The Past Is What You Make It
Columns on Continental Riffs and Counterpunch come in the immediate aftermath of manifs (demonstrations) in Paris.
This one comes before.
Before a demonstration that is, as of this moment, officially banned by tribunal administratif at the request of the Macron government.
So it isn’t going to happen.
It will, most likely. In one form or another.
It will likely be violent. Unnecessarily so. Or not violent at all. Although politicians have done their level best to assure that it will be.
Quite effective for the evening news.
Police cars burned, store fronts wrecked and most importantly, Muslim and Palestinian heads cracked, detained and arrested, with cause and without.
Effective of course depends on where you’re standing.
It’s 2014 all over again. They turned the clocks back. When did that happen ?
Ladies and Gentlemen, close your eyes. I give you the radio drama, They Stopped The Past From Happening By Preventing The Future. The Philip K Dick Players will be here to entertain you shortly.
In 2014, during that long ago era of President Holland, a manif on behalf of Palestinians took place in Paris. It is almost not necessary to know what happened then. It is only important to have your own version of it. Was it a massive demonstration on behalf of Palestine or a violent anti-Semitic outburst, both or neither, none of the above ? For the purpose of our shadow play, I only ask you that you bear in mind two things : one, that demonstration, too, was banned and took place anyway, centering on Place de République; and many demonstrations on behalf of Palestinians in Paris have gone on since then, without incident.
Confrontations in Israël and Gaza between Palestinians, Hamas and Israëli police led to 100 deaths yesterday. The situation will likely deteriorate this weekend, with the end of Ramadan, the day of prayer and today’s commemoration of the Nakba, the Palestinian exodus in 1948 following the creation of the state of Israël.
This fits, I believe, the definition of an international crisis. One that our judges and politicians wish would go away so they could squeeze one more, just one more, quiet weekend out of the bloody viral semi-lockdown. Quiet please !
This column is about a demonstration in Paris, France, which is now, so far as I know, the only country in the ‘democratic world,’ to focus specific hostility toward demonstrations on behalf of Palestinians.
The situation is indeed inflamed, and tensions high. In a democracy, you do everything you can to make sure the democratic right to protest is preserved, all parties abiding by the rules.
For whatever it’s worth, I am in favor of public calm and even the occasional hit of tranquility. I absolutely don’t care for the publicly consummated romance between jokers who set things on fire at the end of peaceful demonstrations so that their girlfriend, the media, has flashy footage to run, thereby avoiding a necessary discussion of actual issues involved.
The drama unfolding now, choreographed for maximum media penetration, comes courtesy the Macron administration and its Minister of the Interior, one Gérald Darminin, a man with a few troubles of his own. Is it indiscreet to bring them up ? They date from 2012, and are mainly the kind of thing Twitter banshees get excised over. He wrote an essay about Napoléon, another dead man in the news, and his relations with the Jewish community in post-Revolutionary France. In recounting the history, Darminin, a young man on the make, let slip a few comments of his own about Jews. Held up to the light and scrutinized this way and that, one can draw any number of conclusions. Is he a spectacular anti-Semite, or is he simply a run of the mill anti-Semite who does what he has to do in politics to survive ? He denies everything.
Darminin has serious charges of rape and harassment dating from 2017 hanging over his head, with new evidence being introduced in January this year. In his defense, he said, ‘I lived as all young men live,’ a comment that makes many men around the world want to lay a nice, fat punch on his kisser. Not quite forty, he is mutating from cherubic youth to gray-haired, untouchable bureaucrat at warp speed. He is, of course, accorded the presumption of innocence and dismisses calls to resign.
Monsieur Darminin, who brought the proposal to the administrative court, essentially wants to ban but not be banned. The silence about Darminin from female members of the president’s party, LREM, is absolutely stunning.
The administrative tribunal concurred. A decision Anne Hidalgo, still mayor of Paris while dreaming of France’s presidency, applauds. “In 2014, we experienced an extremely violent demonstration and a very difficult situation. Everything is very tense right now. So I think that this is a wise decision.”
In this she has some unexpected bedfellows, among them the politically homeless (no one will have him) ex-Minister Manuel Valls, so terribly wounded over losing again and again in France that he ran back to Barcelona where he was born and ran for mayor. (He lost.) He too applauds a decision grave mais justifiée because according to him, “A part of the left or extreme left uses this conflict as a pretext for anti-Semitism.” He didn’t bother with specifics.
(Does one person shouting anti-Semitic barbarities at a demo make the whole crowd Jew-Haters ? And please, remind me what is it that a Mayor does exactly ? Is a little pro-active rolling up of sleeves and inviting everyone to the big table to negotiate an orderly, non-violent demo in a public place still part of the job description or is that too damn taxing ?)
Philip K Dick would be proud of our nouveau and not-so-nouveau pols, leaping to squelch crime and conflict — based solely on their judgments about what might happen. The past is eminently flexible. It can always be made to say whatever you want it to say, and it makes you sound serious at the same time.
We may now add to our lexicon of political clichés a ‘ décision grave mais justifiée’ (a serious but justified decision). When a politician says that, he or she means, Thank God, I’m off the hook. Have a nice weekend !
One could ride the obvious hypocrisies a good deal further and have a good time doing it. Like aiming at stoned monkeys trapped inside a barrel.
Except in the case of dangerous chemicals, banning never works. It excites human nature. In this case, banning lets a lazy regime seem pro-active, when in fact their attention span goes no further than the evening news.
Everything that has happened so far is exactly what the government wants. They have sidelined at least part of the opposition and taken a Strong Stand. The fact that the demonstration will go forward anyway is the cherry on the cake. They could not ask for more. When the inevitable happens, whether caused by protestors or police, the footage will be on the evening news, and the scenes of police attacking innocent blacks and Arabs along with spectacular violence, will delight and enrage the populists Monsieur Macron knows he most have on-side if he wants to get reëlected.
Riffs rang the Elysée for comment but the President was unavailable. He’s spending the weekend in bed with Marine Le Pen.
Only two hours to go.
Originally published at https://continentalriffs.substack.com.