Sunday, January 11, 2015

When Peace Breaks Out

Between 1066 and 1814, England and France were at war more than half the time.  I have this from Joseph Strayer, who taught me history in college.  I've never actually checked the count, but I'm willing to take his word for it.  From Hasting to Agincourt to Waterloo, the English and the French had seemingly irreconcilable differences for a very long time.

Every once in a while, Professor Strayer would take five minutes at the end of a lecture and give us a little talk on What Does It All Mean.  In the case of England and France, what it means is, if they can bury the hatchet, anybody can.

And now they are staunch allies.  Not that they don't occasionally get on one another's nerves -- especially on the personal level.  A few years ago I was in Paris for a marathon and I was standing in a line at the Metro waiting to buy "une carte de dix billets."  Ahead of me were an English couple.  The rather large man was asking the caissier some questions.  He spoke in English in a loud voice, which became louder as the interaction went on.  I had thought that only Americans did this.

The ticket seller did not resort to the traditional dodge of not understanding English.  Instead, he listened, and eventually resolved the Englishman's issues.  I noticed that, as things went on, he became increasingly impassive, but there was no hint of anger.  Not a sign of the impatience that I myself was beginning to feel.

This is what peace looks like.  We are not always going to approve of other people's behavior, or even understand them, but we do need to learn to get along.  The alternative is a Lazy Susan of death, turning unpredictably -- for years, for centuries.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Ethnic Purity

The French seem to be having a problem with what Jimmy Carter used to call "ethnic purity."  They should remember that the Corsican Napoleon Bonaparte grew up speaking Italian.  And he was short.

Who is French?  Only Gallo-Romans?  Or maybe we should add the Normans?  The Bretons?  The Alsatians?  (Dear me, I think they drink beer.)

What would Asterix the Gaul say about the current ethnic hodgepodge in France?

There's a new novel out called Submission, by Michel Houellebecq, which imagines France in 2022 with a Muslim president.

Well, let's think about this.  France has a lot of Muslims -- a little more or less than 10 percent of the population.  (The government is not allowed to ask people their religion, so all estimates are just that -- estimates.)

So where do all these Muslims come from?  Well, most of them come from North Africa -- 82 percent from Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia.  43 percent from Algeria alone.  (Again, these are estimates.)  Morocco was a protectorate of France, as was Tunisia.  Algeria was actually a part of Metropolitan France, just like Mr. Napoleon's Corsica and the same way Texas is a part of the United States.

My thought is, if you didn't want Muslims -- or Basques or Bretons -- why did you take these places over?  Who knows, one day the United States may have a Hmong president.  From Minnesota.  I look forward to it.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Charlie Hebdo

I used to work in magazines.  I cannot tell you how the attack on Charlie Hebdo felt so -- well, personal.

The magazines I worked on weren't terribly controversial.  We pointed out things like maybe the use of lie detectors has no place in pre-employment testing (Congress later passed a law -- I take no credit, it was a groundswell).  Or the idea that people weren't seeing the death rate from recessions because there's a two-year lag -- the heart attacks come two years after the recession, during a period of prosperity.

We never had a reason to print a picture of Mohammed -- and remember, it doesn't have to be derogatory.  The ban is on any pictorial representation of Mohammed.

My wife works in a school.  Since Sandy Hook, the operative assumption is that the receptionist will die in any attack.

This is our life now.  Schools and magazines exist to inform people.  To educate them.  To speak the truth.

And now we die.

It shouldn't be this way.  Already I see Muslims being demonized for their assaults on the West -- which happened.  The newly minted Muslims burst out of the Arabian peninsula into the Middle East, conquering North Africa and Spain, only to be stopped by Charles Martel at the Battle of Tours in 732.  Tours is in northern France.

Later the Turks were only turned back at the gates of Vienna in 1521 and at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571.

Sounds pretty aggressive, doesn't it?  Well, how about the Crusades?  Take the First Crusade.  To riff on Adolf Hitler, who now remembers the Siege of Jerusalem in 1099?  (We'll leave aside the prior Siege of Antioch -- cannibalism is not my cup of tea.)

Or the Fourth Crusade, when God's army diverted from Jerusalem to an easier target, Constantinople, sacking the home of Christian Orthodoxy in 1204.  A prostitute set up for business in the patriarch's throne at Hagia Sophia.

Can't we put all this behind us?  Can't we stop searching for pretexts to hate?  There was a fellow years ago who said the only way to peace was through peace.  I'm beginning to think he was right.