French President Francois Hollande landed in Mali Saturday, and received a hero's welcome in Timbuktu, which until recently was a jihadist stronghold. Can you imagine a U.S. president doing this?
Hollande was greeted by Malians sporting shirts with the flags of both countries and banners reading “Thank You France” before being presented with a camel and wading into a crowd in the desert city. He was accompanied by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Development Minister Pascal Canfin.
Apparently the camel was extremely vocal in his support for the French leader, as you can see from this video.
The Washington Post editorial board asks: Is this Hollande's "Mission Accomplished" moment? My question: What is he going to do with the camel?
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images
A report produced by a group of 11 E.U. foreign ministers this week on the future of Europe focused, understandably, on how greater integration - or "more Europe" - could help resolve the ongoing debt crises, through greater oversight of member states' budgets, centralized bank supervision, etc.
But further down, the 8-page document also lays out a plan for how more federalism could boost the region's overall global clout -- and includes the possibility of a Pan-European Army.
"To make the EU into a real actor on the global scene we believe that we should in the long term... aim for a European Defence Policy with joint efforts regarding the defence industry (e.g. the creation of a single market for armament projects); for some members of the Group this could eventually involve a European army."
The report makes clear that an all-Europe fighting force is only supported by some of the countries who helped produce the document; however, it also argues for a policy of more majority voting on security and foreign policy questions, meaning single states would no longer be able to veto defense policies they aren't in favor of. Alongside the European Army proposal, the report calls for an overall strengthening of the European External Action Service, the E.U.'s foreign policy arm.
The document has the backing of foreign ministers from Germany and France, as well as Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and other major European actors, but not Britain, where news of the report has met with some alarm. The UK has opposed greater European military integration in the past, and the Daily Telegraph speculates that the new report could fuel current calls for a referendum on the E.U.
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With Greece's national parliamentary election set for May 6, the crisis-ridden country may have a new threat to worry about: the extremist fringe vote. Due to popular frustration with the country's current economic situation, it is "thought likely" that left- and right-wing political fringe parties will make gains among voters at the expense of mainstream political parties like the conservative New Democracy party and the socialist Pasok party.
But as the New York Times reported yesterday, the Greek ultranationalist group Golden Dawn, a neo-Nazi group that has broadened its appeal by "capitalizing on fears that illegal immigration has grown out of control at a time when the economy is bleeding jobs," may very well receive more than the 3 percent of votes needed to enter Parliament. This is bad news for Greek society, which University of Athens political scientist Nicos Demertzis calls a "a laboratory of extreme-right-wing evolution." Though no Golden Party member has ever held national office, party leader Nikos Michaloliakos was elected to the Athens City Council in 2010.
Golden Dawn joins the ranks of dozens of nationalist-populist fringe parties all over Europe whose enflamed euroskeptic reactions to the "cuts to wages and pensions imposed in order to secure aid from the EU and the IMF" have resulted in political shakeups. The Dutch Party for Freedom (PVV) , led by Geert Wilders, won 24 of the 150 parliamentary seats in the 2010 general election, and came in second in the Netherlands in the 2009 European Parliament elections.
Golden Dawn also espouses a particularly anti-German sentiment:
''It's right to hate Germany, because it is still the leader of the banksters and the European Union,'' Mr. Michaloliakos, the group's leader, said, using a derogatory term for bankers.
Of course, Golden Dawn is still transitioning from a street-fighting group into a political party, but it remains to be seen whether it can become a well-oiled machine like France's National Front, whose leader, Marine Le Pen, is still campaigning for the presidency. Even so, its increasing popularity is evidence of a dangerous trend that only promises to worsen. At least we have Greek left-wing anarchist groups like the Cosnpiracy of Fire Nuclei, Nikola Tesla Commandos, and Immediate Intervention Hood-wearers to keep us properly entertained.
LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images
Last we left the French politician, he had been freed from house arrest after the veracity of his accuser's story came into question; French society contemplated his political future; and a French writer, Tristane Banon, said even if he didn't assault the New York City maid, he did try to sexually attack her back in 2003 -- allegations that are being investigated by French police.
Today, a new twist has emerged. In an interview with a French newspaper, the writer's mother, a prominent Socialist Party member, said she had sex with the former IMF chief back in 2000, an encounter that was "consensual but clearly brutal." She said it was something she never wanted to repeat.
Anne Mansouret, 65, said Strauss-Kahn acted with the "vulgarity of a soldier." And, he had a dominant instinct when it came to sexual encounters.
Mansouret said she felt she needed to speak out now because an image was forming of Strauss-Kahn as a "seducer, not a rapist."
The story gets a little more twisted when you consider that Mansouret was close friends with the politician's former wife, who also happens to be godmother to Banon.
Banon has called Strauss-Kahn a "rutting chimpanzee" and "very violent." She told French TV back in 2007 that she had interviewed him several years earlier for a book she was working on. He tried to hold her hand during the discussion and the hand-holding segued into sexual advances. He became violent and the two scuffled on the floor of his apartment. Eventually, she "kicked him several times, he unbuttoned my bra ... and tried to unzip my jeans." But she was able to get away.
Strauss-Kahn has called her allegations "imaginary" and has filed a lawsuit against her for slander.
If the Strauss-Kahn affair has taught us anything, it's that it is ridiculous to rush to judgment. We'll see where this new case goes. But, the more that comes out about Strauss-Kahn in France, the easier it is to understand why he doesn't seem to be in any hurry to leave the United States.
French troops marched down the Champs-Elysees today to mark Bastille Day, in front of thousands.
For you history buffs: the holiday celebrates July 14, 1789, the day angry crowds stormed the Bastille prison in Paris, helping to set off the French Revolution.
Below, A Republican Guard infantry regiment in today's parade:
Jacques Demarthon /AFP/Getty Images
A French Rafale jet flying over the famed Paris Arc de Triomphe:
AFP/ Getty Images
The latest candidate to jump into the 2012 French presidential race has quite a background - once a beauty queen and au pair, later a muckraking prosecutor, and now a member of the European Parliament for the Green-Europe Ecology party. But the most striking part about 67-year-old Eva Joly's past may be a citizenship record that would make Donald Trump's hair spin. From the Guardian:
Born in a working-class suburb in Norway, she came to Paris as a young au pair to finance her legal studies and ended up marrying the son of the bourgeois family she was posted to, despite their disapproval. She now holds joint Norwegian-French nationality and will be the first dual national to run for the French presidency.
This April, we explored how, in many countries worldwide, it's perfectly legal for individuals who were not native-born or who have dual citizenship to serve in the country's highest offices. For instance, Thailand's Oxford-educated Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is also a British citizen, which reportedly could put him in legal trouble for alleged human rights abuses from last year's Red Shirt protest movement. Former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, forced out of office by a Hezbollah-backed uprising in January, has Lebanese and Saudi citizenship.
Joly's dual citizenship should create an interesting side story during election season in France, whose government was a key proponent of the changes in the Schengen agreement this summer targeted at restricting illegal immigration into Europe. She probably won't get elected, but, with a reputation for speaking her mind, she'll at least make for some fireworks.
MARTIN BUREAU/AFP/Getty Images
After weeks of soul-searching about gender, politics, lusty old men, and sexual violence, France woke to the news today that the New York City rape case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former IMF managing director and one-time front-runner to take Nicolas Sarkozy's seat, was near collapsing since prosecutors no longer believe much of the accuser's story. And just now, he's been released from house arrest.
How do you say oops in French?
WHAT KIND OF RECEPTION WILL HE RECEIVE WHEN HE RETURNS?
Some will certainly embrace Strauss-Kahn as a martyr (like his friend and stalwart defender, Bernard Henri-Levy) on the cross of the U.S. justice system, but some in France seem less willing to give him a hero's welcome. The charges in New York led to other allegations against the former IMF leader that made him out to be -- at the very least -- a cad.
"Even if what he did was not criminal, all this is going to take time," Christophe Barbier, a political commentator and editor of L'Express weekly, told Reuters. "There is everything we have learned about him, the damage to his reputation. All this makes the idea he could be a candidate very hypothetical, it's science fiction."
As one French woman told the Times:
"People are not going to forgive him. At a political level, he is dead," she said. "It would be terrible for France if he came and if we give him some credit again."
TIME TO RETHINK THE PERP WALK?
Initially, many in France expressed anger at DSK's treatment, whether or not he was guilty as charged. The infamous "perp walk," in which he was hauled out in handcuffs, looking disheveled before cameras -- something alien to the French justice system -- made the whole thing seem if not barbaric than certainly less genteel.
Doesn't this new revelation simply confirm those stereotypes about the American justice system? The New York Times got mixed reactions:
In several conversations there seemed to be little rancor toward the American justice system, beyond a broad sense that it was, as one French legal adviser put it, "muscular." But Patrice Randé, 50, the manager of an insurance office, said the case risked stoking anti-American feeling with the impression that the New York police had deliberately humiliated Mr. Strauss-Kahn. "We were made to believe he was guilty, we dropped him, we really bought this," Mr. Randé said. "I'm shocked that they didn't take more care," he said, referring to American prosecutors.
SO, WILL HE ENTER THE FRENCH PRESIDENTIAL RACE?
Before his arrest, Strauss-Kahn was leading in the polls to win the Socialist Party's nomination and many thought he could ultimately unseat Nicolas Sarkozy. Already, there are segments of the party that are suggesting Strauss-Kahn could return to the race -- even though the field is already crowded with other contenders.
One party leader, Jean-Marie Le Guen, said his old ally, DSK, would now "be present in the presidential campaign," though he also said it was too soon to speculate on whether he would run.
Socialist Michele Sabban said the party should postpone the primary calendar, in light of the news. (The current deadline to declare one's candidacy is July 13).
Jean-Louis Borloo, a potential Socialist candidate for president, seemed to endorse a DSK run on French TV. "What's stopping him from coming back if he has the strength and desire?" he asked.
The head of the Socialist Party, Martine Aubry, who announced this week she was running for president, said she hoped "the American justice system will establish the whole truth and allow Dominique to emerge from this nightmare," though she steered clear of questions about his political future.
One politician who doesn't seem likely to embrace DSK any time soon is leader of the far right National Front, Marine Le Pen. "I don't see how he can come back as a candidate in the Socialist primaries, no matter what happens," she said. Of course, this might have more to do with her own political fortunes. Analysts said she benefitted more than Sarkozy when Strauss-Kahn left the race.
And one unnamed senior Socialist told the New York Times the party shouldn't react too quickly.
"What if we all embrace him again and then he turns out to be guilty after all? We have to wait for a clear and definite outcome before making any decisions," he said. "Our voters have lost trust not just in him but the party. We have to be careful."
Zut alors! The EU's highest court has an announcement:
In 2008, France did not take adequate measures to protect the European Hamster in Alsace.
That's the verdict released by the Court of Justice in Luxembourg today in a lawsuit brought by the European Commission in 2009 about Western Europe's last wild hamster, the European Hamster, known also as the Great Hamster of Alsace. And the court is threatening fines to back the verdict up:
If France does not adjust its agricultural and urbanization policies sufficiently to protect [the European Hamster], the court said, the government will be subject to fines of as much as $24.6 million.
Not to cast doubt on the wisdom of the court, but it didn't hurt the Great Hamsters that they're all so darn cute. Research published in Human Ecology suggests that cute endangered animals -- excuse me, "charismatic megafauna" -- get more attention than, well, "uncharismatic" ones. That extra support has already paid dividends for the Hawaiian Monk Seal, and lawyers fighting for the American pika will no doubt also be counting on their client's stunning good looks.
The purple burrowing frog, on the other hand? Don't bet on it.
FREDERICK FLORIN/AFP/Getty Images
In an interview with German newspaper Die Zeit, Bernard-Henri Lévy continues to defend his buddy Dominique Strauss-Kahn. A translated selection:
Zeit: But Dominique Strauss-Kahn was treated like any other suspect.
BHL: Yes. But he's not like everyone else. When a run-of-the-mill murderer leaves the police station in handcuffs, a firing squad of cameras isn't awaiting him. But when it's Strauss-Kahn, the whole world is watching. To act like you don't see the difference there, that's the real injustice.
Zeit: Contempt for the American justice system seems to be spreading in France.
BHL: This is not a problem of justice, it's a problem of politics. On the one hand, they don't want to show the pictures of the dead Bin Laden so as not to insult Muslims. On the other hand, they present pictures of Strauss-Kahn on a constant loop without bothering to see if that might insult his wife or family.
Zeit: France's media has been discussing Strauss-Kahn's lifestyle for the past two weeks...
BHL: The fields were tilled in advance. Preparatory shots were fired. And now you have the result: the head of the IMF wearing the very corset of guilt that was designed for him.
Zeit: Are we learning anything new about the relationship between power and sex?
BHL: That puritanical nonsense has overtaken western society.
This is so confused as to be really kind of delightful. Yes, just why didn't President Obama realize that allowing the release of the DSK photos would potentially jeopardize national security by angering the Strauss-Kahn household? And if only Americans had the foresight to realize that the history books will record as the "real injustice" their treatment of DSK as a normal human being...
Anyway, I'd suggest resisting the temptation to correct the multiple misjudgments in favor of simply appreciating the floridness of Lévy's imagination. (Is a "corset of guilt" a real garment? Is that why Lévy keeps his shirt unbuttoned to his navel, to show he's not wearing one?) Here's hoping Strauss-Kahn calls BHL in as a character witness.
"And you! I've no evidence against you. But it would seem you're a paedophile. Who told me? I have an absolute conviction. I've seen the intelligence reports but I won't tell you which ones; I've seen someone but I won't tell you who, and it was word of mouth. But I have an absolute conviction you're a paedophile ... Can you explain yourself?"
After a 10-minute diatribe against various journalists, during which he kept returning to the paedophile analogy, he walked off declaring: "See you tomorrow, paedophile friends."
Well that should throw them off the trail.
While reading Eric Pape's informative profile of new French Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie, I was struck by the fact that she's managed to keep such a low international profile despite her remarkable rise to power and pulling off the first ever ministerial "grand slam" -- she's headed the Justice, Interior, Defense, and Foreign Ministeries -- in French history. It seems to be largely because she's remarkably managed to rise to the highest levels of French government without a major personal scandal, accusation of political malfeasance, or high-profile feud.
The Christian Science Monitor reports that France is planning hold a meeting in Brussels to develop a common European policy on whether to attend the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony for imprisoned Chinese activist Liu Xiaobo:
China's G20 negotiator Cui Tiankai last week said states that attend the award ceremony honoring Mr. Liu must be ready to "accept the consequences." Liu is currently serving an 11-year sentence in China for "subversion" in co-authoring "Charter '08," a manifesto promoting basic human rights and political reform.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told French RTL radio this morning that French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Mr. Hu discussed human rights on top of signing $20 billion in trade deals. Mr. Kouchner added that, "I hope France will be represented at the prize-giving ceremony in spite of Beijing's warnings," but said France would be "consulting its European friends for a common response."
A French Foreign Ministry official separately told the Monitor that an upcoming meeting in Brussels will center on two questions: whether it is appropriate to attend the Nobel Prize ceremony, and if so, "whether ambassadors should attend, or should it be at the level of charges d'affaires."
"We have weeks and weeks to decide this," the Foreign Ministry official said adding that a Brussels meeting is set to take place in coming days.
As countries who have hosted the Dalai Lama have learned, China is deadly serious about "the consequences" for these types of gestures. But to not attend the ceremony or to put on an awkward show of sending a lower-level official would be the definition of what Vaclav Havel referred to as "soiling one's pants prematurely." It would signal to the world that with Kouchner on his way out, Sarkozy's government has indeed given up on human rights entirely.
Update: Good news. Looks like they're going.
THIBAULT CAMUS/AFP/Getty Images
The United States doesn't always do the best job of promoting itself abroad. Lots of people in lots of different places like to burn American flags and chant anti-U.S. slogans. It's stock footage at this point.
But yesterday the New York Times highlighted an encouraging U.S. cultural diplomacy effort in a pretty unexpected area: French banlieues.
Obviously the U.S. image is a bit worse in other parts of the world, so why do outreach in France instead of FATA? For one, terrorist plots are increasingly being launched by disaffected Muslim youth in western countries who have been shunned by their new societies. Demonstrating that they can actually have a future in the west is thus both good on a social and security level. And if there were any western country in which to combat the ill-effects of racism and bigotry, it's France, which has totally abrogated any responsibility of caring for its growing immigrant population.
President Barack Obama's election certainly played a role in silencing the once ubiquitous anti-American voices in the banlieues (hey, look! It still means something!), but just as important has been the substantial engagement attempts on the part of the U.S. Mission to France:
The United States Embassy in Paris has formed a network of partnerships with local governments, advocacy groups, entrepreneurs, students and cultural leaders in the troubled immigrant enclaves outside France’s major cities...
Residents “have the sense that the United States looks upon our areas with much more deference and respect,” said Mr. Roger, the Bondy mayor.
The embassy also runs an International Visitor Leadership Program that brings 20-30 up-and-coming French entrepreneurs and politicians to the United States each year, and at least one participant raved about the program:
A Moroccan-born Muslim, Mr. Senni traveled to the United States in 2006 as a participant in the visitor program. He was effusive in his praise for the outreach and the optimism it has spread. “Never has France had this type of approach,” he said.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has a history of dealing with Parisian suburbs, and it's not particularly flattering. During the 2005 banlieues riots, then-Interior Minister Sarkozy infamously called the rioters "scum" and that they should be "hosed down." Surprisingly, his comments only made the rioters angrier.
Nowadays when Sarkozy ventures out to the suburbs he's accompanied by a major police presence and spends his time focusing on law enforcement issues, and not on the myriad social and economic complaints of the locals. He said in 2007 that the riots were the result of "thugocracy," which sounds like a brilliant future title of a 50 Cent album, and not social issues.
The embassy also brought Samuel L. Jackson to the banlieues to connect with local youths, and I believe he told them that, "I've had it with this mother-******* unemployment in these mother-******* banlieues." Seriously.
The U.S. is freaking out over qurans, shariah law, and Manhattan community centers, but at least some of our diplomats get the importance of engaging on a human level. The U.S. Ambassador to France, Charles H. Rivkin, sums it up: "It’s easier to hate something you don’t understand."
JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty Images
Is Nicolas Sarkozy's so-called burqa ban, as my FP colleague David Rothkopf writes, an expression of rising intolerance in France? Perhaps. Coupled with his expulsion of more than 1,000 Roma, it sure looks like le président is trying to use a cultural wedge to shore up his flagging popularity.
Still, I think the "burqa" issue (or, alternatively, the jilbab + niqab, or abaya issue) is more complicated than David allows. For one thing, France has a long and well-known convention of laïcité -- a far stricter notion of secularism, enforced by the state, than the American variety. Banning burqas falls well within that tradition.
Second, one has to admit that critics of full veiling have a point. From 2005 to 2006, I spent about a year and a half in Cairo, Egypt, where full veiling is relatively rare but hijabs -- headscarves -- are increasingly common. That was one thing, but I've just moved to Doha, Qatar, which is more culturally conservative and currently filled with women cloaked in black and covering their faces (many of them likely Saudis visiting for the summer or the holidays).
Although many women here personalize their abayas with elegant embroidery (and it seems that most Qatari women do not wear the full face veil), I find it disconcerting and dehumanizing not to be able to read people's emotions, to tell if they are frowning or smiling, or even know what they look like. Some Muslim women may find the anonymity liberating or believe that their religion commands it, but full veiling is one cultural practice that I would be more than happy to see killed by globalization.
(I find it particularly absurd when I see a man dressed in, say, an Armani Exchange T-shirt and Diesel jeans walking along with a fully veiled woman and several kids in tow. If you're going to make your wife wear a shroud, at least man up and throw on a thobe and ghutra.)
Having said all that, I don't like the notion of French gendarmes arresting or fining people on the street for what they wear. If the French government wants to prohibit state employees from veiling, or require people to uncover their faces when they drive or enter government buildings, fine. Private businesses, like banks, should be allowed to do the same. But we shouldn't pretend there are easy answers.
ALAIN JOCARD/AFP/Getty Images
No, not a multicultural spin-off of the beloved 1990s animated series, just the latest Islamaphobic backlash scandal.
Following medieval tradition, the stonemasons working on the renovation of St. Jean cathedral in Lyon, France decided to pay tribute to one of their own by styling a gargoyle after a Muslim mason named Ahmed Benzizine:
Stonemason Emmanuel Fourchet decided to carve "Ahmed" as a gargoyle -- a demonic medieval statue that hangs from a cathedral as both a form of rain gutter and an admonishment to the faithful -- in tribute to his friend.
The "God is Great" inscription underneath, in both French and Arabic, is a tribute to his colleague's faith, and was not meant as a slight to Christian worshippers who still use St Jean eight centures after it was built.
"I'm a Frenchman and a practising Muslim and I've always worked on historic monuments. I could work on mosques or synagogues as well," Benzizine told AFP after a hardline website attempted to stir controversy....
While Ahmed has adorned the Gothic masterpiece since summer without raising eyebrows, it was attacked by "Jeunesse Identitaire Lyonnais", a right-wing group which defends the region's traditional "ethnic and cultural identity".
"While in many Muslim countries Christianity is forbidden and Christians persecuted, in Lyon Muslims take over our churches at their leisure with the complicity of Catholic authorities," the group complained on its website.
Unless Ahmed the Gargoyle is coming to life at night and eating all the communion wafers or something, this seems pretty harmless to me.
PHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP/Getty Images
A history teacher has been suspended in France for spending "too much" class time on teaching the Holocaust.
Here's a classic example of where France goes wrong. A July report condemned Catherine Pederzoli for "lacking distance, neutrality and secularism" and that by spending so much time on the Holocaust she was "brainwashing" her students.
For the past fifteen years, Pederzoli has organized annual trips for students to death camps in Poland and the Czech Republic. The number of students she was allowed to take had been cut in half, prompting her students to hold a protest when French Minister of Education Luc Chatel visited the school. Pederzoli was accused of inciting the protests.
Here's how ridiculous the report was:
The ministry's report cites that in meeting with investigators, the teacher used the word "Holocaust" 14 times while using the more neutral term "massacre" only twice.
Seriously? She's brainwashing her students because she used an internationally recognized term for the heinous crimes committed against Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, and other "undesirables" by Nazi Germany? It's hard to imagine a more preposterous condemnation.
France's republican tradition means that it doesn't officially recognize differences between demographic groups, and that secularism is the overriding state virtue. But that deliberate non-recognition --"I can't see you!" -- itself leads directly to policies that are often used, intentionally or not, in an anti-Semitic or Islamophobic manner.
Calling French First Lady Carla Bruni a prostitute for having the gall to defend a woman sentenced to death by stoning just wasn't enough for the hardline Iranian newspaper Kayhan. Tackling the subject again today (is this what passes for an Iranian newscycle?), they've condemned Bruni's adulterous ways and said that she, too, should face capital punishment:
Studying Carla Bruni's record clearly shows the reason why this immoral woman is backing an Iranian woman who has been condemned to death for committing adultery and being accomplice in her husband's murder and, in fact, she herself deserves to die.
Clearly the above picture -- Bruni with actor Owen Wilson -- is proof of Bruni's open soliciting of men (Does Sarko know?!?!). I wonder what Kayhan would say if they ever discovered Getty Images. Would it assert that Bruni's pictures with Woody Allen suggest that she is in line with the Zionist conspiracy to control the world through neurotic humor?
To be fair, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast has chided Kayhan's recent editorial slant:
The policies, the manners and the comments of other countries' officials, we criticize them, we make objections to them and we call for them to review their deeds, but we don't think using inappropriate words and insulting words is the right thing to do.
There's still been no comment from the office of the French presidency.
*Update: The French Foreign Ministry has responded to the attacks:
We are letting the Iranian authorities know that the insults put out by the daily newspaper Kayhan and taken up by Iranian websites regarding several French personalities, including Mrs Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, were unacceptable.
MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images
The Iranian government-run newspaper Kayhan, which is closely tied to the office of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, has apparently deemed it wise to call France's first lady, Carla Bruni, a prostitute.
Bruni has joined the international campaign against the proposed death-by-stoning sentence for Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, which immediately drew a strong reaction in an editorial titled "French prostitutes join the human rights protest:"
Bruni, the singer and depraved actress who managed to break the Sarkozy family and marry the French president and who is said to have an affair with a singer, has said in S.M's (Sakineh Mohammadi) defence that the verdict is unfair.
The website of Iran News Network took another route to blast Bruni:
This promiscuous woman of Italian origin, due to her race and actions, is not popular among the French people.
The office of French President Nicolas Sarkozy declined to comment.
The Parisians who flooded the streets of France's capital city this morning -- part of a countrywide push-back against President Nicolas Sarkozy's proposed austerity plan (which includes, among other simply intolerable measures, a new retirement age of 62) -- are grabbing headlines this week, but their attempts at mobilization pale in comparison to the budding subversion of another, surprising set of malcontents: unhappy -- and, as it turns out, unlawful -- commuters.
Recently, turnstile hoppers (hardly a new breed of traveler in the Parisian subway system) have ratcheted up their disdain for transit regulations, coming together in so-called mutuelles des fraudeurs to protect themselves against fare-dodging fines -- and, while they're at it, to stick it to the man. The mutuelles resemble a hybrid insurance agency and support group: Members pay monthly dues of about $8.50 and, in return, are guaranteed full reimbursement for any fines they receive for "forgoing" the proper subway fee. (Typical fares are $2; typical fines are $60.) There are a few technicalities, of course: For example, members are strongly urged to pay their fines to officials upfront and are only assured compensation by the mutuelle if they show up in person at weekly meetings (usually held in avant-garde coffee shops).
Fare-dodging may look like a straightforward variation on petty theft -- a money-saving technique that regrettably comes at the expense of the law -- but the "fradeurs" insist they're not just pinching pennies: They're taking a stand. "Gildas" (a mutuelle leader who, in the true style of a subversive, declines to give his last because "we don't like this type of questions") has a surprisingly well-thought-out -- if ill-reasoned -- explanation for his behavior.
"There are things in France which are supposed to be free - schools, health. So why not transportation? It's not a question of money.... It's a political question."
He fashions himself as a historic revolutionary, not an everyday criminal: "It's a way to resist together," he says. "We can make solidarity."
Lest any American commuters (or communists) start getting ideas, be warned: At least in Virginia, Metro miscreants pay for their mistakes with a visit to court.
LOIC VENANCE/AFP/Getty Images
Tough times call for tough sacrifices. Economies everywhere, desperate to continue their uphill climb out of the global recession, have imbibed this sound logic, however grudgingly. The French, however, don't seem agree with the conventional wisdom: strikes erupted this morning across the country in response to President Nicolas Sarkozy's proposal to bump the retirement age from 60 to-gasp!-61 or 62.
Sarkozy has defended the new measure as a reasonable adjustment given increasing life expectancy. Indeed, he might be excused for merely following in the footsteps of his European colleagues-Germany recently raised the retirement age from 65 to 67. (Then again, these days any comparison to Angela Merkel may do more harm than help.)
So far, the French aren't buying the President's explanations, bringing the country to a near stand-still. 14 percent of teachers and 8 percent of hospital workers left work today to participate in protests, airport travel was disrupted, and even news agencies took a hit. NPR reported that "because there aren't enough journalists available to deliver news bulletins, the main public radio news channel in Paris is playing pop music intermittently."
JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty Images
Granted, this is the Guardian, quoting, El Pais, quoting anonymous sources, quoting Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, quoting Nicolas Sarkozy, but it still has to raise some eybrows at the European Central Bank:
The startling threat was made at a Brussels summit of EU leaders last Friday, at which the deal to bail out Greece was agreed, according to a report in El País newspaper quoting Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. Zapatero revealed details of the French threat at a closed-doors meeting of leaders from his Spanish Socialist Party on Wednesday.
Sarkozy demanded "a compromise from everyone to support Greece ... or France would reconsider its position in the euro," according to one source cited by El País. "Sarkozy went as far as banging his fist on the table and threatening to leave the euro," said one unnamed Socialist leader who was at the meeting with Zapatero. "That obliged Angela Merkel to bend and reach an agreement."
A different source who was at the meeting with Zapatero told El País that "France, Italy and Spain formed a common front against Germany, and Sarkozy threatened Merkel with a break in the traditional Franco-German axis."
El País also quotes Sarkozy as having said, according to another of those who met Zapatero, that "if at time like this, with all that is happening, Europe is not capable of a united response, then the euro makes no sense".
The euro fell to an 18-month low against the dollar today.
Zurab Tsereteli, 76, a controversial sculptor known for his grandiose work, was to receive the Legion of Honor from French ambassador Jean de Gliniasty at the Russian Academy of Arts in Moscow on Tuesday evening, news agencies reported.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said the award honored Tsereteli's “services to our country and the devotion to France that he exhibited,” as well as his contribution to strengthening ties between France and Russia.
Yep, the homeland of Auguste Rodin just conferred its highest honor on the designer of the above 9/11 memorial, a structure so ugly that Jersey City officials changed their mind and rejected it after actually seeing the thing.
At least from this Wikipedia article, it does seem like France has been going a little overboard with conferring the legion on foreigners during the Sarkozy years.
U.S. political junkes are well aware of the "Bradley effect," a scenario in which embarassed white voters tell pollsters they're planning on voting for a minority candidate, then vote for a white one when they get in the booth, producing misleading results.
The Bradley effect turned out to be a non-factor in the 2008 U.S. presidential election, but Le Monde suggests [French] it may have appeared in a somewhat mutated form in France's regional elections this week, where Jean-Marie Le Pen's anti-immigrant National Front performed much better than pollsters expected, taking third place with 11.7 of the vote and likely contributing to an embarassing first-round defeat for Nicolas Sarkozy's ruling conservatives. French pollsters now suggest that a portion of the FN's electorate may have been embarassed to admit to supporting Le Pen's radical views.
Logically, a Bradley effect would only be an issue in countries where racial prejudice is widespread enough in influence the result of an election, but taboo enough that citizens are embarassed to admit to it, even in an anonymous poll. It would be interesting to find out how many countries this applies to.
Do readers know of any other countries which have had Bradley-type election results?
(Hat tip: The Monkey Cage)
ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP/Getty Images
The State Department's 2010 Human Rights Report examines abuse and discrimination the world over, featuring China, Iran, and... Western Europe?
Europe is not exactly at the forefront of one's mind when thinking of places with poor human rights records. But creeping into European society are widespread and insidious anti-Muslim sentiments, says the report. These prejudices are increasingly visible across the Continent, with numerous cases last year highlighting the issue. The document puts it rather bluntly: "Discrimination against Muslims in Europe has been an increasing concern."
The biggest headline grabber was the Swiss ban of minaret construction, passed by a significant majority (57.5 percent in favor) in a popular referendum. (Notably, the ban was opposed by majorities in parliament and the Federal Council, but still won handily.) Compared to its bigger neighbors, Switzerland has a relatively tiny Muslim community, and there are only four minarets in the entire country -- making the ban mostly symbolic. But the message, another contribution to the growing trend of Swiss hostility towards Muslims, resonated. The report further stated,
Islamic organizations have complained that authorities in many cantons and municipalities discriminated against Muslims by refusing zoning approval to build mosques, minarets, or Islamic cemeteries.
Switzerland was hardly the only country the Report criticized. France's anti-headscarf laws were criticized, as was French President Nicolas Sarkozy's claim that burqas are "not welcome" in France. In the Netherlands, right-wing politician Geert Wilders is cited for frequently stoking anti-Muslimsentiments
The Times's France-blogger Charles Bremner speculates about the motivations behind France's recent overtures to Russia, which include an elaborate state visit to Paris by President Dmitry Medvedev, a gas deal between GazProm and France's GDF Suez, and the planned sale of four Mistral warships to Russia:
Sarkozy's calculations are simple, they make sense for France and they are being welcomed by both left and right. Sarkozy's overtures to Barack Obama have failed. The American leader looks down on him -- though he has finally invited him for his first White House visit later this month. Sarkozy received nothing from the Americans for resuming full Nato membership. Germany has so far beaten France hands down in reaping benefit from trade with Russia. So France is reverting to the old Russia card that was first played by President Charles de Gaulle in the 1960s.
A longtime Sarko-watcher, Bremner also suspects the president finds Medvedev easier to deal with than the pricklier Vladimir Putin.
For a very different take on the Mistral sale, see Georgian National Security Advisor Eka Tkeshelashvili's inverview with FP from last week.
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French President Nicolas Sarkozy has, in the past, shown little interest in discussing the darker periods of French history. His summed up his attitude while visiting former colony Algeria two years ago, saying:
"Young people on either side of the Mediterranean are looking to the future more than the past and what they want are concrete things. They're not waiting for their leaders to simply drop everything and start mortifying themselves, or to beat their breasts, over the mistakes of the past because, in that case, there'd be lots to do on both sides."
But in the last two weeks there have been some signs that Sarkozy may be tentatively softening his relentlessly forward-facing outlook. Visiting Haiti last week to announce a debt cancellation package, Sarkozy had this to say about France's legacy of slavery, colonialism, and economic dominance over the country:
"Our presence did not leave good memories,'' Sarkozy conceded outside the still-standing French Embassy in downtown Port-au-Prince.
"The wounds of colonization, maybe the worst, [and] the conditions of our separation have some traces that are still alive in Haitian memories.''
Visiting Rwanda today, Sarkozy didn't exactly apologize for France's conduct during the 1994 genocide, but at least took note of his country's faults:
"What happened here is unacceptable and what happened here forces the international community, including France, to reflect on the mistakes that prevented it from anticipating and stopping this terrible crime."
Asked what he felt those mistakes had been, the president cited a seriously flawed assessment of the situation in Rwanda as the genocide unfolded and a UN-mandated French military intervention that was "too late and undoubtedly too little".
But reflecting a thaw in relations, Sarkozy said he hoped the future would enable the two countries to "turn an extremely painful page" on a past fraught with mutual distrust. "Off the back of all these mistakes … we are going to try to build a bilateral relationship," he said.
Granted, this isn't much -- certainly less than the Rwandans were expecting and much weaker than the apologies Bill Clinton and Kofi Annan have made -- but it's a new style from Sarkozy, whose rhetoric has never exactly been known for its sensitivity.
PHILIPPE WOJAZER/AFP/Getty Images
It's not very smart (or legal, or moral) to patronize underage prostitutes. If you do engage in such behavior, it's not very smart to write about it in your memoir. If you do write about it, it's not very smart to then seek political office. If you do somehow reach political office, it's not very smart to use your position to defend someone else from child sex charges.
Frederic Mitterrand is apparently not very smart.
When the French culture minister -- who is the also the nephew of former French President Francois Mitterand -- led the French government's charge in denouncing the arrest of director Roman Polanski, he might have thought about the fact that his own autobiography, published before the former television presenter went into politics, contains details of his paying for sex with young boys in Thailand. A sample:
"All these rituals of the market for youths, the slave market excited me enormously... the abundance of very attractive and immediately available young boys put me in a state of desire."
Opposition leaders are calling for Mitterand to resign (unfortunately, the campaign is being led by the far-right National Front, which puts the Socialists in an awkward spot) but this does seem like an inevitable scandal that Sarkozy's government could have easily avoided. Comment dit-on "vetting" en Français?
DAMIEN MEYER/AFP/Getty Images
Al Qaeda's newest suicide bombing tactic -- cellphone activated explosives hidden inside the bomber's rectum -- has French security officials worried:
French anti-terrorism chiefs are expected to recommend widening examinations already used to catch drug smugglers after President Sarkozy’s new domestic intelligence directorate (DCRI) learnt of an attack in Saudi Arabia in which the bomber detonated such a device in his rectum.
Al-Qaeda gave video publicity to its new method tested by Abdullah Hassan al-Asiri, a 23-year-old terrorist, who blew himself apart at a meeting in Jeddah in late August with Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the Saudi anti-terrorism chief. The Prince was slightly injured in the blast, but al-Asiri, who used a mobile telephone to trigger the bomb, was ripped into 70 pieces, the DCRI report said.
Such a blast, though limited in force, could be catastrophic in a pressurised airliner, say experts. Counter-measures would be draconian. As well as taking off shoes and handing in liquids, passengers could be subjected to X-ray screening or be required to hand in all electronic devices because they could be used as detonators, police commanders told Le Figaro newspaper.
Given that shoe removal has become an integral part of the "security theater" in U.S. airports since shoe-bomber Richard Reid's botched operation in 2002, one shudders to think where we're headed in response to the "keister bomber," as the Times calls him.
Normally I'm all for government transparency. But it seems like "body-bombing" is generally not a very effective tactic, since most of the explosion is absorbed by the bomber himself, but it could be very effective on a plane. Why exactly did French authorities choose to publicize this fact?
"If there is no concrete decision, I will leave," the paper quoted Sarkozy as saying.
It did not describe the context in which the remark was made but Sarkozy's chief of staff Claude Gueant told RTL radio that the president was "extremely determined" to secure a deal.
This seems like an odd thing to take such a drastic stance on. The G20 is already moving toward the type of regulation Sarkozy wants and it seems unlikely that French bullying is going to get the job done.
Nicolas Sarkozy's government is rolling out a "revolutionary" new economic indicator:
France plans to include happiness and well-being in its measurements of economic progress, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Monday, beckoning other countries to join in a "revolution" in the way growth is tracked after the global economic crisis. [...]
France — whose growth has lagged its peers in recent decades according to standard measures — will also try to convince other governments to change their economic tracking, Sarkozy said
"A great revolution is waiting for us," he said. "For years, people said that finance was a formidable creator of wealth, only to discover one day that it accumulated so many risks that the world almost plunged into chaos."
"The crisis doesn't only make us free to imagine other models, another future, another world. It obliges us to do so," he said.
One minor quibble: Sarkozy should really give some credit to King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck of Bhutan, the true pioneer of gross national happiness.
Skeptics can (and will) look at this new innovation as a ploy for France to "juke the stats," since its short workweek and social benefits look a lot more impressive than its GDP growth.
That aside, the transformation of Sarkozy's economic message has been pretty astounding. The president came to power promising privitization and economic modernization and was lambasted by French left-wingers for his attachment to "Anglo-Saxon" economic models. But since the economic crisis (and his own popularity crisis) he's made a habit of attacking the Anglo-Saxons for their free-market orthodoxy and consulting with market-skeptics Amartya Sen and Joseph Stiglitz on new economic indicators.
Where have you gone, Sarko l'Américain?
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Are voters more inclined to pitch their support to a candidate who looks comfortable kissing babies? It sure seems to have worked for Obama. But what about candidates who have babies?
Rumors that French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his lovely wife Carla Bruni are planning to have their first child together in 2011 are spreading around France. The more vicious slant of this gossip is that the couple is orchestrating the pregnancy to secure Sarkozy's reelection.
The chatter comes from the French magazine Voici, which claims the story "has been circulating for several weeks" and that France's first couple is going to use the "'pregnancy card' ... to ensure public sympathy ahead of the next presidential campaign in 2012."
That's quite a charge, even for France's most amorous couple. Both Sarkozy and Bruni have children from prior relationships and while neither has announced plans for a pregnancy -- let alone such a well-timed delivery -- Bruni has said in the past that she'd love to have another child, and is open to adoption. (At 40 the former model has acknowledged conceiving may not be possible.)
There is something to be said for children and their ability to boost a candidate's image, painting him as the warm "family man." Some of the most beloved and iconic images to emerge from any president's time in the White House are those that feature the Kennedy children romping around the Oval Office. Sasha and Malia have certainly taken the world by storm with their adorableness and J.Crew ensembles.
Perhaps Paris will soon hear the pitter-patter of little Sarko-Bruni pieds. But whether or not they'll be dancing to the tune of an election victory may rest on more substantial political matters. Or at least we can hope...
PHILIPPE WOJAZER/AFP/Getty Images
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