eyes on the U.S.

Making War, Not Love: A French View On Sex In America - From Abu Ghraib To DSK

Op-Ed: A prominent French intellectual's j'accuse against a nation that accepts lies to justify war, while extra-marital sex is the equivalent of "national betrayal." Pascal Bruckner on America's obsession with

(mcd)
(mcd)
Pascal Bruckner

PARIS - A few years ago, we were on a family beach vacation in Florida. After a swim, my two-year-old daughter took off her bathing suit. Suddenly, the summer visitors began looking at us sideways. A few minutes later, a sheriff's deputy equipped with an arsenal that could destroy an entire city, arrived and shouted at us that we had to get our daughter dressed again if we didn't want to get fined. My daughter, who thought it was a game, started to run. We ran after her…and the sheriff ran after us. Finally, we caught her and laughed out loud, but the big man in uniform didn't. In Uncle Sam territory, to be naked on the beach is forbidden, even for babies.

North America, obviously, has a problem with sex that comes from its Protestant legacy, which also has it giving the whole world lessons in morality. To describe America as a Puritan country is not enough because it is a double-faced Puritanism, which shifts with change in attitudes, uses the vocabulary of freedom and coexists with a thriving porn industry. More precisely, this is a prurient Puritanism.

What was the real point of the Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Clinton cases? They were a perfect vehicle to condemn eroticism in order to be able to talk more about sex. For weeks, even months, American people licked their lips over every intimate detail: about felatio, sperm, genital organs -- always with a false indignation. The fact that the alleged victim's lawyer Kenneth Thompson talked about the "assaulted" vagina of his client Nafissatou Diallo with obscene jubilation is a telltale sign of this phenomenon.

In the Bill Clinton case, can we really say that he was sanctioned because he lied more than because he had an affair with a White Houses' intern? This is wrong of course because George W. Bush lied about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, a far more serious deception, but was not condemned for it. If he had slept with his assistant, he would have been punished. But murders are apparently less important than extra-marital affairs.

It seems like the American media establishement, so swift to condemn France through one of our representatives, has already forgotten the tortures in Abu Ghraib: there were naked men piled on top of one another, or force to masturbate under the orders of Lynndie England, a woman sergeant who was keeping some of them on a leash. (It's well known since Nazism that women who possess power don't behave better than men) Torture exists everywhere, even in democratic countries, but only a country which has a problem with its sexuality can dream up such abuse. Besides, one can be surprised that Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, who are suspected of corruption and allowing violent police questioning, were not sued after 2008 by an American justice system that is always ready to condemn any minor sexual affairs.

To punish France because it didn't want to get involved in the war in Iraq, for the Roman Polanski case, for the law on Islamic headscarves and the niqab; to punish France as a recalcitrant country that persists in its loose attitudes is the ultimate meaning of the DSK case at a time when America is failing, and looking for easy scapegoats to be blamed for their decline. For instance, in the July 19 issue of Newsweek magazine, the correspondent Joan Buck explains to her readers the archaic sexuality of French people: In barbaric France, female journalists have sex with all politicians, because they want to, but also because they want to be sure to get the right sources. From the gas station to the office, cashiers and secretaries must offer a blow job to their employers to keep their job. To her, all French women are "salopes' (bitches or sluts).

A strange alliance

The US is home to a peculiar phenomenon that never happened in Europe: American feminists have allied with the very conservative American right. These two forces united in the name of different interests to stop what was achieved in the 1960's and 1970's in the field of women's rights. Feminist intellectuals such as Joan Scott, an expert in French-bashing, have become propagandists for the United State State Department. They are in charge of promoting the American way of life. This explains the moral McCarthyism that prevails in American society when it comes to the issue of love, and which has been denounced by the more clear-sighted Americans for a long time.

Since the 1990's, any foreign male professor who comes to the US to teach at University has to respect strict instructions: He has to keep the door open when he receives a student, unless the conversation is recorded; he can't take the elevator with a student; and of course, he can't have a relationship with a student from the University even if she is over 21 and even if it's consensual -- otherwise he would be immediately expelled. Also with colleagues: one can't have ambiguous conversations, or use inappropriate words, and must commit themselves not to have sexual intercourse with a collegue unless the two get married.

What does that really mean? It is clearly a furious condemnation of sexual pleasures by criminalizing the heterosexual act. Every man is a rapist, every woman may be a victim. The flattering remark is a first step to harassment, seduction is on the road to rape, gallantry is a euphemism to blur the man's predatory moves. The flesh leads to corruption, desire is dangerous. Even if DSK was acquitted, he would remain guilty: his fault is inferred from his status. He is a rich, white European man. In other words, he is decadent. He is nothing but a compulsive attacker.

American politicians are also targeted by the media's lack of discretion. The last two victims of this hunt were Anthony Weiner, a Democratic representative who was found guilty of sending pictures of his penis via Twitter to women he met online, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is the father of an illegitimate son he had with his maid.

Any American can one day or another be subjected to stringent checks of this democratic inquisition. In France, an extra-marital affair is better understood than in America where it it seen as nothing less than a crime. The marital betrayal is like a national betrayal. It's a violation of a pact that binds American citizens.

Let's be clear, on both sides of the Atlantic, a rape is a crime, harassment is an offense. Everywhere, tensions between men and women, resulting from emancipation, prevail and sometimes intensify. But while in the US this coexistence always seems to be on the brink of a war, Europe seems more protected from this scourge thanks to an old tradition of conversation and tolerance of human weaknesses. France's goal is to compromise with the heart's ambivalence, "de-civilize" desire and respect people's intimacy.

In the US, sexuality is the way from which each citizen potentially becomes the property of others. The private sphere disappears, transparency leads to hypocrisy and everybody watches everyone else.

The worst consequence of this DSK case is that, if it is confirmed that the complainant didn't tell the truth, it would disqualify the real victims of rape who will be suspected of lying. Both the media and justice system will come out of this case with their stature reduced, even if the prosecutor Cyrus Vance honestly recognized from July that there were inconsistencies in the alleged victim's version of events.

There's little hope that after the judge dismissed the case, the biggest U.S. press organizations who lynched the former IMF Director before he was judged, would ever apologize.

To my fellow French who are planning to go to the United States: BE CAREFUL. If you ever want to flirt with an American citizen, male or female, you need to get an official document from them stipulating that you can enjoy their body. We have a lot to learn from our Americans friends, but certainly not the art of loving.

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Society

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel

-Essay-

BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.


Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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