The French: racist torturers

Now that I’ve seen a rational variant of the argument presented in a non-Bill O’ Reilly manner, I have to admit this guy has a point. It comes attached to a point about the essential character of France I don’t think conservatives like, though:

Contrary to general perception in Israel and the United States, the French are neither wimps nor weasels when it comes to fighting Islamic extremism.

Since 1995, when an Algerian Islamist group called GIA killed eight people with a nail bomb in the Paris Metro, there has not been a single terrorist incident in France. This is not because Jacques Chirac’s government takes an obsequious line toward Yasser Arafat, or because it did Saddam Hussein’s bidding at the UN, or because it undermines US foreign policy at every turn.

Rather, it is because the French fight Islamic militants in ways that would make Israeli Shin Bit chief Avi Dichter proud and US Attorney General John Ashcroft envious.

“France has taken one of the hardest lines of any Western country in fighting Islamic extremism,” writes reporter John Carreyrou in The Wall Street Journal. “Other democracies, including the US, have been criticized for excessive methods, such as holding prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. But few have been as systematic and zealous as France in attempting to stamp out Islamic militancy.”

This year, eight Muslim imams have been deported from the country under a 1945 emergency law for preaching “discrimination, hatred or violence against a certain person or groups of persons.” The judicial system has staged mega-trials of terrorist suspects – 100 at a time, in one instance. Suspects can be held without trial for years. Torture is not uncommon: According to a BBC report, the British High Court has blocked France’s extradition request of Rachid Ramda, wanted in connection to the 1995 bombing, on grounds that “the evidence against him had been beaten out of one of the bombers by the notoriously tough French anti-terrorist police.”

So there’s France, the country Left-leaning right-thinkers wish America would be more like. Of course, this isn’t the France they think they know: The France of Ernest Hemingway’s Movable Feast and Peter Mayle’s Year in Provence; of Juliette Binoche in Les Amants du Pont-Neuf and Catherine Deneuve in Les Parapluies de Cherbourg; of Dominique de Villepin versifying at the UN. It is not the France of postmodern Michel Foucault and poststructural Jacques Derrida. It is not the France of Liberte, Egalite, and Fraternite, or of their modern-day equivalents, Multipolarity, Sustainable Development and Social Solidarity. It is not the France that “knows how to live.”

The gap between France of liberal illusion and France as it basically is – unsentimental, self-interested, aggressive when it needs to be – requires some explanation.

He’s got a hell of a point about how Europe is an “aspirational” democracy - can’t make anything it wants to actually happen, and spends more time coming up with lofty ideals than practicing them. Which actually kind of explains something I haven’t been able to put my finger on about Europe, and why I like the US more.

No, he hasn’t.

EDIT: OK, I think I just contradicted myself twice. It should go something like:

The EU (the actual politicians, not the citizens) doesn’t care much for ideals. The EU understands that running around doing foreign interventions all the time isn’t doable: The public won’t support the efforts when they go sour (which they will in some way), and they need the money for other things, like welfare for their citizens. Plus, it’s got all kinds of colonial aftertaste. If the EU really, really needed to intervene in the Congo or whereever, then it probably could. But unless it really, really has to, it won’t, both for the above-mentioned reasons and because going in without all sorts of international backing and hedging of bets and clearly defined mandates and plans and resolutions will tend to make you responsible for cleaning up the mess afterwards.

The EU can’t create peace in the Middle East because the only ones who can create peace in the Middle East are the Israelis and/or the US, for reasons involving money and everone being a bit crazy down there.

If he’s right that current US foreign policy is a result of anything resembling US popular opinion and sentiment, then frankly, Americans deserve every unkind word they get.

It looks like he’s trying to sort of obliquely comparing Israeli policy with French policy and saying they’re both the same, really, so what’s with the criticism? But, even though they’re both bad, they’re not really on the same level, are they?

The French are ruthless bastards, though, he’s right about that.

Hmm, good point. Crafty Isreali editorial writers…

Who wants to be like the French again? I think that is a pretty big strawman.


The perception of the French government is definitely NOT that it is wimpy – quite the contrary: people think that if France was attacked by muslim extremists, it would care considerably less for misdirected violence and civil rights than the U.S - and would be far more likely to use nukes in retaliation, for instance. The criticisim is that the French government are self-interested hypocrites.

I think you left out a word. The French are self-interested xenophobic hypocrites.

The current anti-Muslim hysteria in France has many similarities to previous bigotry in France against virtually every other group in France, including (most famously) Jews in the Dreyfuss affair.

When folks complain about the French being wimps, I think that has more to do with foreign policy, as opposed to domestic policy. They’re ruthless bastards internally, but when it comes to the rest of the world, they’re unwilling to do jack unless it’s very clearly in their immediate self-interest (which may or may not be a good thing, but it means that they refuse to do just about anything).

Please, if I had a dollar for every time Jonah Goldberg has gone on about the cowardly French I’d be a rich man.

When folks complain about the French being wimps, I think that has more to do with foreign policy, as opposed to domestic policy.

They’re not wimps – they’re cynical powermongers. Back during the UN Security Council fracas over Iraq, few people seemed aware that France was at that time the only Security Council nation involved in a unilateral, unsanctioned foreign military intervention.

France will do what it wants, when it wants, to secure its own interests. It will then stick its thumb in your eye when you want to secure yours.

Please, if I had a dollar for every time Jonah Goldberg has gone on about the cowardly French I’d be a rich man.

I’m not convinced that racism and torture are reliable indicators of bravery.

He’s got a hell of a point about how Europe is an “aspirational” democracy - can’t make anything it wants to actually happen, and spends more time coming up with lofty ideals than practicing them.

This is incredibly patronising. If you mean successful actuating “lofty ideals” through military bullying, then I guess you are right, but Europe tends to have a different way of going about things than the US. Europeans, through the EU, has sought to bring peace, stability, and political and economic reform through political dialogue and multilateral agreements. It has been particularly successful in bringing about political reform in the countries of the former Eastern Bloc, and also in Turkey and Morocco, through dangling the carrot of EU membership. This makes success far harder to quantify, but it doesn’t mean that Europe “can’t make anything it wants to actually happen”.

Personally I prefer the slow integration of humanity into democracy and freedom, rather than calamitously forcing it upon them, because people often reject what they haven’t asked for.

You don’t need UN authorisation to send military assistance to a country that has requested it. I really can’t see the correlation between sending a hundred thousand or so troops to invade Iraq, and sending a hundred or so troops to a country you have an military agreement with, in order to protect the lives of French and foreign nationals. It’s vastly different in effect and in order of magnitude. Far from being “unsanctioned” and “unilateral”, the UN actually praised the French for making an effort to protect lives in its former colony, the Ivory Coast, as it did when Bush took comparable actions by sending US Marines to Liberia.

Speaking of patronising… that’s bullshit.

The former Soviet satellites broke away from the USSR by themselves, they rapidly - recklessly - moved towards free market economies by themselves. Long before they were considered for EU membership.

Patronising? To whom?

The people of former Eastern Bloc countries, particularly Slovenia and the Czech Republic, have worked extremely hard and produced a minor miracle in getting their countries in shape for EU membership. After winning their independence from the defunct Soviet Union and their political puppets, the people of the former Eastern Bloc states were immediately offered membership of the EU, as long as they could meet the conditions set out in the “Copenhagen criteria”:

  1. Stable institutions that guarantee self-determination, justice, human rights and protection for minorities;

  2. A functioning and competitive market economy;

  3. The ability to take on all the obligations of membership; i.e. monetary union.

Turkey had already announced its desire to be a member of the EU in 1987, but official announcements, and agreements to be bound by the “Copenhagen criteria”, were made by Poland and Romania in 1994, and by the rest of the former Eastern Bloc nations over the next two years. In order to help the countries meet the “Copenhagen criteria” the EU invested over about $4 billion a year, and gave the countries achievement milestones, whereby each country had to ensure the enshrinement of human rights laws, the liberalisation of its markets, the denationalisation of its industries, etc.

The great desire of the people of the former Eastern Bloc nations to be part of the EU, drove them to push though political and economic reforms that were often very painful, but resulted in some of the most breathtaking rehabilitations seen this century. On a recent visit to Slovenia, it was hard to tell the difference between it and neighbouring Austria, at least in the capital, Ljubljana. Certainly there was a hunger in the people I met to take advantage of the freedoms and economic benefits that being part of the EU gave, and more importantly that the reforms that membership of the EU encouraged, allowed.

So what part of that explanation of the EU’s role in the reform of former Eastern Bloc states “bullshit”?

Maybe you should take it up with the people running Guantanomo and Abu Ghirab.

Point was that the standard conservative critique is that the French are cowardly appeasers. This has nothing in common with the critique of the article that they’re “racist torturers”, etc.

I bet the great mass of French population thinks “who cares about the rights of some camel jockey ragheads as long as I’m safe?” I think that’s what the feeling would be here or anywhere else in the world too.