Tuesday, September 14, 2004
News from the land of cheese
Qu'elle Dommage...things aren't going to well for France.
When you play in ....you get covered in ....
France: Fraying Ties To The Arab World
When two French journalists were abducted in Iraq by a shadowy Islamist group on Aug. 20, France's initial reaction was consternation. How could this have happened to a country that did so much to oppose U.S.-led war plans in Iraq -- and has espoused so many Arab causes? But then France swung impressively into action, calling in its Middle Eastern chips. Almost immediately, Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat, Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi -- and even radical movements such as Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad -- were all appealing for the hostages' release. It was a vivid reminder of the time and effort France has put into constructing a web of relations across the Mideast. "You didn't see that kind of support for Blair or Berlusconi," notes François Heisbourg, director of Paris-based think tank Foundation for Strategic Research, referring to the hostage crises faced by both leaders.
But France's political capital in the Middle East may be more rhetorical than real. For all their influence, the French failed to secure the swift release of the journalists. The Gaullist notions of enjoying the support of the "Arab street" are also looking exaggerated: "Many in the Middle East see a double standard, contrasting France's almost lyrical expressions of support for Arab causes with domestic policies viewed as anti-Arab and anti-Islamic, even racist," notes Algerian economist Amr Elmuntasser. French politicians and some of the country's estimated 5 million Muslims have clashed publicly, most recently over new legislation barring female students at French public schools from wearing headscarves. The Iraqi kidnappers made removal of the ban a condition for the release of the hostages.
Read the article here