In an interview with German newspaper Die Zeit, Bernard-Henri Lévy continues to defend his buddy Dominique Strauss-Kahn. A translated selection:
Zeit: But Dominique Strauss-Kahn was treated like any other suspect.
BHL: Yes. But he's not like everyone else. When a run-of-the-mill murderer leaves the police station in handcuffs, a firing squad of cameras isn't awaiting him. But when it's Strauss-Kahn, the whole world is watching. To act like you don't see the difference there, that's the real injustice.
Zeit: Contempt for the American justice system seems to be spreading in France.
BHL: This is not a problem of justice, it's a problem of politics. On the one hand, they don't want to show the pictures of the dead Bin Laden so as not to insult Muslims. On the other hand, they present pictures of Strauss-Kahn on a constant loop without bothering to see if that might insult his wife or family.
Zeit: France's media has been discussing Strauss-Kahn's lifestyle for the past two weeks...
BHL: The fields were tilled in advance. Preparatory shots were fired. And now you have the result: the head of the IMF wearing the very corset of guilt that was designed for him.
Zeit: Are we learning anything new about the relationship between power and sex?
BHL: That puritanical nonsense has overtaken western society.
This is so confused as to be really kind of delightful. Yes, just why didn't President Obama realize that allowing the release of the DSK photos would potentially jeopardize national security by angering the Strauss-Kahn household? And if only Americans had the foresight to realize that the history books will record as the "real injustice" their treatment of DSK as a normal human being...
Anyway, I'd suggest resisting the temptation to correct the multiple misjudgments in favor of simply appreciating the floridness of Lévy's imagination. (Is a "corset of guilt" a real garment? Is that why Lévy keeps his shirt unbuttoned to his navel, to show he's not wearing one?) Here's hoping Strauss-Kahn calls BHL in as a character witness.
If you've got a spare billion or so dollars lying around, and have ever dreamed of owning or operating a mid-size Mediterranean lottery system -- let's just say you may want to circle May 16 on your calendar.
That's when the Greek parliament, troubled by loads of sovereign debt and a stalled economy, is set to pass a radical new financial program, complete with an itemized list of state assets to be sold off at cut-rate prices. It's an audacious fire-sale, one that hopes to raise at least 15 billion euros over the next three years, and some 50 billion euros by 2015 - enough to get a new line of credit to pay off some of its existing creditors. The real goal is to prove to the country's European neighbors that it is making a good-faith effort to get its books in order -- the better to entice better terms on the next EU loan.
Of course, the Greek government is aware that even mass privatization doesn't amount to a long-term solution for the troubled country: The IMF estimates that even if the privatization plans proceed according to the most optimistic scenario (which is a very optimistic scenario), that would only reduce the country's debt to 134 percent of GDP -- hardly enough to alter the country's junk-bond status.
But, that shouldn't deter anyone from attending Greece's state auction after combing his couch cushions for stray billion dollar bank notes. Indeed, there's plenty on offer.
If real estate's your thing, you might consider purchasing newly-available government land near the Rio-Antirio bridge near the port city of Patras; or a stretch on the island of Rhodes that the government hopes can be turned into a golf course. The government is also looking for buyers for the stadiums it built for the 2004 Olympics -- arenas that have since gone unused.
But most of the assets come in the way of state-held companies. The national electricity and sewage utilities are up for sale, as is the Greek railway, its postal service, its sole racetrack and horse-racing corporation, and the national lottery system. There are also a number of airports, ports, and marinas up for grabs, as well as the state nickel mining industry, and something called the "Hellenic Football Prognostics Organization". A more comprehensive list can be found here.
In the abstract, the Greek public supports the privatization plans, with 74% of the country saying that the measures are "probably" necessary. But the question is how Greeks will respond when the measures begin to affect them personally. There, the signs are less auspicious. Locals have already vowed to block efforts by the Qatari government to build a new financial district on the site of an abandoned airport on the outskirts of Athens; the mayor says he wants to open a public park instead.
World opinion seems to be divided on the propriety of America's sometimes-raucous celebration in the wake of Osama bin Laden's death. Hopefully, though, we can all agree that Americans -- by virtue of long-standing national tradition -- should at least be indulged a few attempts to make a quick buck off of the affair.
Book publishers have been especially eager to track down authors who can write knowledgably and efficiently - read: quickly! - on the subject of Al Qaeda. As one publishing executive told the Wall Street Journal, "If it's not going to be great, it's got to be as fast as possible."
A number of authors have been happy to oblige. Former Newsweek Jon Meacham has already begun editing an e-book essay collection called Beyond Bin Laden for Random House. Peter Bergen, author of The Longest War and The Osama bin Laden I Know, has been signed by Crown to write a book tentatively titled The Manhunt, covering Washington's search for the fugitive terrorist. The Free Press has also said that it is hoping to publish a digital work by Bergen.
Following Hollywood's standard playbook, Penguin Press announced Wednesday that it had signed New Yorker correspondent Steve Coll to write, in essence, a sequel to his Pulitzer Prize-winning Ghost Wars, which covered America's vexed relations with radical Islam from the 1980s through September 11. The new book will discuss the last ten years of that relationship.
Finally, there are those publishers who already have a perfect book in the works, but somehow failed to predict months back that a potential assassination in early May would provide the opportunity for marketing synergy. Sales strategies have been scrambled, as relatively unknown authors prepare to bask in the full media spotlight. The Black Banner, a narrative account of the war on terror written by Ali Soufan, a former FBI agent who served on the front lines against Al Qaeda, is certain to be marketed heavily when it's published in September by Norton.
Then there's St. Martin's Press, which had originally scheduled a May 24 release for a book by retired Navy SEALs Howard Wasdin and Stephen Templin on the subject of the military's secretive Team Six. When that unit succeeded in its secret mission to kill bin Laden on May 1, the publishing house immediately pushed to get the book in stores as quickly as possible. The release date has now been moved to May 10. "Sometimes you get lucky with current events," Mark Resnick, executive editor at St. Martin's, told the New York Observer.
Germany experienced its first Islamist attack on Wednesday when a man by the name of Arid U. (Germany withholds the last names of suspects in ongoing investigations) opened fire at the Frankfurt airport, killing two U.S. military personnel and injuring two others. The circumstances of the attack are grimly prosaic: A young man with Muslim background (Kosovar in this case) finds solace among extremists and violently rejects his Western surroundings, cloaking his rage in political-theological language. Arid claimed that in shooting the U.S. troops he was seeking "revenge" for the West's war in Afghanistan.
But if this type of terrorist attack seems familiar by now to Americans, it's still worth looking twice at the German government's reaction to it. According to a report in Der Spiegel [in German], German officials offered, in the immediate aftermath of the attack, a remarkably level-headed, if fatalistic, assessment of the case:
The German Federal Crime Office in Karlsruhe acknowledged astonishingly openly how little the department, despite changes in law and increases in personnel, can do about criminals like Arid U. "Such crimes can not be prevented," the director of department Sven Kurenbach said.
It's important to note that this wasn't considered a "gaffe" by either the German media or the political opposition. The German public, and their public officials, apparently prefer to be spared the circus of blaring media tropes that the United States is now practiced at rolling out on these occasions. There was no witch hunt in Berlin for officials who should have seen this attack coming, no threatening military or rhetorical gestures toward foreign groups who may welcome this kind of murder, no interpretations of whether and which religious texts justify violence, no hand-wringing about the pernicious effects of social alienation.
Just the refreshingly frank admission from investigators that they weren't lucky enough to prevent the attack. And the bracingly silent acknowledgement that it may well happen again.
Should an American lead the European Central Bank? That's what Sylvain Broyer proposes in the German newspaper Die Zeit. The original's in German, but I've translated a portion:
I believe that the best candidate to follow Jean-Claude Trichet would be an American. It's no doubt true that we have talented minds in Europe that have the necessary competence. But the challenges that await the future president of the European Central Bank demand a fundamental change in how we think about the essence of the monetary union...
The next ECB-President has to show the willingness to act as a lender of last resort for overly indebted member states...That recognition of the essence of a monetary union is rare in today's Europe, but belongs to the mainstream on the other side of the Atlantic.
Nice try, Sylvain. You might have a point about the ECB's philosophic mismatch for the current moment -- but in case you haven't noticed, we've got plenty of trouble trying to filling out the ranks of our own monetary institutions, what with the Senate filibuster holding things up. I know our out-of-work central bankers look like they're just standing around, but they're actually all under serious consideration for the three vacancies on at the Federal Reserve. (Except for Greenspan -- you can have Greenspan.)
As Egypt spent the last few weeks proving, strongmen are a great means to maintain an unpopular policy status quo -- until they're not. Policymakers in Washington were famously glad to do business with Hosni Mubarak as long as he kept peace with Israel; now they have to worry that a democratically elected Egyptian government may not feel inclined to honor the pact.
But Americans and Israelis aren't the only ones now realizing the shortsightedness of this kind of realpolitik. Europeans in particular have made more than their fair share of devil's bargains with Arab regimes. And it seems like they'll be the first to reap the consequences:
The Italian government has declared a state of emergency and asked for EU help in blocking thousands of Tunisians from reaching its shores…
Some 3,000 people from Tunisia arrived over the weekend on the Italian island of Lampedusa following the ousting of Tunisian dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in recent days, according to Rome…
Anti-immigration policies lie at the core of Mr Berlusconi's government. He has sealed similar deals with other authoritative regimes, such as Tunisia's neighbouring Libya, irrespective of the abuses and bad treatment of refugees.
Europe has long been codependent on Arab regimes with less-than-scrupulous human rights records. Like the United States with its extraordinary rendition program, the European Union has kept its hands clean by outsourcing its illegal immigration problem to neighboring dictators: For the promise of good relations and sizable foreign investment, Tunisia's Ben Ali and Libya's Qaddafi have been willing to use their security forces to ensure that poor Africans don't reach European shores. But what happens when those forces are accountable to the public's common good, rather than a leader's personal deals? The answer probably involves Europe enjoying a brief period of denial and then building much more housing for asylum applicants.
Today's crackdown in Tahrir Square is horrific, but can anyone truly claim it's surprising? Journalistic parlance seems to have settled on the word "thug" to describe the attackers, but that seems to me to obscure more than it clarifies: I'm skeptical that a group of mercenaries spontaneously assembled early this morning and instructed itself on the finer points of counterinsurrection. Mubarak's Egypt was a security state, after all. In all likelihood, these are the people who held Mubarak's regime together in the dank corridors of the Interior Ministry, and this is the brutal manner in which they worked. Under Mubarak, menacing peaceful Egyptians had become a promising career path.
If it's hard to imagine that the "thugs" are motivated by ideological conviction -- Mubarak had no basis on which to indoctrinate a Basij or Revolutionary Guard -- it's easy to imagine they're acting out of self-interest and fear. The Egyptian military seems to have a place reserved for itself in whatever new order emerges. But who can say the same for the country's security services? When Egypt's emergency laws are eventually rescinded, who will have use for people practiced in torturing their fellow citizens? The people wielding machetes in Tahrir Square probably have a hazy vision of a future Egypt in search of scapegoats. And they know that there won't be a plane waiting to bring them out of the country, like there will be for Mubarak.
Sitting at my desk in Washington, scanning the latest photos from Tahrir Square streaming in and reading live blogs that pull together the latest disparate strands of information, I can't help but wonder whether I know more about the protests happening in Cairo than the reporters who are actually there. That's how I sometimes felt, at least, when I was in Tehran in 2009 covering the Iranian presidential elections and their alternately inspiring and bloody aftermath. Observing an incipient revolution on the ground wasn't always clarifying so much as it was harrowing and confusing and exhausting.
I wonder how much work reporters in Egypt have had to devote to mitigating the dangers and intimidation suddenly associated with their jobs. The Iranian government rescinded all press passes the day after the 2009 election and were eager to arrest journalists thereafter on charges of espionage: it seems that in the early days of the Egyptian protests, security services were similarly targeting journalists, though that may no longer be an issue. I'd guess that only a fraction of the correspondents in Cairo right now are credentialed, but the Egyptian government seems to have deteriorated to such a point that there's probably little danger involved in filing stories.
But that begs the question of how to file at all after the government's shut down all Internet and mobile phone communications. It's easy to feel adrift when the modern correspondent's toolkit of laptop, cell phone and digital camera is suddenly and completely rendered useless. Any reporter worth his or her salt is going to find a way to get the story out, but it may involve risks that aren't calculated in advance. When the adrenaline subsides, paranoia can begin to cloud one's thoughts. Am I being monitored? Which of these protesters I'm interviewing are actually plainclothes police? The technological isolation also produces a certain practical myopia: it's hard to know if you're ever reporting at the right place at the right time.
But there are advantages to myopia as well. On the ground, reporters can observe the motley collection of personal motivations being expressed in these public events. The political upshot of the Green Revolution was to challenge the legitimacy of the Iranian theocracy. But the individual protesters I encountered were most often motivated by a longing for dignity, a concept that is not strictly political: many told me about their economic frustrations, others about grievances against the regime that they had harbored for years or decades, still others told me they were seeking to test their manhood. No one mentioned geopolitics, or the support or lack thereof of President Obama. (Who would choose to risk their lives for the sake of the president of another country?) Outside observers inevitably see too much of themselves and their own ideas in these stories.
It's clear that the Egyptians have done something politically momentous, but that doesn't mean they calculated its political import. Before we interpret what the Egyptians have done, we should try to listen to what they have to say, even -- especially -- if it's not yet what we want to hear.
ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images
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