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Alain Finkielkraut, France’s Peter Hitchins, elected to Académie française.

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Alain Finkielkraut a été élu à l'Académie française. Entre amour passionnel de la langue et de la littérature et une pensée qui s'est radicalisée, retour avec Jean Birnbaum du « Monde des livres » sur cette entrée polémique.

New Low for Académie française.

I suppose any institution claiming to represent the heights of French culture that includes  former French President and mediocrity Valéry Giscard d’Estaing (still, amazingly, alive, though it’s often hard to tell)  lacks, shall we say, all credibility.

But the election of Alain Finkielkraut to the “immortals” has introduced a new low.

Finkielkraut occupys the same place in French philosophy and culture, as, say, Peter Hitchins.

He began with some, middlebrow, writings in the tradition of Emmanuel Levinas. He celebrated Jewish culture and sometimes offered penetrating insights into post-Shoah Jewish identity. Some may admire his stand on the break up of Yugoslavia, where he was beside himself against Serbia. Fewer, perhaps,  would have admired  his close friendship with Croat leader, and Holocaust denier, Franjo Tuđman.

In recent years Finkielkraut has been distinguished by a relentless hatred of anything he believes threatens French identity.

If anybody wants to distinguish left-republican secularism from what Finkielkraut’s critics call his « républicano-communautariste » it is easy to do.

He explicitly attacks multiculturalism  from the right, offering only a tale of woe and decline faced with immigration and métissage (Mixing, cultural and ethnic). As one can imagine he has had the courage of those going with the grain of conservative prejudice to oppose “political correctness” – a term as wide as it is vacuous.

By contrast Jean-Luc Mélenchon has explicitly defended” ” métissage” as the basis for a new class unifying republican socialist  left.

Over the last year Finkielkraut has become even more obsessed – were it possible – with “l’identité française”.

He complains that France is an “auberge espagnole” (a pejorative term, in this context,  for a mixture of people living together)  in which the ethnically true French dare not speak out. (L’Identité malheureuse, d’Alain Finkielkraut. 2013)

Despite the occasional exalted language Finkielkraut resembles a Peter Hitchins, or a French version of Nigel Farage.

It is with no surprise that we learn that his election to the Académie française met opposition. The columnist scraped in with 16 votes out of the 28 members of the august body.

The ‘anti-Dieudonné’ Comedian Nicolas Bedos.

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Bedos: the Anti-Dieudonné.

The French Comedian Nicolas has been satirising Dieudonné .

He appeared in one-man show with a Hitler moustache in a parody of the racist bigot.

Nicolas has stated that his intention is to “Not leave Dieudonné with the monopoly of subversion, and  to remember that we can be provocative on the most sensitive issues without being oneself plagued by racism, misogyny, homophobia, etc.”

“For the most part, the pro-Dieudonné fans  are fragile, culturally and intellectually, socially vulnerable and shocked by the fate of Palestinians, hence the fantasy of some sort of Israeli-Jewish-American political-media-financial conspiracy: Dieudonné continues to feed this frenzy.”

Why embody a character in Arabic accent?

I mostly played simply a complete tosser. I knew very well in writing the sketch that people would see some housing estate  scum. But I play somebody who is above all a cretin, rather than because he is an Arab (slang rebeu).

We have to stop the hypocrisy: you only have to look at the public for the  shows Dieudo puts on to see that  a large majority are young people of immigrant origin, wounded by their situation, contempt for society, and indifference  to  Palestinian suffering.

I understand their anger, but I absolutely hate to see Dieudonné and Soral taking advantage of their plight for their own  narcissistic and financial reasons.”

Bedos  is opposed to a public ban on the anti-Semite’s shows.

“We have to fight against the tendency to legislate on artistic matters.

Dieudonné  is no longer an artist, he is a proselyte for the extreme right. But we should not forbid him from performing, that in itself expands and solidifies  his audience.

Dieudonné’s public only dreams of being stifled and muzzled, and this keeps them together.

If we talk about banning, why not ban  Marine Le Pen and the Front National”

(Adapted from Le Monde.)

In the past Bedos has also been in trouble because he criticised Israeli policies, attacked Sarkozy (« VRP cocaïné ») and has been fined for insulting the Police – amongst other controversies. 

Now he has received death threats.

For this.

Those anti-Semites don’t like it up ‘em!

Written by Andrew Coates

January 22, 2014 at 12:03 pm

Hannah Arendt. A Review.

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Hannah Arendt. A Review.

Hannah Arendt is one of the twentieth century’s “greatest political philosophers.” The response of the Editor of the New Yorker to a colleague who queries sending her to report on the trial of Adolf Eichmann in 1961 signposts the difficulties underlying Margarethe von Trotta’s film. How can thought be put on the screen?

Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963), that assembled the resulting magazine pieces, is the hinge of the film. She famously doubted the right of Israel to judge one of the central actors in the Endlösung. Arendt made an appeal for a different, International, Tribunal to judge crimes against Humanity.

But there was more than this. The political thinker evoked her understanding of the history of the Shoah and asserted that, “recognised Jewish leaders” had, “almost without exception, cooperated with the Nazis”. An uproar followed the articles.

Hannah Arendt is, like Trotta’s Rosa Luxembourg (1996), an intimist film. Hannah, played by Barbara Sukowa – who also Rosa – teaches in University, and lives with the former Sparticist and anti-Stalinist Henreich Blücher. Close friends, including Mary McCarthy (Janet McTeer), who will come to her defence, surround them. Politics passes the threshold of their New York flat into heated discussions at get-togethers, not through active political engagement.

Windows into other worlds open during the trial itself, and the ferocious reaction from Arendt’s colleagues to her opinions on the “role of the Jewish leaders in the destruction of their own people.” Saying that she “blamed the victims” left loose a flood of charges against her. When the Eichmann controversy is at its height Hannah receives threatening letters, and a note from a “nice old gentlemen” on another floor in her apartment block, calling her a “Nazihure” (Nazi whore). Dramatically perhaps the most telling moment is when an old friend breaks with her, dismissing Arendt as arrogant and typically “intellectual”.

Hannah’s attachment to Heidegger – from a youthful affair, her enduring acquaintance, to her dismissal of his “silly” pro-Nazi proclamations – is introduced through flashbacks. This might remind the audience of the controversies that followed Victor Farais’ Heidegger et le Nazisme (1987) and Hugo Otto’s Martin Heidegger. A Political Life. (1994). In the film Arendt’s enemies are keen to remind people of this association with the Rekor-Führer who spoke of Hitler as the “German reality, present and future, and its law”.

Intense movements, sharp exchanges, and coherent arguments, mean that Hannah Arendt is a dramatic success. The cast displays depth and warmth. But the film leaves many yawning political and philosophical gaps. That is, we have to read what she said, not only hear parts of her work. Cinema can only go so far.

From the Film to the Politics.

Eichmann in Jerusalem remains the object of passionate dispute. Perhaps too many people have heard of the “banality of evil”. But behind it lies Arendt’s complicated, and structurally unfinished work on the “moral collapse the Nazis caused in respectable European society”, and the “elementary structure” of totalitarianism. Her writings touch upon the 19th century birth of Imperialism, Militarism (influenced by, amongst other, the ideas of Rosa Luxemburg), and Mass Society, as well as Nazism and Stalinism.

Arendt’s views on Eichmann’s role in the Nazi bureaucratic extermination machine might be considered in terms not just of these “criminal organisations”. That,is, he was not merely guilty because his bastardised ‘Kantian’ defence, that he was acting according to a ‘universal’ moral law, failed to accept Kant’s rule that we should treat other people as ends in themselves, not means. It was not only this flaw, psychological or not, that was the problem. As Mary McCarthy said, “calling someone a monster does not made more guilty; it makes him so by classing him with beasts and devils”. The problem is deeper. One response may be to say that many political ideologies can permit killing, but German National Socialism made material a language in which mass murder was a must.

On the surface that is on the arguments of Eichmann Arendt is open to a number of serious charges. In her defence Arendt stepped back a little, (1964), “until 1939 and even until 1941, whatever Jewish functionaries did or did not do is understandable and excusable. Only later does it become highly problematical.” This looks very weak. Michael Ezra has shown that she was simply wrong to sweep together the ‘Jewish authorities’ into one bloc. (The Eichmann Polemics: Hannah Arendt and Her Critics). Citing Jacob Robinson he says,

Arendt had attempted to substantiate her claim that Jews would have been better off without leadership by asserting that in Belgium there was no Jewish Council and ‘it is not surprising that not a single Jew was ever deported.’ Robinson showed that in Belgium there was a Jewish Council and Jews were deported. Moreover, in Russia, Jews not governed by a Jewish Council were slaughtered even faster than in Poland where there were Jewish Councils. In France, Yugoslavia, Greece and other countries where there were no Jewish Councils, the Nazis still managed to carry out the ‘Final Solution’ effectively. Arendt had claimed, in her letter to Scholem, that Jewish Council members could ask to be relieved of their duties ‘and nothing happened to them.’ The reality, according to a non-Jewish witness of the Cracow ghetto, was that ‘To resign [from the Jewish Council] was equivalent to signing one’s own death sentence.

Arendt was critical of the procedures of the Israeli Court, the absence of a real space for defence, of the Israel Court, the absence of a space for real defence. She doubted the right of the Jewish People to indite Eichmann. The whole political spectrum of Zionist thought would quickly recall her doubts about the constitutional basis for their Country (she had been a qualified believer in a federation with a new state for the Arab population). Her call for an International Tribunal on Crimes Against Humanity has a greater echo today – when there is a United Nations War Crimes Court. In this she followed her enduring friend, Karl Jaspers, who stated that a verdict on Eichmann could be “handed down only by a court of justice representing all mankind”. Whether this answered Arendt’s own belief that full human rights had to come attached to states is not clear, and not all states belong to this Court.

In her later books on political theory (On Revolution 1965, the posthumous Life of the Mind 1978, amongst others), Hannah Arendt defended the idea of the freedom of the political realm. This she contrasted with the politics of interest dominated by “labour” by the “social question” by (even) “compassion”. – a world for Marx dominated by necessity, or for humdrum liberalism, by deal-making. The twentieth century saw mobs turn into totalitarian political parties, run by conspirators who held truth in contempt, and tried to rub out all these differences.

We can, she believed, escape this fate. Within its proper boundaries politics may be marked by, “joy and the gratification that arise out of being in company with our peers, out of acting together and appearing in public, out of inserting ourselves into the world by word and deed, this acquiring and sustaining our personal identity and beginning something entirely new.” (1)

Arendt asserted this liberty of the ancients to write about the trial of Eichmann.

She discovered, though never recognised, that the company of her peers was not always joyful, that not everybody was prepared to act together with her, and that sustaining her personal identity isolated her from whatever crooked – but living – form politics took in her time.

(1) Page 574 The Portable Hannah Arendt Edited by Peter Baeher. Penguin 2003

This review relies heavily on Young-Bruehl, Elisabeth, Hannah Arendt: For Love of the World 2nd Edition. 2004.

Written by Andrew Coates

October 11, 2013 at 12:20 pm

Tariq Ali and Syria.

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Highgate Sage Ali Speaks on Syria.

In his latest foray (LLB 28th of August)  Tariq summed up the Syrian situation,

The aim of the ‘limited war’ as set out by the United States and its European vassals is simple. The Syrian regime was slowly re-establishing its control over the country against the opposition armed by the West and its tributary states in the region (Saudi Arabia and Qatar). This situation required correction. The opposition in this depressing civil war needed to be strengthened militarily and psychologically.

The present war is essentially driven by anti-Iranian forces,

Ever since the war and occupation of Iraq, the Arab world has been divided between Sunni and Shia components. Backing the targeting of Syria are two old friends: Saudi Arabia and Israel. Both want the regime in Iran destroyed. The Saudis for factional reasons, the Israelis because they’re desperate to exterminate Hizbullah. That’s the endgame they have in sight and Washington, after resisting for a bit, is playing ball again. Bombing Syria is the first step.

In lines that may well have been an attempt to rival Dean Swift he outlined the position of the United Kingdom,

It’s foolish to get too worked up about Britain. It’s a vassal state, de facto governed by a National Government that includes Parliamentary Labour. Its political parties have accepted permanently situating themselves in the ‘posterior of the White House’. Cameron was gung-ho for a war some months ago. When the US went cold on the idea, Downing Street shut up. Now they’re back in action with little Ed saying that he backs the war ‘reluctantly’, the most pathetic of positions. Conservative backbenchers are putting up a stiffer resistance. Will more Tories vote against than Labour? We shall see.

Ali described how his position evolved until September 2012 as follows (in Counterpunch),

From the very beginning, I have openly and publicly supported the popular uprising against the family-run Baathist outfit that rules Damascus.


But, as in Egypt, once the euphoria of the uprising and its success in getting rid of a hated despot evaporates, politics emerge. What is the strongest political force in Syrian politics today?  Who would be the largest party in parliament when free elections take place? Probably the Muslim Brothers and in that case the experience will be educative since neo-liberalism and the US alliance are the corner-stone of the Turkish model that Morsi and other colleagues in the region seek to emulate. For half of the last century, Arab nationalists, socialists, communists and others were locked in a battle with the Muslim Brothers for hegemony in the Arab world. We may not like it (and I certainly don’t), but that battle has been won by the Brotherhood. Their future will depend on their ability to deliver social change. The Egyptian and Syrian working class have played a huge part in both uprisings. Will they tolerate neo-liberal secularism or Islamism for too long?

His conclusion?

A NATO intervention would install a semi-puppet government. As I argued in the case of Libya once NATO entered the fray: whoever wins the people will lose. It would be the same in Syria. On this I am in total accord with the statement of the Syrian Local Coordinating Committeespublished on 29 August 2011.

What will happen if the present situation continues? An ugly stalemate. The model that comes to mind is Algeria after the military, backed strongly by France and its Western allies, intervened to stop the second round of an election in which the FIS were going to win. This resulted in an attritional civil war with mass atrocities carried out by both sides while the masses retreated to an embittered passivity.

This is why I continue to insist that even at this late stage a negotiated solution is the best possible way to get rid of Assad and his henchmen. Pressure from Teheran, Moscow and Beijing might help achieve this sooner than the military posturing of Sultan Erdogan, his Saudi allies and their surrogates in Syria.

ln criticising this position. the Syrian Leftist site, Syrian Freedom for Ever, claimed that,

TARIQ ALI says we are witnessing in Syria a new form of re-colonisation by the West, like we have already seen in Iraq and in Libya.

Many of the people who first rose against the Assad regime in Syria have been sidelined, leaving the Syrian people with limited choices, neither of which they want: either a Western imposed regime, “composed of sundry Syrians who work for the western intelligence agencies”, or the Assad regime.

The only way forward, in the interests of all Syrians, says Ali, is negotiation and discussion. But it is now obvious that the West is not going to let that happen because they are backing the opposition groups who are against any negotiation.”

What remains of this at present?

With greater confidence Ali now observes,

Every single Western intervention in the Arab world and its surrounds has made the conditions worse. The raids being planned by the Pentagon and its subsidiaries in Nato are likely to follow the same pattern.

After praising Boris Yeltsin as a democratic  socialist (1) , and voting Liberal Democrat in the 2005 General Election (2), Tariq Ali is famed on the left for his canny nose for the Zeitgeist.

That is, his capacity for getting things completely wrong.

The Morsi outcome could be classed in the thick file of Ali’s efforts in this direction.

Now that said many of us will find that Ali’s geopolitical analysis fairly convincing (Robert Fisk says as much).

That he was wrong about the British Parliament and Labour’s willingness to defy Washington puts him the company of thousands, to no disgrace.

Vassals, little Ed, posteriors, and pathetic as they all may be, they didn’t act in the predicted way.

They may continue to show some independence, though this is less certain.

But there is not a word in Ali’s analysis about the fate of the Syrian democrats opposed to Assad.

Or how any democratic forces can be supported.

Not a dicky bird.

That really sticks in the craw.

(1)Ali’s Revolution From Above: Where Is the Soviet Union Going? (1988) is also dedicated to Yeltsin, whose  “political courage has made him an important symbol throughout the country.”

(2) “In the tightly fought battle for the Hornsey and Wood Green constituency, the Liberal Democrats have received the support of prominent writer and film maker Tariq Ali, who says he will be backing the party in the forthcoming General Election. Mr Ali, who lives in the constituency, is a long-time critic of the Government over the war in Iraq.” (Here) The Liberal Lynne Featherstone, won the constituency,

Written by Andrew Coates

September 9, 2013 at 11:55 am

Egypt: Morsi Seizes Powers to “Please God and Nation”.

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Reuters reports,

President Morsi says Egypt is moving forward, takes decisions to please God and nation.

This wasn’t supposed to happen.

 According to some Western ‘anti-imperialists’ the Arab masses were united in protesting (rightly)  against Israel ‘s action in Gaza.

But what’s taking place in Egypt  is of enormous importance.

The Huffington Post says,

CAIRO, Nov 23 (Reuters) – Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s decree that put his decisions above legal challenge until a new parliament was elected caused fury amongst his opponents on Friday who accused him of being the new Hosni Mubarak and hijacking the revolution.

Police fired tear gas in a street leading to Cairo’s Tahrir Square, heart of the 2011 anti-Mubarak uprising, where thousands demanded Morsi quit and accused him of launching a “coup”. There were violent protests in Alexandria, Port Said and Suez.

“The people want to bring down the regime,” shouted protesters in Tahrir… More Here.

Al Jazeera gives more information,

Supporters and opponents of Egypt’s president have clashed in several cities after he assumed sweeping new powers, a clear show of the deepening polarisation plaguing the country.

In the largest rally on Friday, thousands of chanting protesters packed Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the heart of the 2011 revolution, demanding Mohamed Morsi quit and accusing him of launching a “coup”.

Buoyed by accolades from around the world for mediating a truce between Hamas and Israel, Morsi on Thursday issued a declaration giving himself powers that go beyond those held by toppled president Hosni Mubarak, putting himself above the judiciary.

He also ordered that an Islamist-dominated assembly writing the new constitution could not be dissolved by legal challenges.

Liberal and secular members earlier walked out of the body, charging it would impose strict Islamic practices