Tag Archives: history

Mustapha Dupont

Years ago, I lived in France on Boulevard Voltaire, not far from the Bataclan. I never went to the Bataclan because I was never groovy. I did go to see Etienne Daho at Bercy Stadium one time. My apartment was near Place Leon Blum, named after the French politician who, prior to World War II had been the Prime Minister of France and then during the war had been deported (he was Jewish) to Buchenwald and Dachau and Tyrol and then after the war became Prime Minister again. Seriously. Only in France. (I believe his brother died in Auschwitz.)

In 2005, on a trip to Israel, I visited a kibbutz named after Blum – Kfar Blum, it was called. I was with a group of journalists and I shocked them all by knowing who Blum was. I also shocked the lady from the kibbutz who was tasked with taking us around the place — she told me that no one other than French visitors ever knew who Leon Blum was. (I shocked her even more the next morning when I took a whole mess of fish from our breakfast buffet and fed it to Kfar Blum’s many stray cats.)

A few doors down from my apartment on Boulevard Voltaire there was a convenience store run by a Moroccan family. The father had come to France from North Africa but his sons were all born and raised Frenchmen. They were terribly nice and used to help us (my roommates and me) with our bags and suitcases and such when we returned home from trips. I remember that they loved wearing muscle shirts and showing off their good looks. (Why should youth not be so?) They were terribly sweet and I was grateful for their store because, at the time, it was very difficult to find a grocery store open after 7 p.m. in Paris (not the case now). So I had somewhere to go to buy bottles of wine and Lindt bars.

I keep thinking about that time in my life and about Mustapha Dupont, a Gilbert Becaud song from 1984. I moved to France in the late ‘80s and stayed there nearly five years; long a Becaud fan, I enjoyed that song and its idealism regarding French Muslims, an idealism which one could be forgiven for now considering rather quaint. 

Some of the lyrics:

Mustapha Dupont
Il est né entre Constantine
Et Joinville-Le-Pont
Dupont Mustapha
C’est un bon Français
Comme toi et moi

Mohamed Durand
Il a vu le jour entre Fez
Et Clermont-Ferrand
Durand Mohamed Français cent pour cent
De A… à Z…

Abdou Mamadou
Son père est tombé en ’44
En plein mois d’août
Mamadou Abdou il est bien d’chez nous
Comme toi, comme nous

C’est ça la couleur d’ l’ équipe de France
Entre bleu d’outre-mer et d’ Provence
Tu prends un Lillois, Marseillais
Un Rital un peu polonais
C’est rouge orange, jaune, vert, bleu
Indigo, violet

If you don’t speak French, those lyrics talk about three French Muslims who are all ‘bon Francais’ (good Frenchmen), one of whose father died in World War II fighting (one presumes, given the date of the action and the point of the song) for France. The repeated lyric, at the end, is about the colours of “Team France.” Every colour, says Becaud. Team France is red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet.

I bring this song up because I was at a dinner the other night where someone said that France was basically getting what it deserved – in regards terror attacks — for not having properly integrated Muslims. Um, wtf??? Apart from the victim-blaming of the comment, it simply isn’t true. While there is no question that European countries, in general, are not anywhere as good as we (meaning Canada and the United States) are at integration, the vast majority of French Muslims are just that, integrated and very well so. And while I have no doubt that many French Muslims have had to deal with stupid comments or other forms of ignorance, saying France is getting what it deserves is, well, stupid. As though a natural response to discrimination is to shoot up a restaurant, a magazine, a nightclub, a Kosher supermarket. Further, French Jews experience far more hate-based attacks than any other group (French Jews make up 1% of the population but are the victims of 51% of hate-based attacks in France) and I don’t seem them shooting up innocents.

In short, there is a deeper problem here, a sort of mass pathology, as Paul Berman wrote about so eloquently here.

A couple more useful links here and here, and my own observations when I returned to France in 2014 and 2015, regarding what I viewed as a clear improvement in just how well integrated the French Muslim population had become.

Of course, there are neighbourhoods that are a mess — Clichy-sous-Bois, where the 2005 riots erupted, comes to mind. To some degree this is the result of a “hands-off” approach – a big mistake that comes from cultural relativism, moral equivalency, political correctness…and fear, I imagine. A bad idea by any other name is a bad idea. We in the West have become cowards (I blame Baby Boomers). We are unwilling to protect values that have been centuries in the making, values from which every group could benefit. This is currently playing out in Germany and other parts of Europe. When people won’t integrate or obey the law, there is nothing unreasonable or bigoted about jailing them or deporting them if they are not legal or talking honestly about the problem, rather than trying to hide it for fear of appearing intolerant. Islamism is not Islam and it shouldn’t be difficult to say as much.

I believe such an approach would make life better for those who want to assimilate (and by assimilate, I don’t mean giving up one’s religion or freedom of worship). There is also nothing unreasonable with making sure refugees/immigrants are carefully vetted.

I am an idealist. I see no reason that Becaud’s lyrics can’t reflect reality. And in many ways I think they do.

See here two pictures taken last March, when I was in Paris. The first is a plaque from inside the Grand Mosque of Paris, commemorating Muslim soldiers who died for France in World War II. The second is a plaque honouring a ‘spahi’ – regiments of the French army recruited primarily from the Maghred – who died during the liberation of Paris.

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Consistent Leftists (you Know, the Ones who are Actually Anti-Fascist)

There aren’t many, particularly when it comes to battling jihadis/Islamism (why we miss Hitchens and Norm Geras and why we appreciate Paul Berman), but Hilary Benn has revealed himself to be one such rare bird. This speech is extraordinary — the moral clarity, the integrity, the intelligence. Would any Canadian NDP or Liberal politician speak this way? No. Mediocrity is certainly the default position of both of those parties.

The really fun part of watching this clip is, of course, Jeremy Corbyn’s expression. He’s all like, damn, but I love Islamists! And the West is bad! We’re bad, bad, bad...blah blah blah. What a major loon.

From the speech – stand-out quote (among many):

We are here faced by fascists. Not just their calculated brutality but their belief they are superior to every single one of us in this Chamber tonight and all of the people that we represent. They hold us in contempt. They hold our values in contempt, they hold our belief in tolerance and decency in contempt, they hold our democracy — the means by which we will make our decision tonight — in contempt. But what we know about fascists is that they need to be defeated. And it is why, as we have heard tonight, socialists and trade unionists and others joined the international brigade in the 1930s to fight against Franco; it is why this entire house stood up against Hitler and Mussolini; it is why our party has always stood up against the denial of human rights and for justice. And my view, Mr. Speaker, is that we must now confront this evil.

Now watch and marvel.

Paris

There isn’t much to say about what happened Friday, only ten months after the Charlie Hebdo massacre. When the horrors began unfolding on Friday, I wondered how long it would take for the “but brigade” to start blathering. I knew they’d need a little more time to find a way to blame people who were simply out for dinner or at a concert or soccer match than they needed to blame cartoonists and writers, but I had faith that people that stupid would still find a way. And yes, the bleating about France’s foreign policy and all the usual drivel has begun. I am even related to someone who thinks this might have been a false flag operation — mind you, this is the same person who thinks 9-11 might have been one, and who has the usual attitudes about Jews…er, Israel.

It’s utterly awful. I will leave you with three links — first, the brilliant Niall Ferguson, whose message isn’t exactly full of promise, but whose message should be taken seriously (btw, this link appears to be behind a subscribers’ wall — see if you can find it elsewhere if you can’t get the whole thing here). I wonder if it is too late for the West. We have, in a way, allowed this to happen, as Ferguson points out in the afore-linked article and one does wonder how free societies can defend themselves against nihilism.

Second link is from the also brilliant Mark Steyn. I am not sure I agree with all of his conclusions, but he is spot-on that we need to target ideology and “the self-segregation” that goes on in our own countries. And I definitely agree when he suggests we “screw the candlelight vigil.”

Third link is from the not-brilliant me — my Charlie Hebdo piece from January, which tackles some of these issues.

And finally, I shall leave you, for now, with this very lovely version of L a Marseillaise.

 

 

The Arabs of Palestine: Plus ca Change

First of all, must vent. I created this huge, long, magnificent post about this great article, full of quotes and clever observations and links to modern media (in all its pitiful lack of glory) and then, I don’t know what happened, but I lost the page. Lost it! And it was not saved as a draft. Dagnabbit! Stupid WordPress.

I am too lazy to try it again so I will simply tell you to click here and read the whole damn thing and then weep. Weep because so little has changed and weep because even more people now have a stupid worldview and no understanding of history than when this article was written and weep because there are no more writers and astute thinkers of Martha Gellhorn’s caliber. (Seriously, we should just recycle great journalists of the past and avoid many of today’s clowns and their willful blindness.)

“The Arabs of Palestine” was written by the brilliant, glorious Gellhorn in 1961. Remember that when you are reading it. 1961. You will think, at times, she is talking about 2015, but for the changes that have taken place in regards Egypt’s relationship to Israel and but for the references to the Cold War.

Weep! And read. And take away some new expressions. I like her references to “Mad Hatter conversations”. I have had many of those in my time, but one of the few good things about getting older is learning to avoid the Mad Hatter types. Of course this means I avoid many people I used to greet (including some family members).

 

The Power of Letters

Fascinating and heart-wrenching story about the first letters written by Holocaust survivors after they were liberated from the camps. Researchers at Yad Vashem are compiling these letters, letters full of joy, shock, anger, sadness and, of course, survivors’ guilt. The following — written in Polish by an Auschwitz survivor —  is only a small part of the project, but so much is captured here:

How could I justify to you that I left the lions’ den intact, that I saw fiery furnaces, red flames in the skies? That I saw thousands of people led daily to the gas chambers, not knowing what awaited them in ten minutes; that I saw sheaves of sparks and tongues of fire, and sometimes even part of a roasted hand bursting forth from a gigantic chimney; that I stood naked daily at roll call for the Selektion, and the SS man, as if to anger me, sent me back to the camp and didn’t take me to the oven … and a huge prayer, a stubborn prayer for divine benevolence, for death.

Read the rest of the article here. 

Reformation Day

Today is Reformation Day. It is also the third anniversary of my brother Alan’s death. I will post more about him tomorrow, but I wanted to make a reference to this day and to this hymn — in my opinion one of the most magnificent — because on the day he died, I had posted this same hymn and a reference to the Reformation on my Facebook page. This was before I knew Alan was gone and I remember clearly that the fact that he was not commenting on the post gave me a sick feeling. I knew something was wrong because it was the sort of topic upon which he would usually offer a witty or brilliant observation.

 

Book Recommendations

I don’t usually do book recommendations on my site but today I will. I read insane amounts — mostly non-fiction but some fiction — and the fact that I am taking time to write about these two books tells you what they meant to me.

The books are Bettyville, by George Hodgman, and The Hare with Amber Eyes, by Edmund de Waal. In a way, they are similar: both stories about family, about the past, about loss and love and about being grateful in the present. But they are different, of course.

The Hare with Amber Eyes is drawn against the painful backdrop of the relentless (and seemingly endless) persecution of Jews in Europe, the sickness of the Holocaust, and also has a strong art history focus (something I really appreciated).

De Waal is English, but a descendant of the (originally Russian) Ephrussi family, for a time on a par with the Rothschilds (even related by marriage to them) in terms of wealth and influence in parts of Europe. Proust’s Swann is said to have been based on Charles Ephrussi.

When de Waal inherits some “netsuke” from a favorite relative (he represents the fifth generation of his family to inherit them), he decides to trace their journey, which includes stops in Paris and Japan and Vienna. And it is truly something, particularly when you discover how the netsuke escaped being stolen by the Nazis, while pretty much all the rest of the Ephrussi art was taken.

In some ways, the book reminded me of the brilliant movie, “Woman in Gold”, though the former unfolds over a much longer period of time.

Bettyville is, on the surface, a memoir with less grandeur, but Hodgman’s portrait of his mother, Betty, is mighty grand. My own mom died, just short of her 93rd birthday, last year, and I saw so much of her in Betty. Same generation, same decency, work ethic, wit, and a similar stubborn dance with declining independence. The same good, strong people.

Hodgman is a successful editor and writer who, after growing up in Missouri in the ’60s and ’70s as a clever — though struggling and often bullied — gay kid, moved to New York. Along with an enviable career, he got into drugs, went into rehab, had some dysfunctional relationships, all of which he writes about with tremendous humor and no self-pity.

When his mother began fading, he moved back, initially to find someone else to care for her, but then decided to see her home, as he says, himself. In the process he finds “home”, in a manner. It is certainly touching to see him discover Missouri — fly-over country — as an adult, after having felt out of place so often as a kid and teenager. Honestly, I laughed, I laughed so hard I cried, and I just plain cried.

Read them both!