Saturday, 25 April 2015

INTERVIEW - Marek Halter on Fighting Jihadism: "A war that will transform our way of life"

Meeting in Paris at his home with French author and activist Marek Halter. Sharing his frame of mind after recurrent Terror attacks and his views on the challenge offered by jihadism.

Franck Guillory: Three months and a half after Terror attacks orchestrated in Paris by radical islamists, over a month after murders in the Bardo Museum in Tunis, which is your own take on these events. What is your frame of mind?

Marek Halter: We shall always hope for the better… Read the Bible where it is written that, when creating a disease, God imagines simultaneously a cure for it. We, human beings, are not God and therefore we are certainly not as cautious and may take us time to conceive a response. But we will end up finding one.

Franck Guillory: Very early on, in the aftermath of Terror attack on Charlie Hebdo on January 7th 2015, French President François Hollande declared that “we are at war”. Others had already written or said it publicly… Do you consider that we are at war?

Marek Halter: Yes, it is a war but it is one different from the wars we have been confronted to so far.

Hitler was Hitler. The threat was identified and well known. Now we are confronted to an unprecedented threat with an enemy which seems capable to hit us anywhere and at any time.
More to the point, this enemy does not share at all our perception and conception of life and death. So far, with very rare exceptions, the enemies we have had to fight wanted to kill without taking the risk to be killed.

Nowadays, those who are threating us are not scared to be killed. On the contrary, they see their own death as a promise in after-life.

Franck Guillory: How did we reach such a point?

Marek Halter: This is not just a matter of human development, misery, suffering as still pretend some generous “beautiful mind”, as Hegel used to call them.

Radicalization and growing violence find their origin in a lack of prospect. There are no ideologies able to help people facing ultimate misery. Nothing, not even a “red sun on the horizon” as French poet Jacques used to say.

Franck Guillory: Isn’t this radical perception of Islam, which is also a perversion of Islam – we believe – an ideology in itself which has come to fill the gap left by the former domineering and then failed ideologies…

Marek Halter: It is the return of God, a return to God. When nothing is left, men put their destinies in the hands of God. “Inch Allah”, “God wishing”…

The second post-Second World War generation shares a huge responsibility through failing to offer some collective adventure, a renewed ideological adventure, some hope… In the name of God, some Muslims are now offering pour souls some adventure. These days, you can jump in a plane to Turkey, cross the Syrian border and find yourself wearing a uniform, handling a Kalachnikov machine gun and experiencing some sort of adventure.

There’s seemingly nothing else on offer and some souls, unconscious, ignorant don’t manage to resist the temptation.

Franck Guillory: How could we deter them from doing so?

Marek Halter: Governments have some options. Some means of deterrence do exist…
It is necessary to strengthen secret services, to expand their funding. We should, as an example, deploy a better control of social networks to counter jihadist propaganda.

We must target them where they are. And we should do so without underestimating the risk of fuelling jihadism and reinforcing our enemies through such military operations in Middle East and elsewhere where radical Islamism is spreading.

We are in a state of war, a war that is permanent and multipolar, a war that will transform our way of life et a war that risks forcing us to restrain our civil liberties. Attack after attack, we are losing ground on two centuries of gain in term of rights and liberties.

Marek Halter is born in Poland in 1936. Having fled the Jewish Warsaw Ghetto, he returned to the Polish capital city after the war and then moved to Paris in 1950.

To learn more: The Wall for Peace

Friday, 24 April 2015

Migrants crisis more than a humanitarian crisis... and again the US let Europe down

One minute of silence to open an emergency meeting of the European Council and the 28 EU leaders declared “war” on human traffickers. It was on Thursday April 23rd, it was in Brussels.

Statistics have made headlines for days. So far, in 2015, 1800 boat people, migrants fleeing their impoverished and war-torn countries, from Africa, the Middle East or further away have died in the Mediterranean Sea dreaming of Europe.

Understanding what is at stake

Let’s leave apart the valued question of the doubtful validity and expected efficiency of the various measures announced yesterday in Brussels. We know for sure that few vessels patrolling the deep sea and even some bombing on the Libyan shores won’t solve this unprecedented crisis. And one legitimately wonders whether we are not facing the danger of getting the arguments completely wrong? I suspect we are but I understand that admitting the truth leads us, collectively, in scary, unknown territories…

On the Frontline

So we are at war. We are at war but not just any more against some mafias of human traffickers taking advantage of some poor souls heading north and west in hope of a better future. Migrants in 2015 are not just fleeing poverty and more and more among them escape the seemingly ever-extending tyranny imposed by Daesh and its accomplices.

We are at war, we have to name the enemies and address the threat as such. We are at war against Islamist radicalism, the Islamo-fascists, all those fighting, from Syria and Iraq to Nigeria, Mali and Libya, and to the streets of Paris, to destabilize the modern civilized world and impose their totalitarian dystopia of a global Caliphate.

Europe is challenged and weakened

Taking advantage of the perceived “European dream” still vigorous outside the Continent, human traffickers contribute to destabilize Europe and its democracies. The migrants crisis adds to the unprecedented pressures faced by national governments and the European Union to preserve social unity, economic welfare and political stability. One more challenge – and one to do with our sense of humanity – in a series of challenges to which we’ve been finding pretty hard to respond.
So Europe is to try to bring some solutions. But what is to be done to respond to the broader challenge that are the ongoing attacks on our way of life, on what symbolizes and implies our modern civilization?

A global response

The broader challenge is a global challenge and a global challenge requires a global response. Outside Europe, silence has been deafening over the course of the past few days. And before, the demonstrations of unity in the aftermath of January’s terror attacks in Paris seem to have been follow by no good concrete plans to fight the battle forced on us all.

Déjà vu

And on the international stage, Europe has special expectations from a “special” relationship. But where are the United States? Where is Barack Obama? Surely, US troops are leading the International coalition targeting Daesh at the core of its self-proclaimed Islamic State but it is not good enough. Not good enough as air bombing appears to be deeply insufficient to annihilate the threat and not good enough as the threat has been since spreading through a collection of franchised “companies”.

What about Libya ? What about the Mediterranean nightmare and the pressure on Europe? If the United States are to let a frontline Europe deal all these issues, they are just postponing the time when the gathering storms will reach their own shores. Déjà vu…  

Thursday, 23 April 2015

An answer to Marine Le Pen - I am French and I do speak English... I even sometimes dream in English

If Time Magazine is considering establishing a new annual list for “The most stupid political comment of the year”, Marine Le Pen is surely a great contender for a Top 10 rank. All dressed up in cheap marine blue on the red carpet at the 2015 Time 100 Gala in New York last Tuesday, she couldn’t find any other explanation to her lack of fluency in the local language than an arrogant and poor “Oh no, I don’t speak English, I’m French !”.  

I’m as French as the leader of France’s far-right - with whom I also share roots in Britanny – and I’m proud to say that I do speak English. I do speak English, I do try to write in English and, some nights, I do even dream in English. I do all of this and when doing so I don’t feel less French. The contrary actually.

To please "her" people

Unsurprisingly this comment by a shrewd politician aspiring to run her country would have been expected to go down well with her constituents. They would have probably liked her provocative defiance of the global language right in the center of the first iconic city of globalization. And she had a pretty dress, sort of…

Right. Top to bottom of the society, most of my fellow citizens can’t speak - or even understand - English. Last December, a study sponsored by the language company EF Education First ranked France 29th out of 63 countries for English proficiency – and even worst 21st out of 24 European countries. Even if Education First focused on adult population – and therefore it could give hope in the younger generations -, there is nothing to be proud of.

An outdated "cultural exception"

Wrong. Language studies have never been a priority in France’s school curriculum. Until 10 years ago, French kids would only start learning English when entering secondary education at age 11 – or 13 for some 10 per cent who would favour German, Spanish or some other languages as their first. English courses entered most of primary schools as late as 2007 and it only became compulsory from age 7 in September 2014.

Wrong. France’s television channels hardly ever broadcast films or programmes in English. And in cinemas most films, especially Hollywood blockbusters, are dubbed – even quite well dubbed. Such monolingual obsession – coupled with some sort of insular syndrome - amazes our fellow Europeans in Belgium, the Netherlands or elsewhere in Scandinavia. Make your bed sleep in it.

And it shows that nowadays the few French people reaching the top of the international stage in their fields are those who comply with the absolute necessity to express themselves in some sort of English, not be it Shakespeare’s or the Queen’s one. This is how it is in the globalized world we live in and there is no point turning a blind eye on this phenomenon.

Never surrender though

Speaking English, making the effort to speak English to be understood by a broader audience does not diminish one’s Frenchness – or anything else-ness actually. And to go further I would almost argue that I am never as French as when I speak English as somehow it gives me the opportunity to convey what it is to be French to people who can't always understand what it means and implies as they don’t speak French and are not French. I do value this deeply.

Speaking English doesn’t prevent me from battling for a broader use of French in countries or organizations where French used to be historically more broadly used. And speaking English doesn’t prevent from considering that English should not turn into “Globish” the one and only language of a one World. Learn English but also learn Chinese, Arabic, Russian, Spanish and so on. It would help in times of deeper misunderstandings.

Spin doctors got it wrong as Marine Le Pen would have stunned her audience – and the World – by somehow regretting shamefaced her lack of fluency. And once again she could have easily blamed the Gallic establishment… and probably some bureaucracy in Brussels. Instead she has preferred to wave the flag with arrogance and stupidity just as if not speaking English would always remain a prerequisite to sit at France’s presidential desk. 
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