Monday, April 21, 2008

The Other Side of the Coin

A few weeks ago, I mused about how political correctness hasn't gotten in the way of celebrating Easter here in France. I love the fact that the PC police haven't yet invaded the Continent. This way I'm free to laugh at all sorts of un-PC comedies, make horrifically [insert group here]-icst jokes with impunity, and generally not have to walk on verbal eggshells.

However, I can see the bleeding-heart hippie point of view about it all. It's glaringly obvious that the tolerance (for lack of a better word) for intolerance on the lighter side of life may set a precedence for overall hatred when it comes to the serious side of matters. Because apparently, no matter what side of the Atlantic you're on, the masses have a tough time differentiating between gentle ribbing and hurtful acts.

Take, for example, the recent desecration of Muslim graves in northern France two weeks ago. Now, I can understand (but never condone) feelings of xenophobia or malcontent during times of high unemployment, shrinking government benefits, etc. It's a natural response to blame "the other" when your own sorry ass isn't doing so well. But to take it out on the graves of the long-gone who - newsflash - fought for France in WWI? It goes to show that dumbass rednecks are dumbass rednecks no matter where you are in the world.

And then we turn to my neighborhood...

The XIeme a brilliantly mixed quartier with everybody from the working class to the well-to-do, a good mixture of European, Arab, Jew, Turk, Chinese, African... you name it! This diversity not only means a vast array of great eats within steps of the apartment, but an opportunity to see so many different faces and hear so many different languages. This is my kinda town.

So it was more than a bit shocking when we were walking down the street the other night - past all these shops and restaurants of multiple origins - to see two national police with machine guns at the gates of one building, with crowd control barricades lining the sidewalk on either side of the street. Huh?

Well, it's Passover, and the local synagogue needs armed protection and restricted streets to prevent car bombs and/or snipers from carrying out threats that have been called in over the past years.

This is just plain fucking sad.

We live right around the largest Jewish area of town, and the fact that they can't feel safe in their own neighborhood is just... pathetic. When we walked by those armed police and my friend explained to me why they're stationed there this week, I think it's the most put off I'd felt the whole time I've been over here.

Of course, intra-city political relations aren't always so sanguine and serious.

On Saturday, several thousand pro-China protesters converged upon nearby Place de la République (this isn't that big a deal - thousands of protesters come here every weekend, weather permitting), shouting for their rights as a sovereign state by waving Chinese and French flags side by side. And, of course some Chinese jokesters waved French flags emblazoned with swastikas, decrying the French government for terrorizing the island of Corsica. Who says the CCP doesn't have a (dark) sense of humor?

Yeah, it's a clusterfuck around here.

Obviously, I didn't think I was moving to some sort of utopia. I knew well beforehand that Europe's got its fair share of racial/religious/political problems. I knew well beforehand that those in the middle of these problems have a flair for the dramatic, even sinister. And I knew that no matter how loud I crank my iPod, how deep I delve into a book, nor how much I lose myself in a platter of ripe cheeses that I wouldn't be able to ignore the ever-present roar of politics going through the country.

Just as moving to the UK and the US wasn't an escape from the bullshit in Iran, as moving to France hasn't been an escape from the bullshit in the US, there's no escaping the bullshit here. It's just one more country and its politics to worry about.

At least now I can do that worrying over excellent, cheap wine.


  1. My old synagogue in NYC brings in several large, burly ex-Mossad types to handle security over the big holidays every year.

  2. Unfortunately contrary to popular belief, freedom can not be guaranteed. People will always be hateful and spiteful and afraid of what they don't understand. It's the few of us enlightened ones that keep pushing the world forward to a new awareness of globality.
    And as unfortunate as globalism is, it is the primary way for tolerance to be learned.