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Tariq Ramadan: Charlie Hebdo Versus Mediapart, Culture Wars Split French Left.

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Charlie Hebdo Claims Plenel Ignores Ramadan’s Behaviour.

Following the May election of President Macron, and the sweeping victory of his ‘start-up’ party, En Marche! in the following legislative contest, France’s left has yet to recover from the catastrophe. Union opposition to the new head of State’s reform of the labour code has, despite the kind offer of Presidential contender for La France insoumise (LFI) Jean Luc Mélenchon (19,5% in the first round) to play a leading role in the battle, begun to peter out. Last Friday saw, across France, only 80,000 out on the streets. It would seem as if Macron, despite some dissatisfaction inside his party at its simulacra of democracy, intends to keep running faster than his opponents.

Yet few would have expected that the French left would begin to tear itself apart, not on the political balance-sheet of the Hollande years, nor on the incapacity for the left to present a credible electoral alternative to Macron, but on its own version of the ‘culture wars’.

The politics of religion and culture appears to be a new dividing line on the French left.

Inside LFI divisions over secularism, laïcité, erupted at the beginning of November, when one of their deputies, Danièle Obono, expressed “respect” for the anti-Semitic leader of Les Indigènes de la République, Houria Bouteldja (Chez les « insoumis », les voies impénétrables de la laïcitéle Monde 9.11.17). This risks opening up divisions between those who stand for a ‘strict’ republican secularism (from the original Mélenchon group, the Parti de gauche) and those who wish for an ‘accommodating’ approach towards conservative Muslims and the defence of ‘modest dress’, above all the veil. 

Ramadan…

But these splits are as nothing compared to the fissure on the left that has erupted in the wake of the Tariq Ramadan affair. Rapidly this shifted from the accusations of rape to more ideological issues. Abdennour Bidar called the (on leave of absence) Oxford Don’s work pitiful “dogmatism”. Despite a call for a ‘moratorium’ on aspects of Sharia ‘law’ such as stoning, and the other Hudud punishments, the doctrine is not questioned. The promotion of a mediaeval Summa of the Law of God is wrapped in modernist language designed to present a progressive veneer to the wider public.

At the same time there remains (as Caroline Fourest famously outlined in Frère Tariq. 2005) enduring radical – intolerant – edge for a more popular, that is, Muslim, audience. (le Monde. 15.11.19). Indeed some have questioned whether he ever really called for a change in aspects of the Sharia, such as women’s testimony being worth half that of a man, non-Moslems in a permanent position of legal inferiority, or indeed of the death penalty for apostates or blasphemers. We know that for all his regrets at the murder of our comrades, Ramadan was outraged at their disrespect of religion, and lowered himself to claim that the Weekly’s criticism of Islam was motivated by “money” (Tariq Ramadan accuse Charlie de lâcheté et de faire de l’argent avec l’islam) and wittered on about complexity, like some Revered Flannel, “Il faut nous réconcilier avec la complexité et non pas nous imposer la simplicité émotionnelle.” Later in the same year, 2015, he refused to show solidarity after the Bataclan slaughter by talking of the “déshumanisation de nos «ennemis» ou perçus comme tels….” 

Readers of Ramadan’s books in an English version can verify the inflexible heart of Ramadan’s Islam quickly. Here are two typical passages from The Messenger (2007). The author states of the Qu’ran in this, “revealed Book the written text, is made up signs (ayat), just as the universe, like a text spread before our eyes, is teeming with signs. When the heart’s intelligence, and not only analytical intelligence, reads the Qu’ran and the world, then the two texts address and echo each other, and each of them speaks of the other and of the One. The signs remind us of what it means to be born, to live, to think, to feel, and to die. This doctrine, based on the “the oneness of God, the status of the Qur’an, prayer and life after death.

In the UK Ramadan has indeed concentrated on his role as a Herald in the Academy, apart from a brief foray into the support for the Ken Livingstone backed international campaign to defend the Veil, and more recently giving his good graces as a government adviser on ‘extremism’. But as Le Monde has more recently noted, as a preacher (prédicatuer), that is on Ramadan’s platform on which he assumes an active political role, is barely known in the country where he resides, Britain (le Monde. 18.11.17)

But Caroline Fourest indicates one aspect of it….

Note the name of Edwy Plenel which will figure greatly in the following.

Hatred Between Charlie Hebdo and Mediapart.

Things have not stopped there. After some highly disobliging front page cartoons, a veritable ‘war’ over Islam and Ramadan has erupted between Charlie Hebdo and Mediapart (le Monde. 16.11.17). The former accuses the founder of the web based news site, Edwy Plenel of undue comprehension of and indulgence towards Ramadan (by implication, Islamism), including public ‘dialogues’ with the preacher. (Entre « Charlie » et « Mediapart », l’histoire d’une haine). Above all the Editor of Charlie, Riss, has accused Plenel of condemning this to death a second time, even knighting their Islamist enemies, by asserting that they have engaged in “war” against Islam, a claim the Mediapart journalist hotly contests (Dans Charlie Hebdo, Riss accuse Plenel d'”adouber ceux qui demain voudront finir le boulot des frères Kouachi).

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This the full Editorial.

 

Plenel is the author of Pour Les Musulmans, (2014) In that work he states that “assimilation” on the French republican “model” is a call for the disappearance of Muslims as Muslims. For him this stand reflects a hatred of Islam, crystallised secular “intolérance”, “une laïcisme intolérante” and a rejection of the dominates and the oppressed being as they are, “un rejet des dominés et des opprimés tels qu’ils sont.” (2)

With these opinions the present clash comes a great deal of historical and personal baggage, even moments of friendship, or at least, co-operation, outlined in Le Monde, (16.11.17). This has been submerged, Charlie’s harsh language, and disobliging cartoon of Plenel has been met with a growing pile of defences from the Mediapart camp. One charge is that Charlie’s anti-Plenel Front Page is a new version of the notorious Nazi “Affiche Rouge” denouncing Jewish resistance fighters.

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Which not suprisingly got this reply.

The intervention of not just Caroline Fourest (who published images of public addresses by Plenel and Ramadan) but former Prime Minister Philippe Valls (on the side of Charlie), has injected further venom. There is a petition backing Mediapart and former Fourth Internationalist Plenel, supported by figures from the left of the left. (En défense de Mediapart et d’Edwy Plenel.) It says that Charlie’s comments are “diffamatoire, et haineuse” . It is certainly the case that Plenel immediately registered the present accusations against Ramadan, and compared them to crimes by paedophile preists (Edwy Plenel: le cas de Tariq Ramadan “ressemble à celui des prêtres pédophiles”).

This could be continued for pages but for the moment stops here….

It would be an exaggeration to say, as Le Monde does in the Saturday edition of the Idées Supplement, that there is an almost insurmountable gulf between this “so French” quarrel and elsewhere. In Britain, they observe, Tariq Ramadan’s latest adventures have barely stirred the media. Whether by policy, a long-standing deference to religious figures, or by fear of audience incomprehension. this may well be true. Le Monde’s Philippe Bernard even makes the claim that Ramadan is a “respected intellectual” this side of the channel ( Tariq Ramadan, un intellectuel respecté au Royaume-Uni.)

The British historian Sudhir Hazareesingh offers the interesting suggestion that British  people talk American and talk of “hyphenated” identities, such as British-Asian. (« Charlie » contre « Mediapart » vu du Royaume-Uni : « Une discussion consternante ») Both talk of a “quasi-consensus” around religious tolerance, anchored within a wider policy of multiculturalism. Yet, from the standpoint of some of the left this is not the case. Multiculturalism may be accepted as a fact in Britain, and diversity and tolerance valued aspects of the country’s culture. But as a politique, that is a state policy, many on the left in the UK do not agree with the institutionalisation of the place of religious figures and norms within the public sphere, nor, in particular, with the public funding of separatist faith education.

Secularism.

Let us be clear on one point. There are secularists in the UK, smaller in number than in France, without the Constitutional pillars that define French laïcité. Yet if we not as present as we are in le Monde, we are very visible even in the pages of the Guardian and the Observer. Secularists here are both of the establishment type that parallel La Libre Pensée in France and more radical left-wing secularists – for example in the Teachers’ union (NEU), and, to cite some this Blog has contact with, those around by Southall Black Sisters and Ex-Muslims networks. It was from this quarter that the petition came against Ramadan’s continued teaching at Oxford while he stood accused of serious sexual offences.

It would be true to say that very few British secularist leftists would identify with Manuel Valls and some of the more arid defenders of laïcité. The ex-PM would appear less the reincarnation of 3rd republic Radical Socialist norms, or even the defender of a French particularism posing as a Universalist, than a nationalist demanding assimilation. If the government Prevent Programme remains controversial in the UK, though hardly the dominant issue for the left that Le Monde describes, it could be seen as coming from the same template as French repressive policies championed by the same Valls.

But it would be equally difficult to sympathise with those engaged in ‘accommodation’ with religious difference to the point where tolerance becomes acceptance of reactionary institutions, and, above all, politics. Voltaire had some words about not accepting infamous abuses….

Le Monde editorialised a couple of days ago, recognising the risk of intervening between two enraged assailants, and called for an end to this ever-escalating fight: « Charlie »-« Mediapart » : halte à l’escalade.

Anti-Semitism.

Distinct from either side in this dispute some of us find the radical leftists of sites like Ni Patrie ni Frontières  speaking more sense. This section of the French left looks to a grass roots way of fighting reactionary religious-political ideas, from Islamism to the European far-right independently of both Official secularism and Official multiculturalism.

Having said this there remains a further point. Perhaps the most striking parallel between the French and British landscape is the division on the priority given to tackling anti-semitism and anti-Muslim prejudice. This, it can hardly have escape anybody’s attention, is one of the live issues dividing our left, last week, yesterday, today, and no doubt next week.

This leads us back to the Hexagone… To cap it all Gérard Filoche, the respected retired Inspecteur du travail, a well-known figure on the left of the Parti Socialiste, has been  found to have tweeted an image from a far-right site. This is not just any picture, but, taken from the Egalité et Reconciliation, portrays President Macron with an Israeli and US flag, a Nazi style arm-band with a dollar sign on it, while 3 well known Jewish figures, including a Rothschild, hover in the background. (Gérard Filoche, antisémite ? Le naufrage d’un colérique en 6 polémiques.)

There is a serious motion to expel Filoche from the Socialists (Filoche menacé d’exclusion du PS après un tweet antisémite). Filoche has admitted making an arse of himself, says that he was not the person who did the tweet…..but assumes responsibility. (Filoche mis en cause pour un tweet antisémite : «C’était une connerie»)

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(1) P 41 and Pages 39 – 40. The Messenger. Tariq Ramadan. Allen Lane. 2007.

(2) Pages 106 – 107. Pour les Musulmans. Edwy Plenel. Nouvelle édition. 2016.

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The Way of the Strangers. Encounters with the Islamic State. Graeme Wood. Reflections on Islamism.

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The Way of the Strangers. Encounters with the Islamic State. Graeme Wood. Allen Lane 2017. La Fracture. Gilles Kepel. Gallimard/France Culture. 2016. Pour les Musulmans. Edwy Plenel. 2015 (2014).

The problem must be posed anew, the hypotheses inverted, for in this domain ‘ideology’ is but another name for ignorance: the religious expression of a social phenomenon is not its disguise, but its unveiling. Gilles Kepel. (1)

From the 7th of January 2015 Islamist murders at Charlie Hebdo and the Vincennes Hyper Cacher to the massacre on the 14th of July in Nice, on the Promenade des Anglais, was for those living in France, Gilles Kepel, begins La Fracture, “une année terrible”. That the anniversary of the 2016 jihadist killings in Belgium was marked last week by the Westminster atrocity has brought the Islamic State, Daesh, back to European headlines. In Mosul and Syria ferocious battles, waged with few scruples, continue against their genocidal tyranny.

Some figures have reacted to the latest tragedy with what Nick Cohen calls the “lies of the right” – Nigel Farage’s tirade against “migration” in first place – “debase civilised society.” (Observer 26.03.17) In Pour Les Musulmans the journalist Edwy Plenel one of the first to signal the dangers of Le Pen and the Front National in the 1980s (L’Effet Le Pen 1984 Edwy Plenel and Alain Rollathas written a generous appeal, in the spirit of Émile Zola’s Pour les Juifs (1896). Against hatred, and the accumulated prejudices against Muslims that makes them a “global enemy” and target in French political life, Plenel offers the British reaction to the 2005 London carnage, “We Are Not Afraid”.

Perhaps now is also the moment to look anew at Jihadism, the most violent wing of Islamism. In his column Cohen reflects a wider dissatisfaction with those who try to explain these outrages as responses to western foreign policy (the ‘anti-imperialist’ left), or the ‘result’ of multiculturalism (the ‘alt-right’).

Kepel was an early critic of the view that political Islam was a “mask” for deeper social causes. Since 9/11 we have heard much of the “religious disguise” that Al-Qaeda and now Daesh presented, while the ‘real’ issue of Western intervention, or more generally ‘neo-liberal globalisation’.  While these abstractions count for little, there are without doubt hard social facts that help extreme forms of Islamism flourish. In France the social divisions that leave many of those of North African descent marginalised, time in prison, and the psychological fragility of individuals, are conditions working behind the acts of individual Jihadists. But “l’idéologie donne la conscience de l’action et en détermine la forme.” Ideology is material, and exists, in ISIS/ISIL, as an organised would-be state, with international offshoots. Daesh, Kepel states, aims to provoke a violent fracture in France, which their ideologues elaborate from Salafist materials, a conquest of Europe, ending in the mass conversion, the enslavement or extermination of the inhabitants. (2)

The Islamic State.
These may be outrageous beliefs, but Kepel does not misrepresent them. The Way of Strangers is a thorough account, first hand evidence, of Islamic State ideas. Those wearied by the media use of the “so-called” before Islamic State will find that, after consideration, Wood, uses the term they use themselves. He shifts the attention to what they are and not to what a ‘real’ ‘Islamic’ state might be. It cannot be grasped as “Jacobinism with an Islamic veneer. It has its own story, the will of god written on the battlefield.

“The notion that religious belief is a minor factor in the rise of the Islamic State is belied by the crushing weight of evidence that religion matters deeply to the vast majority of those who have travelled to fight. “(3) Not only does it issue mountains of Fatwas and other pious declarations, but also, Wood demonstrates, the Islamic state cannot be understood without a deep immersion in the ideology of Salafism and a variety of Islamic schools. The “simplest explanation” for their roots is that their founders were “extreme Islamists”. As for effort to dismiss their faith basis, those doing so rarely have any knowledge of the clerics and scholars in its ranks.

“Since 2010, tens of thousands of men, women and children have migrated to a theoretic state, under the belief that migration is a sacred obligation and that the state’s leader is the worldly successor of the last and greatest of prophets. If religious scholars see no role for religion in a mass movement like this, they see no role for religion in the world.” (4)

In meetings, across the world, with those in sympathy with this goal Wood talks to figures, many of them converts, Musa Cerantonio, ‘Yahya’, Anjem Choudary, and some with decided distance from the Islamic state, such as Hamza Yusuf. The Way of Strangers melds these encounters, invariably over Halal food, with considerations on Islamic history, above all the legal school of Dhaharism, which rigorously bases its rulings on the Qur’an and the prophet, and no additional material or judgements. Parallels with the seventh century Kharijites, a vicious Muslim splinter group who practised mass excommunication, and denied all authority but their own, are dawn.

As one reads The Way of Strangers happy talk about Islam as a “religion of peace” quickly evaporates. The ‘literalist’ Islam of the Islamic, baked by scriptural authority, state sanctions the most severe forms of Hudud punishment, slavery, infamously including sexual captives, and the regulation of all aspects of personal life fused around loathing of the non-licit and the ‘kuffer’. It is obsessed with, The Way of Strangers continues, the takfir¸ the “sport” of declaring those who disagree with them and claim to be Muslims “apostates” under sentence of death. It has genocidal intentions, already put into practice against Yazidis. Wild dreams of a worldwide apocalypse the Islamic state’s followers, to come in decades not months, round off the picture.

Religious Genocide.

Most people do not want, Wood writes, to be part of a religion seen as “fanatical and bloodthirsty.”Most religions have zealots that the mainstream would prefer to make disappear and the Muslim bind is not unique”. Yet, is the Islamic State Muslim? “Whether it is ‘legitimate; is a question other believers answer for themselves, overwhelmingly in the negative” That can be said of any minority, “the group led and supported by Muslims albeit Muslims with whom they vociferously disagree.” To say that it has “nothing to do with Islam” is to deny that they “cite Koran, hadiths, and carefully selected thinkers within the Islamic tradition.” In brief, the denial of the Muslim roots of Daesh is a way of avoiding answering uncomfortable questions, starting with the fact that the Qu’ran does contain verses that support slavery, sexual oppression, and is riddled with ideas that are hard to reconcile with democratic values. Word for word reading shows them, and reasoning by analogy, historical context, and other methods used to adjust Islam to today, on the model perhaps of Saint Augustine’s 5th century reading of the Bible in On Christian Doctrine  always runs up against the problem that the book is claimed, however bizarrely, to be the inerrant word of god. (5).

The Way of Strangers is not just an important and brave book. It is a way of confronting difficult issues about religious politics above all religious genocide based on a form of spiritual racism. The immediate response to defend universal human rights a point of unity between people. Yet Wood leaves us with multiple dilemmas. If the Islamic State is now facing defeat in its Caliphate, will it be able to retain and rebuild support in other violent conditions? What will happen to those who have joined its genocidal regime? Will they return home, or will they, like the butchers of the Nazi Einsatzgruppen be tried and imprisoned?

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(1) Page 234. Gilles Kepel. The Roots of Radical Islam Saqi 2005. Originally published as Le Prophète et Pharaon. La Découverte. 1984.
(2) Pages 47 and 256 – 8 La Fracture. Gilles Kepel.
(3) Page 73. The Way of Strangers. Encounters with the Islamic State. Graeme Wood.
(4) Page 77. The Way of Strangers.
(5) Pages 217 – 8 .The Way of Strangers.