Paris 14 February 2007
The most underreported story in France so far this year:
I can’t believe it…. The incident occurred on Friday the 10th, the story popped up on Saturday’s news, and then vanished without a trace! My attention was diverted during the newscast, I missed some important details, but when I searched for backup information in the print media online, all I could find was an article in the pay-to-read Le Parisien. This is an emblematic story that should have been covered back, front, and sideways:
A gang was marching to battle on a public thoroughfare in Ste. Genevi√®ve des Bois (one of those Parisian banlieues whose bucolic name covers a snake pit of social problems). Fifty men armed with baseball bats, lead pipes, shovels and what-all, spilled from the sidewalk onto the road, blocking three cars. Somewhat like the Crusaders who massacred European Jews on their way to battle Muslims in Jerusalem, the punk jihadis attacked a woman trapped in the second of the three cars. A young man-25 year-old Jalili-jumped out of the third car and ran to the woman’s rescue. The thugs beat him into a coma. The police have arrested two of the assailants, one of whom was in possession of the woman’s cell phone. They are looking for the cad who bonked Jalili on the head with a shovel, causing the brain hemorrhage that left him in a coma.
He was out of the coma by the time the news broke. In what condition? Permanently handicapped or with hopes of full recovery? Who is this courageous Jalili who risked life and limb to save a woman in distress? He reminds us of the plainclothes policeman who rescued a Jewish soccer fan from an enraged mob, another rare exception to the general rule: most people look the other way when fellow citizens are attacked in streets or buses. Jalili stood up to a gang of fifty armed warriors. I call that a hero. An edifying story. A man worthy of public recognition.
Why did the media can this story, rich in human interest and dark with dire implications? Was the decision spontaneously unanimous or imposed by government censorship? What could be the motive? To spare citizens the shock of discovering that any zone can turn into a war zone without prior warning? Most banlieue residents are hard working law-abiding citizens. And most creepy banlieues abut pretty neighborhoods with private homes and well-kept gardens. Will they need bypass roads, checkpoints, a security fence?
In a last vain attempt to Google up one background story, one scrap of information, I discovered that most Jalili’s are…Iranian!
The most under-attended event in France so far this year:
Approximately two hundred fifty people attended a memorial ceremony for Ilan Halimi in front of the Bagneux City Hall (he was tortured for 3 weeks in Bagneux) and at the site where he was found in his death throes one year ago…near the railroad tracks in Ste. Genevi√®ve des Bois (see above).
A much larger crowd attended the reburial ceremony in Jerusalem on February 9th, widely covered in the Israeli press, barely mentioned here in French mainstream media, save for a nasty article by St√©phanie le Bars in Le Monde, insinuating that the Jewish Agency had convinced Ruth Halimi to bring her son’s body to Jerusalem in a sort of PR operation.
The most overrated event in France so far this year:
In the heat of the presidential campaign, the Jewish umbrella organization (CRIF) organized a stop-Ahmadinejad-before-it’s-too-late rally at the famed Mutualit√© meeting hall in the 5th arrondissement of Paris. The event was announced — in Jewish media — with great fanfare: all the major presidential candidates would attend. In fact, S√©gol√®ne Royal promised to appear in person but jilted the CRIF at the last minute. Corinne Lepage of Cap 21 did appear in three dimensions, but the others, the heavyweights, sent stand-ins who asked in their names to be excused…busy schedule…but rest assured, the Iranian question is at the top of his/her/my/our agenda.
All the speakers were received with enthusiastic applause… except for Nicole Borvo Cohen-S√©at, speaking for the Communist candidate Marie-George Buffet, whose moth-eaten “anti-colonial, anti-war, pro-Palestinian” diatribe was justifiably hooted and howled. Though the candidates’ mouthpieces declared, in various oratorical styles, that a nuclear Iran led by the Hitlerish Ahmadinejad is not only a danger to Israel but to humanity as a whole, most of the representative examples of humanity in the packed house were Jewish. The speakers’ intentions were laudable, and appropriately lauded: We will never compromise the safety of Israel! Houra! We will never forget the Shoah! Bravo! We do not accept negationism! Amen! The combination of genocidal intentions and nuclear ambitions is highly explosive! Hear! Hear!
Impassioned speakers compared the rise of Hitler, fatally underestimated in the 1930s, and the rise of Ahmadinejad, correctly evaluated here and now. They warned of the dangers of weakness, wavering, and appeasement. Churchill was quoted in his finest hour: you chose dishonor to avoid war, you will have dishonor and war. They evoked the Shoah with deep authentic emotion and made fervent promises of never again.
A weird undertow drowned the rhetorical determination of speakers who promised, one after the other, to defend Israel, the Jews, and civilization itself: the very idea of military action or threat of action against Iran was excluded and the only country that could exercise a viable threat was quarantined. Paris mayor Bertrand Delano√´, leaping and swooping from one dramatic pronouncement to the next, declared that the current Iranian regime is a danger to Israel, to the Jews, to the legitimate aspirations of Palestinians who deserve to have a state, to Lebanon, and to Iranians themselves. Booed when he boasted of having honored the “marvelous” Shirin Abadie, he elicited no audible dissention when he trumpeted France’s finest hour– Villepin’s anti-war speech at the UN in the spring of 2003. Standing up to the United States, standing on principle, and turning out to be right–that’s greatness, and we can do it again. How does the model apply to the Iranian crisis? No room for logic in Delanoe’s oration or those that followed in the same vein. No room for praxis either. One could deplore the Shoah, scold the Munich appeasers, promise to defend Israel, scold the U.S. for going to war, call for strong effective sanctions and worldwide conscience raising, and never ask what we should do if sanctions don’t work.
Deputy Rudy Salles, president of the France-Israel Friendship Group of the Assembl√©e Nationale, spoke for Fran√ßois Bayrou, the third man in the presidential race. Salles began by praising Chirac’s brilliant opposition to the Iraq war, to the tune of “we can be friends without always agreeing.” I love that one! We can be allies without joining in the military operation. We can be against the U.S. without being for its enemies…in wartime. We can be friends with America at war while doing nothing to help, quite a bit to hinder, and gloating when the disaster we predicted “comes true.” The US intervention in Iraq, said Salles, has destabilized the Middle East, disturbed the balance of power between Iran and Iraq, radicalized the mullahs. Evoking the horrors of the Shoah, the virtues of Israel, the evil of Ahmadinejad, Bayrou’s man declared that France should stand resolutely firm against a nuclear Iran…within the limits of international law. Meaning? Meaning the UN, n’est-ce pas?
Nicolas Sarkozy’s statement was read-rather listlessly–by Deputy Pierre Lellouche. Sarkozy did not sing the praises of French opposition to the war in Iraq. He connected anti-Zionism to anti-Semitism, Iran to the Hizbullah war, recalled the anniversary of the antisemitic torture-murder of Ilan Halimi, and concluded that the Iranian crisis will be a top priority for the president who takes office in May.
Corinne Lepage did not praise France’s anti-war stance; she cautioned against claming to stand against Iran’s nuclear ambitions and genocidal intentions and then backing down while blissfully indulging in abundant trade with the regime. Jean-Louis Bianco, speaking for S√©gol√®ne Royal, said that France must be vigilant, cannot compromise, must not compromise, will not compromise the safety of Israel, France will stand side by side with Israel in the combat against fanaticism and terrorism. Former Minister Fran√ßois L√©otard closed the meeting with an eloquent tribute to Israel, “a precious gift to humanity, precious for its culture, its history, its courage, its demanding practice of democracy.” We do not want war, said L√©otard, but we want French officials to remember these words of P√©guy: “Nothing is so murderous as weakness and cowardice.”
What is the sum and substance of all that oratorical flair? The bigwigs weren’t there, the mainstream media never mentioned the event, and the speakers seemed to think that Mad Ahmadinejad and his nuclear final solution can be stopped with closed-circuit speeches and beefed up sanctions. Are we to assume that none of them had read the EU report that hit the newsstands the next day? Sanctions won’t keep Iran from going nuclear, says the EU, in a tone of “why bother” that should send chills down our spines. If, that is, we believe the Hitler/Shoah comparisons so eloquently elaborated at the Mutualit√©.
The most underplayed story in France so far this year:
An airplane did not crash into the Eiffel Tower or the Elys√©e Palace today. So why worry? An insignificant flight from Nouakchott to Nouadhibou-nowhere to nowhere if you get what I mean-made a forced landing because a kooky passenger asked to be flown to Paris.
Landing rights were refused in Morocco, granted in Las Palmas. End of story. Now you can concentrate on the tragic downsizing of Alcatel-Lucent. They are firing engineers, mon ami, engineers! That’s what happens when you let Americans buy a French high tech company. Why did the passenger want to go to Paris? To buy Louis Vuitton handbags? No, he said his request for asylum had been turned down several times. It figures. If you arrive in an airplane, your chances improve radically. Especially if you land on the roof of the Pr√©fecture.
The pilot of the Mauritanian flight, interviewed on Radio France Internationale, added a few details: The hijacker walked into the cockpit (people still leave their doors unlocked in some African villages) and aimed two loaded revolvers at the pilot and co-pilot. Take me to Paris, he ordered. The pilot asked why he wanted to go to Paris, and the hijacker replied: Can’t you see all the bad things they are doing to Muslims.
Muslims? Something to do with Muslims? That’s news to me. The story was briefly reported on earlier radio broadcasts (I don’t think it made it to the TV) as a minor incident: a loner on a domestic flight that went to his head, happens all the time.
That’s not the way the captain tells it. He could see the bullets in the gun barrels, the hijacker-a Saharoui–was nervous and determined. Using African street smarts, village wisdom, and a strong will to live, the pilot managed to convince the gunman that the plane would have to land briefly in Las Palmas before going on to Paris. He agreed, but wanted to go back into the cabin and kill a passenger first. As luck would have it, the Saharoui didn’t understand French. The captain made phone contact with a steward and explained that he would land roughly and brake sharply, causing the hijacker to fall; the steward should grab him and tie him up.
Now I remember the bulletin I heard this morning. It began with “plus de peur que de mal” (it seemed scary but in fact it was nothing). A deranged person on a domestic Mauritarian Airline flight asked to be taken to Paris, passengers were able to restrain him, the plane landed in Las Palmas.
They might at least have added that the plane did not crash into l’Arche de la D√©fense or a local synagogue!