Racism in the Paris metro, and how it was seen in France

This week Chelsea fans in London assaulted a black man on the Paris metro. It received international coverage and widespread condemnation. I was interested in what the French thought about this and how they covered it in the news.

Many French newspapers reminded us that football and hooliganism go a long way back, especially in the UK. Libération started by reminding its readers that not so long ago, to be a football supporter in the UK was often associated with some form of delinquency. They talked about the 1985 Liverpool Juventus match where 39 people died after Liverpool fans breached a thin division separating them from the Juventus fans. Even though English football has done a lot to combat fan violence, Chelsea still has the highest number of fans arrested for abusive or racist chants.

Le Figaro focused more on Chelsea’s history, saying it was just one more episode in Chelsea’s troubled history of racism. Chelsea was one of the last clubs to accept players of colour – Paul Canoville was the first in 1982. Le Figaro uses a quote from him where he describes overhearing several fans saying that his goals shouldn’t count because he was black to emphasise the fact that racism was endemic. Le Figaro also mentioned the John Terry affair, where Terry was found guilty of racially insulting Anton Ferdinand and was banned for four matched and fined heavily. It seemed to be saying that even though efforts had been made to stamp out racism, it still existed, at all levels, from fans to players. That being said, much was made of the universal and loud condemnation across the British press, specifically picking up on words used such as ‘shame’ ‘disgrace’  and ‘disgust’.

L’Express said that a 2011 survey had revealed Chelsea fans as the most racist in all of English football, saying that they were incapable of even respecting their own player.  A fan was banned from the stadium in 2012 for racially insulting Didier Drogba. This, despite the fact that he helped Chelsea to the Champions League at the end of the season.

What was interesting about this was that the French newspapers did evoke the past history of racism in the UK, but focused mainly on the fact that Chelsea particularly had a tainted history and a still urgent problem of racism. In contrast, what the UK press seemed really worried about was that UK modern football might be being portrayed as universally racist – and this didn’t seem to be the case. There was more of a sort of unsurprised reaction that this should come from Chelsea.

Terroism and satire, article inspired by Joe Sacco

On Friday the Guardian published a drawing by Joe Sacco, entitled ‘On Satire’, as a reaction to the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks, which really made me think. Above are two extracts from the drawing.

My initial reaction, and I think the reaction of the vast majority of people, to the news that key members of Charlie Hebdo had been murdered, was one of sickened horror. How could such an act of barbarism happen, and who could take such serious offense against these, in some cases, elderly men (and one woman) who picked up their pencils to mercilessly satirise the modern world. I thought to myself, who actually takes satire seriously? One of the wonderful things about satire in the form of drawings is that is very quickly gets to the heart of the matter, often in an incisive, snide, irreverent, cheeky, politically incorrect, joyful, cruel way. No-one is really exempt from being targeted occasionally.  Satire has a very healthy dose of a lack of respect for authority, which is very important to be exposed to from time to time.

Even though I am a committed Francophile, I can never really make up my mind about what I think about France’s so-called republican values.  This may be because I have been brought up in a country where the ideal of the state is no-where near as prevalent as it is in France, and the Prime Minister doesn’t have nearly as much power as France’s President does. Therefore, on the one hand, I thrill to the notion of Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité, on the other hand I feel that in real life these values are maintained at a very utopian level, and are not necessarily felt in everyday life. Yet, the attack on Charlie Hebdo was extremely clearly an attack on republican values. Freedom of speech, or perhaps more accurately, freedom to draw what you want, clearly falls within these values, and this is what so offended the Kouchi brothers and their followers. I have been amazed and glad to see the mobilisation and the deep felt reaction across Europe to the massacre, as it would appear that these French values are appreciated by everyone, and that everyone, at an intellectual level, embraces them as European values. I must say, this was obviously an attack on France, but it resonates so much because it is also a two fingers up to the larger ideal of European democracy.

Yet with all these impassioned feelings of shock and horror, I still felt uneasy about the fact the European values, and French values, are also supposed to embrace Égalité. In some ways, Charlie Hebdo did address that, as it was blasphemous not only towards the Muslim faith, but also towards the larger Christian faith. As I said earlier, no-one was really exempt from its mockery. Yet, we have to admit that in this day and age, mocking Muslims is becoming quite dangerous. It is also mocking a faith whose vast majority are peaceful, law abiding citizens, trying to live normal lives under the scourge of a small minority of people. Actually, every time an attack is reported in the news where its author was Muslim, my respect for the Muslim faith grows as I wonder how hard it must be to continue to practice your faith peacefully and privately despite increasing levels of prejudice against it. After the attack, François Hollande made a point of saying that these attacks had nothing to do with the Muslim faith, and the brother of the Muslim policeman, Ahmed Merabet, who was killed has very recently spoken out to say that those who carried out the attacks were not members of, and therefore representative of, any religion. And of course, Charlie Hebdo was not meant to be taken seriously. But just because you say it’s a joke, does that mean that everything is ok? And whilst people might argue that Égalité is mocking both Muslims and Christians together, everyone probably also knows deep down that you can mock Christians without a huge amount of risk, yet if you mock Muslims you expose yourself to huge geopolitical tension, and you also hurt and offend a population that is very prevalent in France. To ask people to adhere to the value of Égalité, you must first demonstrate it yourself.

What the French thought about ‘The Interview’, Sony’s controversial film

Le Monde recently gave its opinion on The Interview, the Sony pictures film that has been at the centre of much recent controversy.

Sony took the decision last week not to release the film, after several cinemas refused to screen it, and it was revealed that North Korean hackers were behind the embarrassing slew of private emails from Sony employees released into the public domain.

After Barack Obama stepped in, and criticised Sony for giving in to pressure from North Korea, the film has been released online by Sony.

According to Le Monde, the film disappoints. Nevertheless, the expectation surrounding it was so high, this is no great surprise.

Seth Rogan has mastered the art of the bromance in past films, but this one feels like a rehash of the same formula that we’ve sat in front of many times before. Seth Rogan and James Franco, friends since childhood, present a television show that they discover Kim Jong-un loves. So, they decide to go an interview them. The omniscient CIA finds out about this, and slaps on them a mandate to kill Kim Jong-un while they’re at it.

Trouble awaits; one of the duo falls under Kim Jong-un’s charm, the other, under the charm of his Propaganda officer. However, they finally manage to destroy Kim Jong-un.

Le Monde is scathing about the quality of the film; the main characters are ‘idiotic’ and the toilet humour is repetitive. These are all prominent features of American comedy,  a formula that is starting to look tired, with jokes falling flat, and at best evoking boredom, at work, a suspicion of cynicism.

The film ends with the two men acclaimed by the CIA, and the whole of America, for having being able to destroy the tyrant Kim Jong-un. Before this, however, James Franco manages to accuse him of his crimes and lies, in a televised interview diffused to all of North Korea. This is supposed to show democracy at work. Le Monde is cynical about the fact that Sony must have known that this scene in particular would be controversial. It concludes by saying that the declarations that film makes about the importance of freedom of speech, and the ensuing supporting declarations made by Hollywood stars, politicians, even Barack Obama, once Sony announced it would release the film, are somewhat troubling.

Spaces of Freedom in the Islamic Republic of Iran


Wonderful article on spaces of freedom in Iran

Originally posted on jake threadgould:

Tour Guide


I was sat on a large wicker chair in the rooftop café at my hotel in Shiraz where, in keeping with the Shirazi tradition, a group of guys next to me were reciting poetry. The scented smoke of a bubbling qaylan pipe twisted and turned on the blue tarpaulin above. Downstairs, in the courtyard restaurant, the voices of men and women competed with a cross-legged Kurdish chap in the corner, playing a sitar. Tourists and local men alike pulled chairs up to the tables of young women to chat, safely hidden from the gaze of the authorities outside. Spaces such as that hotel provide an environment of freedom in Iran. In here a woman’s headscarf can teeter tantalisingly close to sliding down the nape of her neck. In here each drag of her cigarette flies in the face of that deeply held taboo. In here large, brown eyes wandered…

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The UK in the French news this week

Le Monde

This week Le Monde reported on the fact that Nigel Farage has advised UKIP party members not to use Twitter. They said that Nigel Farage’s warning came after a series of ‘severe misdemeanours’, making reference to Andre Lampitt’s recent remarks on Ed Miliband and African people. The new rules that UKIP has put in place for its members, forbidding them to use its logo on social media without express permission, were reported as being ‘draconian’. Le Monde also reported the dichotomy between UKIP maintaining that these rules had been put in place to clamp down on false UKIP twitter accounts, and the fact that Steve Crowther, UKIP secretary, said publicly that he himself had no Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, and that it was ‘lovely’.
Le Monde also picked up on the fact that this week Scotland Yard has announced that it is investigating claims that a paedophile group consisting of MPs and public figures existed in the 1980s to 1990s. The police is also investigation the possible death of three young boys in relation to this scandal, which Le Monde describes as ‘multiplying the scandals over the channel’. Le Monde mentioned the revelations that came to light last summer, where 140 dossiers supposedly containing information on sexual abuse of young boys disappeared. According to Le Monde, all of this recalls the widely impacting Savile scandal, revealed in 2011.
Also reported in Le Monde was appointment of Libby Lane as the Church of England’s first female bishop. Le Monde reports that this ends ‘centuries of masculine dominance in the clerical hierarchy’, and reminds that is 20 years since women were allowed to become priests, and that female priests now make up a third of the clergy. Female bishops will also now be allowed to enter in the House of Lords. However, Le Monde also picked up on the fact that the British press had pointed out that Libby Lane will probably not enter into the House of Lords, as she is head of a secondary parish, and not from either Southwell, Nottingham, Gloucester, Oxford or Newcastle.
Also covered by Le Monde was the announcement by Orange and Deutsche Telecom that they were planning to sell their UK operations, EE, and that BT was the likely acquirer. Orange is a French telecommunications group that until 2010 was one of the high street UK telecommunications brands, along with Vodaphone, 3 and O2. Le Monde reports that Orange would receive a cheque of 5.9 billion euros for the sale of EE. According to Le Monde, Orange’s principal motivation for the sale is that it needs money; it is buying the Spanish telecommunications group Jazztel for 4.3 billion euros. Orange also has debts of about 31 billion euros. Le Monde said that the management of Orange don’t see its retreat from the British market as a defeat, as EE detains 33% of the market share. However, in order to make savings, the merger with Deutsche Telecom, and the subsequent sale to BT means that Orange has now totally disappeared from the British market.

Le Figaro

This week Le Figaro published an Opinion Way poll that it had commissioned. This poll asked Europeans whether they would vote yes or no to their country staying in the European Union. The poll suggested that in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, the no vote could win. This recalls an article published by Le Figaro in May of this year, in which it reported that only 51% of French wanted France to stay in the European Union, in comparison to 67% ten years ago. 38% of French people oppose France being actively involved in the EU, as opposed to 25% ten years ago. Those who oppose European membership, or even a close alliance with Brussels, all cite unemployment, loss of benefits, a rise in the number of immigrants, and a loss of national identity and culture as being consequences of integration into the European Union.
Le Figaro wrote that Christmas sales in the UK have risen the highest amount this year since 1988, largely thanks to the American inspired ‘Black Friday’ phenomenon. The combination of Black Friday discounts and a general lowering of prices in the run up to Christmas have encouraged customers to go shopping or buy products on line. A few French stores, such as the home-wares shop Darty, and the bookshop Fnac have done the same in France, where it is seen as a very American import.
Also in Le Figaro this week was an article about the detainment of a young girl on a plane about to take off at Heathrow. The young girl was reportedly on her way to Syria to join the ranks of the Islamic State. It reported that she came from the ‘underprivileged’ area of Tower Hamlets, in London. The authrorities believe that more than 500 British men and women have left the UK in order to go and fight in Syria over the course of war, half of which have already come back to the UK.
The French energy group EDF is selling a large stake in three of its UK windmill parks in Newcastle, York and Peterborough to the Chinese company CGN, Le Figaro reported.

Human lives are at play, let’s not leave it too late

Translation of an article by William Lacy Swing, Director General of the Internal Organization for Migration,published in Le Monde on 16.12.14.

This year, more than 5,000 immigrants have perished worldwide whilst making dangerous journeys in the hope of finding security and a better life for their family. Out of this number, more than 3,000 have drowned in the Mediterranean trying to reach Europe on overcrowded boats. This is without counting the unknown numbers of those who have drowned out at sea.
These are the kinds of everyday tragedies that unfurl before our eyes, and which we process in a kind of quasi indifference. What efforts do we deploy to hunt down these traffickers? They profit from people’s desperation to rob them of considerable sums of money, in exchange for what often turns out to be a suicidal mission on boats that aren’t meant for the open sea.
We need to be reminded of the fact that all immigrants are human beings. They are not criminals. Their only wrongdoing is their wish to escape from a hellish situation. We hear right wing extremists talking about the invasion of immigrants from Eritrea, Sudan, Syria and Palestine who are fleeing dictators and extreme poverty and hunger.
Yet they are not as numerous as this would make out. What are 160,000 immigrants knocking at Europe’s door, when Europe itself counts 500 million people? Compare this to Libya, a country of 4.5 million habitants, which has given asylum to one million Syrian refugees. Italy showed great generosity in establishing Mare Nostrum, a rescue operation that saved 160,000 immigrant’s lives, with Italian coastguards patrolling the Mediterranean coast day and night, seven days a week, all year long.
Unfortunately, this operation has now come to an end. Can we really blame Italy for not wanting to shoulder the cost of an operation that cost 10 million euros a month? That being said, we desperately need sea rescue operations in place. Human lives are at play here. However, we are going more in the direction of controlling measures than rescue operations. Operation Triton, managed by Frontex, the European border control organization, is restricted as to where it can go within international waters, and does not have a huge amount of ships. It has admitted it doesn’t have the capacity to carry on where Mare Nostrum left off.
I don’t dare think of the mass sacrifice of life to which we could be witness to come the summer, when the good weather returns and migrants try once again to cross the Mediterranean, without significant rescue infrastructure in place.
Let’s not delude ourselves. Immigrants know the risks that they are taking. They know that they are risking their lives. But they do it out of desperation; one must be desperate in order put one’s wife and one’s children on these boats. Remember the emotion that the tragedy of the Vietnamese boat people caused? These modern day smugglers that have cold blood running through their veins can be compared to those ignominious pirates who presided over the Chinese seas.
But this despair is reinforced by an incredible will to live and a phenomenal desire to improve their situation – an energy which I remain convinced is something that European countries, in the middle of an economic crisis, would do well to take advantage of.
There is nothing more heartbreaking than those telephone calls, emails, and photos that I received from the relatives of those on the boat of 500 migrants, where only ten survived. They asked if their children, husbands, brothers, were in that ten. Whole families perished. They were engineers, young university students, doctors…
I am not preaching in favour of uncontrolled borders. But if legal immigration options were put in place, we wouldn’t see as many people risking their lives. If ambassadors put in place ways of applying for the right to asylum in the first countries in which immigrants arrive after having fled the war in their country, we wouldn’t have, for example, as many Syrians who have drowned in the sea this year.
I think that migration shouldn’t be seen as a problem, but an opportunity. Nowadays we live in a globalized world of which immigration is a product, and will continue to develop. With an aging population in the northern hemisphere, and an extremely young one in the southern hemisphere, we can’t hide the truth from ourselves. We are going to need each other.
It won’t be easy. But to refuse this reality is to actively encourage social problems. It is a challenge to take up. Politicians need to roll up their sleeves and take on an issue that is far from being popular in times of economic crisis. But, we don’t have the choice. Let’s not leave it too late.

William Lacy Swing