MESSAGERIES DE LA PAIX
15-31 janvier 2015
FROM FRANCE IN MOURNING AND TORMENT
“We stop it all, we think it over, and it’s worth it.” - Gébé
Warning : This is a quiet, uneventful street in Paris. A street lost amidst thousands of others, with its six-floor buildings made of stone, and its slate roofs that you can hardly see. Yet, by the end of January 2015, in front of the bakery at the corner, you can see a paratrooper in full combat gear, with his flak-jacket and red beret, his automatic rifle ready to fire. Hidden under a doorway, on the opposite sidewalk, another one is posted there, keeping a tense watch over any late passers-by in the falling night.
They stand guard in front of a “Jewish Community Center” that could not be distinguished by any sign, whatsoever. This center has been open for a few years only. How long will they stand guard ?
In a matter of hours, of weeks, it has all tilted. This is not the same country anymore. Each one paddles wildly with the flow, striving to keep upper lip and chin above water level. At Peace Lines, we have observed not a ritual minute of silence, but three weeks of safeguard, under the deluge of successive interventions. Every day we have posted articles, analyses on our site, in the section : Media – Must Read.
Must Read : will you take the time ? A former French Minister of Education, who was recently asked what the solution might be to the trouble his country is going through, advised to “get back to reading practice”. Now. Before more chaos and havoc strike us all. After all, isn’t this a “war” between those who can read and draw, and those who can’t ? If Dr King was right, “it is still one of the tragedies of human history that the ‘children of darkness’ are frequently more determined than the ‘children of light’.”
A rabbi friend once took me to meet Beduins south-east of Jerusalem, and I gave them a small (English-Arabic) book of Martin Luther King’s thoughts, as a token of exchange and human brotherhood. After opening it, one of them asked me, with a worried look, what “children of darkness” were. In France, this January 2015, it has become quite clear what determined “children of darkness” could be, and do. As for those who will oppose them, and prevent them from spreading further desolation, I guess it is for each of us now to start thinking, together, and take a stand. When History becomes grossly binary again, like day and night, and it is for us to see through it, setting all other matters aside for a while. Setting all other matters aside, life goes on…
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2005-2015 : THE END OF LAUGHTER ?
See through it. This avalanche did not break out without precursors, warning signs. Have we forgotten the riots of 2005 ? 2005 : a dark year for France. Take it back to May 29, 2005 : a little over 15 million French voters (almost 55%) rejected the Treaty for a European Constitution, much to the dismay of their neighbours (77% of Spanish voters had approved of the Treaty), thus blocking any constitutional document for three years. Five months later, riots erupted in dozens of French towns and suburbs, with a toll of 4 dead, 126 police and firemen wounded. 9,000 vehicles were burnt in three weeks, along with dozens of schools, gymnasiums, warehouses, stores. France had become the sick man of Europe.
As of January 7, 2015, it has become the injured man of Europe.
Ten years are gone, spiraling from bad to worse, and the French Prime Minister has finally put his finger on the wound, evoking “the ghettoes: territorial, social and ethnic apartheid”. Is there a risk of more such attacks in the near or further future ? Is this country at war, or on the verge of a civil war? With more killers arming themselves for the next rampages against Jews first ? First the Jews (Toulouse, Brussels, Paris), then others to follow, starting with journalists, like in Algeria, when journalists were first targeted at the beginning of the Algerian Civil War (remember Tahar Djaout) ?
After January 7, 2015, three full weeks of stupor, disbelief, and torment. How could anyone in his right mind think of killing the sweet-souled Jean Cabu ? merry old George Wolinski ? dear dignified Honoré ? Can you picture gunmen assassinating Three Men on a Boat ? For real, as children say ? It leaves you speechless. Where do we go from here ? What to say ? Whom to ? Is this the end ? Of laughter ? Of carelessness ? Of the freedom to express what you feel ? How can we proceed ?
And then, on January 11, one and a half million marched in Paris, with all these personalities ahead: 18 European Prime Ministers (from England to Hungary, from Sweden to Slovenia and Croatia…), plus Prime Ministers from non-European countries (Turkey, Israel…), prominent representants from other European countries (Germany, Spain, Italy…), from Kosovo too, Serbia, Palestine, Switzerland, down to 6 African Presidents (Benin, Congo, Gabon, Mali, Niger, Senegal) and the King and Queen of Jordan. Even the bells of Notre-Dame were tolling !
THE NEED TO UNDERSTAND
All it took was three men, determined to kill and get killed, to paralyze a country of 66 million – a rich and powerful country, which had just been overtaken by the United Kingdom as the 5th economic power worldwide.
Three men born and raised in France, who found the funding for their weapons from a French loan company, to the incredibly low-cost tune of only 6,000 €. For which sum it seems they could acquire the war weapons : RPG, automatic Skorpion rifle, Kalashnikov, Tokarev handguns and ammunition necessary for their attacks. Investigators say it is common practice for would-be jihadis to borrow money from major loan companies – it is even considered as booty money. Meaning they do not have to refund it if they leave for the Islamic State or get killed in action.
So, this is war. Have we forgotten that France was already at war, since January 13, 2013, when it embarked upon its repeated raids into Mali, against Sahel jihadis, with a force of 4,000 men. By the end of 2012, it had withdrawn its troops from Afghanistan, only to re-deploy them to West Africa and Central Africa, later in 2013, and to Irak this year.
Since January 7, 2015, 10,000 military personnel are patrolling the streets, stations, airports, and standing guard before synagogues and some mosques. For a cost of 1 million euros a day.1 Compared to 1€ for a Kalashnikov cartridge “sold on the street”, according to one of the gunmen during a previous interview.
All it took then was a three-week stay in Yemen, in the summer of 2011, to receive military training. In Yemen, jihadis now praise what they call “individual jihad”, that others call “lone wolf attacks”. Of the type that happened on the morning of January 21 on a bus in Tel Aviv, when a young man stabbed a dozen persons, wounding two of them critically. In his case, all it took was a kitchen knife, and the will to kill, the readiness to possibly get killed in the process (the Tel Aviv attacker was shot in the leg though, and duly arrested).
Israeli citizens have been confronted with such attacks for years, but why should they now strike France, of all 28 European countries? John Bowen,2 a professor of anthropology at Washington University, has given his views on the matter : “The country has a long and tangled history with the Muslim world and organized religion,” he contends, giving “Three Reasons France Became a Target for Jihad”.
The first reason, he says, is that “France has been more closely engaged with the Muslim world longer than any other Western country. Since 1830, when it conquered Algeria, it has seen much of Muslim Africa as its own backyard. And after World War I, France took control of Syria and Lebanon as well (…) Unlike other European colonial powers, the French never really left their former colonies, continuing to intervene economically and militarily to defend France’s national interests in Africa and the Near East.”
The second reason being its “strong tradition of opposition to organized religion” – since the 1789 Revolution, and well into the 20th century, when priests and nuns became the regular targets of satirists and some singers (including the famed Brassens, Ferré, Renaud). The Catholic Church having lost most, if not all, of its power and influence, the next target after September 2001 became Islam and its values. Leading to Charlie Hebdo’s repeated stands after 2005, of caricaturing Muslims and their prophet in all kinds of postures and positions that could only be deemed offensive, if not outrageous to most Muslims, within France and without (on January 24, 2015, thousands of Palestinians demonstrated in the streets of Ramallah, Hebron, against the latest cover of Charlie Hebdo, of January 14).
Leaving us with a third reason why France is in the path of the tornado : the rise of the nationalist, europhobic National Front, whose historic founder was a paratrooper in Algeria in the fifties, as John Bowen mentions, and whose policy regularly tackles a “basic incompatibility of Islam and the values of France”. Such antagonism fuels the flames of suspicion and rejection among French citizens, branding Muslims as the “usual suspects”. More than thirty mosques and so-called “Muslim” stores were attacked (with grenades even, and in drive-by shootings) from January 7 to January 20, 2015.
Then we have the inside germ of unrest and violence within the flow of Muslim immigration, as Bowen also points out, from the numbers of those he calls “settlers”, who left North Africa after World War II and settled in France in the poor sections and industrialized zones of the big cities. Only to find themselves out of work once the factories closed – “and it is their children and grandchildren who in 2005 exploded in rage over their exclusion from French society,” stresses Bowen. If 9,000 vehicles were burnt in three weeks in October-November 2005, we must be reminded that three times that number, 28,000, had already burnt that same year, from January to September.
This analysis is not only that of an American anthropologist. Philosophers Edgar Morin3 and Michel Onfray insist that “we have created terrorism under the guise of fighting it,” and that “France has led an Islamophobic policy abroad for years now.”4 Military expert Jean-Dominique Merchet also made the connection between war without and war within.5 Historian Benjamin Stora, among others, warned that there were very few people from the poor suburbs (the ghettos) in the Million People March on January 11. 6 Furthermore, social sciences professors Julie Pagis7 and Didier Fassin8 likewise expressed dissenting views – the latter opposing “ethics of conviction” to “ethics of responsibility”. Political leaders as well, from ex-Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin9 to acting Prime Minister Manuel Valls10 who shared de Villepin’s view that “I am Charlie” cannot be the only message of France.
More striking, Delfeil de Ton’s letter, published by Le Nouvel Observateur on January 1, 2015.11
WHAT OF CHARLIE ?
Paradoxically, as anti-institutional as it was to start with, Charlie Hebdo has become part and parcel of French institutions. Born in 1960 under the name Hara Kiri, with a team of ten – Bernier, Cabu, Cavanna, DDT, Fournier, Fred, Gébé, Reiser, Willem, Wolinski – this first version lasted a few years, until Charlie (2nd avatar of the same spirit) was created, in 1969, borrowing its name from Peanuts hero Charlie Brown, devoted to comic strips and graphic art. Charlie lived until the advent of socialism, with the election of Mitterrand in 1981. It stopped for lack of an audience then, lack of funding.
Born again in 1992, with the same core team they had in 1981 (Cabu, Cavanna, DDT, Gébé, Siné, Willem, Wolinski), this 3rd version of Charlie was reinforced by newcomers (Charb, Cyran, Luz, Renaud, Tignous, Val). Gradually, 7 of the historic 10 passed away : Reiser in 1983, Gébé in 2004, Fred in 2013, Cavanna in 2014. Fournier had died in 1973. DDT had left Charlie in 1975. From the 1992 team, Cyran left in 2001. Siné was fired by Val in 2008 (because of a satirical trait against Sarkozy’s son, that was judged “anti-semitic” by Val. Still paradoxically, by the end of 2014 Charlie Hebdo was dying, reduced to 40,000 copies, and with no prospects of surviving financially. At the helm, Cabu was 77, Willem 79, Wolinski 80 – except that Willem would not participate in editorial staff weekly meetings, which saved his life on January 7, 2015.
Looking back, whether the victims of its acidity (and vulgarity) find it convenient or not, for any French-speaking person born after World War II, these ten men of 1960 had become… national monuments, in between icons and idols. Furiously anti-religious, left-wing, they never missed an opportunity to antagonize their targets (priests, imams, politicians) and exerted unparalleled power until now, despite the drastic decrease in followers. They were like a constant thorn stuck into conformity and global respect, never able to brake, let alone stop, before the temptation of one more provocation. “Esprit gaulois”, liberté, liberté chérie ?
Every now and then, since their turning-point in 2001, publishing more strikingly provocative drawings that were sure to offend Muslims would boost the sales to 100,000 and more, but the financial verdict had fallen : Charlie Hebdo was doomed. Had the gunmen gone off to Syria instead, the weekly would have died a natural death, and almost no one would have even noticed.
Back to DDT, Delfeil de Ton, one of the three surviving veterans. He had the unexpected strength to dissociate himself on two levels. First, like Bowen, Morin, Onfray, Merchet and de Villepin, he makes it clear that this fire was no random fire: “this attack surges within the frame of a war declared on France, but also within the frame of wars waged by France, meddling and intervening in conflicts where its participation was not a necessity – in which killings even worse than the Charlie Hebdo killings happen every day, and several times a day, to which our bombings add deaths to deaths…”.
He then reminds us that it took a phone call from the American President to the French one to call off the French bombers that were ready to take off for Syria in August 2013. “How many Syrians would France have killed, and most likely would still be killing ? Isn’t the right of peoples to self-determination a sacred principle ? If they are in an internecine war, what is our right to meddle with it ? We understand nothing of their quarrels, we only make them last longer – do we have to act surprised next, if they transport them to our territory ?”
His conclusion is about what Fassin, after Max Weber, would call an “ethics of responsibility” : “[Charb] was the chief. [After a first attack against Charlie Hebdo headquarters, in the night of November 2, 2011, in which everything was burnt down to ashes] what need did he have of dragging the team into escalation ? I will remind you of Wolin’s feelings, as they were recorded on film then, and that I had published in l’Obs : ‘I believe we are unconscious imbeciles, who took a useless risk. That’s all. We think we are invulnerable… We shouldn’t have done it.’”
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Not so long ago, Delfeil de Ton used to end his weekly chronicles about “the true story of Hara-Kiri Hebdo” with these lines : “Now, I see that Siné asked me for 2,500 characters. Once I have written ‘to be followed next week’, I will reach precisely the limit of 2,500 characters.”
Without entering the old quarrel of the number of characters (“spaces included” or not), the statistics tab says we have slightly passed 15,000 characters (spaces included). Over 2,600 words… 174 lines. That will be our limit for this end of January 2015. The main thing, to begin with, was to get out of this landslide, and find other voices in this storm.
We invite you to check upon the list of articles on this subject selected on our site www.peacelines.org (35 in 4 weeks after January 7), and to send us all links, references you may find necessary.
If the matter is freedom of expression indeed, this Peace Lines site needs you, your following, your feedback, your support, now more than ever.
1 Nathalie Guibert, « Les pièges du plan Vigipirate pour les militaires », Le Monde, 20 janvier 2015
2 John Bowen, Three Reasons France Became a Target for Jihad, Time Magazine, 8 janvier 2015
3 Edgar Morin, « Essayons de comprendre… », Le Un, 21 janvier 2015
4 Michel Onfray, France 2, ONPC, 17 janvier 2015 – lire aussi « Le balai de l’apprenti sorcier », Le Un, 21 janvier 2015
5 Jean-Dominique Merchet, « Charlie Hebdo : Pourquoi ? », L’Opinion, 13 janvier 2015.
6 Benjamin Stora, « Il faut préserver les principes républicains tout en s’adressant aux minorités », Le Monde, 19 janvier 2015.
7 Julie Pagis, « Quand nos enfants tuent nos pères », Libération, 16 janvier 2015,
8 Didier Fassin, « ‘Charlie’ : éthique de conviction contre éthique de responsabilité », Libération, 19 janvier 2015
9 Dominique de Villepin, « ‘Je suis Charlie’, ça ne peut pas être le seul message de la France », Le Figaro, 19 janvier 2015
10 Manuel Valls, « Manuel Valls évoque ‘un apartheid territorial, social, ethnique’ en France », Le Monde, 20 janvier 2015
11 Delfeil de Ton, « Fais-moi mal, Charlie », le Nouvel Observateur, 16 janvier 2015
12 Robert Maggiori, « Protéger l’expression dans la liberté », Libération, 28 janvier 2015
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