Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Stuck in the middle

The New York Times has just picked up on the "identity soup" movement, which I blogged about--and then got quite a bizarre comment from people who may or may not be the, err, soup nazis themselves--a month ago. Why the sudden interest from the "MSM"? Because unrest in France is a hot topic, and because the reason for those burning cars needs to be pinned down to something.

The Times piece confirms that, unlike some other, perfectly innocuous purveyors of pork soup, these particular French ladlers are trying to make a political statement: Muslims not welcome. Jews aren't welcome either, but that seems secondary to these particular bigots in this particular case. While you can't blame anyone in France from considering alternatives to a chicken-based broth, the fact that this soup is made from all sorts of freaky parts of a pig is not the problem.

Ilan Halimi is not mentioned in the NYT pork-soup story, although his tragic death, not the car-burning riots, is the latest crisis on the racism-and-chaos-in-France front. While the specific grievance of the pork-soup brigade appears to be Muslim immigration to France, dividing that country between the pork-eaters and the pork-avoiders, and defining the latter category as a foreign element, is, crudely but forcefully, telling both Muslims and Jews to get out. Are the soup-providers really nostalgic for a pre-Revolutionary era, when being French meant being Christian, or are they just imprecisely reactionary? Are they, like the advocates of the anti-veiling laws, merely saying that state trumps religion? Not exactly--it's clear that this segment of the French population is at least as happy to recognize hyphenated identity as are France's minorities. There's no pretext of inclusiveness.

As with the Halimi case, the soup nonsense brings up the question of when general assholishness can be considered racist assholishness, in other words, what's an act of hate and what's just a hateful act. Both the torturers and the ladlers make contradictory arguments: The gang that killed Halimi claimed to be not anti-Semitic, but rather just greedy, and that they'd inferred from Halimi's Judaism that he might have some money, only later to admit to regular, non-profit-driven anti-Semitism. The pork-soup-providers claim innocently enough that they are just helping the poor, OK, maybe just helping their own, only hinting at the fact that their real intent is sticking it to Muslims (and, if applicable, Jews) in France. Poor youths looking for a quick buck (well, Euro), and charitable types helping the poor? Violent anti-Semites and xenophobes with especially cruel and creepy, if non-violent, tactics? Who are these people? What is going on?

Or, to put it somewhat more clearly: It cannot possibly be that fantastic to be a Jew in France at the moment. Just as, way back when, Jews were seen as rich and thus evil by the poor because they were associated with the aristocracy, and yet were never able to really join the aristocracy because, well, they were Jewish, today's Jews are considered to be at once the enemy of the downtrodden and a part of a Semitic, non-European, anti-Western population invading France. Jews get to be symbols of the West to those such as Halimi's torturers, and of the East to the pork-soup crowd. While the pork-soup nationalists and the Jews might, one imagines, feel they have a common enemy, the pork soup pretty much obliterates the possibility of a united front against Islamicization of France. All this leads to cries from French-Jewish leaders for an end to racism... and sure, why not anti-Semitism too, while you're at it. If it's not too much trouble. Because being stuck in the middle leaves no option other than a moderate, timid response. No option, that is, other than leaving, but that would be letting the "identity soup" people and the self-proclaimed "barbarians" win. Bad situation indeed.


BlogFighter said...

You are soooo obsessed with this soup issue. No Soup for you!

Rachel said...

On some level, I'm not that upset with the soup people. Yes they are racist, but private charities have the right to give out whatever charity they want, after all, it is charity. Are there not Muslim and Jewish charities? Catholic and Protestant ones? I gave up meat for Lent, so I can't have the soup either but I doubt they meant it to be anti-Catholic. I also doubt they mean to be anti-Jewish.

Phoebe said...

Muslim and Jewish charities are not in the same category as this one for the same reason that mosques and synagogues are not the same as white-supremacist meeting clubs. And just because a group has a right to exist, or to conduct a given action, does not mean that one may not be upset by it, protest it, and so on. You can decry something without adding, "and there oughta be a law." I've made no comment re: the legality of the soup.

As for them not meaning to be anti-Jewish, as I said, I don't think that's quite what they're going for, but xenophobic French nationalists, unless otherwise specified (and serving pork soup to make a point hardly counts as otherwise specified) are not typically positive or neutral towards Jews.

Petey said...

"Muslim and Jewish charities are not in the same category as this one for the same reason that mosques and synagogues are not the same as white-supremacist meeting clubs."

That's no answer.


I basically agree with Rachel. I don't think I'd particularly like having a beer with the soup folks any more than I'd like having a beer with Pat Buchanan, but what they're doing doesn't strike me as offensive in the least.

If you go to a Christian soup kitchen in America, they will force you to participate in a Christian prayer prior to eating. How is what these folks are doing any different?

Plus, they're making their point with cleverness, which tends to make me sympathetic. Cute racism is less threatening than un-cute racism.

More seriously, they're practicing a defensive racism, which is less threatening than offensive racism. Celebrating your own group's values is far more justifiable than denigrating other groups' values. I don't have much problem with celebrating French values, even in the very twisted form this organization is taking the idea.

Plus plus, I love pork. It's the other white meat.


PS. Doesn't Blogger give you the tools to ban your annoying troll?

Phoebe said...

They're not a "Christian" charity, they're racist French nationalists. They believe that it is authentically French to be their specific religion and ethnicity, and to follow a certain diet (or, really, not follow certain other diets), and that those who do not fit this are not merely un-Christian but also less than French. What they are "celebrating" is actually anti-French, at least anti-what France has been going for since the Revolution. It's just as much against France as any other fundamentalist goal--any insistence upon their being different groups best kept separate is anti-French.

Rachel said...

I concede that you can protest them all you want. They are probably anti-Semites, but the French government tries to keep them from giving out the soup, which is stupid, no one here stops Focus on the Family from giving out their crappy literature.

Petey said...

"What they are "celebrating" is actually anti-French, at least anti-what France has been going for since the Revolution."

Quite true.

Of course, they see themselves as a counterbalance to Islamic forces in France which are also anti-what France has been going for since the Revolution.

That doesn't quite justify what they are doing, but it does make it significantly more understandable than Dreyfus-style racism.

Anonymous said...

The thing that worries some people about the pork soup group is that they serve the soup in public. Serving the soup in public is an in your face challenge to Muslims that's just a little more subtle than waving "Muslims Go Home" signs.

If this were a private thing done in a church basement it would be a lot less controversial. As it is, the identity soup movement is the most public anti-Muslim activism in Europe.


Seth said...

there is a 'soup nazi' in kerem hatemanim. he gives enormous bowls of soup that are impossible to finish, and keeps filling the soup bowls so you cant leave. if you tell him you don't want anymore he screams "this is my restaurant! you are eating my soup! you will do what I want!"

slightly off topic, but you know