Friday, 21 November 2008

Tears and Champagne

American elections have often led Parisian voters to tears and excessive drinking.
As citizens of another country they can naturally not hope to participate in the poll, but a great number of them nevertheless stay up throughout the night, follow the vote, and, strangely enough, feel left out, like un-consulted, invisible citizens.

They gather in bars and in front of city halls, waiting for the results to fall in. In most cases, they helplessly watch the candidates they dread the most win over the vote.
This was the case in 2000 and 2004 when George W. Bush was elected. The French were probably the greatest Gore and Kerry supporters in the world. The two would have won a landslide victory had they been running for our presidential palace. That’s why Bush’s victories hurt them so deeply.

Four years ago I watched my husband’s leftist friends leave for election nights with desperate looks on their faces, I always wondered why they inflicted such pain on themselves.
Early the next morning, as the sun was rising and results came in, they wandered around downtown Paris, drowning their misery in a glass of Beaujolais in bars that remained open for the occasion.

This year’s election ended in even more alcohol and tears than in Bush’s days, but this time they were tears of joy accompanied by confetti and the cheap new Beaujolais was replaced by champagne and macaroons.

People didn’t even have to say the words. Everyone’s eyes projected happiness and relief. The French don’t disrespect John McCain, they were just relieved to see the end of the Bush era. They could now turn back into proud America lovers again.

At my TV station France 24, which aims to become France’s CNN or BBC, about 100 journalists were called up to cover election night.
They have so well anticipated Obama’s victory that many of them spent the night watching CNN.

As I was taking the subway back home, the commuters were all reading the free newspapers handed out in train stations.
A little 5-year-old black boy was looking at the main headline, next to his father. He broke the silence reading out proudly “O-BA-MA. BA-RACK O-BA-MA”.

France’s black minority looks up to the American vote, hoping to get someday similar results. Obama’s victory brought joy, satisfaction, hope to some of Paris’s impoverished suburbs, - “Maybe Obama can make a difference here too” some residents said - but a feeling of bitterness quickly emerged, as they realized the gap existing between the US and France.
A few decades ago African-Americans, such as James Baldwin, came to France to write and work freely. Today, many bright French blacks leave for the US to get the jobs they aim for, which they didn’t manage to get in their home country. They usually return a few years later to their neighbourhoods, share their experience and help the less fortunate residents.

Under the Bush administration, the US embassy in Paris made great efforts to attract minority suburban youth to appreciate the US. Washington financed special programs to bring young Arabs and blacks to the US. Dozens have participated in the program. But now, the stream has turned into a torrential flow. Suburban youth who used to despise the US, were won over and are now inspired by America and by what seems to have turned back into a dream.

Mainstream French Jews, whom are known for their traditionalist and pro-Israeli views, may have regretted Hilary Clinton and John McCain’s defeats more than the average Frenchman. Intellectual André Glucksmann wrote one of the rare op-eds criticizing Obama and those who endorsed him in Europe. But on the whole, the community quickly reconsidered and is now eager to discover Obama’s approach to the situation in the Middle-East and regarding Iran.

Breakthrough in a 30-year-old antisemitic bombing

It’s a major breakthrough in the investigation over one of Europe’s major anti-Semitic attacks.
28 years ago, a blast killed 4 people and injured 20 others in front of a synagogue in Paris’s 16th quarter, on Copernicus Street.
It was the first lethal attack against the Jewish community since World War II. Last Thursday, the alleged terrorist was arrested in Canada.

Hassan Diab, a sociology professor at the Ottawa University who has Canadian and Lebanese citizenship, claims his innocence. French authorities said they have solid evidence against him and asked for a quick extradition. This may happen within a few months according to Mrs Michèle Alliot-Marie, French Interior minister.

The Jewish community welcomed the news of the arrest with relief. Richard Prasquier, the President of the Jewish umbrella group CRIF thanked the police for its dedication to the case over such a long period. but the synagogue’s former rabbi Michael Williams said the investigation was only reopened last year.
“For 27 years we have been completely ignored, never questioned by investigators. We obtained no information, although we were there when it all happened.” The rabbi told the French news agency “and then last year, police investigators came to see me for the first time.” The rabbi was particularly shocked by the reaction of the French street and media. “They said we were whiners… that’s when I learned that word, ‘whiners’.”

The breakthrough may be another sign of the French authorities’ new dedication to battle anti-Semitism. Maybe a part of the Sarkozy effect.

There’s an obvious change of approach since the attack took place. The Jewish community was deeply hurt by former Prime Minister Raymond Barre’s hasty reaction after the attack.
He said “terrorists had targeted Jews on their way to the synagogue but hurt innocent French citizens in the street.”
Barre, who passed away a few months ago, never regretted his words.

The Jewish community felt quite isolated at the time. And it sometimes still does today.

Community leaders keep denouncing anti-Semitism in Paris’s northern neighbourhoods, where various gangs have been fighting over territories.
One of the gangs gathers Jews, and they’ve been confronting other minorities.
Several Jews have been wounded. One of them, Rudy Haddad, was left in a coma.

Jewish leaders claim the attacks are anti-Semitic and denounce a growing isolation of Jewish families in those neighbourhoods. But the media and public classified the incidents as ‘ethnic violence’ and said they’re by no means anti-Semitic.
A Jewish journalist from my station even told me the Jews are the thugs who triggered ethnic violence.

Whatever the exact situation on the ‘field’ may be, Jews have an entirely different perception of the events than the rest of society.