Jewish World Review April 22, 2002/ 20 Nisan, 5763
The hurt feelings of our Froggie pals
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | ARLES, France You know the world is turned upside down, so the popular jest goes, when the top rapper is a white boy, the best golfer is black, the Germans "don't want to study war no more," the Russians want to play kind and gentle, the Chinese are offended by diplomatic rudeness, and the French complain about arrogance.
But it's not just about arrogance. The French, as dozens of them demonstrated to me during my week of ranging across the glorious spring-struck Gallic countryside by river and rail, have suffered grievous war wounds. We've hurt their feelings.
"I don't understand it," said a distinguished physician, turning to me at a Paris dinner party. She had tears in her voice if not in her big brown eyes. "I just don't know what we've done to deserve this. Pouring out good wine to make a political point, calling french fries 'freedom fries.' It's not like we've taken Saddam Hussein as a lover. We thought we and the Americans were friends."
Friends or lovers, the relationship is strained, but once beyond the circle of officialdom and the chattering class, a visitor has to search for harsh words, hateful glances and clever insults. A little unimaginative graffiti ("USA = Terrorists"), as on the Rhone riverfront here in Arles where Vincent van Gogh cut off his ear and inspired a Van Gogh-exploitation industry, is about the only evidence of anger an American visitor is likely to find.
Nevertheless, watching the climb-down of Jacques Chirac and listening to the uncertain voices in the din of the chattering class is bracing entertainment for an American. M. Chirac's famous telephone call to George W. Bush was widely remarked here, and grudgingly praised as the humiliating gesture necessary to start putting the past into the past. Or so they hope. If there's scant evidence of French anger at "les Anglo-Saxons," there's even less understanding of the depth of American and British fury. It's bad French luck that the Gallic inventory of insults has no equivalent of "cheese-eating surrender monkeys." (But better to be a cheese-eating surrender monkey, grumbles a German businessman in a sidewalk café opposite the old hospital where Van Gogh's ear was patched up, "than to be called a 'peace Nazi.' ")
The French newspapers, which reflected the dismay of the French public as "les Anglo-Saxons" fired up their machines of war, reflected sober second thoughts as the Americans and British sacked up Basra and bagged Baghdad in 21 days with a remarkably small expenditure of blood, either of their own or of the Iraqi civilians. "The Americans have won the war," conceded the right-wing Le Figaro, "and in only three weeks. It is a victory for George Bush." Le Monde, stylishly leftist, finally conceded that Saddam was a monster ("The dictator who terrorized Iraq"), and like much of the French media was suddenly eager to detail the coarse cruelty and inventive depravity of the regime that M. Chirac and his odious foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, defended so resolutely only a month ago.
"The French are discovering the truth," says Francois Gere of the Institute of Diplomacy and Defense, "and that the coalition was efficient." Philippe Moreau Defarges, an analyst at the Institute of International Relations in Paris, agrees, sort of, as if he were discussing a particularly stinky cheese: "We are starting to hear a more dissonant voice in France. The U.S. victory has made the debate more complex."
Well, maybe not quite as complex as a stinky cheese.
Philippe Seguin, a former president of the National Assembly, demands a more virile Frenchman to stand up to "les Anglo-Saxons." M. Chirac's opposition to the liberation of Iraq was something "of which we were all so proud," he wrote in Le Monde, and France had not "come to the bank of the Rubicon in order to go fishing."
What the French obviously want, with passionate desperation, is for conflict with the Islamic world to go away, if only for a while. (After that their grandchildren can worry about it.) The Islamic world is not an abstraction somewhere else, but real and right here. Muslims are approaching 10 percent of the French population of 60 million, and everybody is running scared. Islam is the second religion already, not far behind practicing Catholics in numbers and far ahead of the Protestants and the Jews. "The pessimists among us predict that France will be an Islamic nation sometime this century," a professor of law tells me. "The optimists say no, it will require a full hundred years."
Only this week, the French interior minister insisted that Muslim women must take off their veils to be photographed for the national identity cards that all French citizens are required to carry. He noted that Catholic nuns uncover their heads willingly. Muslim imams said nothing doing. Since "the veil is what makes Muslim women special," they're entitled to have only their veils photographed.
So the world is upside-down here, too. Righting it will
take a little time, even for les Anglo-Saxons.
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