Tuesday, February 28, 2006

How a pig broth is exposing France's religious divide?

February 28, 2006
Paris Journal

Poor and Muslim? Jewish? Soup Kitchen Is Not for You.

PARIS, Feb. 27 — More than 200 political demonstrators defied a police ban here on Thursday, scurrying across Boulevard St.-Germain and under the sycamore trees of Place Maubert to engage in their forbidden action: eating "pig soup" in public.

With steaming bowls of the fragrant broth soon passing through the crowd, Odile Bonnivard, a short-haired secretary turned far-right firebrand, climbed atop a dark sedan with a megaphone in hand and led the crowd in a raucous chant: "We are all pig eaters! We are all pig eaters!"

Identity soup, as the broth has come to be called, is one of the stranger manifestations of a growing grass-roots backlash against the multiculturalism that has spread through Europe over the past 20 years. People are increasingly challenging the care taken in Nazi-chastened Europe, and in France in particular, to avoid the sort of racial or religious insults that led to widespread protests in the Muslim world this month after wide publication of cartoons considered offensive to the Prophet Muhammad.

The movement began in the winter of 2003 when Ms. Bonnivard, a member of a small far-right nationalist movement called the Identity Bloc, began serving hot soup to the homeless. At first, she said, the group used pork simply because it was an inexpensive traditional ingredient for hearty French soup. But after the political significance of serving pork dawned on them and others, it quickly became the focus of their work.

Made with smoked bacon, pigs' ears, pigs' feet and pigs' tails together with assorted vegetables and sausages, the soup is meant to make a political statement: "Help our own before others."

The "others," Ms. Bonnivard explained, are non-European immigrants who she and her colleagues on the far right say are sopping up scarce resources that ought to be used for descendants of the Continent's original inhabitants. In other words, the soup is meant to exclude those who do not eat pork — for the most part, Muslims and Jews.

"Other communities don't hesitate to help their own, so why can't we?" she asked, noting that Europe's Islamic charities serve halal food to disadvantaged Muslims and that its Jewish charities operate kosher soup kitchens.

Fair enough, one might argue, but this is France, where there is little tolerance for anything that challenges the republic's egalitarian ideals.

The authorities initially left the pork-soup kitchen alone, shutting it down only once to avoid an altercation with a group of indignant French leftists. Then came the riots that swept France in October and November last year, waking the government to the deep alienation felt by Muslim youth. As winter closed in and other pork-soup kitchens run by similar-minded groups popped up in Strasbourg and Nice — and in Brussels, Antwerp and Charleroi in Belgium — authorities worried that they might be witnessing the start of a dangerous racist-tinged trend.

In December, Ms. Bonnivard said, a van of plainclothes police chased her soup-bearing car through the streets, and several busloads of officers arrived to stop her group from setting up at their usual spot near the Montparnasse train station, citing "the discriminatory nature of the soup."

She and her fellow soup servers filed an appeal. A Paris police spokesman said the appeal was pending and would be decided "on the basis of the current regulations, in particular concerning risks to public order and incitement to racial hatred."

They have been playing cat and mouse with the authorities since then.

Ms. Bonnivard talks glowingly of the camaraderie engendered by her group's gatherings, whose motive, she said, is to defend European culture and identity. "Our freedom in France is being threatened," she said. "If we prefer European civilization and Christian culture, that's our choice."

Even newly arrived immigrants from Eastern Europe are more welcome than Muslims from North Africa, she said, a sentiment shared by some of the diners.

"At least here there are people who are of the same mind as me," said a woman named Hélène, 61, who is not homeless but comes for soup because she has little money left for food after paying her rent. "The French, and the Europeans in general, roll over for foreigners, and particularly Islam."

This being France, most soup kitchens provide the downtrodden with a complete French dinner, including cheese and dessert. Ms. Bonnivard's group even throws in a glass of red wine with every meal.

"The only condition required for dining with us: eat pork," reads the group's Web site, which bears the image of a wanted poster for a cartoon pig in a pot framed by the words, "Wanted, Cooked or Raw, Public Disturbance No. 1."

The police initially granted permission for the "European solidarity feast" that Ms. Bonnivard's and the other right-wing soup kitchens planned last Thursday. But the authorities called late Wednesday evening to say the permission had been revoked. Officers appeared at Ms. Bonnivard's apartment at 6 a.m. Thursday to deliver a written notice prohibiting the pork-eating rally.

By evening, four police vans filled with anti-riot police officers were waiting at the group's designated meeting point outside a conservative Roman Catholic church while Ms. Bonnivard and her associates huddled in a nearby cafe, plotting diversionary tactics so they could serve their soup before the police could intervene.

"They're more afraid of us than any march by Islamists or Jews," Ms. Bonnivard's husband, Roger, declared as people slurped soup around him. (In the end, despite the official ban, the police did not intervene.)

Bruno Gollnisch, the silver-haired No. 2 in the far-right National Front of Jean-Marie Le Pen, mingled in the crowd, calling the "persecution" of the soup kitchen a "betrayal of the French identity." Others handed out slices of oily sausage as flags bearing the French fleur-de-lis fluttered overhead. There wasn't a police officer in sight.

"We're not yet living in a land of Islam," Ms. Bonnivard bellowed from atop the sedan.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Do you enjoy new words?

I sure do! And here is an interesting one that I found on Urbandictionary.com - a fabulous site for slang, even though many have references restricted to the US.


Democracy in physical action. when you 'vote with your feet', or whenever free-expression about politics involves walking or running or pushups.This caucus is pure cardiocracy!

Saturday, February 18, 2006

So much for "freedom fries"...

Iranians rename Danish pastries

Iranians wishing to buy Danish pastries will now have to ask for "Roses of the Prophet Muhammad".

Bakeries across the capital, Tehran, are covering up signs advertising the pastries and replacing them with ones bearing the dessert's new name.

The confectioners' union ordered the name change in retaliation for the publication of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper.

The images have caused angry protests across the world.

The union said that their decision was prompted by the "insults by Danish newspapers against the Prophet".

Danish pastries are very popular in Iran and not subject to a boycott affecting other Danish products as they are made locally.

Ahmad Mahmoudi, a cake shop owner in Tehran, backed the move.

"This is a punishment for those who start misusing freedom of expression to insult the sanctities of Islam," he said.

But others were less convinced.

"I just want the sweet pastries. I have nothing to do with the name," shopper Zohreh Masoumi said.

This is not the first time a popular snack has been hit by fallout from a political row.

French fries and French toast were renamed "freedom fries" and "freedom toast" at cafeterias in the US House of Representatives in 2003, after France opposed the US-led invasion of Iraq.

Friday, February 10, 2006

This is interesting... Danish paper rejected Jesus cartoons

Danish paper rejected Jesus cartoons

Gwladys Fouché
Monday February 6, 2006

From The Guardian

Jyllands-Posten, the Danish newspaper that first published the cartoons of the prophet Muhammad that have caused a storm of protest throughout the Islamic world, refused to run drawings lampooning Jesus Christ, it has emerged today.
The Danish daily turned down the cartoons of Christ three years ago, on the grounds that they could be offensive to readers and were not funny.

In April 2003, Danish illustrator Christoffer Zieler submitted a series of unsolicited cartoons dealing with the resurrection of Christ to Jyllands-Posten.

Zieler received an email back from the paper's Sunday editor, Jens Kaiser, which said: "I don't think Jyllands-Posten's readers will enjoy the drawings. As a matter of fact, I think that they will provoke an outcry. Therefore, I will not use them."

The illustrator said: "I see the cartoons as an innocent joke, of the type that my Christian grandfather would enjoy."

"I showed them to a few pastors and they thought they were funny."

But the Jyllands-Posten editor in question, Mr Kaiser, said that the case was "ridiculous to bring forward now. It has nothing to do with the Muhammad cartoons.

"In the Muhammad drawings case, we asked the illustrators to do it. I did not ask for these cartoons. That's the difference," he said.

"The illustrator thought his cartoons were funny. I did not think so. It would offend some readers, not much but some."

The decision smacks of "double-standards", said Ahmed Akkari, spokesman for the Danish-based European Committee for Prophet Honouring, the umbrella group that represents 27 Muslim organisations that are campaigning for a full apology from Jyllands-Posten.

"How can Jyllands-Posten distinguish the two cases? Surely they must understand," Mr Akkari added.

Meanwhile, the editor of a Malaysian newspaper resigned over the weekend after printing one of the Muhammad cartoons that have unleashed a storm of protest across the Islamic world.

Malaysia's Sunday Tribune, based in the remote state of Sarawak, on Borneo island, ran one of the Danish cartoons on Saturday. It is unclear which one of the 12 drawings was reprinted.

Printed on page 12 of the paper, the cartoon illustrated an article about the lack of impact of the controversy in Malaysia, a country with a majority Muslim population.

The newspaper apologised and expressed "profound regret over the unauthorised publication", in a front page statement on Sunday.

"Our internal inquiry revealed that the editor on duty, who was responsible for the same publication, had done it all alone by himself without authority in compliance with the prescribed procedures as required for such news," the statement said.

The editor, who has not been named, regretted his mistake, apologised and tendered his resignation, according to the statement.

"France, your waste kills"

All I can hope is that this Clemenceau affair has raised the issue of the well being of those who work at Alang, the world's largest shipbreaking yard. Just like France, we too have a lot of cleaning to do!

Saturday, February 04, 2006

I stand vindicated!

A recent survey (between October 2005 and January 2006) conducted by GlobeScan and the University of Maryland for BBC has found that the most "positive" image of India exists in... Iran! Yeah! Of those surveyed, 71 per cent said India exuded a positive image. While there are no details on what conjures a "positive" or a "negative" image, I think the results hint at the historical links that still find resonance today and also why it is important to cultivate stronger ties with Iran. And yes, this comes after India's vote against Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency last September, a move that did not go down too well in certain groups of Iranians. The youth of the two countries need to know more about each other, especially those in India. On the other hand, 24 per cent of the respondents in India thought Iran brings to mind a negative image. About the same (25 per cent) had a positive image of Iran.

As for India's fans, Afghanistan followed Iran with 59 per cent saying that India brought a positive image to mind. And what spoiled my day was that France - yes, France - turned out to be one of the countries that harbour the most "negative" image of India. Of those surveyed, 44 per cent responded that India didn't bring a smile to their faces. (The Philippines is worst with 57 per cent!) I wonder if the French linked their vote with the recent hostile bid by Mittal Steel for Arcelor, which employs 28,000 French people. Some task ahead for Indians in France... and that includes me!

Get the entire survey here.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Why France Soir reproduced Mohammed's caricatures?

Here is the cover of the edition of France Soir that carried the disputed cartoons. The headline says "Yes, we have he right to caricature god". And the bubble with the images of various gods says, "Don't groan Mohammed, we all have been caricatured here".

And here is what France Soir has to say to defend its right of publishing Mohammed's cartoons: Puisque "l'Islam interdit à ses fidèles toute représentation du Prophète (...), la question qui se pose est la suivante : tous ceux qui ne sont pas musulmans sont-ils tenus de se conformer à cet interdit ?" "Imagine-t-on une société où l'on additionnerait les interdits des différents cultes ? Que resterait-il de la liberté de penser, de parler et même d'aller et venir ? Ces sociétés-là, nous les connaissons trop bien. C'est par exemple l'Iran des mollahs. Mais c'était hier la France de l'Inquisition..."

The English translation: Because "Islam has banned its followers from drawing images of the Prophet (...), one question arises: are non-Muslims also expected to conform to this prohibition?" "Imagine a society where we would add on all the bans of different cults? What would remain of the freddom to think, to speak and even to move around? We know these societies very well. They are, for example, Iran with its mullahs. But it also was France during the Inquisition..."

It is a difficult call, being a journalist, to choose between the freedom of expression and respect for people's beliefs. But I think I will opt for the latter... There are certain lines that need to be drawn for journalists and respect for the other's beliefs is certainly one of them.