My father, Henry Margolis, was a Broadway producer, industrialist, gourmet and man about town. Instead of wasting time taking me to play ball in the park, we would go each Saturday to an interesting new restaurant.
One afternoon, we went to lunch at a just-opened place on West 55th called “Lucky Pierre.” Pierre told us that he – like it seems almost everyone else in France during the war – had been in the Resistance. In the course of a sharp battle, our Frenchman dove under an ammunition truck during an air attack. It exploded.
Pierre walked away unscathed. Hence his sobriquet, “Lucky Pierre.”
Alas, Pierre’s food, did not equal his luck. The restaurant closed two months later.
Enter Lucky Pierre #2: France’s President Francois Hollande. Two weeks ago, his polls fell below 10%, making Hollande the most unpopular, derided leader of France in memory. Unemployment kept rising, the ruling Socialists can’t seem to cut the bloated budget, and just about everyone in France was angry at the Hollande.
President Holland’s Socialists sank so low that the hard right National Front of Marine le Pen was expected to oust the left in forthcoming elections in 2017. Even the much hated right-wing leader, Nicholas Sarkozy, was coming to look like the savior of France.
The demoralized Hollande even publicly mused about not serving out his term. Then, in one of life’s amazing surprises, everything changed for Lucky Francois.
Two French of Algerian descent, the by now notorious Kouachi brothers, and a black African radical launched two deadly attacks in Paris, massacring the staff of the satirical magazine “Charlie Hebdo.
The attack on “Charlie” was not a surprise: it and a rightwing Danish newspaper had made their name demeaning and mocking Islam. “Charlie” was reportedly owned or financed by a French Rothschild. No reason has so far been given for the mindless killing of four Jewish shoppers.
France and much of the western world erupted in high moral outrage over the Paris massacre. Defending the sacred right of free speech was declared a holy war. Politicians fell over themselves to join the crusade of the righteous. Even Israel’s Bibi Netanyahu, who had just killed over 2,000 Palestinians, including some 15 journalists.
Hollande went overnight from a fuddled little man to male Joan of Arc and defender of liberty. All France rallied to the embattled president and gave him a new lease of political life.
Hollande and the National Assembly lost no time in announcing that France would increase and intensify its military operations in Mali, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, East Africa, Abu Dhabi, Iraq, Afghanistan (from where French troops have been withdrawing, as well as covert operations in Syria, Lebanon and Somalia.
In fact, Hollande has been advocating French military intervention in Africa and Asia for much of his term. One would think that Socialists would be less militaristic but such is not the case in France. There is long been an anti-Arab/anti-Muslim core in the Socialists and members with imperial ambitions. Interestingly, it was France’s Socialists who secretly provided Israel with is nuclear arsenal.
The mayhem in Paris certainly reminded many of America’s 9/11 ordeal. In both cases, a floundering, lackluster leader was suddenly catapulted into the role of national champion and heroic war lord. Hollande is a decent man but he is milking the Paris massacre for all its worth.
Meanwhile, the hypocrisy of all the ado about free speech is beginning to sink in. We learn that “Charlie Hebdo” fired one of its cartoonists for mocking the son of Sarkozy’s marriage to a wealthy Jewish heiress. A French-African not very funny comic faced charges of anti-Semitism.
Pro-Palestinian marches in Paris were banned by the free speech government. In France, questioning details of the Holocaust is a crime. The Armenian genocide of World War I is similarly taboo. France has seriously violated its own noble tradition of free speech while hectoring others to observe it.
How all this works out in the end for Hollande’s Socialists remains unclear. A short-term boost for sure. But the far right is on the march. It’s calls to “do something” about France’s 6 million Muslims and bring in draconian laws as America did post 9/11 have much resonance. But do what is the question most French are not yet willing to face. 30 copyright Eric S. Margolis 2015