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Wednesday, July 31, 2002
"We keep a close eye on Arabs and gypsies...It's time to give jobs back to the French, French women back to French men...We have to eliminate those who don't have pure blood": Quotations from members of the fascist-like Makina movement which has taken root in southern France. This movement, increasingly popular among the young, gets its name from its members' preferred music--songs imported from Spain that mix militant-march rhythms with hard core.
Lest one think that these sentiments are isolated, it's useful to recall the words of the Radical Unity party that met, last September, in Paris: "We are not America's back-up troops--ours is not a multi-racial society. Many patriots rejoice in the [September 11] attacks...What we want is to expel all immigrants from France. We must take back control of our own country. We are drowning in immigrants that come from outside of Europe."
The Russians are Recruiting them Young: The Russian government has set up a boot camp for children between the ages of 10 and 16 near Moscow where the youngsters can learn, among other things, how to shoot AK-47's. The camp day is split between sports, military training, and history lessons that highlight the Red Army's glories. Is there a better way to create violent automatons?
Tuesday, July 30, 2002 The Guardian Gets It Wrong: A recent article in the The Guardian states, "Over the last week, the American newspapers have been carrying frequent prognostications that an invasion of Iraq or the bombing of Baghdad is imminent. It is now discussed almost daily by "experts" on the cable news channels with the same sort of dispassionate breeziness as though it were the US Tennis Open being previewed. There are some voices raised against the war plans but they are hard to hear and within Congress they are almost silent."
Ah, once again the saber-rattling Yanks are marching lemming-like to another military confrontation! Although the article is allegedly written by the newspaper's LA correspondent, it's hard to believe that the guy has actually stepped foot in the US or paid attention to the news. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will begin hearings tomorrow exploring the costs and benefits of an Iraqi war, and there have been articles from the NY Times to the Seattle Post Intelligencer to the Washington Post to CNN that have detailed the heavy costs that America would bear as the result of any invasion. While continued debate is needed, The Guardian's implicit suggestion that the US is a monolithic society that places little value on life is little more than an ignorant caricature.
Monday, July 29, 2002 Justice?: A Czech court of appeals has halted--due to an allegedly expired statute of limitations--the prosecution of a former Communist interior minister who, in 1978, stripped a dissenting playwright of his citizenship and deported him from the country. For a list of other political felons whose crimes Europe's judicial system has chosen to overlook, see Victor Davis Hanson's piece on European morality.
More French Antisemitism: Passengers traveling from Paris to Tel Aviv this past Saturday on an Aéris airlines flight had an unpleasant surprise when they picked up their luggage at their destination: swastikas had been painted on several suitcases. The French airline, Aéris, denies any wrong-doing and is pointing the finger at the Paris airport authorities.
In an example of imperfect timing, Chirac is reported to have lashed out at an American Jewish conspiracy to tarnish France's image. However, it's not clear that the French need American assistance in accomplishing this particular task.
During Shimon Peres' visit to France, Chirac reiterated his country's refusal to add Hezbollah to the European Union's list of terrorist organizations. Some of Hezbollah's more infamous acts include the 1983 truck bombing of the US Embassy and US Marine barracks in Beirut, the kidnapping and detention of Western hostages in Lebanon, a 1992 attack on the Israeli Embassy in Argentina, and suspected role in the 1994 bombing of the Israeli cultural center in Buenos Aires.
Sunday, July 28, 2002 The Myth of the Military Pygmies: Much has been made of the fact that European countries devote a smaller percentage of their GDPs to military expenditures than the US. For example, France devotes 2.6% of its GDP to defense spending, while Italy dedicates around 1.9%. In contrast, Bush's proposal for Fiscal Year 2003 would devote 3.5% of US GDP. According to the Wall Street Journal, “[T]he U.S. spent twice as much on defense last year as every other NATO member combined.”
The conclusion generally drawn from these numbers is that “European military power” has become an oxymoron. However, as the 9/11 attacks and suicide bombings have shown, military skill does not necessarily rely on a large budget. Spain’s tiny 1.2% of GDP defense spending did not prevent it from recently invading the tiny, sparsely populated Isla del Perejil (a conflict which was settled, incidentally, by US diplomacy). In addition, a recent article in Le Monde crows over France’s plan to purchase cruise missiles. France will soon receive its first supply of Apache missiles in September and is predicted to have around 100 such missiles by 2003. About 500, more advanced Scalp EG missiles will be added by 2006. The rationale for these recent purchases? According to the article, “Afghanistan demonstrated that one either belongs to the ‘club’ or not, and that, once one is admitted, one can take part in the strategic planning that precedes military operations.” The article concludes by noting that “the diplomacy of the Tomahawk is no longer the sole privilege of the United States.” While these events hardly suggest that France and Spain are on their way to world hegemony, they do suggest that reports about Europe’s golden, post-war age and frameworks in which the US prefers war and Europe prefers diplomacy may be exaggerated.
Article Highlight: The European media and political discourse often leaves one with the impression that the US is some sort of North American Neanderthal, roaming the globe with its military club in defiance, or ignorance, of law and diplomacy. Robert Kagan, in the latest issue of Policy Review, offers one of the (all too) few, well-reasoned responses to unremitting European charges of America’s alleged cowboy isolationism. According to Kagan, military power—or the lack thereof—is splintering US and European world outlooks. America occasionally opts for forceful solutions to the world’s problems because it has access to the world’s most powerful military and the willingness to use it. Europeans prefer to view humanitarian crises and regional conflicts as challenges to be addressed, if at all, through diplomacy and economic carrots because they have no other alternatives. He writes, “[A]ppeasement is never a dirty word to those whose genuine weakness offers few appealing alternatives. For them, it is a policy of sophistication.”
While the notion that power may be at the center of international relations is nothing new, what is interesting is that Kagan does not view America’s might-centered approach as detrimental to either Europe or the globe. For Kagan, Europe’s advocacy of non-military solutions is not necessarily based on morality or principles of international law. It is grounded in self-interest. Europeans oppose unilateralism both because they cannot practice it themselves and because it threatens the rules-based society that they claim to have created out of Europe’s national patchwork. However, the European opposition to US power may be, ultimately, self-defeating. Kagan notes that Europe’s peaceful integration is due, in no small part, to America’s willingness to protect that continent from external or internal dangers—whether the Soviets, the Balkans, or—in Kagan’s view—the Germans. The European peace is built on and sustained by America’s military might, and the US is portrayed as the angel with the flaming sword guarding Europe’s Eden—a protective role which Europe is no long able or willing to fulfill for itself.
Saturday, July 27, 2002 Give me your tired, your poor....Oh, just send the wretches back (#2): Le Figaro reports on a 14-year old Romanian boy whose parents sent him, at the end of May, to live and study in Paris. His "chaperone" turned out to be a fraud, and the boy was forced to resort to prostitution in order to make money. Discovered on the streets by the police, the Romanian boy has now been repatriated. The problem? His parents have refused to take him back and, according to a representative of Parada France --an organization that works with Romania's street children--there is no Romanian institution that is willing to accept the 14-year old. Although Parada has agreed to help to try to place the boy somewhere in Romania, his fate seems less than clear.
Friday, July 26, 2002
Lance Armstrong's travails continue at the Tour de France. French judges opened an investigation two years ago into alleged drug use by the US team. Despite the fact that the judges have not uncovered the slightest indication of such drug use and are soon wrapping up their investigation, French spectators have taken to shouting "Doped! Doped!" at the 3-time Tour de France winner.
Is France willing to conform to EU standards?: Prime Minister Raffarin's actions have placed France's self-interest above the collective good of the European Union. The most recent example has been France's opposition to efficient PAC (Politique Agricole Commune) reform. The PAC was started in 1962, and it established a free flow of agricultural commodities within the EU, ensured by common prices and a general prohibition on levies or subsidies by national governments. The PAC also set up a preference for EU products over imports, as well as a system of massive subsidies to farmers. It is estimated that 50% of the EU's budget is used to fund the PAC (there are around 800 bureaucrats in Brussels overseeing the program), while the European agricultural industry produces, in return, a meager 1.6% of Europe's GDP. The subsidies also encourage over-production of agricultural products. However, since France is the primary beneficiary of the PAC, it is trying to stall PAC reform until 2006. France has also been balking at EU regulations regarding the fishing industry and--of all things--the dates for its hunting season.
An Israeli religious leader was shot dead in the West Bank. News? Not for Le Monde, which didn't bother to cover the story. However, an Israeli incursion into the Gaza Strip in which 3 Palestinians were injured was initially placed on Le Monde's internet front page.
Thursday, July 25, 2002 Give me your tired, your poor....Oh, just send the wretches back: UK police officers in full riot gear used a battering ram to break through the doors of a mosque and apprehend...2 illegal Afghan refugees. Muslim leaders have denounced the raid as a "a breach of the sanctity of a place of worship" and have speculated that similar tactics would not have been used for a church. The UK government is currently cracking down on illegal immigrants and making it easier for immigration officers to carry out raids.
Earlier this month, French and British ministers agreed to shut down the Sangatte refugee camp which houses 1,500 immigrants. Approximately 40% of these immigrants are Afghan, and, as a result of the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, most of them will now be able to return home.
The Double Standard: According to Human Rights Watch, Russia's war in Chechnya has involved human rights violations on a massive scale. There are regular civilian casualties and reports of arbitrary detentions, rapes, extrajudicial executions, mass graves, and torture. And what has been Chirac's reaction? Essentially, "who the hell cares." In the French president's recent meeting with Putin on July 19, Chirac stated that "France categorically condemns all terrorist acts [meaning, I presume, the Chechnyan terrorism and not the Russian] and believes that no cause can justify such acts." In a parallel universe, Chirac joined, today, in Egyptian President Mubarak's condemnation of Sharon's heavy-handedness. This is not to mention France's criticism of the US's reliance (or, what France views as over-reliance) on its military to combat terrorism. Why the double standard? Why can Russia rape and pillage with immunity and elicit barely a diplomatic yawn from the French president, while American and Israeli actions are excrutiatingly scrutinized and loudly chastised?
Wednesday, July 24, 2002
Wonderful graphic in Le Monde today showing Bush--with gun and knife in hand--holding up a terrified Bin Laden. Funny, I thought Al Qaeda was the aggressor. On a related point, Le Monde recently co-sponsored a conference in Marseilles to discuss 9/11. Some of the speakers, such as Marie-Josée Mondzain of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, denounced the media's "manipulation of images" that prevented viewers from calmly analyzing the conflict's causes. Other speakers, such as Françoise Gaillard--a professor at Paris VII--sought to emphasize that France shared neither sympathy nor values with the US.
The death of Fadime, a young Turkish woman in Sweden who was murdered by her father because she was dating a Swede, is a testimony to Sweden's inability to protect its female Muslim population. Could the courts have done nothing more to protect her from her abusive, and ultimately murderous, father than to slap him on the wrist with fines? The fact that a member of the Swedish parliament deliberately sought to keep Fadime's plight out of the spotlight is also revolting. Although Fadime's case is reported to have hardened anti-immigrant sentiment in Sweden, it holds up a mirror as much to Swedish society as to Fadime's Kurdish culture.
Tuesday, July 23, 2002
Tour de France wonder, Lance Armstrong, has hired a bodyguard to accompany him during his current race. Armstrong attributes his need for increased security to a post-9/11 outlook and poor security at the Tour. The French media hasn't taken kindly to Armstrong's concerns about becoming a target of anti-American sentiment, preferring, instead, to portray him as paranoid.
Monday, July 22, 2002 One Incident, Two Versions: With regard to Israel's recent attack on a Hamas leader in Gaza, the NY Times leads with "Israeli Strike on Hamas Militant's House Kills 11 and Wounds 100." Right up front, the reader is told of the Israeli objective, as well as the extent of the damage. The NY Times article, after reporting that the leader's wife and three children were killed, notes that "[t]he Hamas military wing has claimed responsibility for dozens of attacks against Israelis during nearly two years of fighting, including many suicide bomb attacks. Also, Hamas has been behind almost daily mortar attacks on Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip." This is fair reporting that enables the reader to understand both sides' anger.
In contrast, Le Monde's article (borrowing from the AFP) shortly after the attacks leads with "6 Palestinians killed in an Israeli air raid on Gaza." (yes, they didn't initially get the numbers quite right). Like the NY Times, Le Monde describes the children and non-combatants who were wounded. Unlike the NY Times, Le Monde then mentions that on July 17, a Palestinian had been lightly wounded when a Israeli missile struck a Palestinian refugee camp. There is never any mention that a Hamas leader was the target of the current Israeli attack, and one is left with the impression that the Israelis attacked out of caprice.
Is this Le Monde's journalistic bias or its sheer incompetence?
Another murder in Ireland's religious wars--this time, militant Protestants gunned down a 19-year old father who was walking home, at night, from a pub.
Sunday, July 21, 2002
An article in the the NY Times today suggests that Iran may have had a role to play in the bombing of a religious center in Argentina 8 years ago. While criticism has been heaped on Bush for his placement of Iran on an axis of evil, it's interesting to note that a trade cooperation pact was recently signed between the EU and Iran and that the EU is Iran's largest trading partner.
Saturday, July 13, 2002 Le Monde Waxes Hyperbolic in its Gloating: A recent article states that the wrangling over the International Criminal Court has "demonstrated, in a spectular fashion, Washington's isolation in its war against what is widely regarded as mankind's greatest accomplishment in the field of international law."
Friday, July 12, 2002
Jewish cemeteries are burned and girls and boys are beaten, while the government yawns. Welcome to Minsk!...Booby-trapped "Death to Jews" signs? Where else, but Russia!
Monday, July 08, 2002 Putting the Franc where your mouth is: Le Monde cites an OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) study indicating that France's monetary contributions to developing countries and international humanitarian organizations are less generous than its leaders' rhetoric would suggest. In 2001, France's aid to developing countries constituted only 0.11% of its Gross National Product (GNP), or $1.6 billion (in that same year, the US contributed $10.6 billion). The UN recommends a target contribution to developing countries of 0.7% of GNP. Among the countries in the European Union that obtained this objective last year were Sweden, Denmark, Luxembourg, and Norway.
With regards to human rights, the three biggest donors to UNICEF in the year 2000 were the US, Great Britain, and Japan. As a percentage of GNP, the contributions of Norway (12.3%), Sweden (6.76%), and Denmark (5.76%) dwarfed France's meager contribution of 0.67% of its GNP. France's contributions to the UN High Commission for Refugees were likewise disproportionate to its economic wealth. And the list of France's miserly contributions goes on.
Le Monde's article observes that the candidates in the recent French legislative elections didn't seem to express any interest in French aid to developing countries, and that the former presidential candidates mainly invoked France's position in the world community in order to criticize globalization.
Has The Economist's coverage of the Middle East often left a bad taste in your mouth? Maybe this is why.
Saturday, July 06, 2002 Look Who's Coming to Dinner: Jörg Haider, the head of Austria's Freedom Party (FPO), recently extended a warm welcome to Naji Sabri, Iraq's foreign affairs minister. The latter was visiting Vienna in order to discuss, with Kofi Annan, the return of UN inspectors to Iraq. Haider threw a party in honor of Sabri that was attended by diverse businessmen. Haider occasionally takes business trips to Libya and Iraq where he has purchased cheap fuel for the Carinthians.
Friday, July 05, 2002 Not Guilty:A French court has decided not to pursue legal action against the former French government ministers who had been charged with blocking the introduction of an HIV screening device for France's blood supplies back in 1983. The reason for the ministers' refusal to adopt a device that would have prevented HIV infections and more needless deaths from AIDS? The company that was first-to-market with the HIV screening device was American (Abbott), and the ministers were waiting until the French firm, Diagnostics Pasteur, brought a similar device to market.