French leftist writes ‘A letter to my British friends’

January 12, 2015 at 6:40 pm (anti-fascism, democracy, Europe, France, Free Speech, left, posted by JD, republicanism, satire, secularism, solidarity, terror)


From Mediapart, 11 January 2015:

By Olivier Tonneau.

Dear Friends,

Three days ago, a horrid assault was perpetrated against the French weekly Charlie Hebdo, who had published caricatures of Mohamed, by men who screamed that they had “avenged the prophet”.

A wave of compassion followed but apparently died shortly afterward and all sorts of criticism started pouring down the web against Charlie Hebdo, who was described as islamophobic, racist and even sexist. Countless other comments stated that Muslims were being ostracized and finger-pointed. In the background lurked a view of France founded upon the “myth” of laïcité, defined as the strict restriction of religion to the private sphere, but rampantly islamophobic – with passing reference to the law banning the integral veil. One friend even mentioned a division of the French left on a presumed “Muslim question”.

As a Frenchman and a radical left militant at home and here in UK, I was puzzled and even shocked by these comments and would like, therefore, to give you a clear exposition of what my left-wing French position is on these matters.

Firstly, a few words on Charlie Hebdo, which was often “analyzed” in the British press on the sole basis, apparently, of a few selected cartoons. It might be worth knowing that the main target of Charlie Hebdo was the Front National and the Le Pen family. Next came crooks of all sorts, including bosses and politicians (incidentally, one of the victims of the shooting was an economist who ran a weekly column on the disasters caused by austerity policies in Greece).  Finally, Charlie Hebdo was an opponent of all forms of organized religions, in the old-school anarchist sense: Ni Dieu, ni maître! They ridiculed the pope, orthodox Jews and Muslims in equal measure and with the same biting tone. They took ferocious stances against the bombings of Gaza.

Even if their sense of humour was apparently inacceptable to English minds, please take my word for it: it fell well within the French tradition of satire – and after all was only intended for a French audience. It is only by reading or seeing it out of context that some cartoons appear as racist or islamophobic.

Charlie Hebdo also continuously denounced the pledge of minorities and campaigned relentlessly for all illegal immigrants to be given permanent right of stay. I hope this helps you understand that if you belong to the radical left, you have lost precious friends and allies.

This being clear, the attack becomes all the more tragic and absurd: two young French Muslims of Arab descent have not assaulted the numerous extreme-right wing newspapers that exist in France (Minute, Valeurs Actuelles) who ceaselessly amalgamate Arabs, Muslims and fundamentalists, but the very newspaper that did the most to fight racism. And to me, the one question that this specific event raises is: how could these youth ever come to this level of confusion and madness? What feeds into fundamentalist fury? How can we fight it? I think it would be scandalous to answer that Charlie Hebdo was in any way the cause of its own demise. It is true that some Muslims took offence at some of Charlie’s cartoons. Imams wrote in criticism of them. But the same Imams were on TV after the tragedy, expressing their horror and reminding everyone that words should be fought with words, and urging Muslims to attend Sunday’s rally in homage to Charlie Hebdo. As a militant in a party that is routinely vilified in the press, I don’t go shoot down the journalists whose words or pictures trigger my anger. It is a necessary consequence of freedom of expression that people might be offended by what you express: so what? Nobody dies of an offence.

Of course, freedom of speech has its limits. I was astonished to read from one of you that UK, as opposed to France, had laws forbidding incitement to racial hatred. Was it Charlie’s cartoons that convinced him that France had no such laws? Be reassured: it does. Only we do not conflate religion and race. We are the country of Voltaire and Diderot: religion is fair game. Atheists can point out its ridicules, and believers have to learn to take a joke and a pun. They are welcome to drown us in return with sermons about the superficiality of our materialistic, hedonistic lifestyles. I like it that way. Of course, the day when everybody confuses “Arab” with “Muslim” and “Muslim” with “fundamentalist”, then any criticism of the latter will backfire on the former. That is why we must keep the distinctions clear.

And to keep these distinctions clear, we must begin by facing the fact that fundamentalism is growing dangerously and killing viciously. Among its victims, the large majority are Muslims who would surely not want to be confused with their killers. So I return now to the question: what is the cause of the rise of fundamentalism?

A friend told me that it was “the West bombing Muslim countries”. I am deeply suspicious of a statement that includes two sweeping generalizations and is reminiscent of Samuel Huntington’s theory of the “clash of civilizations”: the western world vs. the Muslim world. The only difference between George W. Bush and a leftwing stance would be that whilst Bush sided with the western world, the leftwing activist sides with the Muslim world. But to reverse Huntington’s view is a perverse way of confirming it. So let us try to address the issue otherwise.

It is obvious that the rise of fundamentalism is intertwined with the complex series of tragedies that unfolded from colonialism to the present times, including the Israel/Palestine conflict. Yet I think we should recognize one thing. Just as the Christian religion caused an enormous lot of problems in the West for centuries, problems which were not always peacefully resolved, Islam has caused enormous problems in the Muslim world to a lot of people, too. Anywhere in the world, the space for individual rights has always had to be opened by rolling back religion a few miles. And this is something that the Muslim world has begun doing as early as the nineteenth-century, with difficulties not dissimilar to those experienced in the Christian world – for those who would like to explore the parallel, I recommend reading Sami Zubaida’s excellent book Beyond Islam.

Few people even know today that there was a period, beginning in the mid-ninetieth century to the mid-twentieth century, called the Nadha (Rebirth, or Renaissance), which saw a wide-ranging process of secularisation from Morocco to Turkey. Few people care to remember that, in the 1950s and 60s, women wearing the veil were a small minority in Tunis, Algiers and even Cairo. This does not mean that they were not Muslims, mind you. Just as in the West, where a lot of Christian girls started having sex before marriage or taking the pill, principles were evolving, with some inevitable tensions.

Much as it offends the Edward Saïd vision of cultures as bound to devour or be devoured, the Nadha was fuelled by ideas developed by European thinkers and enthusiastically endorsed by local students and intelligentsia – and before you accuse me of Western paternalism, let me stress two things. First, “ideas developed by European thinkers” are not “western ideas”. The anti-colonial movement referred to Marx, Freud and Robespierre, who had – and still have – fierce critics in the West. Second, at the very same time as the anti-colonial movement was drawing inspiration from the history of struggles in Europe, Claude Levy-Strauss was transforming the Western understanding of civilization by studying other cultures, just as Leibniz had extensively studied Chinese language, law and politics in his quest for Enlightenment. Peoples are neither homogeneous nor self-enclosed units: within peoples, people organize themselves and oppose themselves around principles and ideas.

It is on the ashes of the Nadha that fundamentalism as we know it emerged. I say “emerged”, because we should not be fooled by the fundamentalists who claim to restore Islam in its original purity. The ideology they promote – literal, violent, legalistic, narrow-minded, other-worldly – is a radical novelty in the history of Islam. It is the dramatic perversion of a culture. So how did such a perversion take place? This is where the story gets complex – more complex than that of the West vs. the Muslim world.

Anti-colonial movements in France’s former colonial empire (in Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco but also in Egypt) were secular (which of course does not mean that their members were atheists): they intended to create modern nation-states independent from the tutelage of Western exploiters. Thus in Algeria, the Front de Libération Nationale was fighting for the creation of a Democratic And Popular State of Algeria (note the distinctly communist touch). Yet the chaos that emerged during and after independence wars (for which the West clearly has a serious responsibility) provided an excellent opportunity for fanatics of all sorts, who had deeply resented the evolution of their countries, to return to prominence with a vengeance. Thus in Algeria, an extremist wing that had already subverted the FLN during the war eventually came into power after decades of political and economic instability, only to unleash atrocious violence. I have friends of Algerian origins who deeply resent to this day the fundamentalists who robbed them of their secular state and persecuted them to the point that they eventually migrated to France. I am not an expert on “the Muslim world” – if such generalization even makes sense – but I think a similar sort of process took place in many other countries.

So France is home today to many Arabs, some of them Muslims, who were chased away from their home country by fundamentalists as early as the 1960s. They were exposed to racism of course, especially in the workplace – it’s the story that goes back to the Middle Ages of workers who fear the threat of outsiders – and also bullied by the police and treated like second-class citizens. They fought for equality and justice, with the support of many on the left of the political spectrum, for instance during the 1983 Marche des beurs. Believe it or not, none of the protagonists of the march were making religious claims; they were not walking as Muslims but as French citizens who demanded that France truly provides them with Liberté, Egalité and Fraternité.

The spirit of the Marche des beurs is that of Charlie Hebdo: justice for all citizens, including migrants and minorities. Now let me fast forward. Last year, a film was produced, commemorating La Marche des beurs. The producers asked famous rappers to collectively record a promotional number. One of the rappers threw in the verse: “I demand a Fatwa on the dogs at Charlie Hebdo”. He also contrasted “our virtuous veiled girls” with “the make-up wearing sluts”. Yet there were many women in the Marche; none of them were taking a religious stance and few of them were wearing the veil. How could a secular movement for equality be rewritten in religious terms? This raises the question of the rise of fundamentalism in France.

Let us be clear: fundamentalism is not caused by immigration from Muslim countries. It is very easy to demonstrate this: Muslims migrated in France as early as the 1950s and the issue of fundamentalism only arose in the last fifteen years. Moreover, among the young men who enlist to fight for Daesh, many are actually disenfranchised white youth with no familial links to Islam. Fundamentalism is something new, that exercises a fascination on disenfranchised French youth in general – not on Muslims in general. In fact, the older generation of French Muslims is terrified by the phenomenon. After the killing of Charlie Hebdo, Imams demanded that the government take action against websites and networks propagating fanaticism.

That the emergence of fundamentalism is posing serious problems to Arabs also sheds an interesting light on the law banning the hijab – a law that is routinely mentioned as a proof of France’s anti-Muslim bias. I do not have a definite opinion on this law. I was, however, stunned when I read a very angry article by a writer I admire, Mohamed Kacimi. The son of an Algerian Imam, deeply attached to his Muslim culture yet also fiercely attached to secularism, Mohamed Kacimi lashed out angrily at white, middle-class opponents of the law, who focused on the freedom of Muslim women to dress as they please. They were not the ones, he said, who had their daughters in the suburbs called prostitutes, bullied and sometimes raped for the sole reason that they chose not to wear the veil – let us remember that many Muslim women do not consider wearing the veil as compulsory: again, we have here Muslims being persecuted by fundamentalists.

France has a long tradition of secular Islam, fully compatible with the laws of the Republic, but at war with fundamentalists. In the nineties, the Paris Imam was shot by fanatics whose violence he denounced; more recently, the Imam of Drancy, who expressed displeasure with Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons but firmly denounced the fatwa issued against them by Al Qaida, was himself condemned to death by the terrorist organization and is living under the protection of the police. So the question is: how has a fraction of the French youth (of either white, black or Arabic origin) become so responsive to fundamentalism? The answer to this question cannot be directly traced back to “the West bombing Muslim countries”. I think it has primarily to do with the complete failure of the Republic to deliver on its promises of Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité. Here, there is an important point to make.

I often read in the English press, or hear from British friends, that French laïcité is a “foundational myth” – as if France lived under the illusion that religion could be eradicated once and for all. This has nothing to do with laïcité properly defined. Laïcité does not deny anybody the right to express their religious beliefs, but it aims to found society on a political contract that transcends religious beliefs which, as a result, become mere private affairs. The beurs who marched on Paris in 1983 were performing a laïc demonstration. They were not the only ones to demand that the Republic be true to its own principles. In a beautiful book titled La Démocratie de l’Abstention, two sociologists trace the heartbreaking story (at least it breaks my republican heart*) of how the French citizens who arrived from the former colonies vote massively: they are proud of their right to participate in democracy. They try to convince their children to do the same; but the latter are not interested. Decades of social segregation and economic discrimination has made it clear to them that the word ‘French’ on their passport is meaningless – there is no equality, no freedom and clearly no fraternity.

The process of disenfranchisement was gradual. Riots in the banlieues started erupting at the turn of the eighties, and gathered pace in the nineties. They had no religious subtext: they were expressions of anger at discrimination and police harassment. Yet the need to belong is a fundamental human need: if French youth of Arab descent could not feel that they belonged to France, what would they belong to? La Démocratie de l’abstention describes how the conflict between Israel and Palestine – which had been going on for decades already – suddenly caught the imagination of the youth: it was their Vietnam, their cause. They had found their brothers overseas. When, in the 2009 European elections, a bunch of crazed conspiracy theorists launched an anti-Semitic party which had strictly nothing to do with Europe or with the issues that these youth faced, they registered high votes in many suburbs. And as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict itself degenerated from a political conflict into a religious conflict, so did the French youth begin to read the world in religious terms.

Youth is the age of self-sacrifice and revolutionary dreams. In the sixties, young middle class Frenchmen who felt alienated from their conservative milieu idolized Mao’s cultural revolution – no less nihilist than Islamic fundamentalism –, dreamed of throwing bombs and sometimes did so. But this case is different. The middle-class Maoists belonged to a privileged class. They were highly educated. They had the intellectual, economic and social means to move out of their nihilist craze and back into the world. The disenfranchised, ostracized youth are an easy target for indoctrinators of all sorts. Their world-view becoming ever more schematic, they endorsed a West Vs Muslim grid that apparently made some of them incapable of recognizing that a newspaper such as Charlie Hebdo, who was standing with Palestine, for ethnic minorities, for equal rights and justice, was on their side – a precious ally: the sole fact that Charlie Hebdo had poked fun at their faith was enough to make them worthy of death.

And yet perhaps this narrative (which, be reassured, is nearing its end) helps you understand what Charlie Hebdo was trying to do. It was precisely trying to defend the republican ideals whereby it is not religion that determines your commitments but justice. It mocked not the religion that Muslims have quietly inherited from their fathers and forefathers, but the aggressive fundamentalism that demands that everybody defines themselves – ethically, politically, geographically – in religious terms. It stressed that a religion that lays a claim to ruling a society is dangerous and, yes, ridiculous, whichever religion it may be – Islam is no sacred cow.

To conclude. I firmly condemn the bombing of Middle-Eastern countries (or any country for that matter) by Western governments. I vote for political parties that condemn it, and I demonstrate against it. I was shocked when such demonstrations were outlawed by the French government – but happy when the same government recognized the Palestinian state. In these demonstrations, I walk with people of all colours, origins and religious creed – we take a political, not a religious stand. And I despair to think that a fraction of the population of my country refuses to regard me as their ally because I am no friend of religions. Being aware of the root causes of the madness that took hold of these young people, I detest politicians who have done nothing to resolve the deliquescence of the banlieues, to fight routine discrimination and control police persecutions. These issues play as big a part in my view in the rise of fundamentalism in the French youth as do events in the Middle East; that is why, had I been in France today, I do not know if I would have wanted to march together with Angela Merkel and David Cameron – much less with Netanyahu and outright Nazis such as Viktor Orban.

This is the difficult argument I am having with my French friends: we are all aware of the fact that the attack on Charlie Hebdo will be exploited by the Far right, and that our government will use it as an opportunity to create a false unanimity within a deeply divided society. We have already heard the prime minister Manuel Valls announce that France was “at war with Terror” – and it horrifies me to recognize the words used by George W. Bush. We are all trying to find the narrow path – defending the Republic against the twin threats of fundamentalism and fascism (and fundamentalism is a form of fascism). But I still believe that the best way to do this is to fight for our Republican ideals. Equality is meaningless in times of austerity. Liberty is but hypocrisy when elements of the French population are being routinely discriminated. But fraternity is lost when religion trumps politics as the structuring principle of a society. Charlie Hebdo promoted equality, liberty and fraternity – they were part of the solution, not the problem.

With all best wishes, Olivier

* It was pointed out to me that, should this article be read by American friends, my use of “republican” might be misleading. By “republican”, I do not mean anything to do with the North American party; I use the term in its French sense – the “république” referring to a secular and democratic Res Publica.


  1. Barry Finger said,

    Great post, Jim. Thanks for broadening its viewership. Another good clarification of left blindspots:

  2. ilfiumeoretome said,

    I don’t like it.
    First, he states he doesn’t like the scheme “West vs Muslim World” and then he uses this scheme and the world “West” for all the article. Biased.
    Then, while I agree with lots of his statements, he is too poorly educated on Islam: drawing the Prophet it’s NOT like drawing saints or Christs: It is unacceptable the drawing, imagine drawing him in those fashions.
    He take pride in Voltaire, but Voltaire was also a strong antisemite: he fails to remember.
    Muslims in France are a minority; Charlie Hebdo are “middle class” white bourgesie. That’s the context in which this satire was developing.
    I am strongly opposing terrorism and war-like executions, but Charlie Hebdo was aware of the hate he was spewing towards the “disenfanchised and poor youth”.

    • Jim Denham said,

      Sorry, ilfiumeoretome : none of what you write makes sense. And why *should* us leftist atheists, waste our valuable time and take the trouble to educate ourselves on Islam – or on any other religion or superstition?

      • Glesga Keeping Scotland Free From Loonies said,

        The islamists have by demonstration over decades given us a fine education. The disenfranchised and the poor youth scenario is a red herring from the islamists. The working class of Britain during the poverty of the Industrial Revolution did nor go on a blood lust frenzy. This blood lust is a traditional practice in islamic history.

    • AlexC said,

      Excellent example of the “anything said before but” there, so you believe they deservered it, may your life be filled with misery and disappointment your terror excusing scumbag

      • ilfiumeoretome said,

        Don’t get me wrong, I am not excusing terror, I am condemning it. No kind of satire should suffer a rabid retaliation like this.
        What I’m trying to say is that if you want to write on a subject (i.e. Islam) you should know more about it.

  3. februarycallendar said,

    Very fine. Very fine.

  4. damon said,

    Very interesting. But would this guy be able to give a talk like this at a British university without attracting calls for him to be kept out?
    Because of the potential hurt or embarrassment caused to Muslim students. It would certainly be controversial anyway.
    The same with the new edition of Charlie Hebdo coming out on Wednesday.
    There is going to be an English edition, so I’d love to see what would happen if people were out on the street selling them. It would be banned from some university campuses I think.
    Would it be deemed too provocative to try to sell it areas where a lot of Muslims live?

  5. Mike Killingworth said,

    Excellent article – possibly the best thing I’ve read on this website! It is too easy to forget that Islam has a long history and a long reach and is far greater than what we Westerners nowadays tend to bring to mind.

    If I may, a quibble and a couple of thoughts. Quibble: Nobody dies of (taking) offence is a cultural particular: people often died of it in pre-modern societies – the Sanhedrin took offence at Jesus’s teachings and got the Romans to kill him. (There is a very good reason, Jim Denham, why atheists should study religion – it’s the same reason that a socialist activist should study the behaviour of capitalists.)

    Next: most Muslims in France are ethnically Arab. Most Muslims in the UK are not. And the UK, for better or worse, has a tradition of political gradualism that France lacks,

    Lastly: if words should be fought with words, what would we say to a demand (in either France or the UK) for Arabic to be made an official language? Surely we would rather see an “Islamic Party” of some sort that could channel the energies of disaffected Muslim youth, as opposed to their becoming terrorists – and it’s not too hard to imagine that demand being in its manifesto (along with tax credits for Muslims, I daresay). In other words, we need to think a little harder about what sort of politics we do approve of in western Muslims – we have to start from an acceptance that neither assimilation nor ghettoization are acceptable to Muslims in the West, and that they have a right to that view and to its political fulfilment.

    • Glesga Keeping Scotland Free From Loonies said,

      They do have a view and that is to spread islam by any means. The mistake made is we let them in to do this. Look what they do when they are a minority. I am convinced we are facing a bloodbath. As the MI6 muslim agent said they are only interested in the afterlife.

    • Jim Denham said,

      Mike, you are correct that I overstated my case when I wrote that studying religion is a waste of time for atheists. I supposed what I meant to say was along the lines of AC Grayling’s riposte to Terry Eagleton when the latter criticised Richard Dawkins for not having studied theology:

      “…when one rejects the premises of a set of views, it is a waste of one’s time to address what is built on those premises (LRB, 19 October). For example, if one concludes on the basis of rational investigation that one’s character and fate are not determined by the arrangement of the planets, stars and galaxies that can be seen from Earth, then one does not waste time comparing classic tropical astrology with sidereal astrology, or either with the Sarjatak system, or any of the three with any other construction placed on the ancient ignorances of our forefathers about the real nature of the heavenly bodies. Religion is exactly the same thing: it is the pre-scientific, rudimentary metaphysics of our forefathers, which (mainly through the natural gullibility of proselytised children, and tragically for the world) survives into the age in which I can send this letter by electronic means.”

  6. Andrew Coates said,

    This excellent article is now published on Comment is Free. Wonders will never cease.

  7. Glesga Keeping Scotland Free From Loonies said,

    This year is the 20th anniversary off the Paris Undergroud bombing and other islamic atrocities. Long before Iraq and Afghanistan. So what was their excuse!

  8. Rilke said,

    There is a telling point in this reasoned article. If activists of political Islam are ‘insulted’ or ‘offended’ by anti-Muslim propaganda then why not target the sources of his propaganda? In other words, why are these attacks always directed at the left or liberal or Western ‘decadents’ such as ‘shoppers’ or simple commuters. Why not an outright confrontation with the hard right or anti-Arab facists in France?
    The left needs to think long and hard about this question. Part of the answer resides in the extreme orthodoxy of the Jihadists who in fact admire much of exteme right wing ideology – the notion of the utlra tradional family, the cult of sacrifice, the name of the father, devotion to blood and honour, exhibitionist piety and so on. In other words, they share with the far right the basic idea that the ‘decadent’ Western left are the main ‘enemy’. I went to a ‘public’ meeting in Sheffield of young militant Islamists some years ago and was physically assaulted and threatened with ‘death’ for simply raising the question of the possible differences between a Muslim country like Turkey, and a Muslim ‘state’ such as Iran. They found this ‘insulting’!
    Second, weapons and equipment such as rocket grenade launchers, body armour and burst fire assault rifles such as those used by the attackers in Paris cannot be found lying around are in fact not that easy to use with any skill or accuracy. Those who are funding, training and directing these confused and disorientated people such as wealthy Whahabis and disgruntled petroleum magnate true believers also see the Western left and decadent liberal values as the enemy and not the hard right. In other words, these deadly assaults are not rooted truly in the ‘disenfranchisement’ and alienation of young Muslims but in extreme right wing ultra reactionary forces that are using, abusing and manipulating them. The left needs to understand this, as it implies that the older notions of the ‘disenfranchised outsider’ explanation does not apply in these cases.
    Third, it is actually a more direct ‘ terror’ assault in the true sense to target some unarmed unguarded journalists than to make an assualt on say a guarded Nato general or throw a bomb into the Czar’s carriage, as the former implies clearly that it is the general public body that is being assaulted and not the extreme ordering cohorts and strands of militrary or right wing ideology.
    The left better wake up and stop dreaming that the older easy concepts can be applied to these attacks and events, they cannot. These attacks are part of an attempt to reorder social and political life towards the extreme right and not away from it. Any person of the ‘left’ who dreams otherwise may as well commit suicide now because the extermination of the ‘left’ is exactly what these forces want.

    • damon said,

      Most people in Britain aren’t very up on what Rilke calls ”the hard right or anti-Arab facists in France?” Does that mean the Front National?
      Are they really fascist? I saw a couple of their election offices in the south of France during their elections last year and the people inside looked like normal French middle class professionals. It was a bit disconcerting as you expect them to look thugish.

      The FN were against mass immigration thirty years ago, and some of what they predicted has come to pass. Was it ”fascist” to be saying then that it might be very bad for France? When you see the trouble they have now, with the popularity of the likes of Dieudonné amongst the disaffected youth etc.

    • bruciebaby said,

      Spot on. The ideology of the fundamentalists is being consciously fostered by the Sunni monarchies as an instrument against nascent class movements in the middle east and as a counter-revolutionary force against the threat of a resurgence of the Arab revolution. They represent a very real danger to the working class especially in places like Turkey. They have many of the attributes of classical fascism including their medieval symbols. A real retrograde throwback unlike anything we’ve seen before. Literally the wrath of god which knows no boundaries and has no real strategic goal other than the eradication of apostasy by physical means.

  9. Andrew Coates said,

    Glesga is spot on. I suppose the StwC also blames the Algerian civil war and the GIA on the ‘West’.

  10. Rilke said,

    Your answer in the form of a question makes sense damon, I understand now. Jihadist death squads target leftists, marathon joggers, underground commuters and shopping mall shoppers rather than the extreme right or fascists because the former ‘look’ wrong. If the aforementioned habitual targets, including Jewish shop workers could just ‘look’ more like normal ‘middle class professionals’ rather than scruffy ‘Western’ liberal types, then the question as to why they are targeted would not arise.
    Damon, your comments have helped me understand why the moralist criticism of the Sixties was in some ways accurate; reality altering and mind-bending drugs are a terrible thing.

  11. damon said,

    Rilke, You’re reading far to much into what I actually said. My question was just, who are those fascists you mentioned?
    Were you talking about the FN?
    That’s all I was asking. I really don’t know much about them as I don’t speak French and I can’t find out that much about what they are actually like. Most stuff written about them in English will be by people who call them fascists.
    People even call Ukip that sometimes so you can’t just take people’s word for it. Is the FN fascist, and why is all I was asking.
    To be against more mass immigration is not fascist.
    To say that the banlieue are often in a shocking state does not make one a fascist either. Maybe a bit of a right winger perhaps.
    I don’t know this website very well, and maybe calling the likes of the FN fascist is just taken as given.

  12. Rilke said,

    I do not imply or intend ‘fascist’ as pertaining simply to right wing attitudes and opinions, but to organised and either actively or potentially violent extreme right political movements and parties such as FANE, PNFE, GUD, the Revolutionary National Grouping, the Revolutionary Social Movement, other various utlra nutcase groups based on rabid anti-Semitism and anti-Arab racism such as those nutters called something like the Breton People’s Workers Group or some such, there are others.

    • damon said,

      While I’m sure some of those French fascist groups you mention are pretty horrible and maybe violent – like the one that killed that young anti-fascist in 2013, most of the time they wouldn’t be of much bother to the young Arab men who seem to quite confidently walk the streets of most French cities and towns where many Arabs live.
      From what I’ve seen in France, it would be fascists who would be in more danger of getting a hiding in any town that has a sizable Arab population. Walk through a small French city in the evening and it’s often Arab guys who are hanging out publicly when most other people are in their homes.
      Travel around Paris on the metro and you’ll see tough gang-like groups of Arab young men quite often, but rarely any group of people who look like white hooligans/fascists.
      But that was just the observations of a tourist.

  13. Jim Denham said,

    • matthewblott said,

      Not surprised surely? The only surprise to me was that it took so long.

    • Mike Killingworth said,

      At least Milne accepts that nothing justifies these atrocities. Tariq Ali, on the other hand, calls >Charlie Hebdo “the representative of persecutors” and the gunmen “victims”. Further proof, if any were need to the readers of this blog, that Ali is what he always was – a spoiled brat.

      • Glesga Keeping Scotland Free From Loonies said,

        He was one of them socialists. eye like so many that made a living out of it.

  14. Rilke said,

    Damon, you write as a very strange ‘tourist’. I visit Paris often and generally stay at the Rue Wagram; there are some very fine restaurants around that quarter with excellent white wines and oysters. At other times when I am being paid to reside in Paris I stay on the Rue Roosevelt as there are some wonderful bars thereabout. I generally walk and take public transport as I am averse to automobiles and regard them as an abomination.
    So, as for your ‘tourist’ observations they strike me as utterly insincere and without foundation. In other words, rather than simply being in error, which would make you simply ignorant, you appear as a purveyor of lies and falsehoods which makes you a rather clumsy buffoon.
    Ponder thereon.

    • damon said,

      Rilke, this is an internet forum where most people don’t know each other personally. Unless you have strong grounds for saying someone is lying, just throwing out suggestions like that cheaply can make it really impossible to make the thing work.
      I’ve spent a couple of months in France in the last few years. I’m from south east England. It’s not such a far fetched thing to claim.
      Why you’re going on about wine and oysters I don’t know?
      I’m more of a baguette and a bit of cheese with a tomato on a street bench kind of guy myself, but I’d swap it for the oysters if I could afford it – what’s your point?

      While you’re swanning around having your oysters on Rue Wagram, I would rather get the Metro up to Saint-Denis and have a walk about up there. Go into the cathedral and compare that historical side of France to its present multicultural immigrant community reality.
      Then go from there on the tram through that north eastern slice of the suburbs to some RER station where it terminates.
      You see more in a couple of hours doing that than you will staying in fancy hotels and eating in expensive brasseries.

      It’s funny when you get called a liar for doing such routine things as getting on a tram and a metro. It happened when I used to comment on Harry’s Place too. A lot.

  15. Rilke said,

    I visited the south east of England as a tourist. All I observed were insipid lower middle class cynics, self-regarding fake gentry and groups of shallow and drink-sodden xenophobic lumpen. I did manage to take in couple of neglected but still wonderful late Anglo Saxon churches that prompted an inevitable contrast between the heroic and cultured past of that region and the shabby and degenerate condition of its present populace.
    Only the observations of a tourist of course, but nonetheless valid for that.

    • damon said,

      Hilarious? Is that what you think of your own post?
      OK so you’re a bit of a joker Rilke.
      You mentioned fascists and I asked who you meant.
      You gave the names of some groups I’ve never heard of and I guess that they’re pretty small and insignificant. Certainly not enough to bother any minority ethnic youth in French towns and cities where there are minority populations.

      You think it’s odd to travel outside the normal tourist places if you are visiting a place from overseas? I always tell visitors to London to get on a bus or tube out of the central ‘zone one’ area and go and see where ordinary Londoners actually live. Like Streatham for example. Or Tottenham or Newham. They’ll have a better idea then of what the city actually is, rather than spending all their time in the West End and Kensington and Chelsea.

      So I would definitely recommend a visit up to Saint-Denis, and do go and see the cathedral where several kings of France are burried.
      And then have a walk around the modern town. You may not get oysters, but you can get a good and cheap falafel or kebab. And croissants are three for a euro.

      You will of heard all the nonsense about ”no go zones” in both France and England. Birmingham is totally Muslim and non-muslims just don’t go there according to Fox News. For you to know how stupid that idea is, it helps if you know these places a bit.

      So I know the Barbes area in Paris and Belleville, and they are certainly not ”no go zones” like Fox has said. But they have their issues of poverty and exclusion. And I know that, because I’ve been to them. Several times.
      Outside the Barbes Rochechouart metro station, large groups of North African men gather, and many are selling anything they can make some money off. Belts, perfume, cigarettes, metro tickets (even bothering people using the ticket machines in the station). I don’t mean they have set up stalls and businesses, they are walking up to people going down the street and holding these things up in front of them. I guessed many were in the country illegally, so that was what was left for them to do to get some money.
      You don’t see much of that on Rue Wagram I presume.
      In the 19th and 20th arrondissements, one thing I did notice was that many of the cafes there were very much immigrant and ethnic minority people only. Not places for the middle class French you see eating in restaurants further south towards the centre. You can feel how things change as you walk north to the Gare du Nord. It just changes from being bourgeois to scruffy in only a couple of hundred metres.
      The 19th arrondissement being the place where some of the Charlie Hebdo killers hung out – and even trained in Buttes-Chaument park.
      That was a favourite park of mine because it’s hilly and has a high point in the middle of it which gives a great view.

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