July 31, 2007 Tuesday
France’s new president is setting the pace in terms of both domestic
and foreign relations, says Hisham Saleh in Saudi Asharq al-Awsat
France’s new President Nicolas Sarkozy is still scoring one success
after another since he was elected two months ago, notes Hisham Saleh
in the Saudi daily Asharq al-Awsat.
SKILL AND SAVVY: Thanks to his skill and political savvy, he has
already succeeded in making the French forget that they were ruled
for decades by a man named Jacques Chirac.
Who remembers Chirac now? Were I not an avid reader of French
newspapers, I would not have known that Chirac is now spending his
summer holiday in the Southern town of Biarritz. I saw a photograph
of Chirac strolling on the promenade in that seaside town looking
extremely glum, like a king who has lost his crown.
Is Sarkozy going to take his revenge on Chirac? Is the former president
afraid of being called to account for all the crimes and misdemeanors
he committed during his long reign?
Things do not look promising for the former president. His prime
minister, Dominique de Villepin, has already been indicted in a
serious crime. This means that investigators, who cannot nail him
directly, will inevitably get Chirac through de Villepin. In fact,
the mere fact that he was questioned for four hours last week means
that they have nailed him already.
Chirac, the first French ex-president ever to have been hauled before
an investigating magistrate, was humiliated. None of his predecessors
had to suffer the indignity of having to answer for their actions.
Can Chirac, an arrogant and proud individual, suffer this insult
in silence? How will his health hold out if he were to be pursued
for such crimes as corruption, nepotism, and patrimony? People are
already asking this question. Personally, I believe that it would be
wrong to humiliate Chirac further.
In the meantime, what is Sarkozy doing?
For one thing, he recently scored a brilliant diplomatic coup in
Libya by solving a problem that has proved unmovable for many years,
thus facilitating the full reentry of that Arab country into the
He was helped, no doubt, by a new Libyan tendency for rational and
pragmatic thinking and behavior – a far cry from the rabble-rousing
ideology Tripoli adopted for many years. Had Libya not woken up
in time, its fate would have been no better than that visited upon
Saddam Hussein in Iraq, who engineered his own destruction as well
as that of his country, by his arrogance and stubbornness.
In fact, Iraq is the biggest example of the importance of political
pragmatism in modern times. Unfortunately, many in the Arab world
still choose to ignore the importance of pragmatism.
Is it possible that the culture of empty rhetoric in the Arab world
could eventually come to an end? Could we be standing on the threshold
of a new era of political responsibility, precise calculation, and
scientific thought? It is still premature to answer this question,
although history seems to be moving in this direction.
But in order to ensure that the Arab mentality does indeed change
for the better, we have to restore philosophical thinking to its
rightful place in all Arab schools. Rational and critical discourse
must replace the tattered ideologies that have ruled most of the Arab
and Moslem world over the last fifty years.
Our only salvation lies in strengthening scientific and
philosophical thought, which should then do battle with the prevailing
nationalist-fundamentalist ideologies. What we need is a comprehensive
rethink of our entire thought and behavior systems.
I am not against nationalism and/or fundamentalism per se, but
I am dead against blind prejudice and nationalist-fundamentalist
But let us return to Sarkozy. I admired what the French president
said on his recent trip to Senegal, where he unequivocally condemned
the period of colonialism. He said: ‘I did not come here to deny that
mistakes and crimes were committed. Crimes were indeed committed under
colonialism. Yes, Colonialism itself was a major crime. Slavery was
a worse crime: It was a crime against humanity.’
Bravo Sarkozy! This was exactly what we expected you to say. At last,
there is a Western leader brave enough to unequivocally condemn the
entire period of colonialism.
But Sarkozy did include a caveat. He said that it would be unjust
to hold the present generation responsible for the crimes of its
Which is true. We are not asking for revenge against modern day
Frenchmen or Englishmen. What we want is recognition. It could be
said that the Armenians are demanding the same of the Turks. The
Armenian people do not want to exact vengeance from the Turkish
people of today; what they are after is Turkish recognition of the
massacres their ancestors perpetrated against the Armenian nation
back in 1915. And some day, they will win that recognition.
Every oppressor has to admit their guilt in order for the oppressed
to rest in peace. This is taken for granted in psychology. Algerians
can now experience inner peace after having heard the president of
France declare colonialism to have been an unforgivable crime. But
perhaps not. Algerians need a stronger and more personal form of
recognition because the French colonial regime in their country was
more vicious and cruel than anywhere else.
Nevertheless, France’s image has been embellished by Sarkozy’s words
– especially if we recall that, under Chirac, the French National
Assembly voted for a motion that recognized the ‘positive aspects’
The Assembly only retracted later after coming under pressure from
French, Algerian, and other historians and intellectuals. Chirac was
forced to rescind the motion, much to his credit."