France 2017

by Andrew Stuttaford

Theodore Dalrymple, writing in City Journal:

As every married person knows, silences can be pregnant with meaning, even if the meaning is not immediately clear. The silence in the French press about a recent startling event in Paris is surely pregnant with meaning. On Monday, April 3, an Orthodox Jewish woman, Sarah Halimi, a doctor aged 66, was thrown out of a window to her death by an African man aged 27. He was her neighbor in the flats where she lived. According to witnesses, whose testimony has yet to be confirmed, the man, who had been harassing her with insults for several days, shouted “Allahu akbar!” as he threw her.

As Dalrymple (the pseudonym of Anthony Daniels, a retired doctor and psychiatrist) notes, the alleged assailant has been transferred to a psychiatric facility. It seems, Dalrymple explains, that he was in a psychotic state, whether brought on by drugs, his own underlying condition (he had apparently been behaving strangely on earlier occasions) or a combination of both, but:

[I]it has been known for a long time that the delusions of madness take on the coloring of the culture of those who suffer them…. If this is so, it reveals something unpleasant about the man’s cultural milieu.

That’s something to remember the next time that you read about ‘lone wolves’, ‘madmen’ or the like.  

And then there is this:

[W]hy the silence in the press? The case was certainly dramatic enough to be worthy of a mention under the rubric of faits divers. I happened to learn of it only through a Parisian neighbor, a Jewish shopowner. The story had appeared in La Tribune juive, and probably caused a shudder among French Jews, all the greater because of the silence of the press about it.

Was this silence commanded or coordinated from above? Perhaps no one wanted to raise the temperature in the runup to one of the most contested elections in recent French history, in which there is the possibility—an outside possibility, but still greater than ever before—of a victory for the far Right.

If I had to guess, there was no coordination. The press already knew what was expected of them (as, lest we forget, so much of the German media initially appeared to have done in the aftermath of that wave of sexual assaults in Cologne).

The first round of France’s presidential election will be held on April 23. Two candidates will go through to the next (and deciding) round, and the latest polls seem to indicate that there is very little space between the four leading candidates: Marine Le Pen (the “far right”—a perpetually debated label— candidate to whom Dalrymple was referring), Emmanuel Macron (a sort of Tony Blair figure, who, like Blair, has learnt very little from the last couple of decades), Francois Fillon (a more radical candidate for the center-right than usual, but badly tarnished by scandal) and, after, the polls suggest, a sudden surge, Jean-Luc Melenchon, a repulsive ‘former’ Trotskyite with more than a touch of Hugo Chavez about him.

My (notoriously fallible) guess is that if Macron gets through to the second round, he will take the presidency and France will continue on its current path wherever that may lead.

Dalrymple:

The afternoon that I learned about the case, I went to an exhibition marking the 30th anniversary of the trial for crimes against humanity of Klaus Barbie, the Butcher of Lyon, who ran the Gestapo there during the Occupation. It was held at the Mémorial de la Shoah, a Parisian museum and study center devoted to the history of the Holocaust. If there is any small museum in the world more defended against car bombs and with tighter security, I do not know it

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