Wednesday, February 26, 2014

France through the eyes of Medi1

One of the more popular posts among French visitors to this site, is the periodically updated France Through the Eyes of the New YorkTimes.  It tells Americans something about their own journalism, and a little about France.  It tells the French how the Yanks are slanting, sifting, simplifying French affairs.

On the whole, over the years, the New York Times has had spotty but revealing coverage of France.  There is no-one now like Janet Flanner of The New Yorker, back in “Genêt” days, whose regular dispatches were eagerly awaited.  But you do learn things worth knowing, including, occasionally, things that Le Monde won’t tell you.

There is a very well-run Franco-Moroccan radio venture, Medi 1, which I listen to nightly on the Internet -- always the French-language news broadcast, and often the Arabic.  Apart from linguistic factors, the French-language coverage is somewhat more accessible to Westerners;  though neither side of the house is polemical or even especially politicized, they are not sentence-for-sentence translational equivalents.  For instance, in French,  Spain’s enclaves amid Moroccan territory, Ceuta and Melilla, are called just that;  whereas in the Arabic version, they are always dutifully referred to as “occupied” Ceuta and Melilla.   The French channel in general gives the impression of treading a little less gingerly.


At the moment, however, there is a story at the top of French-Moroccan news (nary a ripple on this side of the pond) about which Medi1 will leave you more ignorant than before.  The story, as reported there (or rather, skirted-around there) has clearly been madly mangled -- politically strangled -- to the point of complete incomprehensibility to anyone who didn’t already independently know what the score was.    Apart from any political interest, the phenomenon is intriguing to a linguist or literary critic, as presenting a clear case in which, purely from internal textual evidence, and knowing nothing of the background, you can tell that this journalism is nonsense.

Thus, tonight’s story reported that Morocco is in a huff against France, and is withdrawing certain of its legates, and breaking off some aspect of diplomatic relations, and generally lecturing the French about elementary diplomatic duties and decencies.  What-all might have brought this on, the listener can only wonder;  you are simply left with the general impression that France, or perhaps specially its diplomatic corps, has recently perpetrated acts too unspeakable to mention.   Whether this involved ambassadorial carnal connection with the local shepherds and their sheep, or simply using the wrong fork at the fish course at a state dinner, is left to the imagination.

If, however, you have been faithfully listening daily, as I do, you would have heard, early on, something about the scandal whose effects are still being felt (and even escalating), but which is no longer allowed to be explicitly or even obliquely described on Medi1.  Namely, an incident of torture is said, or alleged, or said to have been intimated to have been rumored to have occurred,  recently  on Moroccan soil, in which a High French Official  was somehow implicated or involved.  Just in what way, was never hinted at;  however, the student of history recalls French such actions in Algeria during the war, so who knows.   I came away with a vague impression that, while the HFO (as we shall call him, otherwise nameless, his sinister shadow sliding fleetingly along the alley wall), while perhaps not having personally applied the electric prods or heated tongs or whatever, had anyhow ordered the torture, or overseen it, or perhaps simply handed over someone who stood in French disfavor  to Moroccan authorities for them to do as they pleased (wink wink) -- cf. CIA renditions to Egypt.  Though in that last case, objectively, the bulk of the blame would rest with the Moroccans, and they aren’t acknowledging any fault.

Travaillant au noir,
le détective  se trouve aux prises
avec le Saint-Esprit

To find out what actually happened, you have to turn to another news source.  Let’s take Le Figaro:

À l'origine de cette crise, trois plaintes déposées à Paris la semaine dernière contre le patron du contre-espionnage marocain, Abdellatif Hammouchi, pour «torture» …  Sept policiers se sont rendus à la résidence de l'ambassadeur marocain à Paris pour notifier à Abdellatif Hammouchi, dont la présence avait été rapportée, une convocation émanant d'un juge d'instruction. Le Maroc, furieux, reproche notamment aux autorités françaises d'avoir ignoré les canaux diplomatiques.

You ... will ... tell ... me ...  everything ...
[Philological footnote: Abdellatif Hammouchi is a big fish, the head of Moroccan domestic intelligence.  Ironically, his given-name means, in Arabic,  ‘servant of the Gentle, the Merciful’. ]
In other words:  France itself was in no way implicated in the torture, which is purely a Moroccan matter, and probably had no notion of it, but is merely responding, as it legally must, to three formal complaints, with a view to finding out what might have happened.   Morocco’s objection is that France did not discreetly hush the whole thing up -- though lord knows, the French have hardly been trumpeting it;  what made the headlines were not the unproved allegations, but the over-the-top Moroccan diplomatic response.   In general, France is very discreet and complicitous with regard to the shenanigans of its Third World semi-allies, but they do have to draw the line somewhere, when the latter are so indiscreet.   The message is:  Do whatever you like in your own country, but please do not send your top torturers to visit in France;  it embarrasses us.

For a glimpse at that latter aspect of French diplomacy, cf. now this:

La France a démenti mercredi les propos prêtés à son ambassadeur à l'Onu qui ont provoqué un incident diplomatique entre Rabat et Paris, dont les relations sont déjà envenimées par des plaintes contre le patron du renseignement marocain.
L'acteur espagnol Javier Bardem, partisan d'un référendum d'autodétermination du Sahara occidental, une ancienne colonie espagnole au Maroc, a fait état dans Le Monde d'une conversation qu'il aurait eue en 2011 avec Gérard Araud.
"Le Maroc est une maîtresse avec laquelle on dort toutes les nuits, dont on n'est pas particulièrement amoureux mais qu'on doit défendre. Autrement dit, on détourne les yeux", lui aurait alors dit l'ambassadeur.

[Update 5 avril 2014]  Morocco blusters back:

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