Magazine article The New Yorker

The Talk of the Town: Grand Illusion

Magazine article The New Yorker

The Talk of the Town: Grand Illusion

Article excerpt

At noon on Friday, September 14th, France joined the rest of Europe in observing three minutes of silence in memory of the victims of the terrorist attacks in Washington and New York. It proved to be the noisiest three minutes of silence imaginable. In the center of Montparnasse, trucks and motorcycles blazed and blared through the intersection; horns honked; people talked on their cell phones; waiters shouted through the noontime rush at cafes. Television programming did go black, and schools and companies observed the silence, but there was still some dissent. A newspaper account of a Communist Party gathering that took place a few days later featured comments from the assembled guests. "Was there a minute of silence for the victims of American crimes, for the Vietnamese children who were napalmed?" one person asked. Another said, "We didn't do three minutes for the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or for those of the Palestinian camps of Sabra and Shatila."

The reluctance to pause over the American catastrophe would be insignificant if it had been limited to a meeting of political marginals, but that was not quite the case. In the first issue of Le Monde to appear after the attacks, the newspaper's editor, Jean-Marie Colombani, published on the front page a solemn editorial entitled "We Are All Americans," and in the days to come there were many such pieces in the press and also many similarly sympathetic gestures, including a flood of pro-American E-mails and letters to the Peace Museum in Caen; yet a hint of the political posturing ahead was provided by an article elsewhere in the paper on the "American extreme right," which warned readers that it was still possible that white supremacists had been behind the hijackings. An academic at the prestigious National Center for Scientific Research, in Paris, Marie-Jose Mondzain, wrote a piece for Le Monde called "I Don't Feel American." "As in any murder screenplay," she wrote, "the investigator asks: who profits from the crime? The Palestinians? Of course not. The Afghans? . . . The poor? The oppressed? Of course not. . . . Those who come out more arrogant and stronger than ever are Bush, Putin, and Sharon. What a success!" Four of the eleven candidates competing for the French Presidency--three on the far left, and one, Jean-Marie Le Pen, on the far right--told the local press that the United States essentially had itself to blame for the attacks. …

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