Sunday, March 26, 2006

France: Which way do we go? which way do we go?

France: They are trying to hold on to the past, but as those who try to do that, it is failing badly. France will be brought kicking and screaming with the rest of the world. How fun it will be to watch depends on if you live there or not.

Many French agree. In art galleries, on bestseller lists, in corporate boardrooms and on the streets, the country's outlook has become so morose that President Jacques Chirac has urged citizens to stop the "self-flagellation." By almost every measure this society holds dear -- political, economic, wine exports, art auctions -- France is losing its global dynamism. The recent demonstrations by angry young people across the country are just the latest symptom of angst and fear in the national psyche. "France is divorced from the modern world of the 21st century," said Nicolas Baverez, author of a top-selling book, "New World, Old France." It describes a country so fearful of letting go of outmoded traditions -- including a hugely expensive cradle-to-grave welfare system -- that it is being shut out of the global marketplace. "We're at a very dangerous turning point," he said. Ipsos, a French polling institute, recently asked 500 people between the ages of 20 and 25 the question: "What does globalization mean to you?" Forty-eight percent of those surveyed responded, "Fear." Fear of what? Just about everything, according to Christophe Lambert, author of another examination of contemporary France, "The Fearful Society." The country, he writes, is paralyzed by "fear of the future, fear of losing, fear of others, fear of taking a risk, fear of solitude, fear of growing old."
Other "good" news, Anti-Jew feelings are being passed on with almost everyone looking the other way.
"It's blacks and Arabs on one side and Jews on the other," said Sebastian Daranal, a young black man standing in the parking lot of a government-subsidized housing project with two friends. Eight men beat the son of a rabbi here in March. Another Jew was attacked the next day. In the wake of the torture and killing in February of Ilan Halimi, a 23-year-old Jew, attention has focused on an undeniable problem: anti-Semitism among France's second-generation immigrant youth, whose high jobless rate the government is trying to address with a law drawing widespread protests across the country. The law, intended to increase employment, especially among the young, has drawn opposition because of a provision that allows companies to hire people 25 or younger for a two-year trial period, during which they can be fired without cause. Schools are the battleground over anti-Semitism, and teachers complain that the government has done little, despite many proposals. "The minister of education has done nothing," said Jean-Pierre Obin, an inspector general of education in France, who wrote a report in 2004 that called anti-Semitism "ubiquitous" in the 61 schools surveyed. "He prefers not to talk about it." Mr. Obin wrote in the report of "a stupefying and cruel reality: in France, Jewish children — and they are alone in this case — can no longer be educated in just any school." Ianis Roder, 34, a history teacher in a middle school northeast of Paris, said he was stunned by what he witnessed after Sept. 11, 2001. The next day, someone spray-painted in a stairwell of the school the image of an airplane crashing into the World Trade Center beside the words "Death to the U.S., Death to Jews." When he told his class months later that Hitler had killed millions of million Jews, one boy blurted out, "He would have made a good Muslim!" Mr. Roder told of a Muslim teacher who dismissed her class after a shouting match over Nazi propaganda. The students said the offensive images accurately depicted Jews

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