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not ashamed of being ashamed

Some Frenchmen are ashamed of being French,
while others are ashamed that those who are ashamed aren’t proud;
though nowadays it’s hard to be a mensch,
it’s harder to oppose opinions of the madding crowd,
as well as those espoused by the elite,
which turns a blind eye to the problems of identity,
opining that a nation should backbeat
traditions and become an obsolete nonentity.

Devorah Lauter writes an article about French identity politics in the LA Times, December 14,2009 (“As the French debate their identity, some recoil”) . The allusion to the Swiss minaret poll brings to mind my poem “Swiss Minarets, ” which Huffpo chose not to put on its blog. Lauter writes:
It was one of a series of government-run public debates aimed at defining the values that constitute French national identity. But in this middle-class suburb west of Paris, the discussion last week quickly turned into a cacophony of hot-tempered accusations. Rather than give his version of what it means to be French, an invited speaker, historian Jean-Yves Mollier, attacked his host (who sat stone-still a few feet in front of him) for supporting the national dialogue. Mollier said the ongoing debates represent none other than Vichy-style propaganda attempting to 'stigmatize' those who don't fall into France's ruling native caste, in this case mostly French Muslims of immigrant origin. Mollier and several other attendees proceeded to walk out. Meanwhile, two actors disguised as avid participants launched into a faux back-and-forth. 'Today, I'm ashamed of being French! ' said one of the men, standing up to be heard. The other, jumping to his feet, replied, 'Excuse me, but I'm proud of being French, and you, you should be ashamed of being proud of being ashamed of France! ' 'It's a shame for France! ' shouted back the first. 'I'm proud of the shame I feel for people like you who are ashamed of being French! ' cried the second. In the crowd, one middle-aged man's face turned the color of his pink shirt. He termed the scene 'disgraceful.' Host Anne Boquet, the local police chief, expressed her hope that the dialogue would 'remind people of their Republican values and to respect authority.'

'The debates can introduce that respect, ' she said, and help 'define the face of France we like today.' That, it seems, may be a long way off. The 3-month-long national debate series, spearheaded by conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy and his minister of immigration, has been the subject of heated controversy since a late November vote in Switzerland to ban the construction of minarets on mosques. Sympathy for the Swiss vote here, according to polls, has helped focus the debates, which began in November, on widely held demands that Muslims do more to blend into French society. Polls show that a small majority in France favor a ban on minarets like the one the Swiss approved with a 57.5% majority.


12/14/09

Submitted: Monday, December 14, 2009


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