Opposing War in France
by Diana Johnstone
Nowhere in NATOland is public opposition to “humanitarian wars” more muted than in France. Only a few prominent voices were raised against last year’s assault on Libya. Today, the few who attempt to arouse opposition to Western military intervention in Syria are the targets of a strangely obscure and yet effective campaign of slander designed to stigmatize and silence them.
The campaign operates like this. A rather small number of obscure journalists writing on obscure websites calling themselves “anarchist” and “anti-fascist” specialize in denouncing individuals who oppose war or criticize the European Union as fascists and anti-Semites. Their targets are usually intellectuals who are normally considered to be on the left. The technique is to identify opposition to war as “supporting dictators” and serious criticism of the EU as “rightist nationalism”. It is strongly implied that reluctance to go to war to overthrow the dictator du jour is tantamount to refusing to act to prevent Hitler from exterminating the Jews.
The other technique is plain old guilt by association. The targeted leftist has been seen somewhere in the company of someone identified as on the far right, therefore…
This primitive slander goes unnoticed by the overwhelming majority of the population. However, these obscure slanders are then used to put pressure on leftist groups to silence the heretic. Amazingly, this works.
Recently, such pressure has persuaded several supposedly progressive organizations to cancel speakers who were targeted by this campaign. The leftist Belgian writer and activist Michel Collon was abruptly barred from a scheduled presentation of his latest book on media lies about the war in Libya at the Bourse du Travail, a labor union center in Paris. Other outspoken opponents of imperialist wars have had their speaking engagement abruptly cancelled, or encountered groups of “anti-fascist” militants intent on preventing them from speaking. In recent days, the writer Jacob Cohen was physically attacked as an “anti-Semite” by the Jewish Defense League, which boasted of this action on a video. A fortnight ago, the University Paris VIII (formerly Vincennes) cancelled a long-scheduled international conference entitled “Israel: a state of apartheid?” on grounds that it could constitute a “threat to public order”.
The silencing of anti-war opinion is not unrelated to the existence in France of official censorship of “racist” speech and “Holocaust denial”. In the past thirty years, the Holocaust, or Shoah, has virtually become the state religion in France, especially in the schools, where pupils are repeatedly reminded of French guilt in allowing deportation of Jewish children during the World War II Nazi occupation of France (many more Jewish children were hidden and sheltered than were deported, fortunately). An atmosphere has been created in which there is no presumption of innocence when it comes to accusations of anti-Semitism. Thus there is understandable haste to avoid such accusations by ostracizing anyone who is suspected of this gravest of sins (on a par only with pedophilia).
Last month, Jean Bricmont received a series of questions for an interview from a young journalist who had already attacked him under a pen name in the context of the “antifascist” campaign against anti-war advocates. Just this week her slanders and threats of disruption caused a Paris church center to cancel a program on intervention in Syria. This young woman is suspected by at least one of her targets of being a US agent, and a law suit against her has been filed. However, Jean Bricmont, who as a matter of principle accepts debate with all adversaries, answered her questions in detail. Unsurprisingly, she chose not to publish them.
Counterpunch, March 15, 2012.
Letter to A French Journalist
By Jean Bricmont
You have asked me about my “support for dictators” (especially Assad). You suggest that this amounts to interference in the internal affairs of other countries, and pose questions about my “links with the far right” as well as with what you call “conspiracist” websites and the rationalist and progressive “support” that I allegedly thereby provide them.
Here is my answer:
You raise two important questions: my “support for dictators” and my “links with the far right.” These questions are important, not because they are pertinent (they are not), but because they are at the heart of the strategy of demonization of the modest forms of resistance to war and imperialism that exist in France . It is thanks to such false identifications that my friend Michel Collon (who runs the website http://www.michelcollon.info/) was banned from speaking on NATO propaganda about the Libyan war at the Bourse du Travail in Paris, after a campaign led by self-styled anarchists.
First of all, since you mention rationalism, let us think of the greatest 20th century rationalist philosopher, Bertrand Russell. What happened to him during the First World War, to which he was opposed? He was, of course, denounced for supporting the Kaiser. The trick consisting in denouncing the opponents of a given war as supporters of the other side is as old as war propaganda itself. Thus, in recent decades, I have allegedly “supported” Milosevic, Saddam Hussein, the Taliban, Gaddafi, Assad… and maybe tomorrow Ahmadinejad.
Actually, I do not support any regime. I support a policy of non-intervention, that is to say, I not only reject the “humanitarian” wars, but also the purchase of elections, the color revolutions, the coups organized by the West, the unilateral sanctions, etc.(see http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/02/20/the-case-for-a-non-interventionist-foreign-policy/). I propose that the West endorse the policy of the Non-Aligned Movement, which, in 2003, shortly before the invasion of Iraq, wanted to “strengthen international cooperation to solve international problems of a humanitarian character in full compliance with the Charter of the United Nations” and reiterated “the rejection by the Non-Aligned Movement of the so-called right of humanitarian intervention that has no basis either in Charter of the United Nations or in international law.” This is the constant position of the majority of mankind, of China, Russia, India, Latin America, the African Union. Whatever you think of it, this position is not on the far right.
As I have written a whole book on this subject (Humanitarian Imperialism, Monthly Review Press, 2006), I will not explain in detail my reasons, but I will simply note that, if the Westerners are so capable of solving the problems of Syria, why do they not solve first those of Iraq, Afghanistan or Somalia? I will also note that there is a basic moral principle when one is interfering in the internal affairs of other countries – suffer yourself the consequences of that intervention. Westerners of course think they are doing good everywhere, but the millions of victims caused by their wars in Indochina, Southern Africa, Central America and the Middle East probably see things differently.
Concerning my relationship with the far right, there are two distinct questions: what do we mean by “relationship” and what does “far right” mean? I’d love to protest alongside the entire left against interventionist policies. But the left in the West has been almost completely persuaded by the arguments in favor of humanitarian intervention and, in fact, often criticizes Western governments for not intervening as rapidly or as often as they should. So, on the rare occasions when I protest publicly, I can do so only with those who agree to protest, who are not all on the far right, far from it (unless, of course, one defines opposition to humanitarian wars as being on the far right), but who are not on the left in the usual sense, since the bulk of the left support the policy of intervention. At best, a part of the left takes refuge in the “neither-nor” position: neither NATO nor the country being attacked at the time. Personally, I consider that our duty is to fight first against the militarism and the imperialism of our own countries, not to criticize those who defend themselves against their onslaught, and that our situation, as citizens of the attacking countries, is anything but neutral, contrary to what the rhetoric of the “neither-nor” position suggests.
Moreover, I feel that I have the right to meet and talk with whomever I want: I sometimes talk with people whom you would describe as being on the far right (although, in most cases, I would disagree with this characterization), but more often with people on the far left, and even more often with people who are neither one nor the other. I am interested in Syrians who oppose the policy of intervention, since they can provide me with information about their country that goes against the dominant discourse, while of course I know, through the media, the discourse of the pro-intervention Syrians.
As for websites, I write wherever I can – again, if the mainstream left want to listen or even to debate with me on the policy of intervention, I am quite willing to do so. But this is not the case. I note that the “conspiracist” websites, as you call them, are far more open, because they accept me even though they know in general that I disagree with their analyses, particularly on September 11. Moreover, the people I know who publish on these sites are not on the far right, and simply being skeptical about the official story of September 11 is not, in itself, a far-right position.
The world is far too complicated to keep a “pure” attitude, where one only meets and talks with people from “our side”. Let us not forget that in France it was the Chamber elected at the time of the Popular Front which voted to grant full powers to Pétain in 1940 (after the exclusion of the Communist deputies, and with the assistance of the Senators). And the opposition to the collaboration brought together the Stalinists (at the time, all the Communists revered Stalin) and the Gaullists, many of whom were, before the war, definitely on the right. The same thing happened during the Algerian and Vietnam wars, since the opposition to these wars included, among others, Communists, Trotskyites, Maoists, Christian leftists, pacifists. By the way, were Stalin, the Algerian NLF and Ho Chi Minh democrats? Was it wrong to “support” them, that is, to fight Nazism or colonialism alongside them? And in the anti-Communist campaigns of the 80s, did not the human-rights left make common cause with a variety of nationalists or anti-Semites (Solzhenitsyn, for example)? And today, do not supporters of intervention in Libya and Syria make common cause with Qatar, Saudi Arabia and a number of Salafist movements?
I also have a problem with the definition of “far right”. I know what you mean by that, but, for me, what matters are ideas, not labels. Feeling free to attack countries that do not threaten you (which is the essence of the proclaimed right of intervention) for me is a far right idea. Punishing people because of their opinions (as do the laws punishing “Holocaust denial”), for me is a far right idea. Depriving countries of their sovereignty and therefore of the very foundation of democracy, as is increasingly done by the “construction of Europe”, for me is a far right idea. Saying “Israel is sharply criticized because it is a great democracy,” as if there were no other reason to criticize Israel, to quote the person for whom most of the left will vote in the second round of the French presidential elections (François Hollande), for me is a far right idea. Simplistically opposing the West to the rest of the world, particularly Russia and China (as much of the left does today in the name of democracy and human rights), for me is a far right idea.
If you want to find a place where I would unhesitatingly agree with the “left”, travel and go to Latin America. There, you will find a left that is anti-imperialist, popular, pro-sovereignty and democratic. Leaders like Chavez, Ortega or Kirchner are elected and reelected with scores unthinkable here, including for the “democratic left”, and they face a media opposition far more dangerous than “Holocaust revisionists” (their opposition actually does support military coups), but they never consider banning them.
Unfortunately, in Europe and especially in France, the Left has capitulated on many fronts: peace, international law, sovereignty, freedom of expression, the condition of workers, and the social control of the economy. The left has replaced politics with moralizing: it decides, in the entire world, who is democratic and who is not, what is the far right and whom one can meet. They spend their time swelling out their chest, “denouncing” dictators and their accomplices, politically incorrect phrases, or anti-Semites, but they have no concrete proposals to offer that would meet the concerns of the people they claim to represent.
These multiple betrayals of progressive causes do indeed open a boulevard to a part of the far right, but the fault lies with those who have accomplished and accepted these changes, not with those trying modestly to resist the world order.
Le Grand Soir, 21 February, 2012.
Jean Bricmont teaches physics at the University of Louvain in Belgium. He is author of “Humanitarian Imperialism”.
Original letter in French (21.02.2012):