EDITORIAL: France’s “provincial and imperialist” response to Cassez affair.
France is at loggerheads with Mexico over the latter's refusal to release Frenchwoman Florence Cassez from a 60-year jail sentence for convictions in kidnappings, which she denies. French philosopher Chantal Delsol is astonished by France's egocentricity over the affair.
PARIS - It's difficult to know the exact degree of culpability of Florence Cassez, the young woman accused of being an accomplice in a series of abductions, kidnappings, and other crimes in Mexico. It is also impossible to truly comprehend the sense of disbelief and horror gripping Cassez, as well as her family, at the thought of a 60-year prison sentence, or in other words life imprisonment in a country where sentences are not as easily commuted as they are in France.
However, the organized hullabaloo surrounding this affair is appalling: the French threats to cancel its "Year of Mexico" cultural celebrations (which have prompted Mexico to withdraw from the event) and the whirlwind of public commentary. This dreadful spectacle reveals a French state of mind, which is at once provincial and imperialist.
It reveals a country that sees itself at the center of the world, with an inability to put itself in the place of others and understand that it does not have the authority to dictate to the rest of the world. We are a country among other countries, as respectable as them but no more or no less so; we have our laws and other countries have theirs', as well as customs and rites. It is not our laws, customs or rites which govern others.
The way in which our rulers and media have treated Mexico over this affair is a sign of a puerile and egocentric mentality. The Mexican justice system has been described as monstrous and corrupt. The persistent buzz that Mexican justice is unfair stems from the fact it has dared rule on a crime committed on its soil. As if we are the only country in the world with the ability to correctly pass judgement.
This is a strange reaction from a country that doesn't stop talking about the importance of respecting one another. The other is due our respect, it would seem, only if he or she thinks and acts like us. Mexico is a democratic country with a Constitution, laws and courts. It is not a cannibal-infested jungle, banana dictatorship or Stalinist totalitarian state. Is its sovereignty not legitimate? For the French, it would seem a country's sovereignty is only legitimate if it follows our line exclusively.
The notion of sovereignty, encompassing a nation's independence and ability to govern its own territory, was conceptualized by the 16th century French jurist and political philosopher French Jean Bodin. Much later it was desecrated by Joseph Goebbels when he declared in response to questions over his government's terrible actions: "A man's home is his castle." That period marked the start of a legitimate questioning of the unconditional pre-eminence of sovereignty and the beginning of a reflection on the right to intervene, first developed by the forefathers of international law, 16th century Spaniard Francisco de Vitoria and 17th century Dutchman Hugo Grotius, and reaffirmed after World War Two by anti-genocide lawyer Rafael Lemkin.
We cannot accept the behavior of a country purely on the basis that it has a sovereign right to act as it pleases. France, however, appears to have an idea of the right to intervene which is at once vast and rather subjective. It is permissible to challenge a country's sovereign rights when its government is committing atrocities. It is permissible to call a foreign government into question when it mistreats its population and commits crimes against humanity. But sovereignty should only be challenged for the most exceptional abuses of authority. It is childish to question the legitimate sovereignty of a government because it simply does not bend to one desire or another.
The ease of transcontinental travel and the appropriation of just about every possible space on the planet lead us to believe that wherever we go we are at home. But it takes more than a spirit of adventure and a rucksack to own the world. When our citizens travel, they need to respect the norms of the country they are visiting. You can't travel the world with the laws of your own country slung over your shoulder.
Travelling is a risky business, not just because your train may crash in an area where there is no emergency medical service, but above all because you have to adhere to the customs of your destination, from the quality of the food to the powers of the local justice system.
Young Western backpackers might consider themselves to be "world citizens', which put another way might be interpreted as being allowed to impose your law wherever you go. It would be better if these young travellers understood that they are guests in the country of people who do not resemble them and on whom they cannot impose their norms.
Those who are firmly convinced of Florence Cassez's innocence or the unfairness of her trial may well engage their conscience and courage to help her escape the lawlessness of the country in a move which could eventually end in failure. But, in this case, screaming about injustice simply signals our ridiculous pretensions to dictate our will onto the world.
Read the original article in French
Photo credit - (LWY)