Terror Unites, Divides France

Andrew Sullivan —  Jan 12 2015 @ 1:39pm

France responded to last week’s terrorist rampage with a massive manif in the streets of Paris yesterday, drawing the largest crowds of any demonstration in the country’s post-WWII history. But Robert Zaretsky doesn’t buy the show of unity, arguing that it masks divisions in French society that the terror attacks are ripping open even further:

[O]nlookers this afternoon in Paris saw not just leaders from across the globe joining the march, but nearly all the religious and political leaders in France. With one exception, though: Le Pen marched in the southern town of Beaucaire, a Front National fief. In a brief speech at the town’s city hall, she hailed about 1,000 supporters for “reminding the world of the values of liberty.” It was here, in le pays réel, or real France, and not in the international parade in Paris that such values are rooted.

In spite of Hollande’s declaration after the attacks that “Our best weapon is unity,” French politics—and the French people—appear as divided as ever. The lines are being drawn, and they will not be erased by any number of republican marches. This is where French society in the aftermath of these recent acts of terror is, in some ways, on shakier ground than American society was after the September 11 attacks.

A fair amount of hypocrisy was on at the Paris march as well; Daniel Wickham identifies nearly two dozen countries represented there that have their own ugly records of arresting, intimidating, assaulting, or murdering journalists, including some major offenders like Turkey, Russia, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. True to form, the Charlie Hebdo staffers who attended the rally came away wishing they had called out these hypocrites:

They said their biggest regret was that they couldn’t have paraded caricatures from the past pages of Charlie Hebdo of the various heads of state who joined the rally– Benyamin Netanyahu, King Abdallah II of Jordan, of former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, of Russian Foreign Minister Sergueï Lavrov, of Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu, and of all the authoritarian heads of state they had lampooned over the years. (Many of the world leaders in the rally would have at the least jailed the Chralie Hebdo if they had been operating in those countries). Oh, well, said Luz, a cartoonist. You can’t think of everything.

But Tim Murphy attended the rally and was moved by its somber – not angry – tone:

[A]mid the sheer size of the crowds, I was struck, yet again, by how quiet people were overall, in contrast to the steroidal, rah-rah racket of an American rally. There were no drum circles and little chanting; occasionally “La Marseillaise,” the French national anthem, was sung, but certainly not by everyone; and though the French flag dotted the crowds, it wasn’t ubiquitous in the way that the American flag was post-9/11.

What was ubiquitous was the simple black-and-white “Je Suis Charlie” sign, which emerged today with all sorts of variations: “I am Charlie” plus “I am Jewish,” or “I am Muslim,” or “I am a Journalist,” or “I am a Secularist.” I saw no Islam-baiting signs unless you want to count those that bore some of the Charlie Hebdo images that courted so much controversy in the first place, including one of Mohammed gnashing his teeth over fundamentalists and another of a Muslim man and a male cartoonist making out that reads “Love is Stronger Than Hate.”

Bershidsky previews another wave of marches coming soon to a European city near you – and these won’t be about “unity” either:

Xenophobes elsewhere in Europe will also take this chance to assert themselves. Tonight, in Dresden, Germany, the anti-Islamic group Pegida intends to hold what will probably be its biggest rally yet. Since the Charlie Hebdo shootings, Pegida’s Faceook page has added about 20,000 supporters. German Justice minister Heiko Maas called on Pegida to cancel the gathering, denouncing the group as “hypocrites” who have protested against the “lying press” and are suddenly full of sympathy for its fallen representatives. The Pegida page’s only response has been, “What can one say???”

Marches like Pegida’s are more ideologically consistent than those held in Paris yesterday. They are also, of course, much smaller. But as the Charlie Hebdo massacre showed, it takes only two people to shed blood and frame the agenda as war.

Josh Rogin, meanwhile, wants to know why no major US officials were in attendance:

A senior administration official told me that the security requirements needed if Obama or Biden were to have attended the Paris rally could have interfered with the event itself, and the White House didn’t want the focus to be on the U.S. rather than on the French. The official noted that Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas were in Paris for related meetings, although neither attended the rally. But back in Washington, almost no senior administration officials participated in the much smaller rally and march that took place Sunday afternoon only blocks from the White House. Assistant Secretary of State for Europe Victoria Nuland was the only official representative.

Eugene Volokh shares that puzzlement:

The U.S. was represented by our Ambassador to France, normally a logical choice but rather an odd one, I think, when dozens of world leaders — including leaders of many of our main allies — were present. And this is especially so when the march is about protecting values that are so important to us as Americans, as well as to the French, the English, and others. … Am I missing something here? Is there some particularly good “smart diplomacy” reason why we would be absent when so many others were present?