CrISIS 4.

There’s this story I read. Angela Merkel, Chancellor of the German Federal Republic, isn’t afraid of most things (she grew up in the German “Democratic” Republic), but she is afraid of dogs. She went to meet Vladimir (“Vlad the Impaler”) Putin. Putin made sure that there were a couple of big, aggressive dogs present. Why? Because he’s a son-of-a-bitch, that’s why. Merkel didn’t bend at the meeting. Still, that is who President Obama is up against.

Putin wants President-for-Life Bashar al-Assad to keep running Syria. Assad is opposed by a bunch of conservative Sunni Muslim rebels (some associated with Al Qaeda), and some “moderates” who keep disintegrating every time the US tries to stand them up as a fighting force, and ISIS. Putin seems determined to use Russian air power to beat up on the non-ISIS rebels to reduce the pressure on Assad. Once that goal is accomplished, then they can think about what to do about ISIS. Well, that seems to have been the plan until ISIS claimed responsibility for the crash of the Russkie airliner flying out of Sharm el Sheikh.[1] Now Putin probably is thinking about the brilliant “montage” work done by Francis Ford Coppola for “The Godfather.”[2]

Then ISIS appears to be behind the Paris terrorist attacks. Yes, this has got Americans hyperventilating. However, it has got the French thinking about wasting somebody and the sooner the better. You don’t want to get your ideas about the French from Republicans[3] or from Warner Brothers’ cartoons.[4] If they can’t get the answer they want from President Obama when French President Francois Hollande visits Washington, then he will be on the next thing smoking for Moscow. They aren’t likely to get the answer they want in Washington.[5]

What to do? First, recognize that the US is not leading the coalition against ISIS. That coalition consists of Shi’ite Iran, Shi’ite-ruled Iraq, the Kurds (who are fighting for the existence of an independent Kurdish state more than anything else and who will send in their bill as soon as ISIS is beaten), the Russkies (regardless of how Josh Earnest phrases it), the British, and the French. Even the Germans may be compelled to take a role. Who isn’t in that coalition? The Sunni Gulf States and Turkey. None of the above give rip about what the US wants. This is a matter of real importance for these countries, as opposed to a political debating point in the US.

Second, recognize that defeating ISIS will do nothing to end our long-term problem with radical Islam. Al-Qaeda gave rise to Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia (AQIM). AQIM gave rise to ISIS. On the one hand, there are a host of similar organizations in the Middle East springing up like jack-in-the-boxes. More will arise after ISIS is defeated. Radical Islamist organizations elsewhere (Al Shabab in Somalia, Bozo Haram in Nigeria, and possibly the “Third Intifada” that appears to be rising in Palestine) show that there is no central head-quarters. On the other hand, radical Islamist movements recruit their fighters from the alienated Muslim youth of Europe and—especially—the “failed states” of the Muslim world.

We’re in for a very long haul. Sad to say, the Cold War analogy may turn out to be useful. So, “containment” or “roll-back”?

[1] Still, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_apartment_bombings#Theory_of_Russian_government_conspiracy

[2] See: Sergei Eisenstein, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=laJ_1P-Py2k; see “The Godfather,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EfbYp9oaIT8

[3] “Freedom fries,” “Freedom doors,” and “Freedom kisses,” etc.

[4] See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PJfI3KnmSHc The Department of Defense ordered this movie shown before the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Not because it wanted to encourage soldiers to misbehave but because it recognized—as the people in the White House did not—where we might be led.

[5] One recent poll found that 76 percent of Americans oppose sending in regular ground troops to Iraq and 66 percent opposed sending in even Special Forces troops to spot for the air-strikes that are our most useful role.

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Rivers of Blood I.

Muslim immigration to Western Europe began by stages after the Second World War as labor-short economies and the end of empires combined to draw non-Europeans toward the “mother country.” A great deal of thoughtlessness went into these migrations. All host countries were ill-prepared to deal with the immigrants.

In January 2015 there are an estimated 20 million Muslims in Europe. About 5 million are in France, where they make up 8 percent of the population. (See: “The other land of liberty and opportunity.”) In Britain and Germany they make up 5 percent of the population. One of the things that eats at European countries is the feeling that immigrants have come to their countries to prey on the generous social welfare provision of enlightened countries. In the 1970s, two-thirds of the immigrants in Germany were in the labor force, while one-third were not. Thirty years later scarcely more than a quarter of immigrants were in the labor force.[1] Another problem, revealed by a poll in L’Express in January 2013 is that 74 percent of those polled said that Islam “is not compatible with French society.” Yet this feeling finds no expression in the “mainstream” or “respectable” French political parties. Why not?

Christopher Caldwell argues that the European left has made discussion of the problems raised by immigration almost impossible.[2] On the one hand, they have evoked European historical crimes—the Holocaust above all—to justify repressing unwelcome speech. He implies that they have undermined the foundations of democracy in the process. In France, he sees the “SOS Racisme” group created in the 1980s as a puppet of the Socialist Party intended to shout-down conservative voices and the 1990 Gayssot Law against Holocaust-denial as an entering wedge for people who want to stifle discussion of other historical events—many of them highly unpleasant and non-Western. Most recently, the anti-immigrant Front National Party got left out of the post-Charlie Hebdo parade on the grounds that it was not “republican” enough.

On the other hand, people on the left have failed to understand that, whatever was done to European Jews, it wasn’t done by Muslims. Just as Palestinians have felt free to reject the State of Israel as European expiation of European crimes at the expense of Arabs, so too have Euro-Muslims felt free to reject European progressive thought as an alien set of values intended to curb their own beliefs. If one adds these forces to the failure to integrate the immigrants and their French-born descendants into French society, one can begin to understand some of the impulses that set the Kouachi brothers and Amedy Coulibaly on the path to terrorism. They are not alone in their alienation, hostility, and religious fervor.

Caldwell understands that Europe’s aging and declining non-Muslim population makes immigration essential. He is less quick to say that the anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiments expressed by parties like the Front National can have no practical expression in public policy. Yes, the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492. Is that what the Front National or other parties expect to repeat with Muslims? Some of the Front National voters undoubtedly do want that, but the program of the party calls for a halt to further immigration and a defense of “secular values.” France already has more police per capita than any other European country. Even so, security lapses allowed the Kouatchis and Coulibaly to escape detection of their plans to kill.

There is going to have to be a third way between “political correctness” and stupidity.

[1] Two million out of three million in the early 1970s versus two million out of seven-and-a-half million in th early 2000s.

[2] Christopher Caldwell, “Europe’s Crisis of Faith,” WSJ, 17-18 January 2015.

 

The other land of liberty and opportunity.

The terrible events in Paris in early January 2015 have inspired all sorts of questions. What are the limits of “free speech”? Why did the security services fail to discern the threat? Perhaps most importantly, why do some French Muslims become radicalized?

During the 19th Century French population grew at a pace (40 percent) much below that of the rest of Europe (100+ percent). This population gap began to have an effect on the supply of workers. In the late 19th and early 20th Centuries the French began to make up the difference by encouraging immigration from countries like Italy, Poland, and Spain. By the eve of the Great Depression, immigrants had increased from 1 percent of the population to 3 percent. The Depression caused the French to seek to reduce the number of immigrants in the country. In the aftermath of the Second World War, however, France turned to encouraging the immigration of guest workers from its colonial empire as a national policy. The collapse of the French position in Algeria in the early Sixties then brought a flood of refugees (both Algerians of European descent and Algerian Muslims who had been loyal to France in the Algerian war). This population movement totaled well over a million people in the space of a few years.

From this point onward the question of immigration became politicized and tense. For one thing, there the “pied noir” immigrants from Algeria and the “harkis” competed for the same jobs at the bottom of the French economy, spawning a bitter hostility. For another thing, the great economic slump of the Seventies intensified the competition for jobs. France put a stop to immigration in 1974, but the immigrants in the country put down roots rather than going “home.” They sent for their families before French laws could prohibit this. Consequently, the immigrant population actually increased in size at a time when France sought to limit it. For a third thing, the French accepted the sociological theory of a “threshold of tolerance,” beyond which the number of unassimilated immigrants worked to disintegrate society. This latter theory had a particular resonance because of the “French social model.”

That model holds that there is a single French national culture and everyone has to assimilate to it to be French. Anyone who is not French is “foreign” (etranger). Formally, “etranger” refers to anyone without French citizenship, but informally it includes anyone who refused to become “French.” The French reject the Anglo-American model of multi-culturalism. The French carry this to the point of refusing to gather statistical data on the ethnic or national origins of French citizens. Rough estimates, done on the basis of the number of “etrangers” and their descendants living in France, put the number of non-French within the hexagon at 14 million or 25 percent of the population. Of these, it has been estimated that 5-6 million are Muslims.

It is open to question whether the Muslim immigrants have assimilated to French culture. On the one hand, they undoubtedly have: they eat pork, smoke, drink, and have premarital sex, just like ordinary “French” people of their generation. On the other hand, they are walled off in ethnic ghettoes on the outskirts of the major cities (especially Paris). These areas are marked by very high unemployment (40-50 percent), crime, and drug-use. At the same time, one can wonder whether the French have made much of an effort to assimilate the immigrants. The inhabitants of these ghettoes are often third generation residents of France with little knowledge of or interest in their “homelands,” there is a good deal of evidence that French employers prefer to hire people with lighter skins and French-sounding names, and former President Nicholas Sarkozy may have been expressing a common sentiment when he referred to the rioters at the end of 2005 as “racaille” (scum).   See: The Week, 2 December 2005, p. 15.

War Movies 6: “The Lost Command.”

Jean Pierre Lucien Osty (1920-2011) came from a French-peasant-moved-to-Paris background.  War became a central experience of his life: he served in the French Army at the start of the Second World War; then escaped from Vichy France to North Africa by way of Spain; and fought in Italy and France.  Earning an officer’s commission, he then served in the Far East, including a stint in Korea.  Then he became a war correspondent.  His experiences provided the basis for a string of book, published under the pen-name of Jean Larteguy.  One of these books was the novel The Centurions (1963), about the war in Algeria.

The Centurions became a huge best-seller in France, then was translated into English and had a wide readership in the United States as well, many of those readers were Army Special Forces officers.  Larteguy sold the movie rights to the book to Americans.

The book is sprawling as it tries to cover a half-decade of complex action.  Nelson Giddings, who wrote the screenplay, and his frequent collaborator Mark Robson,[1] who directed the movie as “Lost Command” (1966), had to greatly simplify the story for a two-hour movie.  It is a classic statement of the American liberal anti-Communist point of view.  They shot the movie in Spain because they could find there the same dry, scrubby Mediterranean countryside and the European looking cities that prevailed in Algeria.  (Thank you Fernand Braudel for the insight.)  Also, labor costs were low under a right-wing dictatorship, and that met a pressing concern for progressive people making a movie about the evils of oppressive government.

Basically, it is a very conventional war movie, dressed up with some awareness of current issues.  It has standard stock characters: Colonel Pierre Raspeguy, a plain-spoken Basque peasant who has risen to become an officer in an army led by aristocrats;[2] Captain Philippe Esclavier, a well-intentioned aristocratic officer who recognizes that things have to change; Lieutenant Mahidi, an “assimilated” Algerian Muslim army officer who is driven to support the rebels by the abuse of his people; his very wiggly sister Aicha,[3] who becomes Esclavier’s lover; and Major Boisfeuras, a Franco-Chinese half-caste who is an exponent of counter-insurgency.[4]

It begins in the doomed French fortress of Dien Bien Phu.  In brief compass, Dien Bien Phu falls; Raspeguy’s men return from the Vietminh prison camp just in time to join the Algerian War; Raspeguy is restored to a command thanks to the machinations of a French countess with political influence who is swept away by his manly charms; Raspeguy’s unit fights the Algerian rebels in the “bled” and in Algiers, but they start to have doubts when they discover that people like Mahidi and Aicha are on the other side, that Boisfeuras uses torture, and their scummy aristocratic commanders will leave them to bear the blame for any failure.  Raspeguy has to fight against both sides while maintaining his honor.  He wins the “Battle fo Algiers” as well as a final shoot-out with Mahidi.  “Lost Command ends with the enlightened Frenchman shaking hands with the enlightened African medical officer in a foreshadowing of France’s loss of empire.  So, Hollywood, except that Esclavier doesn’t get Aicha (although Raspeguy may get the countess).

The movie got so-so reviews, but Larteguy’s novel has continued to command the attention of people concerned with counter-insurgency warfare—like David Petraeus.


[1] Robson specialized in directing adaptations of middle-brow literature.  He had directed the war movies “The Bridges at Toko-ri” (1954); “Von Ryan’s Express” (1965).  He had directed “Home of the Brave” (1949) and “Trial” (1955), which are attacks on racial prejudice, the latter as an entering wedge for Communism.   He became confused by American culture in the late Sixties and Seventies.  That is true of many of us.

[2] Raspeguy is modeled on Marcel Bigeard, as is Colonel Jean Mathieu in “The Battle of Algiers.”

[3] Played by the very wiggly Claudia Cardinale.

[4] Boisfeuras is standing-in for the French theorists of “revolutionary war” David Galula and Roger Trinquier.