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Alain Finkielkraut and the Problem of Identity

Alain Finkielkraut and the Problem of Identity

The French Academy was founded in 1635 by Cardinal Richelieu during the reign of Louis XIII.  Its purpose was to maintain the standards of French language and literature, and it remains a bastion of French culture.  There are only forty members, and each is elected 

So Who’s Running for President?

So Who’s Running for President?

A year from now, France will be in the thick of its presidential campaign.  The first round of the election will be held on April 8, 2022; the second round, for the two who come in ahead of the pack in the first round, will 

Génération Identitaire

Génération Identitaire

While the French government’s struggle against Islamo-gauchisme has captured international  attention, the Minister of the Interior, Gérald Darminin, has made an even more significant move to dissolve the far right group Génération Identitaire (Generation Identity)–more significant, because while Islamo-gauchisme is a nonsensical caricature of the Academic Left, Génération Identitaire is real, in the sense that it actually exists.

A youth group, GI is a well-known part of the identitarian movement throughout Europe, which emerged in the early 21st century in France–an anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim assemblage that is dedicated to the preservation of the European white race and values, against the perceived threat of Muslim migrants.  Some have adopted the imagery of the medieval period, featuring the 8th-century Frankish leader Charles Martel, who won the battle of Tours against Muslim invaders in 732 CE, as a particular role model (and cosplay opportunity).  

According to José Pedro Zúquete, the group gained enormous visibility in Europe in 2012 with the posting of its dramatic “Declaration of War” (“Declaration of War” video). Mentioned by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) as a right-wing terrorist group, it has mostly specialized in stunt propaganda–a sit-in on the roof of a mosque under construction in Poitiers in 2012, another sit-in on the roof of a welfare office in Bobigny, a suburb of Paris that is heavily populated with immigrants, in 2019.  Their members, even when arrested and tried, have generally received little or no punishment.  

They are also influenced by the “Great Replacement” ideas of Renaud Camus.  Most Americans first  heard of Camus, or at least of the concept of “Replacement,” after the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” demonstration in August, 2017. 

The medievalism, as well as Camus’s magnificent restored castle, are featured in the following video from Channel 4 in Britain. This video was posted just before the presidential election in 2017 that brought Emmanuel Macron to power.

From Channel 4, UK, posted March 23, 2017, on Youtube

The Channel 4 report includes all the points of their ideology, as described by Pierre Plottu and Maxime Macé in Libération: the “remigration” of Muslims back to their country of origin, including those who have since been naturalized (they do not accept Français de papier); the “Great Replacement,” a plan cooked up by “globalized elites,” to substitute Muslim immigrants for white Europeans; a pending race war.  And despite the presence of women in the group, Plottu and Macé note that the role of women is “to make children to perpetuate the race” of their virile menfolk; all adopt the Catholic religion as an integral part of “European Identity.”  The group has loose connections with a number of neo-Nazi as well as Identitarian groups throughout Europe.  

On February 19, 2021, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin announced that he had started the process to dissolve the group, which could happen as early as February 24.  

Darmanin released an extensive list of actions, going back a number of years–demonstrations, attacks on individuals, racist speech inciting hatred–but declared that the last straw, in effect, was a recent action in the Pyrenees to stop clandestine crossings of migrants “terrorists.”  GI had quickly released a slickly produced video to commemorate the event.  

Posted by Génération Identitaire on January 31, 2021, on Youtube.

The group had, however, taken a similar action in the Alps in 2018. So why dissolve them now? The same question was asked by the 25-year-old leader of the group, Clément Gandelin, quoted in Rfi, who argued that the government was “panicking” because they had recently taken action against Muslim groups, and thus needed to appease the Muslims by an action against the far right. 

Indeed, after the beheading of Samuel Paty, Minister Darmanin shut down, for six months, the Grand Mosque of Pantin, in a heavily Muslim quartier north of Paris.  The mosque had used its Facebook page to circulate an attack on Paty by the father of one of his students, who was angry that Paty had shown cartoons of Muhammed in a class about the freedom of speech.  The rector of the mosque expressed regret over sharing the video, stating that he had done it “out of concern for Muslim children.” In addition, as Benjamin Dodman of France24 reported, the Cheikh Yassine Collective, a pro-Hamas group, was dissolved, with little pushback, because of the group’s clear involvement in the act.  Less justifiably, the Anti-Islamophobia Collective (CCIF), a hate-group watchdog, was also shut down after the Paty attack; their webpage now only has a final statement that they are moving their operations to another country, and they are also appealing the French ban of their group to Human Rights Watch.

But “panic,” as the GI leader suggested, seems less likely than a deliberate approach to go after the extremes, in view of the upcoming presidential and National Assembly elections. In response to the dissolution of GI, for example, Bruno Retailleau, a prominent member of Les Républicains (LR), quoted in Rfi, argued that the best way to fight such groups was to “end immigration.”  His statement reflects a recent problem for the conservative party, as they have increasingly found themselves squeezed between Macron’s center-right approach and Marine Le Pen’s far-right Rassemblement National (RN).  Beginning with the campaigns of Nicholas Sarkozy (2007-2012), the party of the “right and center” has found itself pulled ever further to the right on the issue of immigration, divided over the issue of whether they should outflank or condemn the RN’s approach.  The erosion of LR principles has been swift: in 2017, their candidate François Fillon, who failed to make it into the second round of the presidential election, immediately (not happily) endorsed Macron in his statement accepting his defeat.

Macron’s maddening “on the one hand, on the other hand” approach, of playing both sides against the center, can also be detected in the Islamo-gauchisme flurry: if the attack on GI can be seen as a blow to the right, and far right, then Islamo-gauchisme is aimed strictly at the Left, and particularly at Jean-Luc Mélenchon and his La France Insoumise (LFI)–not only a far Left party, but one that has distinguished itself for its attacks on growing Islamophobia in France.

But an excessively cynical interpretation of the Macron government’s actions seems wrong as well.  France, whatever Macron’s opponents say of it, and of him, is a democracy; and democracies are under attack by networks of right-wing extremists.  Late last August, the German Reichstag (Bundestag) building was stormed by far right protesters.  Americans, distracted by the chaos in the United States, paid little attention.  In retrospect, there are, as this news report (in English) shows, many similarities.

Posted by DW News, August 31, 2020, on Youtube.

Many Americans have failed to realize how deeply shocking the January 6 spectacle was to the rest of the world, how fragile the US democracy, and by extension all other democracies, then appeared.  Emmanuel Macron issued a statement, in both French and English, of solidarity and support. This, he said, is “not America.”  But it’s impossible not to notice that last, tentative reassurance: “definitely.”

From BBC News, posted January 7, 2021, on Youtube.



Darmanin’s letter on Génération Identitaire

Génération Identitaire in the Alps, 2018 (youtube)

Génération Identitaire website, with a statement against the dissolution, is here.

CCIF: Final Statement, French and English


On Renaud Camus:

Norimitsu Onishi, “The Man Behind a Toxic Slogan Promoting White Supremacy,” The New York Times, September 20, 2019.

Thomas Chatterton Williams, “The French Origins of ‘You Will Not Replace Us,’” The New Yorker, November 27. 2017.

“What Charlottesville Changed,” Politico Magazine, August 12, 2018.


“Government bid to outlaw French far-right group prompts online petition,” RFI, February 2, 2021.

Benjamin Dodman, “Anger at Beheading of French teacher ‘must not override rule of law,’” France24, October 22, 2020.

Pierre Plottu and Maxime Macé, “Extrême droite: Darmanin veut la dissolution de Génération identitaire,” Libération, January 26, 2021.

Seth G. Jones, Catrina Doxsee, and Nicholas Harrington, “The Right-wing Terrorism Threat in Europe,” Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), 2020.

ZÚQUETE, JOSÉ PEDRO. “Intellectual Foundations, Practices, and Networks.” In The Identitarians: The Movement against Globalism and Islam in Europe, 7-104. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2018. Accessed February 23, 2021.

Islamo-gauchisme: the Latest Thing

Islamo-gauchisme: the Latest Thing

Recently the Wall Street Journal editorial board published an article titled “Emmanuel Macron and the Woke,”  in which they credited the French President with coming out against “Leftism” in the media and on college campuses.  They positioned Macron as a “center left politician” (more like 

Wrecking Ball

Wrecking Ball

I remember watching the burning of Notre Dame Cathedral in 2019, fearing every moment that it would collapse inward.  Years before that was the attack on the World Trade Center, the airplane hitting the second tower, the posters plastered on the walls by desperate people 

Attempted Coup d’État

Attempted Coup d’État

As we now know, there were at least two broadly discernible groups of people in the attack on the Capitol.  A number of them were clearly there to take hostages (the zip ties) and most likely to kill.  They crushed a Capitol policeman between the doors, beat another to death, and battered the doors down to get to the Congress. They were about to create a terrible human tragedy; they traumatized America, in a way reminiscent of 9/11.

They came directly from the Save America rally.

Seth Abramson’s extraordinary line-by-line analysis of the President’s speech, in a series of tweets,(,

shows the role played by Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric in inciting the crowd. 

Selections from Trumps Speech, Guardian News, posted January 6, 2021

And of course it may well be worse than that: the late 2020 changes in the personnel of the Department of Defense (DOD Statement on Changes in Personnel, November 10, 2020; NPR Analysis of Changes, November 11, 2020), the orders given to the various forces around the capital, the delay in granting permission to the Maryland National Guard to intervene, as described by Governor Larry Hogan, suggest that something worse may have been at work.

Posted by Governor Larry Hogan, January 8, 2021, on Youtube.

Because the killers seemed to know their way around the Capitol, because they so quickly reached Nancy Pelosi’s office, because they were shouting “Kill Mike Pence,” just as Trump had said he “would not like [Pence] so much” if Pence obeyed the law, this will require a lengthy investigation, perhaps by a national Commission, during the Biden administration. (One thing among many that I will not miss is Trump’s woefully limited vocabulary.)

Of course the support troops were no prizes, either:

Diehard Trumpists: a toxic combination of white supremacists, confederate flags, Nazi occultism (the guy in the center), and antisemitism, topped with Maga hats.

One of the videos circulating throughout the world shows the Trump family preparing for their appearance in a tent behind the gathering crowd, with Trump watching the screens intently (New Zealand Herald, January 7, 2021). This has been widely viewed, and at first was wrongly labeled as the Trump family watching the storming the Capitol. But as we know, having sent his marchers off, Trump fled to the White House.

There cannot be “healing” without justice. And another thing is also clear. We have ten more days, but those will include the planning for the Biden inauguration. Trump must not be in a position to be giving the orders for capital security.

The Assault on the Capitol

The Assault on the Capitol

UPDATED January 8, 2021 I had planned to continue the French coverage of Trump’s phone call berating Brad Raffensperger for not “finding” more votes for him, an event that occurred about a thousand years ago. But we all know what they are saying, we all 

New Year’s Eve 2020

New Year’s Eve 2020

On December 18, 2020, a pale and dehydrated Emmanuel Macron released a video to announce his own covid diagnosis. Macron had from the first taken the virus seriously, delivering a solemn speech in March 2020 with the refrain, “Nous sommes en guerre” (We are at 

The Gulf War and Baudrillard

The Gulf War and Baudrillard

I seem to remember that at some point in the spring of 1991, David Letterman expressed the wish that CNN would bring back “that great Gulf War show.”  And what a series it had been, for those not directly involved: a sound and light spectacular, real war carried live and as it happened.

The war was triggered by the invasion of Kuwait by its neighbor Iraq, led by Saddam Hussein, in August, 1990.  Saddam took a number of European hostages, including a small boy who visibly, memorably, recoiled away from the dictator in a photo op. There was a long tense build-up, as military equipment and troops were moved into staging areas and as the United States and Great Britain went before the United Nations Security Council.  Iraq was given a withdrawal deadline of January 15, 1991.

For the West, the war was about the liberation of the Kuwaiti people.  It was about babies dumped out of Kuwaiti incubators, a story that turned out not to be true, and a curious, unnecessary invention in the midst of genuine war crimes (  It was about laughing at spokesman Baghdad Bob for his alternative facts, and growing indignant when Saddam claimed that the Allies had bombed a “baby milk factory.” And above all, it was about saving the oil, even as the Kuwait oil fields were eventually set on fire by the retreating Iraqis.

Kuwaiti Oil Fields, from

The withdrawal deadline of January 15 came and went. On January 17, 1991, the evening broadcasts were interrupted by breaking news, in the days when “breaking news” caused people to gasp and go silent. 

“Desert Storm Begins during News Broadcast,” ABC, posted August 25, 2007, by luvofcountry on Youtube.
“Desert Storm Begins during News Broadcast, Part 2” ABC, posted August 25, 2007, by luvofcountry on Youtube.

The French sent the third largest contingent of forces to the Gulf, under the name Opération Daguet; this brief subtitled video was made by the French Defense Department, and includes footage of the fighting, as well as of President François Mitterand (Socialist Party) who supported the war.

“France in the Gulf War: Opération Daguet,” posted by Nettempereur on August 27, 2012, on Youtube.

In his speech to the nation after the war had started, Mitterand justified France’s participation by the need to uphold the United Nations.  He acknowledged that France itself was not threatened, and that the 12,000 French troops on the ground had after all chosen the military profession (a curious comment, perhaps meant for those who might worry about them).  But Saddam Hussein had violated the United Nations resolution and ignored the ultimatum: “You must be certain of this,” he concluded; “to protect [international] law in the Gulf and the Middle East, as far away as it seems on maps, is to protect our own nation”(Le Monde, January 18, 1991).  This justification had a distinct echo, intended or not, of Neville Chamberlain’s remarks on Czechoslovakia in 1938, of  “a quarrel in a far away country, between people of whom we know nothing.”  This time the West would not fail.  

But the justification came off as rather strained, and Le Monde was perhaps appropriately  cynical.  “It’s 5 am.  Paris is waking up, and it’s war.  The news is spreading in the streets of the capital with the first cars [of the morning] and the last taxis of the night.  It surprises the night owls of the Left Bank, takes hold of the suburbanites as they leap on the train, animates the discussions in cafés. . . . There are the euphoriques (“It was time!”), the fatalists (“It had to happen some day”), the militants (“I was against it, I remain against it . . .sic)”, and the indifferent (“I’m going to be late for work!”) (Le Monde, January 18, 1991).  Mitterand was right, however, about one thing: the French indeed knew what war was.  And this wasn’t it.

The war lasted a little over a month; President George W. Bush announced the suspension of hostilities on February 27, 1991.

Image from

Saddam Hussein was left in power, and in spite of the surveillance operation known as “Southern Watch” (the header photo, above), Saddam continued to drain the wetlands (leaving behind a desert, driving out the Shi’ite Muslims who lived in the areas), and felt free, over the next twelve years, to terrorize and kill his political enemies, including the Kurds.  Saddam was not removed from power until after Al Qaeda attacked the United States on 9/11.  (It did not make sense as a reaction to 9/11, then or now.)  In 2003, French President Jacques Chirac (UMP, or the Conservative Party) declined to have France participate in the coalition, explaining himself in an interview with Christiane Amanpour (who told him of the resentment in the United States, including the Republican insistence on “Freedom Fries” in their Congressional cafeteria). Chirac responds in his typically elegant fashion, revealing some embarrassing truths:

Posted by Bruno, December 24, 2010, on Youtube.

What of his personal relationship with Saddam, the photo of the two of them side by side, smiling, during Saddam’s visit to France? “I did indeed meet President Saddam Hussein when he was vice-president in the mid-70s, but never since. But in those days, everybody had excellent relations with Saddam Hussein and with his party. It was seen as progressive. Everybody had contacts with them, including some important figures of the current US administration, had contacts with Saddam Hussein as late as 1983. But not me (5:50).” He denies several other allegations, then is asked (10:40) about his statement that the presence of the United States and British coalition forces had forced Saddam Hussein to comply with the international WMD inspections. He reiterates his assertion: “I would say that the Americans have already won, and they haven’t fired a single bullet” (10:20). Chirac is speaking as a friend, he says, trying to warn another friend that he is about to make a mistake.

(In spite of the nonparticipation of the French in the Iraq War, a number of young French Muslims were radicalized by it, including Chérif and Saïd Kouachi, who would massacre the journalists of Charlie Hebdo in 2015. The New York Times, January 17, 2015).

(Back to the original Gulf War in 1991.  They often merge together, given that they share the same protagonist Saddam Hussein. But back to 1991.)

Shortly before the beginning of hostilities, French philosopher Jean Baudrillard wrote a famous essay, published in Libération, titled, “The Gulf War will not take place.”  After the war began, he published a second essay, “The Gulf War: Is it really taking place?”, and finally a third essay after the end of the war.  All three were published under the name of the third essay, The Gulf War Did Not Take Place (1991).

Baudrillard wrote about the hyperreal, the simulacra that are more real than real.  Do I understand Baudrillard?  Not in the slightest.  

But perhaps the simplest way into Baudrillard’s interpretation of reality as applied to the Gulf War is through film.  Baudrillard was not suggesting that the Gulf War was a Capricorn One scenario, in which a fake moon landing is filmed in order to conceal the fatally flawed space ship (Baudrillard, Gulf War, p. 61). Instead The Matrix was generally agreed to be the most relevant film of Baudrillardism, and was inspired by his work; a copy of his Simulacra and Simulation appears in the film (NPR, March 7, 2007).  The Matrix ends (spoiler alert) with the revelation of the world that exists behind the matrix: wasted human bodies in pods, wired up to simulated images that give them the illusion of fully existing in a real world.  Baudrillard was said to be conflicted about the film, and understandably so: he was speculating about the nature of reality, not bodies in pods.

In The Gulf War, his arguments appear to be both prosaic (it was not a real war) and something Baudrillardian, perhaps best summed up as the non-transparency of total transparency (my words). A clue to his thinking in regard to the first point, that it was not a real war, can be found in the comments from Iraqis in Baghdad in the ABC report, as they grimly prepared for a prolonged contest–perhaps like the eight long years of the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s–that they were determined to win. One young man, hoping that the war would not occur, urged that war would be “devastating to both sides.”  But of course it was not.  It was devastating to Iraq. It was devastating to individual coalition soldiers and their families, some of whom suffered longterm debilitating injuries.

It was not devastating, at least not immediately so, to the United States or to any of the coalition partners. Baudrillard, in fact, mocks the frenetic news coverage on February 22, divided between bulletins of the beginning of the land offensive in Iraq and (treated as equally devastating) the massive traffic jam as thousands of Frenchmen made their way to the ski slopes of Courchevel (Baudrillard, pp. 75-76).

Baudrillard’s argument, then, is that the Gulf War was not a war, but rather an asymmetrical display of advanced military technology.  The Iraqis were never in the game at all. And though he grossly underestimated Iraqi casualties, both military and civilian, Baudrillard nevertheless warned of the dangerous contempt shown to the enemy in such a war:

“There is undoubtedly a political error here, in so far as it is acceptable to be defeated but not to be put out of action. In this manner, the Americans inflict a particular insult by not making war on the other side but simply eliminating him, the same as one would by not bargaining over the price of an object and thereby refusing any personal relationship with the vendor. The one whose price you accept without discussion despises you. The one whom you disarm without seeing is insulted and must be avenged” (casualties, March 7, 2017; Baudrillard, p. 40).

Finally, and above all, the war was a non-event because Saddam was left in place in Iraq: “The same Americans who, after having dumped hundreds of thousands of tonnes of bombs, today claim to abstain from ‘intervening in the internal affairs of a State” (Baudrillard, Gulf War, p. 79).  

Now the Baudrillardian meaning.

In L’illusion de la fin, Baudrillard suggests a version of the end of history, meaning the end of a history accompanied by a metanarrative or overarching story that makes sense of it: the late 1980s/early 90s clearly marked the end of the narrative of socialism (Baudrillard, l’illusion, pp. 39-40).  With the collapse of the USSR and the independence of their former satellites, the inevitability of the socialist revolution, so much a part of its strength, was gone, and socialism was left searching for an identity: in France that identity finally shattered into fragments with the election of 2017.  

So History, says Baudrillard, has ceased to be about these themes, and is now about “an accumulation of proofs” (Baudrillard, Gulf War, p. 39), which mean nothing in themselves.  The massive filming of the Gulf War, the “accumulation” of uncontextualized video clips, of interviews, of cockpit simulations that flattened out the landscape and eliminated the people, was instead a boon for “video-zombies” who would collect the cassettes (now he would say, plant themselves on youtube) and “who will never cease reconstituting the event” (Baudrillard, Gulf War, p. 47).

Add to the images the endless “pontificating” and commentary by would-be experts:  “Fortunately, no one will hold this expert or general or that intellectual for hire to account for the idiocies or absurdities proffered the day before, since this will be erased by those of the following day.  In this manner, everyone is amnestied by the ultra-rapid succession of phony events and phony discourses” (Baudrillard, Gulf War, p. 51).  The multiple images were edited and packaged into discrete events for the evening news (or the 24-hour news cycle) and the narrative was crowd-created into a sort of conventional wisdom about what was happening.  Baudrillard kept hoping, he said in 1991, that “some event or other should overwhelm the information instead of the information inventing the event and commenting artificially upon it”  (Baudrillard, p. 48). We saw more images of this war than we had ever seen of any war before; and we knew less.

(Though France stayed out of the 2003 Iraq War, it nevertheless would radicalize a number of young French Muslims, including Saïd and Chérif Kouachi, who would massacre the editorial staff of Charlie Hebdo on January 7, 2015).

Philippe Lançon was a young freelance reporter in Baghdad during the first Gulf War.  He was staying at the Al Rashid Hotel, as were all the reporters and “invited guests” of Saddam, the latter including Louis Farakkan and Daniel Ortega (Lançon was disappointed in him) and especially the “North American pacifists, delighted to play their role as useful idiots and human shields” (Lançon, Disturbance, p. 35).  Nearly a quarter century later, on January 7, 2015, looking at the worn Persian rug in his apartment, he remembered that he had purchased it from a vendor in the last days before the Gulf War began, as the embassies closed up and the streets became deserted, inhabited only by those as eager as himself.  “Nothing is more flattering or more exciting than finding oneself in a place that others have deserted, in the eye that waiting hollows out at the center of the hurricane.  We were young, uneasy, and hungry.  History seemed to be our adventure and our property” (Lançon, p. 34).

But he had left the city on the last plane to Amman, had lost the exclusive, and had decided that he was not cut out to be a wartime journalist.  He became, instead, a distinguished writer and literary and cultural critic. On the morning of January 7, 2015, he was annoyed with  Michel Houllebecq because of his recent novel Soumission (a satire, or fantasy, on the election of a Muslim to the presidency of France, and his remolding of the country into an Islamic state); and because of the author’s television interview (Lançon, pp. 30-31).

In the midst of his irritation he was trying to decide whether he should go to his office at the newspaper Libération, or whether he should stop by the editorial meeting at the small, failing weekly where he also contributed.

For whatever reason, he decided to stop by Charlie Hebdo first.  

He would spend the next year enduring the multiple surgeries necessary to reconstruct the lower half of his face.  


Baudrillard, Jean. The Gulf War did not take place. Translated and with an introduction by Paul Patton. Sydney, Australia: Power Publications, 1995.

Baudrillard, Jean. L’illusion de la fin. Paris: Galilée, 1992

Lançon, Philippe. Disturbance. Translated by Steven Rendall. Paris: Europa Editions, 2019.

Header image by

Thoughts Upon Rereading George Orwell’s 1984

Thoughts Upon Rereading George Orwell’s 1984

Jan Masaryk served as the foreign minister of Czechoslovakia, mostly in exile, from July 1940 on–after Munich and the Nazi Occupation, during World War II, and then through the Liberation as part of a Communist-dominated new government.  His term was ended by his sudden death