Terror in Europe

A French Cri de Coeur: Don't Let The Bastards Win

After the deadly attack on Charlie Hebdo, the reaction in Paris is raw: war has been declared on the values of the French Republic. First order of business: know your enemy.

Place de la République in Paris on Wednesday
Place de la République in Paris on Wednesday
Nicolas Barré


PARIS — Bastards in balaclavas have declared war on France, on our democracy, on our values. On freedom. We felt it rising, this terrorist vermin. We felt it coming to our door, this senseless hate. We were even "warned" by those who would enjoy nothing more than seeing us on our knees.

From the Sahel to the Syrian plains and the small, quiet Parisian street that's home to the Charlie Hebdo headquarters, it's the same barbaric front that is defying who we are. Our freedom annoys these Islamist fanatics. Charb, Cabu, Wolinski and Tignous' pencils trouble them, their drawings haunt their poor minds, they can't bear our laughter. They are against life, and hate what they see in the West. It's no surprise that these jihadists wanted to strike in the heart of the country of Enlightenment.

Islamism is an intellectual void. Everywhere it spreads, it attacks knowledge, forbidding millions of girls from going to school every year, while recruiting boys in madrasas. Whether they are called the Taliban or ISIS, there is one clear way to recognize these barbarians: They abhor those who make good use of a pen. Words, freedom of speech, that exhilarating joy of making fun of something, this freedom, also, of saying whatever we want just because we feel like it, it repulses them. They can't even understand it. They draw their dark veil over knowledge, progress, the spirit of Voltaire, this master of satire and caricature. They want to imprison us inside their void. They will fail, but after how much grief, pain, irreparable loss!

No negotiation

This attack against our colleagues is clearly not the act of a few desperate individuals. It was carefully planned, and the arsenal used suggests it was very well organized. All indications are that it was designed to undermine French society to its very core, at a time when it is fragile. The attack is intended to push our different communities to rise up against each other.

Faced with this barbaric cowardice, there will be no surrender. The fight against obscurantism has of course been unfolding outside our borders, against ISIS, Boko Haram and all the gruesome organizations of the same ilk around the world.

But it also plays out here at home, through the reaffirmation of our republic's principles, without which no national community can stand. We must reaffirm the principle of secularism, a founding and singular value of the French identity against which the Islamists have been carrying out a true crusade. We must not give anything away on diversity, a non-negotiable principle to which certain minds from the dark ages object, finding here and there pretexts to slyly separate genders or hide women's faces.

Nothing, lastly, must hinder our freedom of thought. We earned it by dint of fights that forged this country. We know the values we have inherited and what we must do so that the test we are facing can actually make the nation stronger, more united. It's the least France owes to its new martyrs.

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Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum


SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.

It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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