Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof

Open Letter to Loic

In America, Egypt, Entrepreneurship, France, Free speech, Human rights, Jailed bloggers, Social media on June 2, 2007 at 5:57 pm

Parisianwigglers
Parisian wigglers at a bar in the Bastille, by S.

Dear Loic:

We don’t know each other well, having done nothing more than exchange a few emails over the years. But one of the benefits of being a participant in the wide world of social media is a shamelessness and a willingness to dialogue publicly, qualities the world’s leaders would do well to emulate.

So when, this morning, I read an op-ed about newly elected French President Nicolas Sarkozy, I decided to use this forum to ask you a couple of favors and give you, and through you Sarko, a couple of pieces of unsolicited advice.

First, let me congratulate you on your candidate winning. Although I don’t wish to give you too much credit for that win, it would be equally specious to pretend your activities played no part at all. From your introduction of the then-candidates at LeWeb3, however poorly received, to your mediating public conversations, to your advising him on communications issues, he listened to you to good effect. I have no doubt he will continue to do so. I’d like to ask you, then, to pass on to him ideas that have come up in the course of thinking about three issues: U.S.-French relations, immigration and online freedom.

Regarding the relations between our two countries, let me start by saying Bush is on his way out. Considering the mood in my country regarding his actions and those of his allies, I believe it unlikely that his ideological legacy will continue, at least not be actively continued by a new administration of either party. Although part of the rift between France and America is clearly a function of the arrogance, entitlement and ignorance of the current U.S. administration, not all of it is. What I found most irritating on the part of Europeans over the past few years is the hypocrisy. During and around World War I, Americans were constantly belittled by the “Great Powers” for their “parochial” concerns, including a belief in self-determination. Wilson was considered a foolish little school teacher and Europeans ridiculed him for his ignorance of international politics as a “blood sport.”

Well, we learned. We looked up “realpolitik” in a dictionary and, not being a people who do things in half-measures, we committed to the notion. Once we had done so, of course, we were berated, by the French loudest of all, for our Machiavellian cynicism. This is just another example of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” that Americans feel they’ve had to endure, especially from Europe, since that day in July back in 1776.

Is it any wonder that some Americans found comfort in the Bush administration’s promise to no longer consult with the very Europeans who refused to do anything about anything on every little step we took? I don’t think it was a wise move. I don’t think it’s ever wise to stop talking. But I do understand the impulse that drove the support for the war at the beginning. And Sarko would do well to understand it as well. In other words, though no country, least of all my own, is above or should be above criticism, don’t be a dick about it. And in return, we’ll ask you for your thoughts, your input, your participation and your advice and we’ll actually listen to what you say; and we’ll ask you to do the same. (At least this is what I’ll be pressuring my new president to do.)

Our two countries have a long, complex history of mutual interdependence. Americans love France almost as much as we love to make fun of it. And the French seem almost as fascinated by America as they are intent on criticizing it. So let’s stop looking away every time the other looks up from his or her newspaper.

Immigration. When my wife and I visited Paris in 2004, at the end of a very long, emotionally challenging trip through Britain, Holland, Latvia and Germany (Paris was our reward), I was shocked at the change in the make up of the French people, in fact, of all Europe. I was slightly distressed at the change, but I was hopeful that it signaled the beginning of a Europe made of countries whose citizens were bound together less by ethnicity and history and more by a devotion to creating the future. On Bastille Day, however, those thoughts were laid to rest by the most astonishing series of altercations. We saw almost a dozen violent battles between young Muslims and others. I wrote about it. A year later, I saw these clashes as the quiet preface to the horrible Parisian riots.

Even at the time I remember thinking how the unrealistic approach to your immigrants (and ethnic minorities) was. Give immigrants everything they want and nothing they need and whitewash it all with slogans and expect not to see your capital explode? Who’s the Pollyanna now? Subsidizing housing, giving out free food, allowing people to rule themselves based on the extreme version of their religious ideology and refusing to allow them to take the responsibility for their own actions, these and other such “humanitarian” efforts will never overcome the abiding belief that the millions of people around you aren’t really as good as you, aren’t really capable of being Frenchmen, a belief that disallows these same men and women from work, from becoming self-sufficient and learning how to dialogue with those around them.

The only way to turn your vast immigrant population into real citizens is to require and allow. Require your immigrants to work–and then allow them the opportunities to do so. (As an entrepreneur yourself, I have no doubt you understand the appeal of such a course of action.) Require your immigrants take responsibility for their own actions–and then allow them a place at the national table. Stop excusing the encouragement by a fierce minority of anti-French values with one hand while slapping them with the other. (And you may want to ask your friend if he thinks calling them “scum” is the most helpful idea.) Require them to take part in French life–and allow them to debate what it is.

It would try the belief of any knowledgeable person to assert that my country has immigration figured out (!). But it would be equally preposterous to maintain there is another country on Earth who handles immigrants better. We are among the richest and most powerful countries on the planet as a direct result of our policy toward immigration, immigrants and citizenship.

Entrepreneurialism is the key to a thriving France. Encourage and allow innovation on the part not just of the ethnically, historically French but of those immigrants who can help create the new France, and you have a chance at creating something admirable. I understand Sarkozy is pro-entrepreneurial. You certainly are. Lean on him. There will be, as you know better than I, no end of people pushing back. It’s not that I am a proponent of capitalism without restrictions, it’s just that I am not a proponent of restrictions without capitalism.

Finally, online freedom. I doubt very much you need me to induce you to encourage Sarko to keep this issue in front of him. For one thing, in an increasingly borderless world, you can’t have a self-perpetuating economy without free inquiry and you can’t have free inquiry without an unfettered internet. First on our agenda must be keeping the Internet free at home–you take France, I’ll take the U.S. But it’s very important to pursue this internationally as well. What good is it if France is an island of online freedom in a sea of closed mouths? Strongly encourage Sarkozy to put pressure on, publicly criticize, indict China and Iran and Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and all the other countries of the world who use the Internet as a tool of control.

This is not a matter, as the governments of these countries often claim, of extending our “Western European values” to a place we have no business doing anything but business. These are human values and human rights and we are charged — by human reason and divine will — with the promotion and defense of this spiritual necessity. It doesn’t matter if we agree or disagree with what is being said. What matters is that we act, in whatever small way is open to us, in assisting our brothers and sisters in removing the deforming bars of every prison that agents of control succeed in erecting.

Just to make sure that I don’t wind up wallowing in adorable generalities, I would like to ask you to convince Sarko to do one thing that is nothing if not tangible. Namely, to agitate publicly, and in his position of the leader of his country, for the release of Abdul Kareem Nabeel Suleiman from prison in Egypt. Kareem was sentenced to four years in prison for criticizing Islam and the leadership of Egypt on his blog.

Abdul Monem Mahmood, a blogger and member of the banned Muslim Brotherhood, defended Kareem on his blog and spent time in prison because of it. If a man who thinks the things Kareem said are rubbish is willing to defend him with his body, can the President of the Republic do less?

I hope this letter offers a little value for the money. I hope you read it in the same spirit I wrote it, respect, affection and excitement for the possibilities of the future. Of course, this being the “blogosphere” as you kids call it, if you don’t like it, you could always just, er, bring it ON motherfucker!

I remain, stridently, your American friend,

Curt

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