development non-governmental organizations, community groups, women’s organizations, faith-based organizations, professional associations, trade unions, self-help groups, social movements, business associations, coalitions and advocacy groups. (3)

If the above quote is the definition of civil society then the scholar, expert in the building of social society, should focus on the phenomenon of “Plateia”: It is something new that brings the seed of direct democracy. Regardless of whether we agree with the advocacy of the “Plateia”,  one must keep the power of self-organization as a genuine, open and interactive consultation which has ceased to exist a long time ago in Western democracies. It is obvious the thirst of people for involvement and implication in political decision-making is a major concern. It is also a fact that the European Union paid little attention to dealing with  democratic deficiencies caused by the regional state integration and chose to focus more on economic and technocratic issues. However the call of “Plateia” is loud and clear: “We want real democracy and we won’t go until we get it”!

(1) Plateia Greek word for square, plaza

(2) Bachalakides ar apolitical groups aiming for violence, mostly organized in football clubs and aiming clashing among them or against the police

(3) as defined in Wikipedia, itself from “What is civil society?”. Centre for Civil Society, Philippine Normal University. 2004-03-01. Retrieved 2006-10-30.

Tasos Karakatsanis, PhD in International Relations, MA in Peace and Conflict.
Independent researcher focusing on political decision making within domestic and international institutions and democratic theories. Living in Athens, currently working in Plouto SA.


Many have fallen into the extremely public pitfalls of social networking. When politicians- and more specifically, elected officials – are caught in a blatant misuse of Twitter and Facebook, this can range from sheer mockery to immediate, almost simultaneous resignation.  The constant mix in the definition of morality in one given country versus an actual breach of political ethics has reached a severe degree of intensity in the case of Anthony Weiner, pushed to resignation by the former House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi. When President Barack Obama himself expressed that had he been Weiner, he would have resigned, the representative for New York City’s 9th district, a shining star in the House of Representatives, suffered a nervous breakdown. The following press coverage focused on whether the resignation was called for, and what lies ahead for one of the most popular Representatives in an age of political apathy.

Anthony Weiner, three days ago, as he announced his resignation from office

New York City’s 9th district representative Anthony Weiner has been the shining star of the House of Representatives for the past year. A fervent supporter of single-payer health care who shamed Obama’s final bill because it wasn’t inclusive enough, a staunch advocate for 9/11 responders and often launching an aggressive offensive on Republicans, especially since John Boehner took over the role of Speaker, it is safe to say Weiner was one of the Democrats’ biggest asset in an election year that promised to need more than regular campaign promises: 201 Yesterday, said asset was forced out of office, citing his Twitter activities to be a “distraction” from his job as an elected official. In an election year, this is far from common, mundane political mishap. It’s bad news for the city of New York, bad news for the State, and definitely bad news for the Democratic Party which until now, was doing a relatively decent job staying out of tabloids’ headlines.

The question lies in whether one’s moral conduct is affecting, or cheating, on their sworn efficiency in office, and if said office is effectively tied to a code of ethical conduct. Two specific cases are brought to mind, and both are as far from Weiner’s situation as one can be.

Chris Lee's picture as posted on Craigslist and his resignation announcement

Earlier this year, in February, Chris Lee, representative of the extremely Republican 26th district of New York, was the subject of an instantly popular article on New York City-centered gossip website Gawker. Chris Lee, a married man elected in the only district of New York State considered to be a permanent Republican seat, answered a Craigslist ad in the “dating” section with a shirtless picture of himself taken in his bathroom with his phone. Following the publication, Chris Lee immediately resigned – subsequently opening the door to a staunch race for his seat, now occupied by Kathy Hochul, a Democrat – in one of the most followed electoral race of the year.  Outside of desperately seeking attention beyond the conjugal home, Lee is only guilty of having used an outlet so easily detectable and usable by the press. In regards to the political ethics transmitted by the GOP, Chris Lee made the necessary decision: attempting to find validation and potential affection through an online dating site does not find approval within the socially conservatives ranks of the Republican Party, attached to values of strong, male-and-female marriages, children, and christian morals of faith over lust. Within his district, never shying away from a right-wing move, Chris Lee knew he would never be re-elected or even endorsed by a colleague. However, whether this, again, affected his behaviour as local representative has never been  assessed. The separation line between the politician and the man has been blurred and forever deleted the moment he decided he was no longer fit for office.

“Bill Clinton’s 1993 short brush with impeachment was such a national affair of dramatic proportions it consequently led to a code of morals in private conduct to be followed by any elected official”

Senator John Ensign, a Republican representative from Nevada, found himself in even more troubled waters last month. First suspected of having an affair with the wife of his campaign manager, the Senator decided to let the couple go, and have his parents write them a cheque for $96,OOO, qualified as a “gift”, but suspiciously respecting the perfect timing of them leaving Ensign’s side. A sex and lobbying scandal that first had Ensign remain in his position of Senator – after a race won over the sweat and blood of Tea Party’s favorite, Sharron Angle – before quickly turning around and making a swift exit on May 3rd. Ensign did everything he could to avoid a very public and potentially very damaging public hearing and probe by the Senate Ethics Committee, launching an investigation not only on unlawful lobbying – securing clients for his very own chief of staff – but more drastically on the allegations of corruption behind this infamous cheque. In a very telling article, local newspaper The Las Vegas Sun titled “How Moral Failure Brought Down Senator Ensign“, who had occupied his seat for eleven years, compares Ensign with the most famous case on the matter, that of Bill Clinton’s:

There are those who talk of Ensign’s fall from political grace, and the resignation that takes effect a week from Tuesday, with a hint of pleasure at the irony of the situation, brought about by the hypocrisy of his actions. There are others who will defend him as the consummate objective moralist, who when confronted with his own faults, heeded his own advice.

Ensign may not belong at either end of that ethical spectrum. Because the pendulum of Ensign’s moral purism, it seems, swings both ways.

Ensign certainly fell on the sword of family values — morals he’d spent much of his career espousing as absolute, and portraying himself as embodying.

But Ensign also voluntarily departed from the dogmatism of the values-conservative position more often than most, especially in the wake of his scandal.

Here lies the non-existing specificity of being an elected official: a state or federal representative owes to his or her constituency to uphold the rule of law, to vote in accordance with the Constitution, to be fair in its voting and to listen to their voices when a vote is to be passed. A representative does just that: it represents the people of the district, state, or nation he was voted in. A lawmaker, a policy-maker, a representative is not a judge nor an arbitrary. Bill Clinton’s 1993 short brush with impeachment was such a national affair of dramatic proportions it consequently led to a code of moral private conduct to be followed by any elected official from across the board. Once again, the thin line of office behaviour and private affairs is to be highlighted: Bill Clinton had an affair which, despite being consensual, was conducted in his position of President, with a female member of staff, and inside the walls of his own office. The same way Ensign started a sexual relationship with a member of his campaign staff and tried to shut her family down with money, the lines between office and private affairs were blurred to a point that called for an ethical inquiry. Whatever happened to Anthony Weiner has never  affected neither his place of work or the content of his work per se. A call for moral cleanliness among the elected officials nationwide has been launched. This seems to lead to more corruption, misconduct, not from officials but also community and religious leaders.

Lucien Roman (left) and religious leader Alan Rekers (right)

In 2010, Alan Rekers was caught spending a vacation in Bermuda with a young man with whom he appeared to behave intimately. It would not be that bad of an issue if Rekers wasn’t the co-founder of the Family Research Council with James Dobson. The FRC, also parent company to Focus on the Family, is an anti-gay, pro-life, and generally extremely conservative lobby that has made itself clearly known the last few years for supporting anti-gay initiatives in the states proposing gay marriage on the ballot, and for financially covering any anti-abortion initiatives nationwide. Moreover, Rekers found his lover, Lucien, on the website rentboy.com, a notorious and infamous online gay escort service. Instead of facing up to his actions, which would obviously discredit Focus on the Family and their “family-oriented” values, Rekers claimed that he visited the website and met Lucien in Bermuda in order to “help with (his) luggage”. Despite the blatant hypocrisy, Rekers was not an elected official. The only people he had to answer to was the members of his parish and the FRC’s hierarchy. Because Rekers’ behaviour was specifically the strict opposite of what he had always preached, called for, and advocated, because Rekers’ lobbying company and religious affiliation is in strict opposition to relations of homosexual nature and in a broader way, of extra-marital affairs, Rekers has crossed the line in what is publicly acceptable in his leadership role. Weiner has yet to breach any of the rules of his own making as a Representative of Brooklyn and Queens, in his role as New York City progressive, as a member of Congress, and as a member of the Democratic Party.

” The fascination the public holds for misconduct is one that should never override the efficiency of the lawmaking sphere”

But what is it compared to dangerous and reckless conduct? A senator arrested for drunk driving, another slapped with corruption charges, a secretary of defense allegedly guilty of war crimes, a governor abandoning her role halfway through her mandate: those stories are being covered and conducted on the same level of gravity and scrutiny Anthony Weiner had to undergo in the last couple of weeks. Many have come in support of the Representative – and many have qualified the incident of ‘minor’, protecting privacy in the name of his achievements in Congress. Weiner surrendered to pressure claiming that his Twitter activities were a “distraction” to his real motivation. Considering the time span during which the direct messages were sent, Weiner had been successfully active in promoting the progressive agenda in Washington and had been relentless in his call for change in the institution. Whether his actions deserve a punishment sees his wife as the only judge. As a Democrat, Anthony Weiner had never supported any legislation on morality (or lack thereof), social conservatism, or anything that would see the federal government make a decision regarding a citizen’s family. Anthony Weiner may have acted in a way that is morally condemnable, but in no way were his actions unethical under the banner of his political mandate. The fascination the public holds for misconduct is one that should never override the efficiency of the lawmaking sphere; and if Anthony Weiner is one to hold himself accountable and step down in order to assuage a part of his constituency, it is only fair that Senators and Representatives who are themselves criminally negligent should also step down and release themselves in the hands of the relevant Ethics Committee. The witch hunt on personal conduct’s bottom line is morbid curiosity; political recklessness, however, is a public and national matter that belongs in the realm of civic pro-activism.

Recently invited to a book fair organized by a french association dealing with racism and identity issues, Albin Wagener attended the proceedings to present his book on national identity.  Little did he know everything which would surround him was a display of everything he thought he would be fighting against. 

“I became scared about how France is actually  dealing with intercultural dialogue, tolerance or diversity”

Tolerance is a fashionable feature for public policies and individual or collective initiatives. It remains much needed and, nowadays, the introduction of this very concept and its epistemological offspring (interculturality, recognition, diversity, etc.) is mostly backed by general sentences such as “in these times of globalization” or “today, international exchanges are more intense than ever” – strange truisms actually, if you only think of the history of mankind and its various momentums for discoveries, travels and trades. When observations start with such phrases, one may think that the following conclusions are simply meant to be limited in their interpretations and spheres of actions. This is, of course, not entirely true; sometimes, it is just worse than that.

A few weeks ago, on May 22nd, I had the chance and honor to attend the 4thBook Fair on Antiracism and Diversity organized by the

poster ad from the LICRA: "our skin color must not determine our future", with a dark-skinned baby wearing a janitor's uniform

happily lobbying LICRA, the International League against Racism and Anti-Semitism. To be honest, this association is not that international; it is only fair to emphasize the fact that the LICRA is mostly Parisian and white, surely less focused on racism as a whole than anti-semitism as a specific. Being only one upon many authors invited at this book fair, I was struck by the fact that most of the present authors were indeed white. The thin crowd, loafing around in this cocky salon of the municipal building of the 6th arrondissement, was not more diverse either. The most diverse thing I noticed was a bumptious selection of Louis Vuitton handbags, golden necklaces and bourgeois hairdos. Not only were the attendees mostly Caucasian: they were also wealthy and willing to show it. So much about diversity and antiracism, I guess. One may argue that I feel frustrated with having sold only three copies of my book: fortunately I am not so misleadingly proud. I was indeed frustrated (and I still am), but with a more essential reason: I became scared about how France is actually  dealing with intercultural dialogue, tolerance or diversity.

Cover of french satirical cartoon magazine "Fluide Glacial"

The late debate on French national identity already taught us that much. Still the tradition of this country is bound to a faith in the actual regime – the French Republic. And this model is not made for a multicultural society, for the absolute Republic stands high above human differences. As it stands, cultural diversity is put forward when it comes to the worldwide preservation of the French language and culture. Yet on national territory, cultural homogeneity is promoted and encouraged, on the street and even within the home. This is probably why recently, representatives of Sarkozy’s party, UMP, tried to reignite an old recurrent issue: the threat of dual citizens, probably undermining the national future. To cut a long story short,  some politicians would argue that dual citizens should only be allowed to keep a single citizenship, preferably the french one, thus denying any right to recognition, diversity and – let’s not be afraid to state it – human complexity. To some extent, it is implying that you are legally french, or you are not; that french citizenship does not stand the challenge of sharing a burden with another country of citizenship. So what happens next? Should I choose to be only French, will I only be allowed to drink red wine, eat camembert and wear a Basque beret? The French no longer need stereotypes: they are producing them. Should I let go of the French citizenship, what is the next step? Will I be treated like a regular citizen? All these questions are taken to a higher level of incongruity, because diversity is seen, displayed and treated as a problem that has to be solved with simple solutions. In France, no one seems to want to live with complexity as a metaphysical condition of mankind: the national choice is political reductionism made for polls. I still do hope that we will fulfil our duty as citizens to be more informed, more educated, more pro-active in the understanding of our own identities.

“Options are not based on the need to include, integrate and share, but on the need to shut out, separate and exclude”

This manipulation of ideas such as diversity, tolerance and interculturalism is only possible because of three major phenomena: territoriality, exclusion and shallow processing.  If French history is an acceptable explanation for this conceptual blend, it is still not an excuse; different social choices could be made in order to make this model evolve. The problem is that French politicians are mostly focused on national self-references and are not easily inspired by foreign models. This confusion is made easier by a European crisis of identity, making nations question the social models of diversity and multiculturalism without looking at the original causes of collective turmoil – unemployment, an ever-growing poverty and the creeping conviction that the economic choice of international capitalism no longer fits. We would then need to ask the right questions by reinventing our social and political models, our system of consumerism and our relationships to others. This would require energy, time and serious means to tackle them: it is easier to believe that it is someone else’s fault, particularly when we do not share the same cultural values, social references or religious beliefs. Come to think about it, it becomes really convenient to define a delimited territory when borders are traced on the basis of self-imposed stereotypes of what should and should not be. Since France has always been reluctant to surrender to the European alarm calls for a collective policy of recognition, it now has the opportunity to spread this message around the world: “you see, we had it coming – we knew this would never work”. In this sense, the crisis of the European identity and its projects work well with the risk of a territorial fallback.

This brings us to a second point: exclusion as a solution. In recent political developments, I did not sense any notion of inclusion. In other words, the submitted options are not based on the need to include, integrate and share, but on the need to shut out, separate and exclude; if the territory has clear borders (in a national, social and cultural sense), then it is easier to leave people behind than to redefine said borders in order to allow a recognition of diversity. Even the LICRA applies this model, as an assembly of white Parisian bourgeois talking about diversity and racism without working activities in, for instance, Parisian suburbs, where high crime rates, massive immigration and a slow disintegration of the social fabric demand ground-breaking initiatives. Another discourse is mostly contained in sentences such as “it’s not that we want to exclude them – they just do not want to integrate”. Again, the blame is never on us and we should not have to make any effort: in fact, it is our country, isn’t it? Why bother thinking about opening minds, when they already knew they were closed before they were coming? Caricaturing may not be an option, yet it helps showing what this is about: when I let someone new in my social or individual space, it means that I will inevitably have to question elements that I took for granted. Living together requires a certain level of social intelligence that should probably be taught at school, yet the basic instinct of exclusion is often backed by political discourses and nationwide policies.

a man diving in shallow water

Still, these manipulations would not work without the steady support of regular citizens, basically you and me. This is made possible by specific cognitive trick named shallow processing. The concept of shallow processing means that your mind will focus on so-called concepts and connect them together in order to create a basic context for understanding the message. Our brain works like that; it always does. What it does not do, however, is perceive when these concepts are manipulated for the sake of a certain goal. We are thus trained to recognize concepts and link them together with things we already know. Shallow processing does not teach us how to question things: it tells us how to make basic connections in order to guarantee a relevant understanding of the message, regarding to a cohesive environment. In this sense, if anyone is already providing us with truncated information or orientated messages, it is our responsibility to recognize that these are actually incomplete and purposely built. We have to gather pieces of information and educate ourselves in order to build up a broader knowledge of the world we live in and therefore participate to maintain. If we reduce our intellectual skills to the cognitive necessity of shallow processing, we become party to the decisions that are made and sustained thanks to our inability to save a couple of minutes for hindsight.

This is, truly, what is most scary about the current decline in the collective disbelief in identity, recognition and the benefits of intercultural exchanges: we make this possible for we make it happen, each time we receive sneaky messages drowned in a communicational flood and each time we base our vote on partial, incomplete and slanted elements. We are responsible for not double-checking information and for taking our convictions for granted. If we do not let the benefits of complexity enter our lives, then there will never be enough room for a real and sustainable policy of diversity and recognition, and there will still be people mistaking Muslims for Islamists, immigration for crime and national borders for battlements against differences.

Albin Wagener is Dean of the Faculty of Modern Languages and Linguistics (IPLV) and Head of the LALIC project (Languages, Linguistic and Cultural Interactions) at the Université Catholique de l’Ouest, Angers, France. He is also the co-founder and president of the OISC.

It’s been almost a week since Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the French president of the all-powerful International Monetary Fund (IMF) has been accused of raping a maid in his New York City hotel before boarding an Air France flight to Paris, where he was arrested by NYPD on sexual assault charges. Facing a sentence ranging from 20 to 74 years (the judge implied that other potential victims had come forward to testify), the man has been denied bail and is currently imprisoned at the legendary Rikers Island prison, in the Bronx. 

Coverage of the scandal is substantively different depending on which side of the Atlantic Ocean one is standing. The United States coverage has been somewhat unanimous in claiming another powerful man had abused his position to obtain sexual favours. France is mourning an extremely popular presidential hopeful for the ongoing presidential campaign, that would have penned “DSK” in a tight race against incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy. A race so tight many claimed that the scandal itself was a set-up to clear the path for Sarkozy’s second term. Even DSK’s lawyer seems to have abandoned this line of defence.

More importantly, this scandal unfolds more than a debate on one’s alleged guilt: it uncovers a fundamental difference in judicial culture. Should powerful politicians benefit from a legal favours? How much information is too much information? Should DSK be trusted to follow legal constraints, or was the judge right in stating a risk of him leaving the United States territory? It seems the scandal goes far beyond a story of yet another politician’s mishap. It feels like France is losing hope in the only one it believed could save french politics, the one that had sought political asylum in the arms of the very country that is now prosecuting him. The end of a dream ? – Sarah K

Dominique Strauss-Kahn in court, three days ago

“… but what a beautiful example of justice, one that judges the anonymous the same as the powerful.”

I woke up on sunday with a news alert flashing on my phone. Seeing Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s name appear, I didn’t give it a second thought,  assuming he had finally, after a seemingly endless teasing campaign, officially announced his run in the 2012 presidential campaign. It was only later, switching on the television, that I realised the extent of the scandal.

Sunday was a particularly rich day. On television, of course, but even more so on Twitter, with this incredible flow of information, ranging from the most legit and serious to the most extravagant news. From facts to conspiracy theory. There was even a few puns and jokes (“he’s a womanizer, makes insane amounts of money and ends up in jail: DSK is your new hip-hop idol”). I am by no means a political journalist, I would even say I do not know much about politics. But everyone knew that whatever had happened in the country and out of it would change the deal as far as national representation was concerned. Even as far as the fate of the country itself (DSK was ahead in all the presidential polls).

It is obviously way too early to pen a radical speech on the story. Only a low-life like Bernard Debré (Representative for Paris, NdlR) thought it would be appropriate to dig DSK a watery grave on his blog. (1) If it is politically accepted not to blame DSK and never forget that in this story also lies an alleged victim, it could be a destructive affair of rape as well as it could be a major conspiracy aimed at destroying the man and his presidential aspirations. It wouldn’t be the first time.

I will not dive into theory or analysis; here is my personal point of view. The images and photos of the man being handcuffed and taken away by the police, then presented as such in front of the judge were hard to watch. He is not just any other man. He was a french citizen who was well on his way to become president. As far as a scandal goes, a man of his status being accused of rape and sent to Rikers Island is unheard of. The Clinton scandal, despite its many story lines and threats of impeachment, was nothing but a situation of adultery committed by two consenting adults, therefore was a private matter that shouldn’t have been addressed in the public sphere, let alone under a political angle. The DSK scandal is nothing short of sordid.

Those images of the man appearing in court and being handcuffed, in the box of the accused, should they have been released? My own curiosity, maybe misplaced, agrees. Granted, the story itself would have lost no weight nor importance without those specific images. Is he paying for what Polanski managed to escape? I believe he does, maybe a little bit. Rikers Island? I can’t help thinking this is not where he should be. But what a beautiful example of justice, the one that treats the anonymous the same as the powerful!

The next few days will be of tremendous importance. Regardless of the outcome, DSK will not be the new president in 2012. His political career is most definitely over. No way to say if his life can be salvaged.

(1) Why Does Bernard Debré Hates DSK? Rue89.com, May 17 (in french)

nicoNico Prat is a journalist from Paris, France and is a regular contributor to VoxPop, Technikart, and ThatMag. He also co-hosts a radio show on Le Mouv’. You can follow him on Twitter at @nicoprat and on Tumblr.

Angel Dillard

See: Kansas Free Press, “Judge Dismissive of Threatening Letter To Dr Means

On May 31st, 2009, Dr. Georges Tiller was shot in his church in Wichita by Scott Roeder, a self-proclaimed member of the ‘Army of God’, an anti-abortion movement stemming from the likes of Operation Rescue. Tiller, who not only faced trial for providing late-term abortions in a state where women’s health is strictly regulated, had already been shot in the arm in 1993 by Shelly Shannon, who was frequently visited by Roeder while in prison. If the murder of Dr. Tiller, the only provider of those services in the entire state of Kansas, came as a shock to the community, it was no surprise. Operation Rescue had always promoted violence against clinics and institutions such as Planned Parenthood. In the current political context, where the political will is so clearly to egg violence against women’s health and to rob them of federal protection, the decision of Judge Marten is, once again, predictable. What it is not is logical, or even in accordance with the legal common sense surrounding the protection of the individual against violence in the state.

The United States Justice Department (USJD) itself filed a claim against Dillard for already violating the FACE act, that guarantees women a safe access to clinics. FACE was a victory for Planned Parenthood and local women’s health practitioners who could request a protection, management and prevention from local law enforcement. Women and girls are often harassed and assaulted on their way to the clinic, intimidated and coerced into returning home or facing retaliation for whatever they were coming to the clinic for. FACE came too late in the legal system, and still takes time to be enforced. Clinics often have to resort to self-protection (the famous Planned Parenthood ‘escorts’) and women, who should feel protected, surrounded, and supported on their way to receiving health care, are instead isolated, threatened, and bewildered. The adoption of FACE was a legal response to the objective admission that anti-abortion groups represent a domestic threat to the well-being of american citizens, and should be kept at bay and under surveillance for violent activities. Groups such as Operation Rescue are not even shying away from admitting their commitment to violence; the Army of God, from its very name to its manifesto, believes it is at war and no longer recognizes the rule of law. This is the textbook definition of terrorism, regardless of the beliefs of current members of the House of Representatives.

In that, Judge Marten is painfully missing out on his role as a judge. The USJD and Dr. Means turned to him for protection regarding a matter that should not be taken lightly. In a country that has been on orange alert for terrorism since 2006, the irony is of a terrifyingly cynical nature. Let’s take a look at the letter Dillard sent to Dr. Means on January 15:

“Thousands of people are already looking into your background, not just in Wichita, but from all over the U.S. They will know your habits and routines. They will know where you shop, who your friends are, what you drive, where you live. You will be checking under your car everyday-because maybe today is the day someone places an explosive under it.”

Not only is the threat of bombing clearly expressed in the letter, but the use of plural pronouns shows that Dillard does not believe she is acting alone, and that the letter was condoned by the ‘thousands of people’ she believes she is working with. The reference to a group carrying out illegal investigations on Dr. Means and working out on ending her life is the way any terrorist group would work. What is even more important here is that, should Judge Marten not be familiar with the regular workings of terrorist groups, the law specifies that it is not necessarily the more or less clear content of a threat that can justify a restraining order, but “how the threat is perceived by the recipient”. The sole fact that Dr. Means could be terrified by the letter should have resulted in immediate action against Dillard. Instead, Judge Marten chose to undermine and underplay a massive, nationwide threat that has already cost the nation the life of many health practitioners. In his ruling, Judge Marten establishes the precedence of the First Amendment over national security.

“The First Amendment is the absolute bedrock of this country’s freedom, and I think the ability to express an opinion on a topic that is important to one — even if it is controversial — has to be protected so long as the line is not crossed and becomes a true threat. I don’t think this letter constitutes a true threat (…)”

Dr. Mila Means

Judge Marten hereby extends the realm of application of the First Amendment to the freedom of menacing another person’s life, an appalling and dangerous decision that unfortunately echoes a similar decision rendered in 2008 by a federal judge Lynn Andelman on the grounds that a neo-nazi online posting threatening a juror was “not contrary to the First Amendment“, and “I am convinced that no reasonable factfinder considering the posts and the context in which they were made could conclude, based on an objective standard, that they constitute a solicitation.” The release of said neo-nazi, the very same week Judge Marten made his ruling, was compared to the shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords supposedly following a display on Sarah Palin’s website, on which the faces of Democrat representatives and senators were turned into targets with crosshairs. In that specific case, Sarah Palin was not charged of solicitation, but her website was quickly taken down.

However, when it comes to Dr. Means, attacks have been made personal, and have already been extremely specific in that her name, address, and habits were released and publicly posted. Dillard made a clear reference to the murder of Dr. Means’ predecessor in the very same field in the very same city, and it is clear that Wichita, KS holds enough Army of God members to constitute a clear threat to Dr. Means’ life. In the case of counter terrorism, where do national laws stop protecting fellow citizens, and become an instrument of legal coercion? In a political context where the Times Square bomber could see his Miranda Rights revoked for having committed a terrorist act, how is the First Amendment used to protect Angel Dillard, who so clearly, in language, intention and expression, intends to end Dr. Means’ life? Is it turning a blind eye to what is domestic, white-based, and social-issued terrorism, as opposed to international, ethnic-based, and foreign policy-originated violence?

It took a murder, twelve arsons, one bombing, and sixty-six blockades carried out by anti-abortion extremists in the sole year of 1993 to give birth to FACE, signed into law by President Clinton in 1994. The murder of Dr. Tiller, following threats of violence for decades against his clinic, staff, and person should have given way to harsher and stricter legislation protecting doctors from violence. Instead, in 2011, 33 anti-abortion laws were enacted throughout the United States. In Missouri, doctors performing late-term abortions, like Dr. Tiller and Dr. Means, see a possible fine up to $50,000 and three years in prison.  In Indiana, a new law would force doctors to tell women, despite scientific evidence of the opposite, that the embryo can feel the pain of the abortion procedure and would force patients to undergo and view an ultrasound. In Montana, a similar bill wants doctors to inform their patients of an alleged link between abortion and breast cancer, despite, once again, scientific evidence.

When a nation is so evidently moving to the extreme right of social issues in a way that is politically enforced by state legislation, should security, law enforcement, and judicial powers support the political movement in a way that is detrimental to the well-being of citizens? Should domestic terrorism be downplayed to the point where social violence becomes just another way for ideological expression? Has democracy entirely run its course? The legal debate surrounding “protected speech” has, however, already been discussed by the Supreme Court, citing the direct link to be made between action and encouragement to action (see “direct incitement test” and Brandenburg vs Ohio): “speech is protected unless it is directed toward and likely to produce “imminent lawless action.”

The question now is, how far should said action be taken before we consider the threat of a bomb under one’s car an act of terrorism?

Four years of Sarkozian politics seem to have taken a toll on the fabric of french political society; and in the face of an extreme-right wing rise, the population is disappointed in its socialist party’s apparent inability to create and galvanise a force of opposition. According to a BVA poll for France Info and Les Echos dating from March, 52% of the french population believe that the National Front should be treated, considered and apprehended “just like any other party”, a noticeable increase from 2010’s 47%.

Facing Sarkozy’s omnipotence and his ability to nip any attempt at resistance in the bud, the socialist party and any other political participation “on the left” (Left Radicals, the Workers’ Party, etc…) have  been painfully silent. The same poll reveals that, although many would disagree on Sarkozy’s domestic policies, his extreme views on immigration and the creation of his new ministry on “national identity” receives a certain degree of support: 40% agree with his belief that recent immigrants should not benefit from social security programs.

In the midst of this defining period for French politics, the Socialist Party was busy fixing cracks and wide gaps in its inner structure. Personal disagreements and parties within parties have weakened the national political stronghold and the year-long battle between putative leaders Aubry and Royal – a former presidential candidate in 2007 – have exhausted their supporters and gnawed at their credibility. In 2009, a grassroots movement emerged on Facebook, as it often does these days, mocking Sarkozy’s outrageous and obnoxious attitude: it was called “right wing humour”, and was unabashedly satirical and pointedly opinionated in its approach. And strangely enough, they identify themselves as right-wingers. Now counting over 18,000 followers on Facebook, owning a logo defacing Sarkozy’s party own image, and being credited as single-handedly tearing apart the foundations of Sarkozy’s Young Supporters’ website, the five brains behind Humour de Droite have granted us an interview.

What was the ideology behind Humour de Droite’s creation? Did you ever think it would reach that level of infamousness?

Joaquin: I joined the team shortly after its creation. I saw it as a way to display how funny the whole governmental structure was becoming. I believe one of the first jokes we ever worked with came from a Sylvie Noachovitch (ex candidate for the UMP, NdlR) moment. She’s onstage and she calls out to a black man in the audience: “Mamadou, Mamadou… did you stop drinking thanks to me?” it was hilarious.

Nicolas: It was about putting a name, a label, an image, on this very french, very low-degree, obnoxious type of what is present in the collective unconscious as being this national racism, that is sometimes institutionalized racism. We all know those clichés. What we really triggered the creation of HDD was the character of Michel Sardouille, from the satirical TV show Grosland (based on a very conservative french singer Michel Sardou, NdlR.), like the song “What do they have against ham”, which somehow represents a lot of Sarkozy’s ideology on immigration. We never really thought we would become that big, but that clearly was a goal, and it still is.

Robin: We tend to rationalise the creation of the movement in hindsight… At the end of the day, we were just really doing what everyone is doing, creating a Facebook page and a Twitter account to make our friends laugh. There was something topical and relevant in the concept. Just so you know, the first name that we deposited was “the page of the UMP’s humour”, but we were deleted within ten minutes… and we almost gave up.

Later on, even if we really didn’t think we would become that big, but we did everything we could in our power to make it so: we created guidelines, we came up with a strong logo, we stayed focused. As far as approaching the media goes, we said we would be very demanding in terms of quality and what we could deliver – and at the same time, having close to no constraints. Our goal is to be both the brand and the ad agency for ourselves.

Don: We were a bunch of thirty-somethings who felt they could become reactionaries. We use Humour de Droite as an exorcism against the way our society is leaning towards the right and extreme-right, all of which are in complete opposition to what we believed in as teenagers. I see our success as being the result of being close to our generation. We were cradled in this TV attitude from the 80s and 90s, from Canal + (private, liberal Channel 4 that pioneered political satire on french TV, NdlR) to Les Inconnus. All of them gone now, and we’re all disappointed in what is now supposedly available to make us laugh.

Josh: I’m the latest addition to the team. What brings us together – besides a common appetite for booze and cute butts – it’s our appetite for humour and our common influences, ranging from the Monty Python to Pierre Desproges. What’s really interesting is trying to step outside the box and not re-hash the same attitude, the same language that is now commonly used and accepted as being political humour, while still labelling ourselves as such. It’s a tiny, tiny shake of the snow globe, and as for the effect it produced, it was completely unexpected.

“Our current government is taking the easy way out, bullying the weak and the vulnerable, or creating monsters to keep the people afraid.”

From being a purely humoristic movement to your groundbreaking stance on the internationally decried treatment of the Roma in the country, how do you explain your position as members of the opposition?

Joaquin: We’re not in the opposition, we identify as right-wing. But even as conservatives, some of the government’s decisions drive us crazy. The whole expulsion of the Roma, it made me sick to my stomach. Using our outreach potential, we just decided to broadcast a message denouncing this racist methodology so we can fight what we believe is this country’s gangrene. With humour, of course. But isn’t it the best therapy?

Nicolas: The treatment of the Roma population, the law against their situation, the expulsion, it was one of the worst legal situations of the last few years. We did react strongly on this, the way we did on other subjects too. I do believe we are in the opposition, but not necessarily in the way traditional politics would define it. We are well-aware that only a few things make a difference between Strauss-Kahn, Sarkozy or even Aubry. I personally believe that courage and common sense are necessary qualities in politics. A political leader, even more so an elected official, has the duty to accept the complexity of his country’s problems and to answer them intelligently. Our current government is taking the easy way out, bullying the weak and the vulnerable, or creating monsters to keep the people afraid. If being a political leader is now equal to kicking Roma families out of the country, spend the whole of a five-year long mandate debating Islam and run to scream at people’s faces in order to play on the emotional palate, I’d personally rather vote for my super. This is how low the political debate has stooped in France; and the UMP is proud of it, they are even proud of how powerless they are next to the rising numbers of unemployment, of frozen salaries, or real social debates… like someone who would lick their own fingers after going to the bathroom.

Robin: We didn’t really “decide” to become activists. When we first started, we were denouncing how unabashed and obnoxious the ring-wing branch was, this racism being part of the ordinary. The more radical the right was becoming, we proportionally reacted. I don’t think we can consider ourselves activists since none of us would become involved politically. We are involved and active within Humour de Droite, but on no other platform. We are more about raising awareness than into direct action.

Don: The Roma episode was a turning point. It was when the catholic right or the “social conservatives” were starting to ask themselves, “what the fuck are we doing here?” It was the same thing for us, we realised we couldn’t just limit ourselves to overplaying existing schemes and that we had to get a little more involved. I’m not sure we are in the opposition. We do not belong to any existing movement, we’re more about mocking people who do subscribe to a specific political affiliation.  But we are definitely part of a growing movement, albeit a blurry one – web-based activism.

Josh: As far as I am concerned, I am part of the opposition. And I do have a political affiliation. The rest of the guys don’t know about this.

“They own a considerable part of the media, and control almost all national institutions. And now they’re trying to own being funny on the internet?”

What do you think of the relevatively failed attempts by the right-wing majority to work against you (creating a similar « left wing humour » account on Twitter), to win support on the internet platform that you so clearly dominate ?

Joaquin: The UMP tried to exist on the intrawebs. They created what they called the « iRiposte » (« iRetaliation », NdlR), which is to be understood as, « the internet is constantly mocking us and belongs to the left, we must try to tap into their base. » Which was a massive failure.
I see two issues – first, the right thought the internet was poking fun at them because they believed our movement to be from the left – whereas it is only because they were (and still are) completely ridiculous. The UMP, the first political party in France, placed people in charge of internet communication even when it was obvious they didn’t know anything about the internet. They should have let their grassroot base do it. Yet most of those communication directors are in their fifties.
The second issue is that the young UMP members, the very same ones that attempted to pry internet control away from us, have leadership to answer to, inside a party system that is all about control, wants to control everything, wants to control the use of the Internet – which is part of its attempt at domination – but also control those who work within the realm of the internet. We do not have to answer to anyone. We have complete freedom to write whatever we want to write. We can only be sanctioned by our Facebook fans or Twitter followers, but we don’t really care at this point. The numbers speak for themselves … and as far as talent goes…

Nicolas: I don’t have much to say on the question. I get that they’re trying to gain some space on the platform, but so far it hasn’t really been a success. What’s really funny is that we even sometimes are a legit source of information and entertainement for their own youth movement, even for UNI (right-wing student union, NdlR) members…

Robin: It’s important to mention that they have control of the press, though. Even traditionally left-leaning newspapers tend to linger for too long on the media noise that the right knows how to create in order to mask the real issues. When Liberation is losing its mind over the debate on laicity, they’re not lashing out at the government about unemployment rates. The right doesn’t need to have an Internet presence, its audience is elsewhere. They seem to want to waste money on it though… I’m not against it, it’s good for the economy.

Don: It’s not easy to be both in the government and be funny. They own a considerable part of the media, and control almost all national institutions. And now they’re trying to own being funny on the internet ? The internet will always laugh at them, not with them.

Josh: If you only knew how much money is thrown into it… not even bringing in fantastic results, their appeal close to zero.

HDD now has over 18,000 fans on Facebook. Do you consider yourselves disappointed by the traditional left in its failure to oppose Sarkozy’s policies, or simply as pioneers of interactive and participative political activism ?

Joaquin: I believe in the latter. HDD has, from the get-go, created a new media thanks to social networking. We don’t have any website or blog. We only have a Facebook page and a Twitter account with over 40,000 followers – it’s exceptionally high for a french-based account. We also have a Tumblr (tumblr.com/bonjourlancar). Any of our followers are free to comment and participate. We are a community. A strong one.

Nicolas: Definitely disappointed by the left, especially the Socialist Party. When I see Martine Aubry withdrawing her signature on a petition against the debate on laicity, only because Tariq Ramadan signe dit as well, what do you want me to think ? That she wouldn’t have supported the end of the death penalty if Tariq Ramandan had as well ? I don’t know who her counsellors are, but it was one of the biggest mistakes of the last few months, it defies common sense. She just appears as some sort of fearful old lady who only worries about her reputation.

Robin: We are a media focused on awareness. We are here to make people understand that the only way to change things is to go vote, and if they choose not to, they lost their right to complain, that they can only shut the fuck up for the ensuing five years. We offer support to people, we’re your local Weight Watchers support group, the political chapter. We are indeed based on interactivity and participation.

Don: Disappointed by the left, for sure. Strauss-Kahn, Aubry, Hollande have little to no impact on us. We do like Jospin, as he represents a beloved and cherished time before Sarkozy. I’m not sure we’re pioneers, though. Political entertainment isn’t new. What is new is how successful we’ve become.

Josh: I agree with my team. I think we’re all more or less disappointed by the left. Strauss-Kahn or Aubry, there’s no difference. As far as Hollande goes, I’d admit I’m on the fence. He’s been admirably successful in his evolution.

Will HDD officially endorse a candidate for the 2012 presidential election ?

Joaquin: We are running for the UMP primaries, if there is one. Exclusive info.

Nicolas: We might.

Robin: If it hadn’t been for the 500 required sponsors, we would have run for the socialist primaries. But to answer on a personal level, I’d rather not endorse a particular candidate, I’d rather have a single candidate on the Left.

Josh: And if it ends up being Hollande, we won’t mind.

Don: I think we’d lose credibility if we endorsed someone. We must keep the whole « couldn’t give less of a shit » vibe or we’re selling out. Thank god there are five of us, so we can keep some balance.

“If each and single one of our followers could start a political conversation with their parents, grandparents to talk about what they’re expecting from their country, what bothers them, what they hope for, I think we could honestly find national cohesion”

Your new motto is making no prisoners (« In France, you either fear the Arabs or fear the National Front. If you are Sarkozy, you fear both »). What do you make of the rise of the National Front and do you believe in an organized front to avoid a catastrophe ?

Joaquin: Our previous motto was, « If you don’t like it, go set yourself on fire in Tunisia », and even before that, « If you don’t like it, you can always go live in North Korea. » Our mottos are always topical.
There is, today, an undeniable rise of the National Front and it’s only due to the xenophobic policies implemented by the government and orchestrated since Election Day by the Sarkozy administration. It’s a campaign strategy : increase the numbers of the National Front while turning racism into something mainstream, decomplexing the working class, then grab all the National Front votes in 2012.
Jacques Chirac did just that in 2002 with his infamous line on « the noise and the smell », then Sarkozy in 2007 when he claimed to clean the country « with a karsher » and that suburban youth were just « scum ». There is a noticeable increase in the governmental linguistic slips, essentially directed against Islam. It’s just this basic fear of the immigrant, of « the arab ». It’s profoundly disgusting. And so far, it’s failing. This strategy only empowered the National Front. They don’t even need to campaign anymore. But those disappointed by Sarkozy won’t go back to the fold. So, yes, it is worrying. We’re trying to open people’s eyes on what is going on, on our own scale. But Twitter users are not the working classes that are courted by the extreme right.

Nicolas: If each and single one of our followers could start a political conversation with their parents, grandparents to talk about what they’re expecting from their country, what bothers them, what they hope for, I think we could honestly find national cohesion : most families have a discussion before making an important decision. I envision a vote from the same prism. We are relying on a young generation, very wired, mostly middle class or even upper middle class, but most importantly educated, to transmit and communicate key points in current affairs. In short, every one can relay an opinion. I don’t even know why I’m telling you that.
Regarding the rise of the National Front, I consider its ideas as being widely spread already, being carried by Marine Le Pen, Jean-Francois Cope, Claude Gueant, I don’t know who, it doesn’t matter. We still have to fight them.

Robin: I’m not afraid of the National Front. What is scary to me is their capacity to mobilize their base on issues that the mainstream parties refuse or are incapable to address. I won’t comment on their ideas, there has always been incredibly idiotic people on Earth and I don’t think it’s ever going to change.

Josh: The train is speeding on the tracks and the UMP is doing whatever it takes to create « inception » with the public opinion. Honestly, do you see a clear difference between Marine Le Pen and Claude Gueant ? I’m also absolutely convinced that this presidential campaign is going to stoop to an absolutely horrifying low. It will be even worse than in 2007.

Don: I’m not afraid of the National Front. To be honest I’m not sure she’ll reach the second round. And even if she does – what will it change ?

You’ve never refrained from personal attacks on openly racist elected officials (Brice Hortefeux) or on the youth movement’s leaders. You also reignited an interest for the right to vote with interactive operations (« In the voting booth », where people are asked to submit pictures on a given theme). Are you influenced by stateside satirical figures like Colbert or Stewart, targeting a young base ?

Joaquin: Americans do not exist.

Robin: Not really, the closest we have to Colbert and Stewart are Debbouze and Dieudonné, as they’re capitalizing on their sympathy level to communicate a political message. And they’re right to do so. The real difference with Colbert and Stewart is that France doesn’t have its own political comedian with his own TV show on a network with a real political affiliation, that is not afraid to attack the government. France doesn’t have that. We have no powerful and/or efficient counter-power.
We’re not really inspired by the US. We’re pretty far from the US mentality. We’re really fans of some cultural elements for sure, but not in our mindset. We’re pretty skeptical.

Don:I’m not personally into the whole « go vote, youngins ! » theme. I’m not a brother figure or a guy out to make people more responsible. I’m more into pissing the old people off.

Nicolas: Americans have a choice between two parties… in France, small parties are gnawing at majorities and gain some cumulative power. Small parties are the ones creating the nuances in policing. In our jokes and our daily production, we also try to translate those nuances because it’s in the daily details that a voter will make its choice between what he is offered. Everyone is pretty much aware that there are major political issues with their own major answers with which everyone agrees : that’s what made Sarkozy’s « working more to earn more » slogan so successful. It’s also what drowned Royal in quicksand when she got mad during the final debate : she tried to get angry to draw attention on one of the few topics on which every single party should agree (ie. the rights of the handicapped).

Josh: Obama playing the game by appearing on Stewart’s show. Do you see it being translated in french culture ? Really ?Colbert and Stewart in the US. In France, Yann Barthes. I think there’s nothing more to say.

What goals are you setting for HDD for the upcoming election year ? What role will you play in the election coverage and mobilization for the youth vote ?

Joaquin: There will be a lot of surprises… Can’t talk about any of them yet.

Josh: We will show our cute little faces and court a potential ministry position.

Nicolas: A lot of things are in the works. Big things.

Robin: To continue up until Election Day, and depending on the outcome, we will change course, towards a new project we are currently working on… and yeah, why not show our faces ? We’re handsome dudes.

Don: We will continue to gather more followers and then have a giant revolutionary booze party.

Our deepest thanks to the team of Humour de Droite – find them on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr

I have a bone to pick with the right to carry a gun, and it’s a major one that has been successfully and unnervingly running through my conscience for years. It is one that so far I thought I could deal with, provided the necessary regulation was being enforced, but what happened in Tucson proved that there are only so many loopholes one can ignore before a nation decides to collectively shy away from the bloodshed.

Ever since Michael Moore released his groundbreaking documentary “Bowling for Columbine”, investigating the gun lobby surrounding the ability a 16 years old had to purchase a semi-automatic rifle with which to shoot down his schoolmates, the debate on gun control has raged in Congress. Until it died down, like all great ideas, stifled by more pressing preoccupations (going to war), nipped in the bud by overwhelming amounts of money (gun lobbyists) and a certainly respectable admiration for the Constitution. However, ever since the 2008 election, and the increasing amount of miles covered by the railroad tracks of the Tea Party Express, a sense of growing discontent – perfectly understandable – has found a way to express itself outside of the usual democratic process. The call to violence, of not-so-peaceful civil disobedience, is an issue most democracies have had to deal with in the past. Riots, rebellions, violent protests, hard repression by law enforcement, they all come into play whenever a government displays an appalling failure to satisfy those it was elected to represent. The catch here, exposed by the recent Tucson shooting, is a very American one. Because in America, contrary to other western democracies, it is perfectly legal to carry a gun and to use it. And we all know what happens when someone is pissed and already has a finger on a trigger.

The United States ranks fourth in the list of countries fighting gun crime. That is behind South Africa, a country in an almost permanent state of civil war, and Colombia, a nation where drug cartels are taking the population hostage. In 2005, the FBI reports that 75% of violent deaths were caused by a firearm. In 2004, 36.5% of Americans reported owning a handgun.

The Guardian published an article by Alexander Chancellor on January 14th aptly titled “the insanity of America’s lax gun laws“. This is indeed a country pretending to fight off terrorism, yet allowing people on the terror watch list to buy a gun; this is a country that was once the pride of Eleanor Roosevelt, who fought for the protection and care for the mentally ill, yet allowing mentally ill people to purchase a gun; Arizona, the state where the shooting took place, allows people to carry a concealed weapon without a permit. Not only can just anyone purchase a lethal weapon and carry it around with them, regardless of whether it has been assessed that they were fit and trained to use it, but they can choose to hide it from law enforcement and not be ever apprehended. The word “insanity” hardly begins to cover the gaping horror that America’s gun laws have inflicted and will continue to inflict on the american people. It is one thing to endorse police departments and federal agencies such as the FBI or the infamous Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) bureau to investigate gun crimes and help the prosecution. It is one another to flood the nation with what they are precisely trying to fight.  It’s a never ending vicious circle of hatred, bloodshed, and, ultimately, death and sorrow. Those are not attributes you’d want to pin on a healthy, independant and strong country. A country that willingly puts its citizens in harm’s way is one that should be under tutelage, not in charge of invading other countries.

It will be for other bloggers and commenters to make a case study of the culture of violence in the United States. I for one will like to see the Second Amendment, if not repealed, at least amended in a way that will not allow Congressmen to vote in favour of cop-killing bullets or undetectable plastic guns. As the votes show, this is not a partisan issue. That Dick Cheney was one of four Congressmen, only four, to allow the free circulation, access and purchase of ammunition that has no role and place in civil, peaceful society and that is so clearly aimed at disrupting the course of justice by precisely attacking those (supposedly) placed to have it respected. It’s nothing short of government-approved chaos.

And when said chaos is so openly preached by those seeking democratic approval to gain office, this turns into a scenario one should only witness in science-fiction or B-rated movies. Sharron Angle, a hopeful runner in the Nevada gubernatorial race this year, has claimed that, should she not win the election (she didn’t), her unhappy audience should not hesitate to turn towards “Second Amendment remedies”. There is no subjective interpretation possible: Sharron Angle, who claims the government is anti-american, yet still runs for government, also believes that her personal failure and unsatisfaction should lead to armed insurrection. To her credit, her fellow Tea Party idol, Sarah Palin, did release a video in which she asserts that what is most American is not violence, but virulence in debate; that the democracy survives and persists through a commonly shared values and ideals surrounding freedom and tolerance; that it is through discussion, conversation, and exchange of ideas that a nation grows and stays united. It is not through “gun remedies”, in short, that one gets their point across. In that, Sharron Angle is nothing short of a terrorist, if the way of violence and insurrection is the only one she can see out of the disappointment she feels with the Obama administration.

What to do, then, when a citizen can’t even rely on its elected (or almost elected) officials to preach the way of non-violence? What is left of a properly working democracy when its very core institution, the Congress, is ripe with lobbying money from an organization as extremist as the NRA, that does not hesitate to put a halt to bills even remotely connected to gun ownership, even when it has to do with animal cruelty? There is one way out of this stinking hole, and that’s a new amendment.

Do not think that I take this lightly or underestimate the importance of amending the Constitution. I am a self-professed strict constitutionalist that has nothing but reverence for fundamental texts. I believe that the United States Constitution is one of the most admirable texts to have ever sprung out of a lawmaker’s mind, especially in dire times of revolution and distress. But as with any law, it was written in a specific context, it is bound to its history, to the time and place in which it was written. The Second Amendment was more than necessary for the Founding Fathers, as they were fighting off the biggest Empire, and were trying to create a nation-state out of virtually nothing. They had fled from religious persecution, from seizure of property, and thought well to endorse their new land with the legal possibility of fighting for your freedom, protecting your wife and children from an enemy (“both foreign and domestic”), and retain control of your house. However, this is 2011; and law enforcement has been specifically created, at federal and state level, to protect the citizen from unlawful behaviour.

As far as I am concerned, trust in the Second Amendment to ensure the viability of your land and your own life expectancy means mistrust and growing defiance against your government to do exactly just that. If I am in awe of the boldness of the amendment for its historical value and what it socially represents for the times, I believe it is now a threat. The Second Amendment can simply not exist if it is taken literally. This very interesting and telling graph represents the intercorrelation between gun ownership and gun crime. It doesn’t take a masters in science to understand that the very fact violence is legally and readily available breeds violence.

And when said violence targets an elected official, during the course of their duty, then it is the whole country that is targeted; it is the whole

Yes, that poster exists. Little known fact, gun nuts: the Statue of Liberty is called to ENLIGHTEN the people, not KILL them.

institution of Congress that is being at risk, and as a whole, the nation itself and the democracy it upholds. The Constitution does not constitute holy writ; it is a legal reference, a political framework, a social ideology, but in no way does it ever set in stone the way the nation should work. Lest we forget the same text once contained the now decried three-fifths compromise, or banned women from voting. It enforced segregation at a time, and never mentioned equality until a series of Supreme Court decisions forced the word into the text. The Constitution is a text that is by very nature changing, evolving, moving. It adapts itself to the very society it is called upon to rule, and as such should be a reflection of the way the society ought to behave. A Constitution can be changed and amended; it has been before, and shall be again. The right to bear arms can be strictly limited to situations of emergency, to screened or authorized personel, or submitted to thorough background checks (that are hardly ever applied in today’s gun shops). Not everyone should have the right to carry with themselves the potential to take a life. Anyone claiming that the Second Amendment is in fact a protection against death is seriously mistaken. They’re fooling themselves in thinking that a gun has a coercive power. It doesn’t. A gun is meant to kill; this is what it’s been manufactured for. The complex machinery of conscience that is set in motion once one hits the trigger is one that not only alters the thought process of the shooter, but on a national level, is capable of altering the very fabric of society.

We all live in fear of one another, and one tragedy after the other, we are justified in our fear. It isolates us, divides us, and forces us apart at times when we should learn to unite, hold tight, and face the pain. It is time to let the NRA back into the hunting shack where it belongs, along with other barbaric and obsolete processes meant to end human life in the most painful, careless and cruel ways. Those animalistic methods are not worthy of the mandate we gave each other when we decided to vote on the ending of war, the closing of illegal prisons, and the promise of health care for all. We wanted a society in which we would feel safe and protected. So why are we walking down the street with the potential of aiming at each other and pulling the trigger? What is it, at the end of the day – the fear of the other, or simply the fear of ourselves and of we might just be capable of?