Commentary Magazine


Topic: Le Monde

More Long-Term Repercussions of WikiLeaks

According to some media reports, the U.S. government is exaggerating the security threat of the latest WikiLeaks document dump. Take this McClatchy article, for instance. First the paper chides U.S. officials for “overstating the danger from WikiLeaks,” and then it commends reporters for their “unprecedented act of self censorship” by withholding information that could have put innocent lives in danger.

“[D]espite similar warnings ahead of the previous two massive releases of classified U.S. intelligence reports by the website, U.S. officials concede that they have no evidence to date that the documents led to anyone’s death,” reported McClatchy.

The paper said that Julian Assange and the reporters he leaked to took all the proper precautions to “ensure nothing released could endanger lives or national security.”

And French newspaper Le Monde, one of the initial five media organizations to receive the documents, added that “All the identities of people the journalists believed would be threatened were redacted.” News outlets apparently even coordinated with WikiLeaks to “ensure sensitive data didn’t appear on the organization’s website.”

I suppose stories like these may help WikiLeaks’s defenders sleep well at night. But they shouldn’t. People who think that vulnerable human rights activists and journalists were the only ones endangered by the release of the documents are sadly mistaken. The leak doesn’t pose a threat just to the individuals directly mentioned in the cables; it puts all Americans (and our allies in the war on terror) in danger. As James Gordon Meek notes at the New York Daily News, WikiLeaks may have severely compromised the ability of U.S. officials to obtain intelligence about future terrorist attacks on our soil and around the world:

Allies in countries with populations that aren’t pro-U.S. may simply let Americans die rather than pass on tips about terror suspects if they think their secret role will wind up in the public eye.

Leaks that keep the government honest are good — but not if they ultimately put innocents in the terrorists’ cross hairs.

Preventing attacks in the U.S. isn’t just about eavesdropping with high-tech gadgets, invisible ink and undercover ops. It’s about relationships with tenuous allies from Islamabad to Sana’a. These disclosures may choke off critical intelligence to thwart terrorism, such as last month’s attempted bombings of U.S.-bound cargo planes from Yemen. That plot was stopped after a tip from Saudi Arabia — not long ago an unreliable partner against Al Qaeda.

These closet allies have little to lose if they neglect to warn the U.S. of a potential terror attack. But if their covert cooperation with our government is exposed, they run the risk of losing political capital within their own countries. Add that to the WikiLeaks-fueled perception that the U.S. can’t keep a handle on its own secret documents, and this could hinder our national security intelligence-gathering for years to come.

According to some media reports, the U.S. government is exaggerating the security threat of the latest WikiLeaks document dump. Take this McClatchy article, for instance. First the paper chides U.S. officials for “overstating the danger from WikiLeaks,” and then it commends reporters for their “unprecedented act of self censorship” by withholding information that could have put innocent lives in danger.

“[D]espite similar warnings ahead of the previous two massive releases of classified U.S. intelligence reports by the website, U.S. officials concede that they have no evidence to date that the documents led to anyone’s death,” reported McClatchy.

The paper said that Julian Assange and the reporters he leaked to took all the proper precautions to “ensure nothing released could endanger lives or national security.”

And French newspaper Le Monde, one of the initial five media organizations to receive the documents, added that “All the identities of people the journalists believed would be threatened were redacted.” News outlets apparently even coordinated with WikiLeaks to “ensure sensitive data didn’t appear on the organization’s website.”

I suppose stories like these may help WikiLeaks’s defenders sleep well at night. But they shouldn’t. People who think that vulnerable human rights activists and journalists were the only ones endangered by the release of the documents are sadly mistaken. The leak doesn’t pose a threat just to the individuals directly mentioned in the cables; it puts all Americans (and our allies in the war on terror) in danger. As James Gordon Meek notes at the New York Daily News, WikiLeaks may have severely compromised the ability of U.S. officials to obtain intelligence about future terrorist attacks on our soil and around the world:

Allies in countries with populations that aren’t pro-U.S. may simply let Americans die rather than pass on tips about terror suspects if they think their secret role will wind up in the public eye.

Leaks that keep the government honest are good — but not if they ultimately put innocents in the terrorists’ cross hairs.

Preventing attacks in the U.S. isn’t just about eavesdropping with high-tech gadgets, invisible ink and undercover ops. It’s about relationships with tenuous allies from Islamabad to Sana’a. These disclosures may choke off critical intelligence to thwart terrorism, such as last month’s attempted bombings of U.S.-bound cargo planes from Yemen. That plot was stopped after a tip from Saudi Arabia — not long ago an unreliable partner against Al Qaeda.

These closet allies have little to lose if they neglect to warn the U.S. of a potential terror attack. But if their covert cooperation with our government is exposed, they run the risk of losing political capital within their own countries. Add that to the WikiLeaks-fueled perception that the U.S. can’t keep a handle on its own secret documents, and this could hinder our national security intelligence-gathering for years to come.

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Syria and Turkey Sink Another Obama Initiative

One of the keys to President Obama’s ill-fated attempt to engage the Islamic world has been the effort to convince Syria to abandon its alliance with Iran and to join the West. But like his vaunted outreach to Iran, this too fell flat — though some in the administration continued to try getting Israel to pay for this initiative with concessions on the Golan Heights and the standoff with Hezbollah, an ally of both Iran and Syria, along the border with Lebanon. But the final nail in the coffin of the Syria gambit appears to have come not from Israeli intransigence but rather from the intervention of a country that once feared the Syrians: Turkey.

Writing in Le Monde Diplomatique, Stephen Starr reports that Turkey has become “Syria’s new best friend.” Though not so long ago the Turks looked to cultivate an alliance with Israel as a counter-balance to the threat they perceived from the Assad regime, they have now embarked on their own outreach campaign to Damascus. Trade between the two countries has grown from a trickle to a flood. More importantly, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s decision to become an apologist and diplomatic partner for Iran and to attempt to become the leader of the Islamic world’s anti-Israel diplomatic front has the potential to change the balance of power in the eastern Mediterranean. By sponsoring the Gaza flotilla provocation and then engaging in what even Starr concedes was a “disproportionate response” to Israel’s efforts to maintain the blockade on the Hamas regime, Turkey has “improved Syria’s political clout significantly.”

Obama’s attempt to woo the Syrians away from Iran was always doomed. While willing to pocket lucrative bribes from the West in the form of aid and development projects, the Assad family regime has no real interest in the welfare of the Syrian people or in better relations with the West. As any narrowly based dictatorships, the Assads know that a more open and prosperous society and peace with Israel do not serve their purposes of perpetuating their vise-like grip on their country. Iran and Hezbollah were always going to be the natural allies of Damascus. The United States might have been able to tell the Syrians that they could get them the Golan Heights back if they just made peace with Israel and deigned to accept Western largess in return. Contrary to how Starr interprets Syria’s past flirting — sponsored by Turkey – with negotiations with Israel, Bashar al-Assad was not interested in peace even if it brought him the Golan.

But edging away from its military alliance with Israel and bidding to revive the Ottoman Empire’s pose as the leader of the Islamic world, NATO member Turkey is a far better fit for being a partner with Syria than with the United States. Indeed, as Starr writes, with Turkey behind it, Assad can now afford to ignore Obama’s entreaties altogether. The result not only deepens Israel’s isolation but also exposes the utter failure of one of the administration’s foreign policy goals. The president imagined that, by distancing the United States from Israel and trying to “engage” the Arab “street” and Iran’s dictators, he could inaugurate a new era of American influence in the Middle East. But it appears as though all he has done is to set the stage for a dangerous turn for the worse in the region.

One of the keys to President Obama’s ill-fated attempt to engage the Islamic world has been the effort to convince Syria to abandon its alliance with Iran and to join the West. But like his vaunted outreach to Iran, this too fell flat — though some in the administration continued to try getting Israel to pay for this initiative with concessions on the Golan Heights and the standoff with Hezbollah, an ally of both Iran and Syria, along the border with Lebanon. But the final nail in the coffin of the Syria gambit appears to have come not from Israeli intransigence but rather from the intervention of a country that once feared the Syrians: Turkey.

Writing in Le Monde Diplomatique, Stephen Starr reports that Turkey has become “Syria’s new best friend.” Though not so long ago the Turks looked to cultivate an alliance with Israel as a counter-balance to the threat they perceived from the Assad regime, they have now embarked on their own outreach campaign to Damascus. Trade between the two countries has grown from a trickle to a flood. More importantly, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s decision to become an apologist and diplomatic partner for Iran and to attempt to become the leader of the Islamic world’s anti-Israel diplomatic front has the potential to change the balance of power in the eastern Mediterranean. By sponsoring the Gaza flotilla provocation and then engaging in what even Starr concedes was a “disproportionate response” to Israel’s efforts to maintain the blockade on the Hamas regime, Turkey has “improved Syria’s political clout significantly.”

Obama’s attempt to woo the Syrians away from Iran was always doomed. While willing to pocket lucrative bribes from the West in the form of aid and development projects, the Assad family regime has no real interest in the welfare of the Syrian people or in better relations with the West. As any narrowly based dictatorships, the Assads know that a more open and prosperous society and peace with Israel do not serve their purposes of perpetuating their vise-like grip on their country. Iran and Hezbollah were always going to be the natural allies of Damascus. The United States might have been able to tell the Syrians that they could get them the Golan Heights back if they just made peace with Israel and deigned to accept Western largess in return. Contrary to how Starr interprets Syria’s past flirting — sponsored by Turkey – with negotiations with Israel, Bashar al-Assad was not interested in peace even if it brought him the Golan.

But edging away from its military alliance with Israel and bidding to revive the Ottoman Empire’s pose as the leader of the Islamic world, NATO member Turkey is a far better fit for being a partner with Syria than with the United States. Indeed, as Starr writes, with Turkey behind it, Assad can now afford to ignore Obama’s entreaties altogether. The result not only deepens Israel’s isolation but also exposes the utter failure of one of the administration’s foreign policy goals. The president imagined that, by distancing the United States from Israel and trying to “engage” the Arab “street” and Iran’s dictators, he could inaugurate a new era of American influence in the Middle East. But it appears as though all he has done is to set the stage for a dangerous turn for the worse in the region.

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The Orwellian Winner of the Orwell Prize

Our friend Tom Gross notes the disgusting publication of an openly anti-Semitic article by the star columnist in The Independent, one of Britain’s leading newspapers:

 Last Thursday Johann Hari, the leading political columnist for the British daily The Independent, received the (previously) highly prestigious Orwell Prize for political writing. The 29-year-old Hari “celebrated” by writing a vicious attack on Israel.

In his column in The Independent this week, he writes: “Whenever I try to mouth these words [of reassurance for Israel], a remembered smell fills my nostrils. It is the smell of shit.”

In a modern day “poisoning of the wells” blood libel, Hari accuses Israel of deliberately polluting West Bank groundwater supplies.

Continuing his sewage analogy, Hari’s concludes his piece: “Israel, as she gazes at her grey hairs and discreetly ignores the smell of her own stale shit pumped across Palestine, needs to ask what kind of country she wants to be in the next 60 years.”

Hari has a track record of slanderous anti-Israel opinion pieces. For example, he referred to the Virgin Mary (who was, of course, Jewish) as a “Palestinian refugee in Bethlehem”.

(In 2007, Hari was also named “Newspaper Journalist of the Year” by Amnesty International. He has also written for The New York Times and Le Monde.)

Hari’s “shit” piece this week is apparently considered so brilliant by other news editors that in the last two days it has been reproduced in The Canberra Times (in Australia) and The Irish Independent, as well on dozens of extreme left and extreme-right anti-Israel websites.

One would be tempted to ignore The Guardian and The Independent but they are overwhelmingly the papers of choice subscribed to by other journalists, particularly staff at the BBC and Reuters in London, and also by school teachers and university professors in the UK and elsewhere.

Our friend Tom Gross notes the disgusting publication of an openly anti-Semitic article by the star columnist in The Independent, one of Britain’s leading newspapers:

 Last Thursday Johann Hari, the leading political columnist for the British daily The Independent, received the (previously) highly prestigious Orwell Prize for political writing. The 29-year-old Hari “celebrated” by writing a vicious attack on Israel.

In his column in The Independent this week, he writes: “Whenever I try to mouth these words [of reassurance for Israel], a remembered smell fills my nostrils. It is the smell of shit.”

In a modern day “poisoning of the wells” blood libel, Hari accuses Israel of deliberately polluting West Bank groundwater supplies.

Continuing his sewage analogy, Hari’s concludes his piece: “Israel, as she gazes at her grey hairs and discreetly ignores the smell of her own stale shit pumped across Palestine, needs to ask what kind of country she wants to be in the next 60 years.”

Hari has a track record of slanderous anti-Israel opinion pieces. For example, he referred to the Virgin Mary (who was, of course, Jewish) as a “Palestinian refugee in Bethlehem”.

(In 2007, Hari was also named “Newspaper Journalist of the Year” by Amnesty International. He has also written for The New York Times and Le Monde.)

Hari’s “shit” piece this week is apparently considered so brilliant by other news editors that in the last two days it has been reproduced in The Canberra Times (in Australia) and The Irish Independent, as well on dozens of extreme left and extreme-right anti-Israel websites.

One would be tempted to ignore The Guardian and The Independent but they are overwhelmingly the papers of choice subscribed to by other journalists, particularly staff at the BBC and Reuters in London, and also by school teachers and university professors in the UK and elsewhere.

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All the Fault of the Neocons

Arche de Zoé, a rickety French NGO thrown together to rescue 10,000 Darfur orphans (see the original press release here), has capsized in Chad. As of this writing, six activists of the NGO, four Chadian collaborators, three members of a Spanish flight crew, and one Belgian pilot are detained in a maximum security prison in N’jamena, accused of kidnapping 103 children. The wild ambitions of volunteer fireman Eric Breteau and his companion Emilie Lelouch came down to a sordid humanitarian swindle with international ramifications. Though an ocean of incriminating evidence testifies to their criminal methods, loyal supporters and high-minded analysts throw the would-be do-gooders life jackets marked “good intentions,” while Socialist opponents tongue-lash the Sarkozy government, and far-out geopolitical experts blame it on American neocons.

How’s that? According to Jean-Philippe Remy of Le Monde and Antoine Glaser, director of La Lettre du Continent, a bi-monthly journal on Africa, over-sensitive idealists were pushed to excess by made-in-the-U.S.A. “Save Darfur” propaganda. Remy and Glaser believe that such propaganda misrepresents a conflict between the Sudanese government and armed rebels, a conflict that is overheated by various oil interests in Sudan and Chad. Two hundred thousand victims does not a genocide make. Besides, says Glaser, it’s winding down. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, of Doctors without Borders fame, is accused of infecting the Sarkozy government with Save Darfur hysteria.

Others claim the government knew enough to stop Breteau before he touched the hair of one child’s head. Furthermore, Socialist leader François Hollande sputters that Sarkozy is leaving the unfortunate humanitarians in the clutches of an unspeakable (African) jurisdiction instead of bringing them back to be judged (more clemently) in France. Hollande and his ilk are furious at Nicolas Sarkozy for flying to Chad last Sunday to bring back the journalists and the four airline stewardesses, conditionally liberated as per his request relayed to the court by Chad’s President Idriss Déby.

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Arche de Zoé, a rickety French NGO thrown together to rescue 10,000 Darfur orphans (see the original press release here), has capsized in Chad. As of this writing, six activists of the NGO, four Chadian collaborators, three members of a Spanish flight crew, and one Belgian pilot are detained in a maximum security prison in N’jamena, accused of kidnapping 103 children. The wild ambitions of volunteer fireman Eric Breteau and his companion Emilie Lelouch came down to a sordid humanitarian swindle with international ramifications. Though an ocean of incriminating evidence testifies to their criminal methods, loyal supporters and high-minded analysts throw the would-be do-gooders life jackets marked “good intentions,” while Socialist opponents tongue-lash the Sarkozy government, and far-out geopolitical experts blame it on American neocons.

How’s that? According to Jean-Philippe Remy of Le Monde and Antoine Glaser, director of La Lettre du Continent, a bi-monthly journal on Africa, over-sensitive idealists were pushed to excess by made-in-the-U.S.A. “Save Darfur” propaganda. Remy and Glaser believe that such propaganda misrepresents a conflict between the Sudanese government and armed rebels, a conflict that is overheated by various oil interests in Sudan and Chad. Two hundred thousand victims does not a genocide make. Besides, says Glaser, it’s winding down. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, of Doctors without Borders fame, is accused of infecting the Sarkozy government with Save Darfur hysteria.

Others claim the government knew enough to stop Breteau before he touched the hair of one child’s head. Furthermore, Socialist leader François Hollande sputters that Sarkozy is leaving the unfortunate humanitarians in the clutches of an unspeakable (African) jurisdiction instead of bringing them back to be judged (more clemently) in France. Hollande and his ilk are furious at Nicolas Sarkozy for flying to Chad last Sunday to bring back the journalists and the four airline stewardesses, conditionally liberated as per his request relayed to the court by Chad’s President Idriss Déby.

And so it goes, down the line of an inverted ethical system by which the closer you get to the actual misdeed the lighter the responsibility. The journalists slipped out through the free press escape hatch, though their relations with the operation were not always clear. Marie-Agnès Peleran was on “humanitarian leave of absence” from France 3 television, and was a candidate for hosting a refugee child. Jean-Daniel Guillou, of the Synchro X photo agency, openly declared his sympathy for the Zoé six, who are “idealists, not criminals.” Marc Garmirian, of the Capa Agency, filmed the operation, including the planned middle of the night evacuation, without blowing any whistles.

Garmirian’s film is an eloquent testimony to the evil doings of the humanitarian kidnappers. The footage edited while he was imprisoned and screened while he was on his way back to Paris documents the inhumane folie à deux of Breteau and Lelouch that engulfed French do-gooders and exploited, employed, or bribed Chadian accomplices. Over a hundred children, caught in the middle, served as human shields for a humanitarian delusion.

Yes, the Darfur orphans plucked from the jaws of death were in fact healthy Chadian children, most of them between four and five years old. They were disguised with fake bandages, bloodstains, and IV’s (shades of al-Dura) for the stealthy “medical evacuation” that almost took place via a chartered Girjet plane with its (Spanish) crew of seven waiting on a primitive airstrip in the bush near the city of Abéché, where Arche de Zoé, disguised as “Children Rescue,” had set up an outpost. The convoy was stopped at the eleventh hour. The artificial orphans are still stranded in Abéché.

Those who credit Breteau and his accomplices with misguided good intentions think they were swindled by Chadian intermediaries. A more plausible explanation, based on verifiable concrete facts, is that Breteau was caught in his own contradictions. Some 350 families were convinced to contribute 2400 euros (that would make a total of 840,000 euros) for the privilege of hosting—and eventually adopting—the refugee children. Stumped by the impossibility of approaching Darfur refugee camps, he had to keep his word to the French families…and, perhaps, lie to himself.

President Sarkozy has vowed to return to Chad and bring back the remaining French prisoners, “no matter what they’ve done.” But Chadian officials promise to give the kidnappers a taste of their famous prisons. Policemen thrash angry demonstrators to keep them from attacking the prisoners as they are transferred from the jail to the courthouse. A clash of civilizations, as it were.

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Stalin’s Music Master

Press reports recently announced the death, at age 94, of Russian composer Tikhon Khrennikov (1913-2007). For four decades, Khrennikov headed the Union of Soviet Composers and advanced his own career, while terrorizing musicians like Dmitri Shostakovich and Sergei Prokofiev. In 1949, Khrennikov scorned Prokofiev for creating works that “smell of the marazm (decay) of bourgeois culture” and failing to draw the “necessary conclusions from the decree of the Central Committee.” Khrennikov expected musicians to “reorganize” themselves and “rebuild their work” to suit Stalinist requirements; he also dismissed Shostakovich as “frantically gloomy and neurotic,” and persecuted recent modern masters, like Edison Denisov and Sofia Gubaidulina, by denying them teaching jobs, performances, and travel permits.

Yet Khrennikov’s own music is still feted with annual festival concerts in Moscow. In 1995, the conductor Evgeny Svetlanov (1928-2002), who recorded many of Khrennikov’s pieces (including his drab, plodding Violin Concerto), was asked by Le Monde de la Musique if he performed Khrennikov’s music “for artistic or political reasons.” Svetlanov candidly replied: “Both.” The star baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky (b. 1962) included on his recent CD of Russian songs for Delos Khrennikov’s syrupy Moscow Windows.

Why should Russian performers and CD companies continue to perform and record Khrennikov so adamantly? One answer may lie in the fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin is a big Khrennikov fan; Putin arranged for Khrennikov to receive UNESCO’s Mozart Medal “for contribution to world peace through music and the arts” (ha!) on his 90th birthday in 2003. This award was bestowed years after UNESCO supposedly had reformed, after long and harsh criticism for its service as a blatant platform for Communist propaganda.

Khrennikov outlived the composers he tormented, and even appeared in several documentary films—such as 1997’s Shostakovich Against Stalin and Khachaturian: A Musician and His Fatherland—trying to justify his own actions. In Shostakovich Against Stalin, Khrennikov claims that the fear under which Shostakovich lived in the USSR “has been terribly exaggerated. There was nothing for him to be afraid of.” To which another persecuted interviewee replies: “The wolf cannot speak about the fear of the sheep.” In the gospel of Matthew, the Lord divides the “sheep from the goats.” Posterity already knows to which category Khrennikov belongs.

Press reports recently announced the death, at age 94, of Russian composer Tikhon Khrennikov (1913-2007). For four decades, Khrennikov headed the Union of Soviet Composers and advanced his own career, while terrorizing musicians like Dmitri Shostakovich and Sergei Prokofiev. In 1949, Khrennikov scorned Prokofiev for creating works that “smell of the marazm (decay) of bourgeois culture” and failing to draw the “necessary conclusions from the decree of the Central Committee.” Khrennikov expected musicians to “reorganize” themselves and “rebuild their work” to suit Stalinist requirements; he also dismissed Shostakovich as “frantically gloomy and neurotic,” and persecuted recent modern masters, like Edison Denisov and Sofia Gubaidulina, by denying them teaching jobs, performances, and travel permits.

Yet Khrennikov’s own music is still feted with annual festival concerts in Moscow. In 1995, the conductor Evgeny Svetlanov (1928-2002), who recorded many of Khrennikov’s pieces (including his drab, plodding Violin Concerto), was asked by Le Monde de la Musique if he performed Khrennikov’s music “for artistic or political reasons.” Svetlanov candidly replied: “Both.” The star baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky (b. 1962) included on his recent CD of Russian songs for Delos Khrennikov’s syrupy Moscow Windows.

Why should Russian performers and CD companies continue to perform and record Khrennikov so adamantly? One answer may lie in the fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin is a big Khrennikov fan; Putin arranged for Khrennikov to receive UNESCO’s Mozart Medal “for contribution to world peace through music and the arts” (ha!) on his 90th birthday in 2003. This award was bestowed years after UNESCO supposedly had reformed, after long and harsh criticism for its service as a blatant platform for Communist propaganda.

Khrennikov outlived the composers he tormented, and even appeared in several documentary films—such as 1997’s Shostakovich Against Stalin and Khachaturian: A Musician and His Fatherland—trying to justify his own actions. In Shostakovich Against Stalin, Khrennikov claims that the fear under which Shostakovich lived in the USSR “has been terribly exaggerated. There was nothing for him to be afraid of.” To which another persecuted interviewee replies: “The wolf cannot speak about the fear of the sheep.” In the gospel of Matthew, the Lord divides the “sheep from the goats.” Posterity already knows to which category Khrennikov belongs.

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Val Goes Free

Contrary to popular belief, the French are not really respecters of persons. They like to scoff, and they are better at it than most people. Philippe Val is a good example. In his mid-fifties, he is an ex-singer, a film buff, and a self-professed anarcho-kook. Since 1992 he has been editing a weekly satirical magazine called Charlie Hebdo, which has a circulation of 100,000. A collection of his writings has been published under a title that tells its own story, and may be translated as Good Screwings with bin Laden.

Jyllands Posten, a Danish publication, was hardly more in the public eye than Charlie Hebdo when in 2005 it commissioned a dozen cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, and ran them. A Danish imam, an Islamist, saw his chance and raced around the Muslim Brotherhood cells in several Arab countries. Soon they had arranged demonstrations, the burning of the Danish embassy in Beirut, and the boycott of Danish exports like cheese and Legos. To its lasting disgrace, Carrefour, the French supermarket chain, made a point of advertising that it did not sell Danish products.

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Contrary to popular belief, the French are not really respecters of persons. They like to scoff, and they are better at it than most people. Philippe Val is a good example. In his mid-fifties, he is an ex-singer, a film buff, and a self-professed anarcho-kook. Since 1992 he has been editing a weekly satirical magazine called Charlie Hebdo, which has a circulation of 100,000. A collection of his writings has been published under a title that tells its own story, and may be translated as Good Screwings with bin Laden.

Jyllands Posten, a Danish publication, was hardly more in the public eye than Charlie Hebdo when in 2005 it commissioned a dozen cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, and ran them. A Danish imam, an Islamist, saw his chance and raced around the Muslim Brotherhood cells in several Arab countries. Soon they had arranged demonstrations, the burning of the Danish embassy in Beirut, and the boycott of Danish exports like cheese and Legos. To its lasting disgrace, Carrefour, the French supermarket chain, made a point of advertising that it did not sell Danish products.

Quite a number of public personalities who should have known better sided with the Islamists, and argued that the cartoons should have been banned. One particularly creepy apologist of censorship was the British foreign secretary, Jack Straw—and he in the chair of Canning and Palmerston. The French press, on the other hand, was rather robust. L’Express, the magazine once graced by Raymond Aron and Jean-Francois Revel, published all twelve cartoons. Val published only three, including the one showing the prophet’s turban as a fizzing bomb, and the one which has the prophet exclaiming, “It’s hard to be loved by idiots,” though the word used for idiot in French is rather rude. Special print runs followed, more than doubling Charlie Hebdo‘s circulation.

It is not clear why Charlie Hebdo and Val were prosecuted for “publicly abusing a group of people because of their religion” and L’Express was not. President Jacques Chirac wanted a trial, and seems to have pressured the Grand Mosque of Paris to bring a charge. The Grand Mosque comes under the umbrella of the Union of Islamic Organizations of France (UOIF), which is itself under the thumb of the Muslim Brotherhood. Val claims that Dalil Boubakeur, the imam of the Grand Mosque (an Algerian originally and by all accounts a decent man) told him that he did not want to prosecute, but the authorities were eager to do so. Val thinks that Chirac is out to appease the Arabs, or maybe is just chasing commerce. At any rate, Chirac offered the UOIF the services of his personal lawyer, Francis Szpiner, who in court spouted a lot of nonsense about racism. A second lawyer for the prosecution had a name—Christophe Bigot—that a satirical magazine might have invented.

The three judges of the Paris tribunal were having none of it. Throwing the case out, they rendered a judgement that Le Monde approvingly called “a model of clarity.” The three cartoons were all fair comment. Gratuitous offence to Muslims would be objectionable, but there was none. The UOIF says that the verdict is “unsatisfactory,” and it will appeal. But in the city where Voltaire was once thrashed by a nobleman and then locked up, free speech is still safe.

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M. Chirac’s Retractions

The “united” Western position on Iran unraveled somewhat last week when French President Jacques Chirac told reporters that if Iran were to get one nuclear bomb and “maybe a second one a little later, well, that’s not very dangerous.” Should the Iranians try to use them, he continued, “Tehran will be razed.”

The uproar was dismissed by the Élysée Palace as a “shameful campaign” by American news outlets intent on “using any excuse to engage in France-bashing”—an absurd accusation given a Le Monde editorial titled “a radical turning” and accusing Chirac of destroying French credibility. So reporters were summoned for a “retraction” interview the next day—but Chirac’s only retraction was to regret any insult he might have given Iran. Three times he called the Islamic republic “a great country.” As for his comment that “Tehran will be razed” should it launch a nuclear weapon: “I retract it, of course.” So long, nuclear deterrence: the “essential foundation”—to quote Chirac in 2001—at the “heart of our country’s security.”

What Chirac did not retract was his statement that a nuclear-armed Iran is “not very dangerous.” Rather, he confirmed it with a long rant: “the moment [a bomb] was launched, obviously [it] would be destroyed immediately. We have the means—several countries have the means—to destroy a bomb once they see a bomb-carrying rocket launch.” In fact, no country has an effective, let alone fool-proof, anti-missile system. Chirac himself stated his absolute opposition to the limited missile defense endorsed by President Clinton in 2000 and to the national missile-defense program begun by President Bush in 2001.

Chirac’s fatuity, clichés, and lies are not exactly surprising. He long ago proved where his sympathies lie in these matters by calling Saddam Hussein a “dear friend” and genuflecting before Yasir Arafat’s corpse. Sadly, Chirac’s behavior is part of a long tradition of French indifference to, indeed collaboration with, terrorism and Islamism—brilliantly exposed in David Pryce-Jones’s new book Betrayal, an expansion of his recent COMMENTARY article “Jews, Arabs, and French Diplomacy.”

As if to perfect the farcical quality of this episode in the waning days of his presidency, Chirac dismissed Iran’s nuclear program as a distraction from what he called the truly pressing “current problem” facing the world: the environment.

The “united” Western position on Iran unraveled somewhat last week when French President Jacques Chirac told reporters that if Iran were to get one nuclear bomb and “maybe a second one a little later, well, that’s not very dangerous.” Should the Iranians try to use them, he continued, “Tehran will be razed.”

The uproar was dismissed by the Élysée Palace as a “shameful campaign” by American news outlets intent on “using any excuse to engage in France-bashing”—an absurd accusation given a Le Monde editorial titled “a radical turning” and accusing Chirac of destroying French credibility. So reporters were summoned for a “retraction” interview the next day—but Chirac’s only retraction was to regret any insult he might have given Iran. Three times he called the Islamic republic “a great country.” As for his comment that “Tehran will be razed” should it launch a nuclear weapon: “I retract it, of course.” So long, nuclear deterrence: the “essential foundation”—to quote Chirac in 2001—at the “heart of our country’s security.”

What Chirac did not retract was his statement that a nuclear-armed Iran is “not very dangerous.” Rather, he confirmed it with a long rant: “the moment [a bomb] was launched, obviously [it] would be destroyed immediately. We have the means—several countries have the means—to destroy a bomb once they see a bomb-carrying rocket launch.” In fact, no country has an effective, let alone fool-proof, anti-missile system. Chirac himself stated his absolute opposition to the limited missile defense endorsed by President Clinton in 2000 and to the national missile-defense program begun by President Bush in 2001.

Chirac’s fatuity, clichés, and lies are not exactly surprising. He long ago proved where his sympathies lie in these matters by calling Saddam Hussein a “dear friend” and genuflecting before Yasir Arafat’s corpse. Sadly, Chirac’s behavior is part of a long tradition of French indifference to, indeed collaboration with, terrorism and Islamism—brilliantly exposed in David Pryce-Jones’s new book Betrayal, an expansion of his recent COMMENTARY article “Jews, Arabs, and French Diplomacy.”

As if to perfect the farcical quality of this episode in the waning days of his presidency, Chirac dismissed Iran’s nuclear program as a distraction from what he called the truly pressing “current problem” facing the world: the environment.

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