Tuesday, August 05, 2008

L’affaire Siné

A new scandal is rocking France's chattering classes. The following narration of the unfolding melee is reasonably correct, here:

So what kicked off the ruckus?

"In the incendiary article, [Sine] penned a sharp paragraph on the rising fortunes of the 21-year-old Jean Sarkozy, who was elected this year to local office in his father's political fief, the chic Paris suburb of Neuilly.

Sine wrote that Sarkozy junior "has just said he intends to convert to Judaism before marrying his fiancee, who is Jewish, and the heiress to the founders of Darty," a French retail giant. "He'll go far, that kid," he wrote."

As a result of this observation, Sine was fired, after refusing to apologize.

Charlie Hebdo editor Philippe Val said Sine was sacked for remarks that "could be interpreted as drawing a link between conversion to Judaism and social success", relaying the old stereotype linking Jews and money.

And the plot thickened when

In an open letter in Le Monde last month, 20 writers and politicians including Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe, Nobel Peace prize winner Elie Wiesel and former justice minister Robert Badinter, defended the paper's decision to sack its satirist.

They said he had "crossed the line between humorous insult and hateful caricature".

Leading the counter charge,

"The cartoonist, backed by a raft of fellow satirists, writers and artists fiercely denies the latest accusation of anti-Semitism, and is suing a fellow journalist for defamation for making the charge.

Eight thousand people have signed up to an online petition defending him, including the star architect Jean Nouvel and the far-left former presidential candidate Olivier Besancenot.

They insist he is not an anti-Semite, merely an agent provocateur, that his remarks were well within the law, and part of a healthy and necessary tradition of irreverent satire.

OK. I think we get the general picture.

Here are the two wrinkles that complicate matters:

Working for Sine's detractors is Sine's past record: "the cartoonist was convicted of inciting racial hatred in 1985, over remarks made in 1982 after an attack in Paris' historic Jewish quarter.

"Je suis antisémite et je n'ai plus peur de l'avouer, je vais faire dorénavant des croix gammées sur tous les murs... je veux que chaque juif vive dans la peur, sauf s'il est propalestinien. Qu'ils meurent !"

"I am anti-Semitic and I am no longer afraid to own to it... I want to paint swastikas on all the walls... I want all Jews to live in fear, unless they are pro-Palestinian. Let them die," Sine said at the time. He later apologised.

Working for Sine's defenders is the past record of Charlie Hebdo:

"The satirical weekly made headlines in 2006 for re-printing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, which sparked a wave of violent protests around the world, as well as an irreverent cartoon of its own."


"It later won a defamation suit brought by French Muslim groups in a trial seen as a test case for freedom of expression, and over which it received the support of the French media and political establishment."

And the question the emerges from the epicenter of the maelstrom is:

Why... should it be possible to criticise Islam but not Judaism?

If you think I have any cookie cutter principles by which to settle this question, think again. I have been arguing in my blog for nearly absolute freedom of speech. Oliver Kamm best explains this position:

"...While free speech hurts and offends, there is nothing wrong in this. In almost no case is anyone entitled to restitution or protection. (The strictly limited exceptions are where there is 'clear and present danger'; incitement to crime; or defamation. By defamation, I naturally mean a statement that is damaging and false. I do not mean - as one reader of this blog has rueful cause to recollect - a statement that is damaging and true;

...There is no speech more disreputable and fraudulent than Holocaust denial; but the reason it's objectionable is that it's false, not that it's offensive. The only proper recourse to it is the discipline of historical scholarship and critical inquiry, as opposed to the fakery practised by Irving.."

First question that I ask myself: Was Sine's contemptuous comment about ce petit, Jean Sarkozy, making his fortune because he is marrying a Jewish heiress -- antisemitic?

Second question: Is Sine's record in expressing a longing for every Jew to live in fear relevant to judging his current comment?

Third question: Is Charlie Hebdo's history in publishing the Muhammad cartoons equivalent in its provocative and educational value to Sine's comment?

I'll try to answer my questions.

There is very little doubt in my mind that Sine's comment expresses an antisemitic sneer. He does not, as his defenders claim, criticize Judaism. He does not ridicule certain Jewish tenets which Jews observe and may seem bizarre or incomprehensible to others. He does not express disparaging or offensive opinions about Moses or David or Rabbi Maimonides (as the Mohammad cartoons did). He expresses a view of Jews, as a distinctive group of people who share a religion, culture and historical memory, and, as far as he is concerned, a certain highly suspect ethic. And he aims it at one particular family which happens to be rich, and one particular person.

The gist of his innuendo is the nudge/wink between those who know what's what. You and I, says Sine, effectively, know what it means when a young politician marries a Jewish heiress, don't we? You and I work hard for our success. And here is the little pipsqueak, marrying into a rich Jewish family and his future is made, with a snap of fingers, just like that. He, in becoming a Jew, has got it made. Why? Because Jews have money. Jews have power. Jews can make and unmake a person. Thus what is a normal, life cycle, event of a forthcoming marriage is effortlessly fitted into a bigger and forbidding picture, one which landscape is the boundless cabal of Jewish power.

How, you may well ask, can I be sure that Sine's recent little narrative is motivated by these paranoid sentiments?

Well, I can't be hermetically sure. But the cumulative record of the man does give us a better understanding of the way his mind works. And an important indication of his intentions we can find in Sine's own "self-satirizing" confessions of 1985, when he referred to himself as "antisemitic" and expressed an outrageous wish for every Jew to live in fear. Jews have lived in justifiable fear for centuries. Their fears were not a fantasy but a very imminent and immanent reality. The vengeful, incontinent brutality embedded in this wish cannot be mitigated by some political concern for Palestinians. No man can articulate such raw sentiment and not be suspected of some pathological hatred.

And now comes the sneer about Jewish power. The cabal innuendo is there. Certainly his comment was disparaging to Jews, who, it must be known, are always put on the defensive, as though their excellence is not due to hard work and devotion to education, scholarship and public service but is motivated by some dark powers at work for domination over the goyim.


What Sine expresses in his little rant is nothing new. It's just the more recent recycling of the myth of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a made up story about a few dozens Jews who rule the world.

Overheard in the mid-1930’s in a cheap Vienna coffee house, a conversation between two poorly dressed women was overhear. The first woman announced that there would be another world war in five years, and that it would completely destroy Austria "and all the countries." Her companion was skeptical and asked her how she knew. The answer was as follows: Ninety-five years ago, the great Emperor Napoleon had called the leaders of the Jews of the World to a secret meeting at Schloss Schonbrunn in Vienna. At that meeting, the Jews laid out the history of the next hundred years and wrote it down in a secret book. They planned for one Great War in 1914; at the end of these hundred years, there was to be the greatest war yet. After that war, they would meet again and lay out the history of the next hundred years.

The myth "explains" the past, the present, and the future by a simple mechanism (a world conspiracy by powerful, immensely wealthy Jews). The story, flimsy and incredible as it seems, does manufacture and maintains a feeling of solidarity within the body politic by pointing to a traditional foe – the alien figure of the Jew.

No doubt Sine is too sophisticated a person to actually believe in the veracity of the myth itself, the way these two simple women do. But the arrow of his rant is being carefully and deliberately aimed at that perception of Jews as a privileged class of people whose overarching power is propagated and preserved through plutocracy, family connections, and cronyism. In other words, circles of power which are closed to all other good and hard-working French men and women...

And back to the main topic:

As for the question of whether Charlie Hebdo was wrong and nefarious in firing him, I'm not too sure. A person's right to freedom of speech is just that, a right to speak freely. This right does not impose a legal or moral obligation on any media outlet to furnish anybody and everybody with a platform from which to exercise this right. Nor does it mean that a journal cannot fire someone whose opinions they find noxious and incompatible with its ethical principles. It's ridiculous to speak of "gagging" him. Especially not considering that Sine's dismissal resulted in an explosion of public attention to himself and his words. Charlie Hebdo has no power to "gag" Sine. It is not an arm of the law. It is itself a journal with a right to freedom of speech, which inevitably is trailed by the right not to speak...


Update: Here

No, the difference here can be attributed to the fear among Jews (or those named Cohen and thus perceived of as such--I don't know if the columnist is Jewish) of seeming too concerned with Jews and not focused on Humanity. To get all in a huff because of anti-Semitism is to be one of those whiny Jews. Better to have that noble distance when discussions turn to anti-Semitism, and to reserve one's visible fury for bigotry directed at any group other than one's own.


At 9:30 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You may be interested in this...

Several books have been "de-published" in the UK already.

You Still Can't Write About Muhammad
August 6, 2008



"Starting in 2002, Spokane, Wash., journalist Sherry Jones toiled weekends on a racy historical novel about Aisha, the young wife of the prophet Muhammad. Ms. Jones learned Arabic, studied scholarly works about Aisha’s life, and came to admire her protagonist as a woman of courage. When Random House bought her novel last year in a $100,000, two-book deal, she was ecstatic. This past spring, she began plans for an eight-city book tour after the Aug. 12 publication date of “The Jewel of Medina” — a tale of lust, love and intrigue in the prophet’s harem.

It’s not going to happen: In May, Random House abruptly called off publication of the book…

After consulting security experts and Islam scholars, Mr. Perry said the company decided “to postpone publication for the safety of the author, employees of Random House, booksellers and anyone else who would be involved in distribution and sale of the novel.”"


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