mardi, février 28, 2006

Age of Barbarians?

The grim, abject and appalling murder of Ilan Halimi has stopped me sleeping the last few days. It has, quite apart from the terrible few details that we know of his imprisonment and torture, forced a lot of people to ask some challenging questions about contemporary France. One friend, a journalist based in Prague, called me up on Monday morning to check some facts, and I told him that although it was clear that the crime was antisemitic, that doesn't mean that you can extrapolate anything from that. I said to him then that the murder of Stephen Lawrence didn't tell you anything that you didn't know - in other words that there is racism in Britain, both in wide society and specifically in the police force. And this crime tells us that there is antisemitism amongst the Muslim population in the banlieues, and probably - for no-one loves the police here - institutionalised in the policeforce too.

The same day another friend, a Frenchwoman, told me that she would have marched on Sunday in solidarity with the family but that once it was 'highjacked' by Jewish and antiracist organisations she felt uncomfortable with it. For her this murder was also just a simple act of barbarism, and shouldn't be used to try to explain anything regarding any possible antisemitism deep within the culture that we live in.

Today I feel rather stupid for not having challenged her. Ilan Halimi was kidnapped, tortured and killed because he was Jewish. The 'gang de barbares' believed that because he was Jewish his family would put up the ransom. The police did not act for several days because they didn't want to inflame the muslim community - days that, had they acted earlier, might have saved his life. An anonymous police officer has suggested that the idea that Jewish community has money is not in the slightest antisemitic, implying that it is moreover a perfectly reasonable notion to hold.

In Britain the Guardian, Independent and Observer resisted noting in their reports on the murder that Halimi was Jewish.

And people are uncomfortable with calling this antisemitism?

Halimi lived and worked in the heart of Paris. Don't tell me we have nothing to fear.

vendredi, février 17, 2006

February really is the cruellest month, tax returns notwithstanding. I find hanging out with children when the temperatures are subzero and there's nothing to do but scowl at miserable Parisiens makes me more depressed than usual. (No, not that bad, but no, not that great either, before you feel tempted to argue.) Not saying that living in London would be better, but people are occasionally known to smile there, and that does make all the difference. A woman in the supermarket the other day, all Alice band and taupe cashmere, sixty if the proverbial day, cornered me and demanded to know how I could BEAR to live in France, she was so ASHAMED to be French, England is so much BETTER than France which is such a total SHITHOLE. Funnily enough I was moved to disagree with her, just to be polite (you can take the girl out of England, but you can't etc etc).

We did have a great time skiing though. My technique is modestly improved, and I really enjoyed it after a 12 year break (in other words I can do parallel turns, but only on modest slopes, the minute I'm on a red my technique goes bust), but the best thing was the children, who just LOVED it so much, it was a real joy to see (imagining my children being those really annoying children who ski better than the adults, which in Ido's case is already true, is just indescribably smug making). Also skiing holidays are really nice for parents because you get to spend just a bit of quality time with the kids and the rest of the time you can ski or read. I skied in the morning and read in the afternoon, what a fantastic break (I can't actually believe that noone has ever let me in on this secret before). Also, everyone was very nice. But, and this is the big news, I am now officially no longer speaking to my mother in law - who amongst other things in the course of a terrible week in each other's enforced company told me that only rich people go to Oxford, and that my parents had bought me my place! Sucker, get over the fact that your education stinks and you have got just one institute of higher education in the top 50 universities in the world (Paris VI, comes in at number 46) according to the research by the University of Shanghai commissioned last year by the European Commission!! And Oxford University, by the way, is number 10!!! (Do I sound peeved by any chance? She's not entirely wrong of course, from a Marxist point of view, one with which I have more than a little sympathy, but I don't think that was what she was getting at and I wasn't about to let her get away with it). My mother in law feels like a mini-Hexagon, she incarnates all that is French bigotry and inwardlookingness and general loserness. So being sanctioned (by my husband) to no longer have to have anything to do with her feels like I have entered heaven (through the eye of a needle, so there).