Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘France’

May 68

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 6th May, 2018

May 68Fifty years ago this week, the Left Bank in Paris was rocked by student protests, later followed by workers’ strikes. Revolution was in the air. I can’t claim to have been there then, though I watched as much as was available on British TV news. I was studying French ‘A’ level at the time, my mind totally caught up in the works of Albert Camus and André Gide, and I had been to France the year before on an exchange visit (as recounted in my childhood memoir, Eccles Cakes). So the cobblestones that the student activists were tearing up from the streets of Paris to hurl at police were still vividly in my mind. I had already become very political — with the Young Liberals, some of whom were branded Red Guards by the then party leader, Jeremy Thorpe, in mocking reference to what was happening in China’s Cultural Revolution. But neither we nor many of the students in Paris were Marxists, being more libertarian with a touch of anarchist, though I was totally opposed to violence. I longed to go over to join people at the Sorbonne, but with exams looming that was hardly feasible. And after a few weeks the whole thing fizzled out. General de Gaulle — who had fled to an army base in Germany at one stage in the protests — called a general election and the Gaullists were returned with an overall majority in the National Assembly. The bourgeoisie had won. Yet May 68 did leave an indelible mark on that generation of French youth, as well as impacting on cinema and other aspects of French culture. And it convinced me that I would live in Paris at some stage in my life, though it was to be another 12 years before that happened. Looking back now it seems impossible that les événements were half a century ago, as they are still so fresh in my mind. It’s even weirder to realise that half a century before that, young men were dying on the battlefields of the First World War — which as an 18-year-old I had thought of as ancient history.

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No Intenso Agora **

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 30th December, 2017

2A6569B5-2901-474C-8FF8-134B88199B8D1968 was a milestone in European history (with resonances beyond), thanks mainly to the May “events” in Paris and the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia. Both of these historic moments figure large, mainly in evocative black and white, in Brazilian João Moreira Salles’s documentary No Intenso Agora. But so, too, does colour home movie footage of his mother’s 1966 tourist trip to the People’s Republic of China with a group of similarly well-heeled art aficionados. As that was right at the beginning of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, some of those moments are a rich record, of temples boarded up to prevent vandalism by Red Guards and idyllic scenes (including of Shanghai’s Victorian Bund), now long since swept away by manic development. But no attempt is made by the director, through the narrator, to even hint at the horrors going on out of sight in China. Not a Red Guard rampage in sight, only singing children and cheering workers. Nor is a truly relevant link made to the twin stories of youthful revolt in Europe two years later. In the French section, we see extended clips of General de Gaulle and Daniel Cohn Bendit, and lots of good street action and workers’ strikes, but little sensible analysis. The Czech section is even thinner, and the attempt to bridge the two through coverage of the funerals of young victims in Prague and France rings false. Then right at the end there is a weird set of images, in which we see Chairman Mao age from young revolutionary of the Long March to a barely conscious old man. What on earth was that all about? Presumably João Moreira Salles felt that he had created a unified whole, but I couldn’t see it. Moreover, at over two hours, with some film clips, in both China and Europe, unnecessarily, even clumsily, repeated, the film is a good 30 minutes too long.

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France: Fingers Crossed for Macron

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 23rd April, 2017

emmanuel-macronVoters in France go to the polls today in the first round of presidential elections. If the opinion polls are right, none of the 11 candidates is likely to garner as much as a quarter of the votes, but what is crucial under the French voting system is which two come first and second — even if there are only a few votes between second and third — as there will be a run-off between the two front runners in a second round of voting in two weeks’ time. Pundits on both sides of the Channel are agreed that what one might call “traditional” party’s candidates are unlikely to make the grade. More probable is that the centrist former investment banker and civil servant, Emmanuel Macron, who has never held elected office, will go head-to-head with Marine Le Pen of the far-right Front National dynasty. One has to note that the leftist Socialist Jean-Luc Mélenchon has been surging in the polls recently and it’s not impossible that the conservative Francois Fillon, recently accused of nepotism, might rally. So all is still to play for as voters make up their minds. Indeed, in the turbulent Western politics post-Brexit and Trump it maybe rash to even try to predict the outcome. What may be crucial is the turn-out; voting in France is not compulsory and some disillusioned voters may decide to stay at home. Even if Le Pen’s supporters may be more highly motivated (especially after the recent shooting of a policeman by a Frenchman of North African origin), which could mean she might just sneak into first place, most commentators believe she would be trashed in the second round. That is what happened to her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, when Jacques Chirac wiped the floor with him in the second round in 2002 (though I suspect Marine could poll better than her father’s final tally of just under 18%). The question therefore is: who is best placed to beat Marine, even if in principle any of the leading contenders should be able to? I believe the answer to that is Emmanuel Macron, not just because he is new, looks good and is clearly intelligent, but for two other reasons related to policy. The first is that he is a keen European (unlike Marine, who argues for a “Frexit”, and is unsurprisingly chummy with Russia’s Vladimir Putin). The other reason is that Macron understands that if France is to compete effectively it has to reform its attitude to work, deregulation and so on. The economy needs a shake-up, which would benefit not only France but help strengthen the eurozone. That’s important for Britain’s trading future, too, whatever form of Brexit emerges from the May government’s current quagmire.

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Keeping European Extremism at Bay

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 14th December, 2015

EU imageThere was a collective sigh of relief among Europe’s mainstream body politic last night when the Front National failed to gain control of a single region of France. Marine Le Pen unsurprisingly blamed the electoral system, but the French model of two-round elections actually served the electorate well, as in many regions the two candidate run-off posed a simple question: do you want a FN administration or not? And the majority decided they did not, coming out to vote in larger numbers than in the first round and rallying behind whichever candidate from the centre left or centre right was left in the run-off. That’s the good news. But it should not blind us to the fact that both Ms Le Pen and her niece scored over 40% of the vote in their regions and that the FN is now the main opposition party in many areas of France. Their strong performance was undoubtedly helped by the murderous attacks by Islamist extremists in Paris last month, but that is not the only reason.

Nigel FarageThere has been a swing to right-wing, anti-immigrant parties in many parts of the EU, partly in response to the refugee and migrant crisis. Hungary has a particularly unpleasant government that enjoys strong public support and Polish voters moved to the right in recent elections. In the Netherlands, an anti-immigrant party is back leading some opinion polls after a period of decline. One brighter spot is the UK, where UKIP seems to be on the wane, having peaked at the European elections last year. But we cannot be complacent. When things go badly wrong in a society, whether relating to security or to the economy, the siren call of the far right will be appealing to a significant section of the population, which is why other parties, including the UK’s Liberal Democrats, need to have a clear and strong message to counter it.

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Britain Must Do More for Middle East Refugees

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 3rd September, 2015

Refugees are human beingsJF at Newham LibDemsThe British public has become more sensitised to the plight of refugees fleeing conflicts in Syria and Iraq with the publication today of pictures of two little boys who died  (along with their mother) when their father tried to take them from Turkey to Greece, en route to Canada, where his sister lives. But until this evening the Conservative government had failed to step up to the plate on the issue, unlike Germany and several other EU member states. However, Prime Minister David Cameron has now bowed to public and media pressure and agreed that the UK will take in several thousand refugees, over and above the few score that have been admitted already. This is a very welcome development.The British government has also been very generous in providing aid to refugees in countries neighbouring the conflict zones and Mr Cameron says it is important to focus on finding a solution to the Syrian civil war, in particular. That is true, but with the best will in the world, including organising an international peace conference involving Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the US and the EU, among others, as well as the warring parties, there is not going to be a solution in the short term. So Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande were right to call for an EU-wide plan, with quotas, to deal with the refugee emergency. It is a matter of regret that Britain was not in there at the time. But better late than never. At a meeting of Newham and Barking & Dagenham Liberal Democrats at View Tube in the Olympic Park this evening, I pointed out that Britain has an historic responsibility for some of the current troubles in the Middle East, from the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, by which Britain and France decided how they would divide the spoils after the inevitable collapse of the Ottoman Empire, to the 2003 Iraq War. But Britain can also give a moral lead; it was after all in London that the first meeting of the infant United Nations was held and British human rights lawyers were central to the formulation of the European Convention on Human Rights. Mr Cameron’s Conservatives are very wobbly on human rights, thinking it more important to cosy up to Saudi Arabia and President Sisi’s Egypt than to stand up for values. As I said this evening, this situation poses for Liberal Demorats the moral duty as well as the political opportunity to campaign hard on these issues, to be seen to be taking the lead, above all because that is what is right.

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UK Misses the EU Boat — Again!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 5th February, 2015

Angela MerkelFrancois HollandeAngela Merkel and Francois Hollande are in Kiev today and tomorrow will move on to Moscow — all in aid of trying to mediate a peace deal between the Ukrainian government and Russian-backed rebels on Eastern Ukraine. They are to be congratulated for confronting head-on the most serious threat to security in the European Union’s neighbourhood since the Cold War. They are right to believe that the European Union should be pro-active in its commitment to peace and stability, not only within and between EU member states but in the neighbourhood as well. But where is Britain in all this, or more precisely David Cameron? The UK is a major player in NATO operations, but under Mr Cameron it has increasingly side-lined itself from EU activity. The Ukraine peace initiative would have been stronger with the involvement of the three most powerful member states: Britain, France and Germany. But once again, as so often over the past half century and more, the British government has left it up to a Franco-German alliance. David Cameron might claim to be too busy to drop everything to go to Ukraine and Russia, though Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande cleared their diaries for the trip. Besides, Mr Cameron had no problem dropping everything recently to go cap in hand to Riyadh, to pay his respects to the Saudi Royal family. No, what I fear is all to obvious is that the Prime Minister didn’t want to be seen as doing anything too ‘European’ out of fear of UKIP and his own Tory backbench MPs. So once again The UK has missed the boat at a crucial moment in the EU’s evolution. And Mr Cameron should hang his head in shame.

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The Charlie Hebdo Debate

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 15th January, 2015

Charlie HebdoLast night, at short notice, I was asked to take part in a live TV debate on the Charlie Hebdo affair on PressTV, the Iranian channel, to give a European perspective on things. There was incomprehension from some of the interactive viewers as to why the French satirical magazine would once more produce a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad on its cover when it knew that millions of Muslims would find this offensive, even blasphemous. I said that it was an act of defiance by the publication and remaining members of its team to show that they would not be cowed by the appalling assault on the editor and his colleagues, and that millions of people who do not normally buy Charlie Hebdo were doing so this week as an act of solidarity with free expression. What took me by surprise, however, were the views of an American Muslim (convert?) also participating in the programme from the US who declared forcefully that the massacre had been carried out by French agents, not by the two French-Algerian brothers named, and that this was all part of the West’s oppression of Muslims. As he then went off on a tangent ranting about the alleged Establishment cover-up in Britain of rampant paedophilia he was not an interlocutor I could take seriously. But there a couple of points which I think are worth some reflection. The first is the willingness of many in the Islamic world to frame everything in the context of what they see as a giant conspiracy by the United States and Israel to oppress Muslims (with obvious links to the Palestinian issue), and the second is that there is a genuine gulf between two mindsets: one that cherishes free expression and believes in the right to offend and to be offended, as opposed to those who passionately believe that blasphemy (in its widest sense) is a heinous crime worthy of capital punishment. I don’t believe either side will ever persuade the other of its arguments, but in order to avoid further conflict and bloodshed, a modus vivendi has to be found in our globalised, multicultural world, in which we agree to differ. But that is going to require some inspirational leadership by religious and political leaders, as well as a heightened sense of responsibility in the media.

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Blasphemy Laws Are Medieval

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 12th January, 2015

Raif BadawiJe Suis CharlieGiven the blanket media coverage of events in Paris over the past week many people will probably have missed the distressing news that on Friday, after midday prayers, the Saudi blogger Raif Badawi received 50 lashes in a public flogging, an act of medieval barbarity that is due to be repeated another 19 times on Fridays until the full 1,000 lashes sentence imposed on him for using electronic media to “insult Islam” has been implemented. Other words banded about in his case have included blasphemy and apostasy (renunciation of one’s faith), the latter meriting the death penalty in some extremist Islamic states. Of course, to any rational modern human being these “crimes” are not crimes at all and certainly do not deserve harsh punishment. I do not believe in gratuitously insulting someone else’s religion, but surely God and the Prophets are strong enough to stand up for themselves in the face of any such criticism, satirical or otherwise? At the heart of the Je Suis Charlie demonstrations in France and elsewhere, in the wake of the murderous attacks in Paris, was the principle of free speech — an essential element not just of modern western civilization but of universal values of human rights, thanks to the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which has been signed by all members of the UN, including gross abusers of human rights, including Saudi Arabia. The Saudis base their antediluvian approach to blasphemy and other such “offences” on their strict Wahhabi interpretation of Islam, which was, frankly, outmoded in the late 18th Century when it arose, and when the Enlightenment was sweeping Europe, let alone now. On Sunday, a wide range of world leaders gathered in Paris for the Je Suis Charlie march. But many of these same leaders are themselves guilty of curbing free speech, persecuting and even killing writers and journalists. All have a duty to improve their own records, as well as turning the spotlight on the worst culprits, including Saudi Arabia, applying sanctions where appropriate to reinforce their message. Those countries that still have blasphemy laws should repeal them now.

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LibDems Have Done Lots on FGM

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 4th September, 2013

Sue Lloyd-RobertsLynne FeatherstoneBBC Newsnight last night ran a feature on female genital mutilation (FGM), which is still a huge problem in Africa and some parts of the Arab world. It was clear from Sue Lloyd-Roberts’ interviews in the field that there is still great cultural resistance to ending the practice in traditional societies, and not only among the men.  The report mentioned that although there have been prosecutions in France against people involved in FGM there have been no such cases in Britain, despite the large numbers of girls potentially at risk in the UK. I know I wasn’t the only person startled at the end of the item when presenter Jeremy Paxman said that Newsnight had approached the Home Secretary Theresa May and International Development Secretary Justine Greening, as well as her deputy Lynne Featherstone, but that none of these ladies (as he rather sneeringly called them) had been available to come on the programme. Knowing how much work on the subject that Lynne has been doing on FGM in Africa — including publicising the abuse — I suspected there must be something wrong somewhere. Sure enough, Lynne’s office got in touch to say that as the issue directly concerned related to the UK Border Agency, a Home Office Minister would have been the personal responsible to appear on the programme (assuming they were available at short notice), i.e. Theresa May or Jeremy Browne. By coincidence I sat next to Lynne at a meeting this afternoon, and I can well understand while she felt browned off by the way Jeremy Paxman had handled the situation, not only implying that she did not care enough about the subject to come on to the programme, but also by his sneer about the “ladies”. I shall have words with him next time we meet!

Link: Ending Female Geneital Cutting in a Generation, by Lynne Featherstone: www.http://t.co/ZCzBI3tVUt

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The Syria Dilemma

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 27th August, 2013

Bashar al-AssadSyria casualtiesBritain’s armed forces are preparing themselves for an armed strike against Syria, following the recent use of chemical weapons inside the country, probably by the Assad regime’s forces. As I said in a live interview on the al-Etejah (Iraqi Arab) TV channel last night, the justification for the UK, US, France and maybe Germany taking such a step, along with sympathetic Middle Eastern countries including Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, without UN approval, would be the relatively new concept within International Law, the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), about which I have written extensively. This asserts that if a government is unable or unwilling to protect its own people, then the international community has a responsibility to intervene on humanitarian grounds, providing there are reasonable prospects of success. Of course it would be preferable if the UN Security Council backed such a move, but that is currently impossible given the fact that Russia and to a lesser extent China are standing behind Bashar al-Assad — though in China’s case this is mainly because of its strong belief in the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state. The humanitarian need in Syria is self-evident. More than 110,000 Syrians have been killed, a high proportion of them civilians. There are now between four and five million Syrian refugees and whole swaths of cities such as Aleppo and Homs are a wasteland. Yet still Assad and his thugs continue to try to pound the people into submission. The situation is complicated by the fact that this is not a fight between good and evil, however. Evil the Assad regime certainly is — and has been for over 40 years — but the disparate rebel forces contain some pretty unpleasant characters and radical groups that seek to impose an alien, fundamentalist creed that is alien to the modern Syrian secular society. But things have now reached a stage at which the world cannot just sit by and watch a people and a country be annihilated. The problem is what exactly should be done, now that what President Obama described as the “red line” of chemical weapon use has been crossed? The imposition of a no fly zone is one obvious option, or carefully targeted use of cruise missiles against the regime’s military installations. But there is no guarantee of effectiveness. What certainly needs to be avoided is sending foreign — and especially Western — troops on the ground, which would not only lead to heavy casualties but also risks turning some of the anti-Assad population against the intervention. Russia meanwhile has warned the West against intervention. But I think the momentum now is unstoppable. Unless the Assad clique stands aside — which it has shown no willingness to do — Syria is going to be the latest in a string of Middle Eastern/North African Wars. And the poor United Nations will look even more impotent and marginalised than ever.

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