The Campaign Against France at the New York Times
“We live in very remarkable times. We find with astonishment that progress has concluded an alliance with barbarism.” — Sigmund Freud
I have been, for some time, a tortured Francophile. On the one hand, I freely admit that I love French culture. I cannot imagine myself or my work without my admiration for Albert Camus, Francois Truffaut, Emmanuel Levinas, and a host of others.
But I have also often felt animosity toward France. Since the early 2000s, I have watched with disgust as France — a society supposedly dedicated to liberty, equality, and fraternity — has denied those values to its Jews, and the country became the site of horrific antisemitic attacks like the murder of Ilan Halimi, the Toulouse massacre, the Hyper Cacher atrocity, and the 2014 Paris pogroms.
In recent months, however, I have rediscovered some of my love for France, as I have seen it subjected to a campaign of vilification by the supposed organ of enlightened opinion: the New York Times. In a matter of weeks, the Times has accused French society of being complicit in pedophilia, racism, religious persecution, and the censoring and suppression of academics, among other sins — in particular, President Emmanuel Macron’s new campaign to fight domestic radical Islam.
And because this crusade against France is little different from the Times’ vilification of Israel, I now feel that in some ways the two countries are in the same boat.
I will not attempt to refute the Times’ charges here, as the great French intellectual Pascal Bruckner has done a far better job than I ever could. But it is important to note that this vilification of France is not a coincidence. It comes in the wake of the growing influence at the Times by the radical-left “Woke” movement. Over the past several months, a number of editors and journalists have left the paper under pressure from this movement, which has established near-total control over the paper.
For the Times, I believe, France’s great sin is that it has, at long last, roused itself to fight the ideology of radical Islam, whose most extreme adherents have slain countless French citizens. This is because, despite appearances, the Woke and Islamism share many of the same principles. Both embrace totalitarian tactics and censorious intimidation, loathe Western civilization and want to see it destroyed and replaced, reject freedom of speech and the press, are bitterly antisemitic, and despise Israel. As a result, the Woke have, in effect, concluded an alliance between progress and barbarism.
Most importantly, this kinship is based on the idea of what the 20th century socialist movement called “the wretched of the earth” — the oppressed global underclass. For most of the Woke, radical Islam is an authentic uprising by the wretched of the earth, and must be defended at almost any cost.
The problem with this is that radical Islamists are not the wretched of the earth. In fact, they are absurdly privileged, most especially by those like the New York Times, who are prepared to indulge their every distaste and worst atrocities. The best example of this — though it came before the Woke completely conquered the Times — was the paper’s coverage of the execution of the head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards, Qassem Soleimani. When this vile terrorist at long last faced justice, the Times went mad with outrage and sorrow.
The Times‘ front page the day after the execution was replete with headlines and articles claiming that it was an unjustifiable violation of international norms; that Soleimani was a hero to the Iranian people; and that then-president Trump had destabilized the Middle East by ordering the execution, despite the fact that Soleimani had done more to destabilize the Middle East than perhaps anyone else in recent memory. If the Times can justify such moral bankruptcy, it can justify anything.
And this, more than anything else, is why the Times hates France. Because France appears to have decided that it isn’t having that anymore. As such, France has violated the alliance between progress and barbarism, and this cannot be permitted.
In no way is this unprecedented; it has typified the Times’ attitude toward Israel for some time. After all, Israel has never had any of that, because it can’t. It is impossible for Israel to join the alliance between progress and barbarism, because that alliance puts antisemitism and the destruction of Israel high on its list of priorities. The Times hates Israel because of this, and this hatred was always a slippery slope. Now it seems that something like rock bottom is about to be reached. The Times is seeking to persecute not only Israel, but any country that decides progress and barbarism are and must always be enemies.
It appears quite clear that the Times is now lost to the cause of democracy and secularism. And, ironically, by submitting to its own totalitarian ideology, the Times gives a pass to another totalitarianism that — as it did to Charlie Hebdo — would annihilate the Times itself if given half a chance.
This means that the Times, in its hatred of Israel and now France, is driving a knife into its own heart. To steal a line from James Baldwin, if we consider the enormous influence and importance of the Times, we must see this as a very grave moment for the West.