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France and its anomalies

Tuesday 27 March 2007, by Semih Idiz

Source : TDN, 22/03/2007

The more one learns about France the more one finds out what a strange and inconsistent country this is.

We are dealing with a nation here that does not refrain from legislating other peoples’ history (as if history could be legislated). We saw this clearly with the now dead bill passed earlier this year – “dead” because it was not endorsed in time – which tried to criminalize the claim that an Armenian genocide did not happen.

And yet when Algerians demand an apology for the 150 years of French colonialism during which they say “cultural genocide” was perpetrated against them – with more than one Algerian saying it was more than just “cultural genocide” - French politicians are quick off the mark in maintaining that “such sensitive topics should not be politicized, but left to historians to deal with,” which is exactly what Turkey says concerning the Armenian issue.

Neither are French politicians prepared to accept a bill in their legislature that might suggest in any way that an apology to the Algerian people is in the offing, even though the same politicians may be demanding that Turkey apologize to Armenia.

Quite to the contrary, we have seen shameful attempts to introduce legislation that would compel schools to teach French children about all the good their fathers and grandfathers did in Algeria. It is clear that many in France still feel that the French occupation of Algeria was part of their country’s “mission to civilize the world,” (the French version of “white man’s burden”) and “if the barbarians did not appreciate this, then too bad for them.”

Nowadays French papers are rife with reports about the rise of nationalism in Turkey and the lack of respect for minority rights. Much is made of this topic in an effort to try and prove how “uneuropean” Turkey is, especially because of legislation such as Article 301, which foresees a penalty for insulting “Turkishness.”

And yet we learn now that presidential hopeful Nicholas Sarkozy proposes that a “Ministry of Immigration and National Identity” be established to deal with the questions of immigrants (read that to mean “undesirable North African Arabs”), and the preservation of the French identity.

Former Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin may lambaste this proposal by saying that “to want to monopolize national identity in a ministry is of nearly totalitarian inspiration or in any case despotic." But we are told that up to 55 percent of French people would support Sarkozy’s suggestion, without worrying about the negative implications.
In fact the French are also known to be very “nationalistic” and many Arabs crammed into the poor tenements on the outskirts of Paris - where you’re average Frenchman would not house a poodle - maintain that they are also racist. Meanwhile more than one Israeli I know refers to the French as “elementally anti-Semitic.”

And yet here is a country that does not shy from mounting its moral high horse when it comes to the shortcomings of others, while taking no notice of the hypocritical position this may be landing itself in. This by any definition is arrogance.
It does not take much imagination to guess how the French media would react if the government in Turkey were to come out today with a proposal that a “Ministry for National Identity” be set up “to preserve and protect the Turkish identity.”

France’s moving towards the right

The simple fact is that France is also moving rapidly towards the right, and is a net contributor today to the environment of xenophobia, Islamophobia and general intolerance that is taking over Europe. This is what will probably bring Sarkozy to the Presidency in the end, unless the French are overcome with a sudden awareness of where their country is heading and decide to return to the spirit of the “The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.”
As a final remark here, Sarkozy is still maintaining an anti-Turkish line even though the EU dimension is something that has dropped off the average Turks’ radar for the foreseeable future. It is clear that he still needs this jargon to bolster his political position at home in the lead up to the presidential elections.

However, someone should tell him that if he represents the rising values in France and if the EU of the future is going to become what he and Mrs. Merkel in Germany desire, then that is a Union that Turkey would not want to join anyway, so he can relax. Put another way, the EU that Turkey wants to join is the EU of “values,” not an EU where “Ministries of National Identity” start to become the order of the day.
Ironically, as Turkey tries to become more European in terms of the values that govern the individual and society, some countries in Europe are becoming more and more like the Turkey they criticize so vehemently today for its shortcomings

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