The Turn of France, Colltalers
If a country has exercised such a cultural sway over the U.S. throughout the centuries, it’s been France. A hundred years ago, Paris, still called then the City of Light, was refuge and headquarters of an engaged generation of American artists, who melded revolutionary ideals into their work.
So it’s very disturbing to see the turnaround happening to France in the past several years, that has seen a rise in anti-Semitism, along with a political-motivated exasperation with foreigns in general, and blacks and arabs, via former colonies in Africa and the Middle East, in particular.
Even though Americans per se are not considered immigrants, but go by the euphemistic ‘expatriates,’ it’s not lost to anyone how this repeal of the ‘other’ has spread out to immigrants, and its similarities with cultural stereotypes born and bred in America that may be used as reference points.
France is not alone in sharing this xenophobic wave with most of Western Europe, where once again, the politics of the day has conspired to blame immigrants for the woes of their misguided economic policies. Chief among the scapegoats, of course, are the Jews and the Roma.
They represent ethnic brackets, from top to bottom of the social spectrum, with a world of diversity, multiculturalism, fractioned faiths, and traces of tribal and medieval religions in between. In the background, sits French military past as one of the world’s mightiest colonial superpowers.
It all coalesced during the 20th century, when most of those former subjugated nations came into their own, through wars of independence, and were able to exercise their right to become second-class citizens in the land of their former oppressors, with whom they share language and culture.
The culmination of the kind of ideological wars waged by conflicting political directions, with liberals, minorities, students and workers allied and doing battle against forces of the establishment and the military, happened during the great global mass movements for peace of the 1960s.
Art has been an integral part of this process, with esthetics movements closely tracking the two world wars. Careers were forged and challenged in tandem to artists’ political allegiances. Sadly, one can argue that there’s been virtually no comparable generation or movement like that, today.
Or rather, just last week, America and the world have lost one of the few enduring figures of that same spirit, the great Pete Seeger, an avowed Francophile, who consistently incorporated into his music some of the main ideas dear to the global labor, democracy and libertarian movements.
He was one of millions of Americans, who grew up infused of the ‘liberté, egalité, fraternité’ principles of the French Revolution, which predates the American in many ways, despite the tragic Reign of Terror that followed, and of course, the stains left by the Pétain regime during the WWII.
One such way was the abolition of slavery in 1794, 220 years ago tomorrow, and a full 71 years before the U.S. could get together and end its own ‘reign of terror,’ the Civil War, in 1865. Not to put a figure in spilled blood, but while some 60 thousand French men and women died during the carnage of the post-French Revolution year, they were but a 10 percent fraction of the over 600 thousand Americans who perished in the 4-year war.
It’s arguable that our own, contemporary terrors are comparable to anything that has happened centuries ago, but the scenes of the mass anti-Semitic rallies held in Paris last week, on the eve of the Holocaust International Day, no less, were nothing short of chilling and deeply disturbing.
Anti-Jewish sentiment has been boiling for a while, and France has achieved a dubious recognition as a fertile ground for Holocaust deniers, even more so than contemporary Germany, where at least there’s a conscious, nationwide effort to soberingly remember what has happened.
Those deniers were in full regalia and huge numbers at the rallies, shouting their usual, and nauseating, litany of slurs and lies about one of the most documented events in mass extermination ever. Not one of the despicable ethnical cleansing that goes on periodically around the world, has been so scrutinized, regardless if it can even be compared to the magnitude in numbers and methodical execution by so many of the Holocaust.
But hatred is not interested in facts, and, like Nazi Germany, this is not a faceless movement either. French society has as much responsibility in the increased intolerance as had its counterpart in Germany during war, and France’s political parties, in special, have perhaps the most to answer.
In fact, the birthplace of sublime cultural and culinary traditions, has been particularly unluckily served by a succession of governments of late, that have all excelled in mediocrity and lack of vision, and depressingly mismanaged such a complex nation in the midst of a transitional turmoil.
But the task of conducting the destiny of a nation can hardly rest solely on its elected officials. Once again, it’ll be up to progressive and traditionally liberal strains of France’s society the task to counter this rise of ethnical obscurantism that’s felled so many countries before.
In the particularly case of persecution of Jews, we should consider ourselves warned, knowing full well where that kind of trend can lead. The Israeli quagmire towards the Palestinian people notwithstanding, everyone must be against any sort of justification used to go after Jews.
Those rallying in Europe against whoever is considered ‘not European enough,’ would certainly single Palestinians out too and even poor Americans, if they would, in a completely bizarre instance, take the reversed route of immigration to this country, and board ships to Europe.
It’s not going to happen, of course, but what is already happening, can’t continue either. It may take a brotherhood of man, no country divide possible. And as the great Seeger once sang, ‘I’d hammer out a warning, I’d hammer out love between my brothers and my sisters all over this land.’
Before we go, just a word of condolences to the family of yet another great who’s just left us, with still so much to give, as news about the untimely death of Philip Seymour Hoffman reached us. We so wish naively that his passing would be just a reminder of the greatness any human being can achieve, instead of being made into a tabloid preachy circus and another salaciously empty exercise of intolerance. Have a great February. WC