March 17, 2004

Being Fair to the French II

I previously wrote about the need to be fair to the French and look at their 'no veils' policy with an honest eye to see if the darn thing works. Now there are signs it has. I say hats off to french political genius.

They pass a law, very evenhanded that affects muslims, jews, and christians. The jews shrug and comply (they're french jews, after all), the christians shrug and comply (they too are french). The muslims, they threaten bombings, death, and revolution (very much not french). I can't imagine a situation more perfectly calibrated to give cover to France's joining the coalition of the willing with a majority mandate given where France's political center was when the legislation was first proposed, can you?

Is there anything more likely to turn things around for France than to be threatened bombings for imposing a dress code? In a country whose culture is centered around a public fetish that the elite knows best, what would rouse horror better than rebellion to an elite pronouncement that is such a light burden compared to all the other things that the french have already swallowed from their government?

The natural suspicion is that they've tumbled to this by accident that they didn't even mean for things to go this far. But a moments reflection will show this suspicion to be baseless. This is a governing system that makes a specialty of backing down to street protests and other aggrieved minority demands. They've got legions of foreign experts with decades of experience with muslim and arab dress sensibilities. It's impossible that they didn't know what they were getting into, they didn't know exactly how to back out with a minimum of fuss if they wanted to, and yet they refused to back down as if there was something important to be gained. And there was, the cassus belli which will let France backtrack without ever having to become filoamerican.

I can just imagine anglo-saxon readers scratching their head and saying "that's such a weird way of going about things." But that's why they call this sort of thing foreign. I've always been somewhat distrustful of the whole anglosphere construction. It always felt too self-limiting to me. It's wiser to not blindly dismiss other methods but to quietly note them and see whether they work without jeering too much in the process.

Update: The Argus provides an example of what I think the French are trying to achieve.

Update: Virginia Postrel provides evidence that the French find us just as foreign as any american might find them.

Posted by TMLutas at March 17, 2004 04:59 PM