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Jewish World Review July 31, 2003 / 2 Menachem-Av, 5763

Julia Gorin

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Pardon, they're French | As many sound and revealing theories as have been proposed over the past year to explain france's confounding geopolitical behavior, they've all missed something fundamental.

The country's less than Western, less than ally-like stances would have seemed less baffling if we hadn't started from a wrong premise: Namely, that france is a member of the civilized world.

Savages naturally gravitate toward savages. And they facilitate savagery everywhere while impeding nations that seek to minimize it.

How else to explain france's defiant feting and support of brutal regimes in the midst of the feasibility of their removal, as in Zimbabwe, Sudan and Iraq--even helping Iraqi officials escape to Cuba, according to a Geostrategy-Direct intelligence brief? Whatever economic benefits there may have been to france in its oil, arms and nuclear dealings with the Hussein government, they were secondary to the kinship france apparently felt for its bloodthirsty system. A kinship it apparently also felt for Libya, when in 1986 the french government wouldn't let our F-111 planes cross their air space to retaliate for Libya's role in a Berlin disco attack.

Why else would an old couple get beat up for protesting the Saddam Hussein posters and Iraqi flags that were a staple of french anti-war rallies , where young Jews were clobbered with iron bars? How else to explain french sympathy for the more barbaric of the two Semitic cousins, not to mention for Islamic rebels everywhere, most recently in the Ivory Coast? Sympathy that has been enabling acts of violence against the civilly more constructive cousin--so numerous as to leave the rest of Europe struggling to keep pace. Fittingly, france--where it is unsafe for a Jew to wear a skull cap--has been the European nation of choice for Muslim immigration, now six million strong there, and for Jewish emigration. Nor is it safe to be a woman in parts of france, such as the housing the government subsidizes for the fast-growing North African population, where often wives are beaten and girls are gang-raped, and where young women don't dare step out into the street alone.

There should be no mystery surrounding france's inability to forgive America for rescuing it from the Gestapo more than half a century ago. Today france is gleeful about its friendship with Germany, recently celebrating 40 years of German-french postwar reconciliation. Franco-German reunification has taken the form of standing together on everything from the Iraq war to forcing economy-crippling policies on current and future EU members. Most romantic, however, is the way this couple has been providing military intelligence to help Khartoum in its jihad of bombing, starving and enslaving the black non-Muslim Southern Sudanese, as well as providing helicopters to help ethnically cleanse this population from oil fields in which a french oil firm and a German engineering corporation are invested. The mostly child and female slaves, meanwhile, are regularly beaten, raped, circumcised, racially slurred and converted.

France has a natural affinity for any and all of the globe's uncivilized elements. The more primitive, the better to define one's own deviancy down--a deviancy that once prompted Mark Twain to observe, "In certain public indecencies the difference between a dog & a frenchman is not perceptible." Which would explain why dogs are allowed in restaurants in france.

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We are, after all, talking about a nation of lovers and not fighters, where the m.o. is essentially "Give me liberty or give me tyranny. Just so long as I can still have sex." A species that isn't even bipedal most of the time, the french will side with a beastly hegemon if it will prolong their time on this earth for sex by one more day.

But then how does one account for all the charming, elegant french culture--the art, the wine, the cheese, the language, the pastries--those qualities that have made france what to the world appears to be a bulwark of civilization? My uncle, an Israeli composer, answered that question when he invited my husband and me to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and I answered, "We're low-class. We don't go to museums."

He replied, "We're also low-class. That's why we go to museums."

Connoisseurship is indeed a brilliant cloak for depravity: don a lofty external disguise to mask a degraded internal character. Let's recall that the most dehumanizing event in modern history, the Holocaust--with its massacres and incinerations--was set to classical music and fine dining. Similarly, anything the french do is considered artful, including designing the guillotine, which turned "beheading into an art form," as an ad for a guillotine-style cigar cutter read in a Sky Mall catalogue.

The guillotine artisans, meanwhile, perpetually pride themselves in having abolished the "barbaric" death penalty. Kill their killers they won't, but handing over 10,000 citizens for the gas chambers was never an issue. The french even managed to innovate in animal cruelty. The popular dish Foie Gras is liver from a goose that has been mechanically force-fed to make its liver work overtime and become soft and fatty. And last April, top Paris restaurant La Tour d'Argent celebrated its one millionth eight-week-old duckling to be strangled, crushed and cooked in its own blood, then served with a souvenir numbered tag. On the triumphant day the restaurant owner reportedly remarked, "If for the chef each dish is a work of art, for me, it's...the return of a happy moment....There is nothing more serious than pleasure."

More recently, it was french Foreign Affairs Minister Dominique de Villepin who couldn't answer the question of whom he would rather see win the war--America or Iraq--but did publish an 800-page book of poetry. This poet calls Hamas a vital player in any Middle East peace process.

Always on the opposing side of civilization and on the cutting edge of degenerateness, the french are pioneers in decadence. What was the first place child rapist Roman Polanski thought to go where he could thrive in exile? France, of course, where art redeems all. And who better to land the gig promoting france and french products than Polanski's kindred spirit here, Woody Allen? Such men have called America "puritanical." Which must be the french understanding of the word "moral."

Indeed, many look to Europe, and france in particular, as a place where there are no sexual "hang-ups" like Americans have, where sexuality is more "open" and where they would laugh at the recent Abercrombie and Fitch nude catalogue scandal, because billboard advertisements in Europe leave nothing to the imagination.

In france, even a transit strike is sexual. The following from E! Online on a 2003 release called "Friday Night": "It's a Friday night in Paris in 1995, and Laure has plans to have dinner with her friends before starting the process of moving in with her lover. Once she gets out into the city, however, she soon realizes that the city is in the midst of a transit strike, and she is stuck in a massive traffic jam... and soon finds herself approached by a stranger with an offer to carpool that leads to a night of erotic passion."

Consider the book that was a 2001 bestseller in france, The Sexual Life of Catherine M, (Grove Press), the true-life memoir of Parisian editor and art critic Catherine Millet who "loves penises," as the June 2002 review in Elle Magazine reads.

In one scene, writes reviewer Will Blythe, "an entire caravan of cars gets lost on its way to an outdoor orgy at a sports stadium." At another point in the book, Millet writes: "'In the bigger orgies...there could be up to about 150 people...and I would take on the organs of around a quarter or a fifth of them in all the available ways.'"

In france, such a book is not categorized as pornographic. The reviewer's assessment: "This is such a deeply considered and coolheaded anatomy of erotic behavior that even the most frenzied of couplings are turned into acts of cerebration, into warm-bodied theories and abstractions very much in the french tradition of writers such as Georges Bataille and Michael Foucault….[Millet] answers for her particular enthusiasms with a grace and a curiosity that are far more winning than the common American gambit of presenting one's pathology and the struggle with it as way stations on the road to salvation."

Remorse and salvation. Those Americans are so gauche.

In fact, whenever the gauche American conscience wrestles with the introduction into our society of some risqué new practice, procedure or product--such as lowering the legal age of consent, installing condom machines in schools, approving RU-486 and dispensing it in schools--proponents always reason, "The french have been doing it for years!" (It's no accident that the other name for Syphilis is "The French Disease.")

Yet in Paris, where they speak in soft tones and posture demurely, they bristle when the gregarious, high-decibel American approaches with a question, and pretend they don't understand English.

To the french, the sight--or worse--the sound of an American is much more disturbing than a square that fills with she-males who "work the avenue aggressively, ignoring police and the heavy gazes of tourists," as journalist Andrew Baker writes in a 2000 New York Press article about his experience of Paris--a loose city, where you can buy dope and hookers at coffee shops, then get free treatment for VD at the clinic.

Now we know why in America, when someone accidentally uses a four-letter word in the presence of a child, he or she hastily adds, "Pardon my French."

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