Burkini Madness

Anyone who has travelled in France this summer will have found it difficult to ignore the   the ongoing state of emergency with which the French state has responded to Daesh’s savage provocations.     In Banyuls-sur-Mer, we found the main road by the beach guarded by armed soldiers, presumably mindful of a repeat of the attack on Tunisia last year.     In Chartres, we watched a band whose members were mostly in their 60s or 70s joyously celebrating the city’s summer fete in glorious French style, while a detachment of soldiers, some of whom looked as if they were barely out of school, guarded the entrances to the square where their gig was taking place.

It was poignant, funny and moving to watch these pensioners exuberantly sashaying their way to the stage dressed in white to the strains of La Compagnie Créole’s ‘C’est Bon Pour Le Moral’- It’s Good for the Spirit – while the crowd sang along from memory or printed out lyrics.   Age could not wither these minstrels and dancers, because even in the midst of so much gloom and mayhem, the French will not easily surrender their right to celebrate the summer,   even if soldiers are now needed to ensure that some ‘radicalized’ murderer will not try to kill them.

The blundering government of Francois Hollande is clearly desperate to demonstrate to the French public that it can provide security, and the French public is right to demand such reassurances – even if it is difficult to believe that any amount of soldiers can provide full protection against random acts of homicide that can take place anywhere and at any time.

The French government undoubtedly knows that it can’t prevent such attacks – no democracy can, without going onto an explicitly war footing.   On the one hand these armed patrols are a form of security theatre, designed to give the appearance of security.   But even if we may not like to see armed soldiers in the streets, their presence is understandable, and it’s difficult to argue that they aren’t necessary in the current climate.

All that is very different from what has been taking place on French beaches since   Nice, Cannes and some fifteen other towns announced last week that women would not be allowed to wear the full-body swimsuit known as the ‘burkini’ on the beach and that those who did would be fined.     Yesterday these measures reached a new pitch of hysterical idiocy when a group of armed police surrounded a Muslim woman on a beach in Nice and ordered her to take off the offending garment, while scowling French holidaymakers looked on.

Why has this happened?   What makes these women so dangerous? The massacres and murders of the last two years are obviously part of the explanation – but only in the sense that they have acted as a catalyst for the worst kind of state-enforced bigotry that is as slippery and dishonest in its justifications, as it is useless and counter-productive from the point of view of security.     The Cannes ordinance declares that: ‘Beach attire that ostentatiously displays a religious affiliation, while France and places of worship are the target of terrorist acts, is likely to create risks to public order.’

What kind of risks?   According to the mayor of Cannes, Thierry Migoule: ‘If a woman goes swimming in a burkini, that could draw a crowd and disrupt public order…It is precisely to protect these women that I took this decision. The burkini is the uniform of extremist Islamism, not of the Muslim religion.’

So Migoule is protecting Muslim women from discrimination by punishing them for wearing clothing that might make them objects of discrimination?     Not exactly.   Migoule has also told Agence France-Presse that the burkini is an ‘ostentatious clothing which refers to an allegiance to terrorist movements which are at war with us’.

Ah ha.   So women who wear the burkini are declaring their allegiance to Daesh then?       Let’s just consider for a moment the notion that women in Daesh-controlled areas of Syria and Iraq are flocking to the beaches dressed in their burkini ‘uniforms’.     While we’re at it, let’s also ponder the suggestion that Muslim women who wear burkinis in France are wearing ‘uniforms’ that declare their allegiance to the Caliphate and their support for the attacks of the last year.

Have you given these possibilities your full consideration, readers?   Good, then let’s move on, because such a idiotic idea isn’t really worth spending more than a micro-second upon.   Nor is there any evidence that women wearing the burkini have ‘drawn a crowd’ and disrupted public order, though these banning ordinances certainly increase that possibility, with their ludicrous allegations that stigmatise women who choose to go to the beach with their bodies covered as ideological or religious threats.

The Nice town council has tweaked its banning ordinance slightly differently, declaring that the burkini ‘overtly manifests adherence to a religion at a time when France and places of worship are the target of terrorist attacks.’   So for Cannes, the burkini symbolizes ‘extremism Islamism’, for Nice it’s ‘adherence to a religion’.   And now Prime Minister Manuel Valls has joined in, declaring the burkini to be a symbol of the ‘enslavement of women’   which is ‘  “not compatible with the values of the French Republic.’

Valls has supported the burkini ban on the grounds that ‘In the face of provocation, the nation must defend itself.’   No one can be surprised that Nicolas Sarkozy has tried to get into the act and is using the burkini to smooth the path of a political comeback, in which he is trying to appeal to Front National voters without actually joining the party.

Sarkozy is a spectacularly unscrupulous politician who has played this game before. Like Valls, he sees the burkini as a ‘provocation ‘ since ‘we don”t imprison women behind fabric.’

How noble of ‘us’ that we don’t do that.       So are the cops who humiliate a harmless Muslim woman on a beach defending France from a threat or are they liberating her, or perhaps performing both acts at the same time?

We don’t really know, and the politicians who advocate such brain-dead acts of persecution probably don’t really know either.   They do know they can’t stop Daesh.   They won’t consider, say, not selling Rafale jets to Saudi Arabia.   But they will, it seems, declare burkini-wearing women to be a threat to public order, the identity of French society, and a hollowed-out notion of laïcité that is really only interested in what Muslims do – or what they’re perceived to be doing.

Let’s be clear about this: these measures will solve nothing and resolve nothing.   If the French state were to fine and even imprison Muslim women on every beach in the country it would not do a single thing to make the French public more secure.   These bans will not ‘liberate’ Muslim women and they are not intended to.   They will not promote ‘cohesion’ and ‘ assimilation’, but they will generate anger, humiliation, bitterness and alienation.

All this may give some satisfaction to the usual bigots and racists who would always like to lash out at any Muslim within reach.   In pandering to these unworthy sentiments, France’s politicians have made a major blunder.     In thoughtlessly and mindlessly mixing up and conflating very different notions of culture, religion and security, they threaten to institutionalize anti-Muslim bigotry still further,   even as they unleash an overbearing and hypocritical authoritarianism that may be useful to the politicians who promote it, but which threatens to make France look simultaneously ridiculous, two-faced,cowardly and stupid.

In instrumentalising feminism in the service of what is an inherently persecutory enterprise, they only disgrace themselves still further.   We can only wait now for politicians like Valls and Sarkozy to order that all Muslim women should be forced to go topless and wear thongs to prove that they aren’t ‘imprisoned’ and demonstrate their commitment to laïcité.

It’s up to French society to reach into its better traditions and bring this dangerous nonsense to an end, the sooner the better.   So come on France, give yourself a shake now and pull yourself together, and please try to remember that you have more important things to worry about these days than what Muslim women are wearing on the beach.    



France: Sucking Up the L’argent

Imagine, in a parallel universe, that you are the socialist president of France.     As you look out on a troubled world from the Elysee Palace,   you recognize that you have an opportunity to help defuse a conflict that has been dragging on for more than a decade, and which has constantly threatened to plunge the Middle East into yet another war, of potentially catastrophic proportions.

Still keeping your mind fixed on the word ‘socialist’ (for the sake of argument) you understand immediately that the simmering conflict between Iran and the United States, and more broadly between Iran and the West, is a major threat to world peace.

A social democrat to the core, you sympathize with ordinary Iranians who have been suffering the impact of sanctions, to the point when passenger planes are regularly crashing because they can’t get spare parts.

Mindful of the antimilitarist tradition of Jean Jaurès that your party belongs to, you welcome the possibility of avoiding war through arbitration and diplomacy, especially since those who are have been trying hardest to egg the West on to attack Iran in order to eliminate the nuclear weapons that it doesn’t have are:

a) Israel – under the fanatically uber-Zionist Netanyahu, which believes that trashing Iran is the key to final victory over the Palestinians.

And b) the Gulf plutocracies, particularly Saudi Arabia, which see Iranian/Shiite influence as a threat to their own wealth and regional hegemony and would do anything to reverse it, even if that means kicking off a regional sectarian conflict or getting the world’s only superpower to blast the hell out of Iran or at least cripple Iranian society with sanctions

Given this context, your progressive French administration relishes the opportunity to kick the prospect of war into touch and open a new era that could make so many positive things possible, from a negotiated end to the Syrian civil war to Iranian/Western cooperation to prevent a violent implosion in Afghanistan and stabilize Iraq, or the prospect of putting serious pressure on Israel to make real concessions to the Palestinians.

These would indeed be achievements for a socialist government to be proud of, and you might leave office thinking that you had made a real contribution to ending the militarist drift of early twenty-first century politics.

Unfortunately for France, and for the world, the actual incumbent of the Elysee Palace is Francois Hollande, a man who has yet to see a war he didn’t like, and who bears the same relationship to socialism that Tony Blair does to pacifism.

And so what has happened, in the universe that we actually inhabit, is that France has come close to wrecking the unprecedented rapprochement between the United States and Iran.

All this was done, according to the Guardian, as a result of the personal intervention from that notable statesman Binyamin Netanyahu:

It has emerged that after a call from Barack Obama on Friday evening asking him not to oppose the planned Geneva deal, Netanyahu did the opposite. He called British prime minister, David Cameron, Russian president Vladimir Putin, German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president François Hollande, asking them to block it. Hollande, whose government shared some of Israel”s concerns, agreed.

There are many responses that France could have made to this request, the diplomatic equivalent of ‘fuck off’ being one of them.

After all, even Sarkozy once recognized that Netanyahu was a ‘liar’, but the hapless little warmonger who has taken his place either doesn’t agree, or simply has other priorities, like the prospect of new ‘influence’ in the Middle East, and arms sales to the House of Saud Ltd.

France insists that its opposition to a compromise over the Iranian nuclear issue as a point of principle over nuclear proliferation – though we have yet to hear   Hollande or any other French leader advocate imposing similarly ‘principled’ sanctions on Israel over its nuclear arsenal.

But the real explanation for the French ‘non’ almost certainly lies elsewhere, and has more to do with euros – or rather riyals – than morality.   As Reuters points out:

In October, France sealed a contract to modernize six naval ships and tankers from Saudi Arabia, having won in July one billion euros worth of contracts with the United Arab Emirates for anti-aircraft radars and military observation satellites.

French officials say they are also optimistic on securing a large deal to deliver anti-aircraft defense missiles to Riyadh and the sale of Rafale fighter jets to neighboring Qatar.

Nice work, right?   And there will almost certainly be more to follow, if France continues its circle dance with Israel and the Saudis.

None of this is entirely new.   For all its republican traditions, French foreign policy has often been stunningly chauvinist, reactionary and ruthlessly colonialist.

This is the country that once interned Spanish republican refugees after the Spanish Civil War, that bombed Damascus twice in 1925-26 and 1945, that napalmed Algerian villages and routinized torture during the Algerian War of Independence, and which eagerly joined in the British/Israeli raid on Suez in 1956.   France still seems to believe that it ‘owns’ its former colonies in Africa, and its political elites share with their counterparts in Britain a persistent yearning for wider   post-imperial geopolitical ‘influence’ wherever they can find it.

These aspirations cross the political divide.     Sarkozy was one of the most gung-ho bombers during the NATO war with Libya.     One of the leaked Stratfor emails discussed a meeting between a Stratfor representative with a British, American and French colonel in 2011,   after which he concluded:

The French had a multi-billion dollar contract signed with  Ghadafi for 40 Rafale jets, that was going to be the saving grace for  the French defense industry. Then the French…hear about  AQIM [Al Qaeda in the Maghreb] threats backed by Ghadafi on French targets, and they got pissed.  Sarkozy painted himself in a corner. More than that, though, (and this  is what the british and the french guy agreed on,) was that this was  France really, really wanting to show that it can DO this. To prove its  relevance.

Hollande the former schoolteacher,   has also been desperate to prove his ‘relevance’ and show that France can ‘do’ stuff when it comes to war, whether sending the Legion into Mali or leading the international chorus for an attack on Syria.

Then he appeared to be following in Obama’s slipstream.     And now, France may be taking advantage of US hesitancy and division regarding the potential realignment in the Middle East to carve its own route, and place itself at the centre of a new power bloc, even if Obama doesn’t want it.

Jacques Chirac also stood up against an American administration over Iraq, when he asked for more time for weapons inspections.     Posterity has demonstrated that Chirac was right.

Hollande however, is most definitely wrong.   And if a war with Iran does take place at some future date, he may well go down in history as the man who had the chance to prevent it, and didn’t do so, because in the end war was just simply too profitable to refuse.