Saturday, March 10, 2007

When Sarkozy goes nationalistic by slapping the Germans and the Algerians!

Exceptionalism - the perception that a country is "exceptional" (ie. unusual or extraordinary) in some way, and thus does not conform to normal rules, general principles, or the like – is a disease that affects both French and American right-wing circles.

Here’s a good example from a speech given yesterday by French conservative contender for the Presidential elections Nicolas Sarkozy.

Mais au bout du compte nous avons tout lieu d’être fiers de notre pays, de son histoire, de ce qu’il a incarné, de ce qu’il incarne encore aux yeux du monde.

But in the end we have every reason to be proud of this country, of its history, what it embodied and what it still embodies in the eyes of the world.

Car la France n’a jamais cédé à la tentation totalitaire. Elle n’a jamais exterminé un peuple. Elle n’a pas inventé la solution finale, elle n’a pas commis de crime contre l’humanité, ni de génocide.

Because France has never succumbed to the totalitarian temptation. She never exterminated another people. She did not invent the final solution. She did not commit any crime against humanity, nor genocide.

Elle a commis des fautes qui doivent être réparées, et je pense d’abord aux harkis et à tous ceux qui se sont battus pour la France et vis-à-vis desquels la France a une dette d’honneur qu’elle n’a pas réglée, je pense aux rapatriés qui n’ont eu le choix au moment de la décolonisation qu’entre la valise et le cercueil, je pense aux victimes innocentes de toutes les persécutions dont elle doit honorer la mémoire.

She has made mistakes which must be corrected. I think about the harkis [the Muslims who fought on the side of the French during the war of independence in Algeria] and all those that fought for France and towards whom France has a debt of honor it has not paid yet; I think about those that were rapatriated during decolonization and were given as a choice to leave or to die; I think about all innocent victims of all persecutions whose memory must be honored.

Mais la mode de la repentance est une mode exécrable.
But repentence as a policy is despicable.

(original text can be found here, on the UMP website - translation, courtesy of Jerome-a-Paris on Eurotrib)

Now while I agree that there is nothing wrong with being proud of one’s own country, this must be read within the current context of the cultural war taking place in France with regard to her past and her identity.

Let’s just remind ourselves that only in 1995 did a French President publicly recognize France's responsibility for deporting thousands of Jews to their deaths during World War II. (see our post here)

In the last few years France has been divided over the issue of her French colonial past - partly exacerbated by the problems of integration of the immigrants from the former French colonies.

As mentioned on our blog, this debate became more emotional in the wake of a recent law demanding that teachers at schools all over the country and textbooks emphasise "the positive role (played by) France overseas, especially in the Maghreb region, in North Africa”. The assumption here is that France’s colonial system brought mostly positive things to Africa and Asia.

This is another long held myth in France:

Historian Marc Ferro, author of "Le livre noir du colonialisme" [The Black Book of Colonialism], an uncompromising account of European colonialism, noted that France has always insisted on describing its own colonial practices as "humane," while dismissing British or Spanish colonialism as ruthless and inspired purely by the aim of economic domination.

Now, at the same time, any commemoration of past events in France these days (here and here) has become an occasion for controversy, which has infuriated a lot of people, especially those of the older generation.
Then again, going extreme one way or the other is not something I support, but while self-flogging is certainly pointless, recognizing the darker side of one's history is absolutely necessary and it is something which Americans are definitely better at than the French.

Sarkozy is entitled to his own opinion of course, but he cannot ignore historical facts and he cannot ignore that such rhetoric can be inflammatory. This of course is not the first time that he has used divisive words. I, personally, find it to be a huge drawback for a man who wants to hold the higher office in the country - a position that will require the ability to bring people together. His divisive nature and his over-simplifying view of complex issues get me worried.

But the worst part is that his comments amount to a slap in the faces of the Germans and the Algerians and a way of saying that “we” are better than “them”.

I never thought I'd say this but if he gets elected, I may even regret Chirac's presidency.


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