When gendarmes arrested seven Muslim militants in Strasbourg in a pre-dawn sweep last May, it was the first major move in the government’s stepped-up attempt to stem the flow of French jihadists to Syria to join al Qaeda’s fight against Bashar al-Assad. Not that France has any interest in propping up his regime, au contraire. Rather, French authorities have reason to fear that when they return battle-hardened from Syria, as the seven had, they will put their guerrilla training to deadly use in the restive Arab barrios of Paris, Lyons, Marseilles, and other major cities.
Letter From Paris
Bardolaters are enjoying a movable feast in this 450th anniversary year of William Shakespeare’s birth. It began appropriately enough in Stratford-upon-Avon last April with fireworks, a giant horse-drawn birthday cake, and the beflowering of his grave at Holy Trinity Church, after which the Royal Shakespeare Company performed Henry IV, Part 1. London’s Globe Theater is undertaking no less than to stage his plays in every country in the world, from Bulgaria’s Roman theaters of Philippopolis to Washington’s Folger Shakespeare Library and points in between. New Yorkers can choose among eight Broadway and Off Broadway productions, while China, ever striving to one up the West, will stage nearly forty plays this year with the help of troupes from England, Scotland, and the U.S.
Who says there’s anything wrong with the European Union? I mean, apart from the fact that it’s founded on little more than political hot air, that it’s profoundly undemocratic, that it struts and frets on the world stage, but, insecure about its own identity, is unable to muster either the will or the means to play a significant role in international affairs. That its only raison d’être is the obsessive, mischievous geographical and regulatory expansion that keeps unaccountable Eurocrats in Brussels at their tax-free jobs. That its botched attempt at creating greater unity with its own currency, the misbegotten euro, is instead stifling needed growth and causing deep divisions among its twenty-eight member states.
France’s pseudo-bolshevikian government has discovered a new problem in urgent need of a socialist solution: what to do about women. In the land where influential dames, if not dames,have for centuries dominated their menfolk beyond the wildest dreams of American feminists, where medieval knights were on their knees before their lady-loves while kings doted on their maîtress en titre, where today’s president, François Hollande, compromises his country’s reputation and his own authority by succumbing to an irresistible yen for a new mistress, this may seem paradoxical to say the least. Surely in France, of all places, woman’s role has been defined to the satisfaction of all, and especially the femmes themselves.
President François Hollande, France’s most unpopular leader in the 56-year history of the Fifth Republic, has just been slapped upside the head with the worst electoral drubbing his Socialist Party — which he himself led for decades — has ever endured. In the second round of local elections last weekend it lost some 150 town halls as resurgent conservatives, spearheaded by Marine Le Pen’s National Front, angrily rejected Hollande’s policies after his first two years in office. It’s hard to imagine that the French will ever be fed up with socialism and all the “free” goodies it represents, from five-week vacations to health care and handouts for all. But there’s no longer any possible doubt that they are thoroughly fed up with him and a vacillating, tax-obsessed, amateurish administration that has produced economic stagnation and record unemployment of 11 percent.
To understand Europe’s confused, conflicted reaction to Vladimir Putin’s brazen grab of real estate in its own back yard, look no further than the DCNS shipyards in the city of Saint Nazaire on France’s Atlantic coast. There riding at anchor is the pride of the French navy. A new model warship designed for the sort of nimble, surgical attack that modern warfare requires, it measures over 200 yards long. With a displacement of some 22,000 tons, it can carry 500 or more troops, 16 attack helicopters and a squadron of battle tanks or amphibious assault vehicles, and includes a full onboard field hospital and sophisticated command and control center. That makes it a powerful tool second only to an aircraft carrier to project lethal force around the globe. Its fitting-out virtually completed, it began sea trials in the Atlantic just two weeks ago.
You never really expect state visits to produce concrete results, and this week’s trip to the U.S. by French President François Hollande was no exception. They are inevitably precooked, prepackaged and — absent a gaffe by one or the other of the parties — virtually wrapped up before the illustrious visitor touches foot in the host country. This one was long on meticulous, often windy protocol, with all the expected allusions to “America’s oldest ally… friendship stretching back more than two centuries… model for international cooperation,” yada yada. Glasses are raised, toasts proposed, ball gowns worn and a good vacuous time had by all.
And to think they called him limp, soft, flaccid. The nickname behind his back was Flanby, a popular gelatinous French canned dessert. Wrong, all wrong. It turns out that President François Hollande demonstrates a firm, nay, veritably priapic virility that, at age 59, would do honor to many a fantasizing man years his junior. French presidents have long let it be known that they like an extracurricular dalliance now and then — even when it wasn’t true. It goes with the territory and improves the image in a country where the menfolk like to consider themselves sacrés baiseurs (I prefer not to translate in a family magazine). But sneaking out of the Élysée Palace on a scooter for regular midnight trysts with an actress in a nearby apartment owned by the ex-mistress of an alleged Mafioso? That sets a new record for insouciant presidential playing around even in France.
DON'T LOOK NOW, but we just might be witnessing the tentative first steps toward the beginning of a mini-revolution in France. In the land of the cherished 35-hour workweek and five weeks of vacation, brave souls are starting to question some of the very foundations of the welfare state and the limited individual freedom that goes with it. For example, whether the government should be able to dictate, for their own good of course, when, where, and how individuals can work and do their shopping. They are also wondering whether labor unions, those staunch supporters of strict regulation and big contributors to the socialist parties that create it, aren’t more interested in defending their own turf than in protecting jobs.