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World War Two was the most devastating conflict in recorded human history. It was both global in extent and total in character. It has understandably left a long and dark shadow across the decades. Yet it is three generations since hostilities formally ended in 1945 and the conflict is now a lived memory for only a few. And this growing distance in time has allowed historians to think differently about how to describe it, how to explain its course, and what subjects to focus on when considering the wartime experience.
I write romantic mysteries for a niche market, my stories deal with art, travel, a bit of mayhem and romance. I might preface that with-I love art and I love to travel-and have been fortunate to be able to do so. The old adage write what you know and love is true.
When I started writing, I knew my novel would be set in Paris. In my youth, I lived there for a year, and have since gone back a few times. It stood to reason that my first romance should be set there.
New architectural structures reflect a modern appeal, but the old is appreciated and treasured. The Louvre now has Pei’s Pyramid at the entrance, a few buildings have been added, but the age old charm, the cobblestones, the meandering streets, the essence and soul are still very much there.
The first time I visited Bath, England, I told myself I must come back, and I did. My second book is set there. My third hotel book, my current WIP is set in magical and mysterious Venice. All three cities are mystical and romantic places. Venice has captured my heart perhaps as no other city-there is a constant pull to go back and see what I have missed.
My heroine is an artist, and through her eyes, I introduce my readers to my favorite artists, allow her to live in exciting places, give her mysteries to solve, and someone to love. The best of all worlds.
For me it is essential to visit the place I write about, get a sense of the culture, the everyday, mundane activities that make up our lives. The magical moment of sitting in a cafe, sipping an espresso, and watching people go by. An image is created that will allow a glimpse of that perfect intimate moment. A sculpture in a garden described so well that the reader can almost reach out and touch a sinew, that is the wonder of the written word.
Rodin has always set my pulse racing, his work is strong, exuberant, poignant to the point of agony, and sometimes even mischievous. I tried to bring that sense of joy and discovery to my hero in A Hotel in Paris, and hopefully to my readers. I find solace in art, for me it’s therapeutic. You don’t have to be an art scholar to enjoy it, it’s everywhere we turn, it surrounds us, all we have to do is take note.
Imagine tea at the Pump Room in Bath, and that first sip of the heavily scented Earl Grey tea, you take a deep whiff to savor the smell of the bergamot oil, take a bite of that a fresh scone still warm, loaded with clotted cream and strawberry preserves-except that I skip the cream and go directly for the jam, lots of jam. Those are all real memories that will enrich a story.
Visit a restaurant that has been in business since the early 1600s, in Bath and watch out as you step down on the crooked stairs and touch the warped wall, coated with gobs of thick paint as you continue your descent that doesn’t seem to end, and then you gingerly sit down in a rickety old chair and hope you won’t be sitting on the ancient brick floor instead.
Stand on top of the Rialto Bridge in Venice, look down at the Grand Canal, and the mesmerizing traffic below, boats gliding on water expertly and avoid contact. Sip an espresso in a cafe and listen to a gondolier serenade you from afar.
From the Rodin Museum in Paris, to the Pump Room in Bath, to the dark and narrow canals in Venice, where the water mysteriously shimmers in the moonlit night. It’s all there. Familiarity with a location makes it easier to write about the experience, it makes it come alive.
Even though I write contemporary romance mysteries, I love history and art, and that is what I write about. It goes back to the beginning, write what you know and love.
Signal crimes change how we think, feel, and act — altering perceptions of the distribution of risks and threats in the world. Sometimes, as with the recent assassinations and mass shootings in France, sending a message is the intention of the criminal act. The attackers’ target selection of the staff of Charlie Hebdo magazine, and that of taking and killing Jewish hostages, was deliberately designed to send messages to individuals and institutions.
Researchers examine social reactions to different kinds of crime events and the signals they send to a range of audiences. The aim is to determine how and why certain kinds of incidents and situations generate fear and anxiety responses that travel widely and, by extension, how processes of social reaction to such events are managed and influenced by the authorities.
The murder of Lee Rigby in London in 2013 can be understood as a signal crime as it triggered concern amongst the general public and across security institutions, owing to the macabre innovation of the killers in undertaking a brutally simple form of assault. Analysis of the crime has identified a number of key components to the overarching process of social reaction. Observing how events have unfolded in France, the collective reactions have followed a similar trajectory to what happened in London.
In the wake of both incidents there was ‘spontaneous community mobilisation’ as ordinary people sought to engage in collective sense-making of what had actually happened, coupled with collective action ‘to do something’ to evidence their opposition. Widespread use of social media platforms helped spread rumours as attempts were made to follow updates in the story; rapid moves were made to secondary conflicts as acts of criminal retaliation were committed against symbolic Muslim targets.
One prominent type of intervention evident in both cases has been a call from senior figures within security institutions and governments to urgently provide the authorities with enhanced legal powers, especially for digital and online surveillance. This is part of a wider reaction pattern that we might label ‘the legislative reflex’. This term seeks to capture how – following a terrorist atrocity and the public concern it induces – politicians who need to be seen to be ‘doing something’ almost automatically reach for new laws as their principal response. The presence of this reflex is evidenced by the fact that since 9/11, in the United Kingdom we have seen the introduction of a significant number of new laws including:
The Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, allowing for detention without trial (later overturned by the courts)
The Terrorism Act 2006, which extended the detention of suspects without charge from 14 to 28 days
The Counter-Terrorism Act 2008, under which police were permitted to continue questioning suspects after charge
The Terrorist Asset-Freezing Act 2010
The Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill, which is currently being debated by peers in the House of Lords
What we can detect here is how fear of not being able to protect against potential attacks is being mobilised to justify new preventative anti-terror legislation. In effect, public and political fear is being deployed to shape the reaction to terrorism, where reaching for new legislation has become part of the societal response to terrorist attacks.
However, it increasingly appears that this approach is inadequate and that we are dealing with a social problem that we cannot solve by legal means alone. Indeed, a more nuanced and sophisticated approach to counter-terrorism policy development would probably look elsewhere for solutions. After all, in both the French cases and that of Drummer Rigby, it transpired that the perpetrators were well known to the authorities as presenting a risk. Rather than creating legislative fixes to collect more intelligence, research suggests the focus must be on finding effective policy solutions to three inter-linked ‘wicked problems’ that have been identified in issues of radicalization and home-grown extremism.
The first of these, mentioned earlier, concerns the ability of the politics of counter-terrorism to resist the allure of introducing new security measures that might corrode levels of integration and cohesion. Over the long-term, over-reaction to terrorist provocations can be as harmful as the initial act itself.
This connects to the second ‘wicked problem’: tension between the tactical and strategic response to countering violent extremists. The police and security services focus upon stopping violent acts, often engaging with individuals whose ideas are not coherent with liberal democratic traditions. Preventing or stopping these acts does not reduce the longer term influence of these radical ideas.
Thirdly, all plausible theories of radicalisation into violent extremism identify a pivotal role played by ‘non-violent extremists': those who do not engage in violence directly, but whose ideas and rhetoric influence others to do so. These create a ‘mood music’ of ideas, values, and beliefs that presents violence as a permissible means to an end. In the wake of the killings in France, there has been a widespread call across Europe to protect the right to freedom of speech. However, this freedom will also be used by those motivated to undertake mass killings. Current counter-terrorism policy struggles with what to do with individuals who steer and propagate the radicalisation of others by engaging in activity that is troublesome and unpleasant, but not necessarily illegal.
One of the principal institutional effects of high profile signal crimes is to implant a political imperative to consider what can be done to predict, pre-empt, and prevent similar atrocities in the future. However, it is increasingly clear that it is not going to be possible to prevent all such attacks. Developing a conceptually robust evidenced understanding of how and why our collective processes of reaction occur in the ways they do, and the institutional effects that such assaults induce, seems vitally important if we are to collectively manage our reactions better when the next attack comes.
Headline image credit: Paris rally in support of the victims of the 2015 Charlie Hebdo shooting, 11 January 2015. Photo by “sébastien amiet;l”. CC BY 2.0 via Flickr.
Apart from greatly admiring his work, my impulse to interview Olivier was three-fold: firstly, my author -illustrator friend Julie Rowan-Zoch urged me to, secondly Olivier is published in the US by one of my favorite publishers (who are right here … Continue reading →
Time passes quickly. As we track the progression of events hundred years ago on the Western Front, the dramas flash by. In the time it takes to answer an e-mail the anniversary of another battle has come and gone.
We have celebrated the fumbling British skirmishes at Mons and Le Cateau in late August, but largely forgotten the French triumph at the Battle of the Marne which first stemmed and threw back the German wheeling attack through Belgium into Northern France under the Schlieffen Plan. We have already bypassed the spirited Franco-British attempts at the Battle of the Aisne in September to take the Chemin des Dames. The Race to the Sea was under way: the British and German Armies desperately trying to turn their enemy’s northern flank.
Throughout, the performance of the British Expeditionary Force has often been exaggerated. Imaginative accounts of Germans advancing in massed columns and being blown away by rapid rifle fire are common. A rather more realistic assessment is that the British infantry were steadfast enough in defence, but unable to function properly in coordination with their artillery or machine guns. The Germans seemed to have a far better grip of the manifold disciplines of modern warfare.
Yet everything changed in October. The Germans were scraping the barrel for manpower and decided to throw new reserve formations into the battle. Young men with the minimum of training, incapable of sophisticated battle tactics. They were marched forward in a last gambler’s throw of the dice to try and break through to the Channel Ports. To do that they needed first to capture the small Belgian city of Ypres.
One might have thought that Ypres was some fabled city, fought over to secure untold wealth or a commanding tactical position. Nothing could be further from the truth. Ypres was just an ordinary town, lying in the centre of the fertile Western Flanders plain. Yet the low ridges to the east represented one of the last feasible lines of defence. The British also saw the town, not as an end in itself, but as a stepping stone to more strategically important locations pushing eastwards, such as the rail centre at Roulers or the ports of Ostend and Zeebrugge. For both sides Ypres was on the road to somewhere.
The battle began in mid-October and soon began to boil up. Time and time the Germans hurled themselves forward, the grey-green hordes pressing forwards and being shot down in their hundreds. The British had learnt many lessons and this was where they finally proved themselves worthy adversaries for the German Army. On the evening of 23 October young Captain Harry Dillon was fighting for his life:
A great grey mass of humanity was charging, running for all God would let them, straight on to us not 50 yards off. Everybody’s nerves were pretty well on edge as I had warned them what to expect, and as I fired my rifle the rest all went off almost simultaneously. One saw the great mass of Germans quiver. In reality some fell, some fell over them, and others came on. I have never shot so much in such a short time, could not have been more than a few seconds and they were down. Suddenly one man – I expect an officer – jumped up and came on. I fired and missed, seized the next rifle and dropped him a few yards off. Then the whole lot came on again and it was the most critical moment of my life. Twenty yards more and they would have been over us in thousands, but our fire must have been fearful, and at the very last moment they did the most foolish thing they possibly could have done. Some of the leading people turned to the left for some reason, and they all followed like a great flock of sheep. We did not lose much time, I can give you my oath. My right hand is one huge bruise from banging the bolt up and down. I don’t think one could have missed at the distance and just for one short minute or two we poured the ammunition into them in boxfuls. My rifles were red hot at the finish. The firing died down and out of the darkness a great moan came. People with their arms and legs off trying to crawl away; others who could not move gasping out their last moments with the cold night wind biting into their broken bodies and the lurid red glare of a farm house showing up clumps of grey devils killed by the men on my left further down. A weird awful scene; some of them would raise themselves on one arm or crawl a little distance, silhouetted as black as ink against the red glow of the fire. [p. 287-288, Fire & Movement, by Peter Hart]
Some of the Germans had got within 25 yards of Dillon’s line. It had been a close run thing and after they had been relieved by the French later that night the French reported that some 740 German corpses littered the ground in front of his trenches. This was the real war: not a skirmishes like the earlier battles, this was the real thing.
The German attacks continued, followed as day follows night, by French and British counter-attacks to restore the situation. The Germans nibbled at the Allied line but were unable to achieve anything of importance. Yet for all the sound and fury, over the next few days the front line stayed relatively static. The German troops were flagging in their efforts. After one last effort on 11 November the Germans threw in the towel. They would not break through the Allied lines in 1914. The British and French lines had held. Battered, bruised, but unbroken. The First Battle of Ypres had confirmed the strategic victory gained by the French at the Marne. The German advance in the west had been blocked, if they sought victory in 1915 they would have to look to the east and attack Russia.
The 1914 campaign would prove decisive to the war. The utter failure of the Schlieffen Plan, designed to secure the rapid defeat of France, meant that Germany would be condemned to ruinous hostilities on two fronts. This was the great turning-point of the whole war. The pre-war predictions from the German strategists that they could not prevail in a long-drawn out war against the combined forces of France and Russia proved accurate, especially when the British Empire and United States joined the fight. The German Army fought with a sustained skill and endurance, but after 1914, the odds really were stacked against them.
The Jewish holiday, Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, begins on Monday night, April 28. In honor of the millions who perished, as well as those who survived, I wanted to share with my readers an interview with author Maryann Macdonald of Odette's Secrets (reviewed here at the Fourth Musketeer last month). This novel tells the story of a young French girl who was hidden during the Nazi occupation, and thus survived the Holocaust. Thanks so much, Maryann, for visiting my blog today.
Q: There are so many books, even for young readers, that deal with World War II, particularly the European side of the conflict. Yet there are still so many stories to tell, with more books coming out every year. Please tell us how you discovered the true story of Odette, and why you considered it important to tell her story to young readers.
A: When I learned that 86% of French Jewish children survived the Holocaust by going into hiding, I was astonished. How had these children managed to reinvent themselves so successfully, I wondered? And how had it affected them? Then, by chance, I found "Doors to Madame Marie," a memoir by Odette Meyers at the American Library in Paris. I was so touched by Odette's story of her experience as a hidden child in France. I especially loved her description of the struggles she went through with all the necessary deception that was required to stay successfully hidden, and the affect this had on her developing identity. I had never seen a book that told this particular story about WWII, and I wanted to create a children's book about it for today's readers. Although Odette had passed away some years earlier, I learned that her son Daniel was alive and living in Paris. I called him and we met. He told me he that his mother had often told her story in schools, churches and synagogues, and he was sure that she would want it to live on. So I began the process of trying to recreate Odette's story for today's young readers.
Right above the door is Odette's Paris apartment
Odette and Mama (photographer and family later deported)
Q: Why did you decide to tell this particular story in free verse, rather than a more conventional prose style? A: My first draft of Odette's Secrets was in third person. I wanted the story to be as accurate as possible, but I felt this version was too dry. Then I remembered that Odette loved poetry, and even thought its beauty helped her to survive her ordeal. She grew up to become a professor of literature, and wrote poetry of her own. So I set about telling Odette's story in first person, in blank verse, to access more accurately Odette's childhood voice. I wanted the book to seem as though Odette herself was telling her story to children. This turned the book into fiction, but nearly every single recorded detail is true.
Odette's godmother, Madame Marie
Q: Many of your many prior books for young people are picture books rather than novels. Did you ever consider telling Odette's story in a picture book format?
A: I have written many picture books, but also one other middle grade novel and quite a few chapter books. My latest effort is a young adult novel. At first I thought Odette's Secrets might be a picture book, but there was just too much story to tell. It is now slotted in for 10-14 year-old's, but I have heard from readers as young as 8. One of my oldest readers was himself a hidden child. He wrote to me to say he thought I had captured the experience quite accurately.
Q: In the current publishing climate, with the wild success of the Wimpy Kid series, dystopian novels like Hunger Games, and the continued popularity of fantasy series in the Harry Potter style, do you have any advice on how librarians, parents, and teachers can encourage children to explore historical fiction like Odette's Secrets? A: I have developed a teacher's guide for "Odette's Secrets," which is downloadable on my website, www.maryannmacdonald.com. It offers many ways to draw readers into the book. Obviously, linking the story with the history curriculum, with Holocaust Remembrance Day, and with National Poetry Month might help. Not every book suits every reader, but Odette's Secrets has found many appreciative readers. Fans of this genre can discover other great WWII books I've enjoyed, from picture books on up, on the "Odette's Secrets" FB page. Q: Can you share with us five children's books that made a big impact on you as a young person? A: Like so many young girls of my time, I fell in love with the Little House Books, especially "Little House on the Prairie." Now that I think of it, that series has some similarities with Odette's Secrets: adventure, family closeness, life-threatening danger. I read every book in our local library on pioneer life, too. But I also loved books about England, especially "The Secret Garden," "Bedknobs and Broomsticks," and "Mary Poppins." I think my love of English children's literature was partly responsible for the fact that when I grew up, I went to live in England for 23 years. And again, like so many girls of yesterday and today, I loved Nancy Drew. My granddaughter loves her, too. Q: What books are currently on your nightstand? (or in your e-reader, if you prefer your books in that format?) A: I just read "The Hare with the Amber Eyes" with my book group. I enjoyed that in paperback, but I LOVE my Kindle, too, and take it everywhere. Now I live in New York City, so I get a lot of reading done on the subway, so take my Kindle everywhere in my handbag. I'm reading "The Unlikely Pilgrimmage of Harold Fry" by British writer Rachel Joyce on it right now. I also listen to books on my I-Pod while walking in Central Park and while cooking. My latest cooking favorite is "The Hobbit" by Tolkein and my latest walking favorite is "City of Thieves," by David Benioff, about the siege of Leningrad. Background reading gets fitted in at the library and just before bedtime. Add a Comment
When Elsa, 6, discovers her grandmother, Dounia Cohen, crying one night, the little girl convinces her to talk about what's causing her tears. And so, her grandma begins telling her about her own life when she was Elsa's age living in Paris.
Her best friend was Catherine and they both had a crush on Isaac, and all three went to the same school. One day, when Dounia came home from school, her father was already there. He told Dounia there were to become a family of sheriffs and soon a yellow star was sewn onto her clothes. The next day, Isaac didn't show up for school and Dounia was told to sit in the back of the room, and learned that her star was meant to mark her as Jewish, not a sheriff.
When the police show up at the door one night, Dounia's parents put her into a hiding place and tell her to quietly wait for someone to come and get her. When her neighbor comes, Dounia learns that her parents had been taken away, and the apartment ransacked.
The neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Péricard, take care of Dounia in secret as long as they can, but eventually they learn that the police are planning a surprise visit to find her. Dounia's name is changed to Simone Pierret, but before they can get away, someone spots Dounia. She and Mrs. Péricard make it to the prearranged point for Dounia to be picked up and moved, but now Mrs. Péricard is also in danger and has no idea what happened to her husband. The two are taken to the farm of an older woman named Germaine by Resistance workers. Dounia had been told she must think of the Péricards as her parents, and now as Simone, she also becomes a young Catholic girl in order to keep her safe and hidden from the Nazis.
Dounia and Mrs. Péricard remain on the farm for the rest of the war, each wondering what became of their loved ones.
Hidden is the powerful story of a young girl who doesn't completely understand what is happening around her, why people suddenly dislike her and all other Jews so much and, most importantly, the sudden disappearance of so many people including her parents, How does one deal with this? Clearly, it took Dounia years to do that, since even her own son didn't know about his mother's experiences in Nazi occupation of France.
How does a young reader who is hearing about the Holocaust for possibly the first time deal with such a disturbing subject? Clearly, a book about the Holocaust for kids, whether it is a graphic or traditional picture book, requires a very fine balance between story, information, and illustrations so that the story gives just the right amount of age appropriate information, but not so much that you frighten kids. Hidden is a book that is so powerful in its simplicity, to honest in it telling that it definitely achieves this fine balance.
The translation by Alexis Siegel from the original French into English contains no ambiguities, and the dialogue flows comfortably and naturally. I seem to be reading graphic novels about World War II and the Holocaust more and more lately, and they seem to be getting better and better. The illustrations by Marc Lizano are reminiscent of a child's drawing, though the background is more sophisticated. Still, the faces, even in their simplicity, really manage to convey a wide range of emotions - fear, sadness, anger, kindness, hate, love and ultimately even hope. And the colorist, Greg Salsedo, really gives the illustrations a sense of the time, place and mood using his color palette.
Dounia's story is similar to that of many children in France. In fact, in the Afterword, Hellen Kaufmann, president of the AJPN (Association Anonymes, Justes et Persecutés pendant la période nazie) writes that 84% of Jewish children living in France before the war survived because of people like Mrs. Péricard and Germaine and the Resistance workers who found safe homes for them were willing to risk their own lives to hide and protect these children from the Nazis and the collaborating French police.
This book is recommended for readers age 6+
This book was purchased for my personal library
If you were a fifty-year-old intellectual, a well-known writer of left-wing articles and literary essays, and your country was occupied by the Nazis and its more-or-less legal government collaborated with them — and now the editor of the leading literary magazine of the time pressed you to contribute an essay to his review, would you do so? Just an essay on Voltaire for the Nouvelle Revue Française, mind you, nothing subversive. Anything at all suspect would be censored anyway.
The answer, for the overwhelming majority of French intellectuals in 1940-44, was “Write the article, of course!” And keep writing, whatever happened to France. Not about the war, of course, or the Occupation—you couldn’t do that—but novels about personal relationships, plays, literary articles and criticism, why not? André Gide kept on publishing his Journal; Sartre finished Being and Nothingness, wrote No Exit and saw it produced on the Paris stage; Simone de Beauvoir published a novel and a philosophical essay; utterly non-fascist writers like Colette, Jean Anouilh, and Marcel Aymé contributed to actively pro-fascist journals. In short, judging from what they wrote at the time, most French writers seem to have lived through four years of Nazi occupation without noticing it. You would think they had never seen the swastika floating from the Eiffel Tower, nor the huge banner hanging over the front of the Chamber of Deputies which housed the French parliament before the war: DEUTSCHLAND SIEGT AN ALLEN FRONTEN (“Germany is winning on all fronts”), nor the booted German soldiers who paraded down the Champs-Ėlysées every day. And apparently never read about the execution of hostages or Résistants reported in the daily papers or on posters in the Paris Metro, and never heard about friends and acquaintances arrested and deported “to the East.”
Paris, deutsche Parole am Bourbon-Palast. Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-2004-0216-500 / CC-BY-SA via Wikimedia Commons
Jean Guéhenno, whose portrait I have sketched in the first paragraph, was a notable exception. His answer to Drieu La Rochelle, a literary acquaintance of his and the ardently fascistic writer who edited the Nouvelle Revue Française from 1940 to 1943, was silence — and inner rage, which he noted in his diary: “We have no means of telling these gentlemen what we think of their activity. At least they might leave us in peace.” (24 January 1941)
He had resolved to remain silent, not to write a word for a publishing industry under Nazi control, not to “play our jailors’ game,” as he later put it, “to appear as if we were still living and enjoying ourselves as we used to, in the time when we were free.” He remained silent, but he wrote. He kept his diary, where he noted details of ordinary Paris life under occupation (some extraordinary ones, such as the first round-up of Jews in Paris), his thoughts on French literature (especially the great texts he was teaching), and above all his anger at the stupidity, cowardice, and vanity of those of his fellow countrymen who played along with the Nazis, the politicians (Pétain, Laval and company) and “the species of men of letters, [which is] not one of the greatest species in the human race. The man of letters is unable to live out of public view for any length of time; he would sell his soul to see his name ‘appear.’” (30 November 1940) Guéhenno also worked away at his two-volume biography of Rousseau, “the exemplary life of a man who does not surrender,” he notes (17 July 1940) — the very image of Jean Guéhenno himself. He would publish his diary and the Rousseau biography when the war was over and France was free.
Paris, Parade deutscher Soldaten . Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-751-0067-34 / Kropf / CC-BY-SA via Wikimedia Commons
Guéhenno was too well known as an anti-fascist intellectual ever to join one of the Resistance networks which soon sprang up in occupied France. It would have meant his arrest and that of his comrades. He was under surveillance, and he knew it. He taught in some of the elite schools of France, but just being who he was and teaching French literature as he always had was enough to get him “demoted” by the Ministry of Education of the Vichy government. In the last year of the Occupation, he did meet with other writers (his friend François Mauriac, for example) and discuss what they could do, as writers, to keep the spirit of freedom alive in France. They distributed underground literature in Paris. In 1944, Ėditions de Minuit, the remarkable underground publishing house which managed to print so much free-spirited French prose and poetry clandestinely during the last three years of Nazi occupation, put out part of Guéhenno’s diary under the title “In the Prison.” He signed it “Cévennes,” the name of the mountain range in central France where Protestants had hid to resist persecution four centuries earlier. (It also echoed “Vercors,” the name of the mountains where the Resistance had concentrated thousands of armed men, and the pseudonym of Jean Bruller, who founded the house; his novella “The Silence of the Sea” was the first work it published.)
It was a pleasure to live with this honorable, stubborn, cultivated and passionate man for a few years, translating, annotating and presenting his Diary of the Dark Years: 1940-1944 so that today’s English-speaking readers could understand this unique piece of testimony to the inner and outer life of a French intellectual under Nazi Occupation.
When I wrote the first notes about my sixteen-year-old detective, Axelle Anderson, I was living in Paris, France, doing a short stint as PA to fashion designer John Galliano (then designing for the fashion house Christian Dior), so the fashion world was more on my mind than ever, and the idea of a fashion mystery took hold straight away.
On 1 July 2014, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights held that France’s ban on wearing full-face veils in public pursued a legitimate aim because it reflected a “choice of society”. Although the Court found that the blanket prohibition amounted to an interference with the religious rights of the minority in France that wore the full-face veil, it was justified because it protected the rights of others to have the option of facial interaction with that minority. The Court accepted that this right of potential facial interaction forms part of the minimum standards of “living together” in French society and outweighs the right of the minority to express their religious beliefs through wearing a full-face veil.
The result of the decision is that ‘SAS’, the applicant Muslim woman in the case, was held not to have suffered a violation of her religious rights under the European Convention on Human Rights. S.A.S. v France is another recent example of the controversies which can arise in the field of law and religion but its significance goes beyond that: the case has given rise to a full and carefully-reasoned judgment from the Strasbourg Court which revisits and, in places, develops its jurisprudence in this difficult area of the law.
Article 9 is the principal protection available for religious freedom under the Convention. When examining a potential Article 9 violation, the Strasbourg Court must establish whether the act complained of – in this case, the ban on the veil – interferes with the applicant’s religious rights. If so, the Court will then consider whether or not that interference is: (1) prescribed by law; (2) pursuant to a legitimate aim; and (3) necessary and proportionate in a democratic society.
In S.A.S, the Court found that the ban was prescribed by French law (the Law No. 2010-1192) and constituted an interference with the applicant’s religious beliefs. The critical issues for the Court were whether or not the blanket prohibition was: (i) in pursuit of a legitimate aim; and, if so, (ii) necessary in a democratic society, that is to say, proportionate.
The second paragraph of Article 9 sets out the only legitimate grounds on which religious rights can be interfered with: public safety, public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. The Court dismissed the French Government’s arguments based on public safety, and considered the other three arguments put forward – that the veil fell short of the minimum requirements of life in society; that it harmed equality between men and women; and that it was a manifestation of disrespect for human dignity – under the heading of the ‘rights and freedoms of others’. The Court rejected the dignity and gender equality arguments, and focused on whether the requirements of “living together” could be a legitimate aim. The Court found that they could. The core of its reasoning is at §122 of the judgment:
“[The Court] can understand the view that individuals who are present in places open to all may not wish to see practices or attitudes developing in those places which would call into question the possibility of open interpersonal relationships, which, by virtue of an established consensus, forms an indispensable element of community life within the society in question. The Court is therefore able to accept that the barrier raised against others by a veil concealing the face is perceived by the respondent State as breaching the right of others to live in a space of socialisation which makes living together easier.”
The Court’s assessment of proportionality ultimately came down to the fact that the sanctions were, in the Court’s view, light (albeit criminal) and reflected a choice of society. France’s margin of appreciation in this area was such that it could, and should, make this choice without interference from an international court.
The joint partly dissenting opinion of Judges Nussberger and Jäderblom voiced a number of criticisms of the majority approach, of which the following are an important few:
The concept of ‘living together’ as a right is ‘far-fetched and vague’.
It seems unlikely that the veil itself is at the root of the French ban, rather than the philosophy linked to it. French parliamentary reports revealed that the true concerns are linked to the meaning of the veil: as ‘a form of subservience’, because of its ‘dehumanising violence’, and because of the fact that it represents ‘the self-confinement of any individual who cuts himself off from others whilst living among them’.
The opinion of the majority is wrong to ignore an individual’s right to express herself, or her beliefs, in a way that shocks others. The Court’s mandate is to protect expressions of rights which ‘offend, shock and disturb’, as well as those that are favourably received.
A Group of Women Wearing Burkas. Afghanistan women wait outside a USAID-supported health care clinic. Photo by Nitin Madhav (USAID). Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Some actions, whether religiously motivated or otherwise, could be so objectively offensive to the operation of society that they require limitation in the name of ‘living together’. However, where the action in question is non-violent and generally without external impact, extreme care must be exercised in establishing why society’s right not to be exposed to an act outweighs the individual’s right to perform it. This is all the more so the case where the action in question is an expression of a religion which, as the judgment acknowledges, can too often be subject to social prejudice.
One of the key difficulties with the opinion of the majority in S.A.S is the extent to which the Strasbourg Court allows ‘society’s choice’ to govern state action where distinctly unpopular rights are threatened. The Convention seeks to establish and to enforce European standards of protection for the rights of every individual. The Convention is an instrument which supports ‘democratic societies’. This is not in the political sense of allowing the dominant collective voice to decide the fate of all; societies are capable of achieving that without assistance. The Convention should ensure that the voices of all groups and individuals in the society – popular or otherwise – are heard, and afforded proportionate weight where state aims threaten individual rights.
As the partly dissenting opinion points out, Western societies are fearful of what the veil connotes. The grounds of argument rejected by the Court were in all likelihood the more honest ones: there was clear social discomfort about a practice which ran counter to ideas of gender equality and human dignity. The Court rightly discounted such arguments where the applicant could show that wearing the veil was a matter of choice. Absent the issue of force, it is simply a question of whether covering the face is so offensive to others that it outweighs the religious importance of the action. Some may well ask whether or not the S.A.S judgment has explained why the alleged social offence caused is more important than the interference with a right which is at the core of international protection.
The majority judgment is significant also for the arguments that the Court rejected. Gender equality was not accepted as a legitimate aim by the Court. This is a shift. In its previous case law on the Islamic headscarf, the Court had stated that “it appears difficult to reconcile the wearing of an Islamic headscarf with the message of tolerance, respect for others and, above all, equality and non-discrimination”: Dahlab v Switzerland; Leyla Sahin v Turkey. The position has changed:
“a State Party cannot invoke gender equality in order to ban a practice that is defended by women […] in the context of the exercise of rights enshrined in those provisions, unless it were to be understood that individuals could be protected on that basis from the exercise of their own fundamental rights and freedoms” (S.A.S., §119).
Similarly, the Court rejected the State’s public safety argument, finding that in the absence of a general threat to public safety, a blanket ban was a disproportionate interference with the applicant’s Article 9 right. That finding is in contrast to the Court’s earlier decision in Mann Singh v France, when the Court accepted France’s restrictions of religious rights on the grounds of public safety without requiring evidence of the necessity of the restriction.
Although this decision accords with the Court’s general approach to the protection of religious dress under Article 9, it significantly shifts the focus onto the choices of individual societies as legitimate restrictions on religious rights. Much attention was given by the Court to the particular consensus of French society as a counterbalance to the identified right of a religious minority; this could represent a considerable enhancement of the scope of the ‘rights and freedoms of others’ limitation under Article 9(2). It remains to be seen how the Strasbourg Court will define the limits of the democratic choice of Member States in future decisions: this is, and will remain, a difficult and developing area of the law.
Can Yeginsu is a barrister at 4 New Square Chambers in London. He is the co-author (with Sir James Dingemans, Tom Cross and Hafsah Masood) of The Protections for Religious Rights: Law and Practice. Jessica Elliott is a barrister at One Crown Office Row Chambers in London.
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My Name is Wendy is a Paris-based design studio founded in 2006 by Carole Gautier and Eugénie Favre. Uniting their expertise in graphic and plastic art, they create highly expressive work that is bold and dynamic.
Damn, I'm going to miss this place this year. These are drawings of Clermont Ferrand. They're a kind of mixture of realism and imagination, fact and fiction. I like that place in between both. I have an idea for a small series of these drawings. So, if I will not get to physically visit this year, I will travel there through drawing.
We became pretty solid soccer fans while living in Germany, especially around World Cup time, so on our recent return trip, we were psyched to watch games with our German friends.
For the U.S. v. Germany game, though, we were on our own in France. We planned the whole evening around the game, which aired at 6 p.m. in that time zone.
It was also the only night we could eat at the local Michelin-starred restaurant—and the night they serve a very reasonable prix-fixe menu. So we made a late reservation to fit in both, planning to watch the game at our B & B.
One big problem. After the pre-game commentator chatter, the screen went blank with a message that said something like: “This game is not authorized to be shown in this region.” We flipped around, hoping another station would carry it, but the only game on was the other World Cup match happening at the same time.
Luckily, we were staying right near the German border, so I took a 3 minute shower, hopped into a dress, and we loaded up and drove to the ferry to cross the Rhine. On the other side, my husband knocked on restaurant doors until we found one with public viewing in its little bar area.
The one long table was full of retiree-aged tennis table club members, and the only free seats were at the front with a mustachioed man who’d already had a few too many beers.
He was friendly, though, and when he found out we were American, he told us over and over how much he loved Americans and how the best possible outcome for the game would be a 1-1 tie. He reminded us many times (a few too many) that the German coach and the American team coach (also German) were best friends and how they would both want this.
If you were watching, too, you know the Americans actually lost 0-1. We were disappointed, but after the game, everyone (except the kids) was treated to house-made pear Schnapps while the table tennis team sang the German victory song (is there a name for this?). Everyone was very friendly, and when it was over, we thanked our hosts and dashed back across the river to make our 8:30 reservation.
The restaurant was lovely, with a view to a garden and a stream. The noise level was nearly silent, but our kids were completely awesome and went with the flow.
We opted for the prix-fixe menu and added on the “Festival of Desserts,” which sounded perfect. We envisioned a dessert sampler.
First course (salad above) was great, second course (some kind of meat pie) was amazing. Meanwhile the service was first-rate. Our hostess made sure to graciously inform us when we were missing something, i.e. “You can actually eat those flowers,” and, “Those table decorations are actually pretzels” (in the first photo, the rock-looking things behind the ceramic elves).
Here’s the cheese table, from which we could choose what we liked.
And then the desserts started. First, a platter of teeny tiny cookies of many kinds. Then, a pastry with gelato. Another pastry with gelato. Another….we were losing count.
Surely the cookies had counted as dessert #1. There were supposed to be five desserts in total. Surely the gelato counted for one and the pastry counted for another, right? Wrong. The desserts kept coming, and we slowed down so much that we started getting two at once. The cookies hadn’t even counted as part of the five.
Not only that, but the kids had gotten (included) a dessert of their own, so they couldn’t help us out so much. Still, we were determined to do our duty and eat every bite. On top of the five desserts + cookies + cheese course, there was a tiny truffle course where we could choose our own adventure. How could we say no?
At one point I said, “If they bring another dessert, I’m going to cry,” and we all started laughing, on the verge of breaking the Code of Near-Silence.
Finally we ate our way through the last plate, now having finished enough dessert for about ten people. The last plate was probably my favorite, some kind of cherry cake (pictured above). We rolled out, giggling to ourselves.
My son said the other day, “Let’s never take the circus of desserts next time.” Amen. Maybe just 1/10 of it.
Below is a picture of one of the children’s desserts.
And in case you’re wondering yes, I threw the whole gluten-free eating thing out the window that week. I paid for it the next week, but it was well worth it!
On 1 July 2014, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) announced its latest judgment affirming France’s ban on full-face veil (burqa law) in public (SAS v. France). Almost a decade after the 2005 controversial decision by the Grand Chamber to uphold Turkey’s headscarf ban in Universities (Leyla Sahin v. Turkey), the ECHR made it clear that Muslim women’s individual rights of religious freedom (Article 9) will not be protected. Although the Court’s main arguments were not the same in each case, both judgments are equally questionable from the point of view of protecting religious freedom and of the exclusion of Muslim women from public space.
The recent judgment was brought to the ECHR by an unnamed French woman known only as “SAS” against the law introduced in 2011 that makes it illegal for anyone to cover their face in a public place. Although the legislation includes hoods, face-masks, and helmets, it is understood to be the first legislation against the full-face veil in Europe. A similar ban was also passed in Belgium after the French law. France was also the first country to ban the wearing of “conspicuous religious symbols” – directed at the wearing of the headscarf in public high schools — in 2004. Since then several European countries have established policies restricting Muslim religious dress.
The French law targeted all public places, defined as anywhere not the home. Penalties for violating the law include fines and citizenship lessons designed to remind the offender of the “republican values of tolerance and respect for human dignity, and to raise awareness of her penal and civil responsibility and duties imposed life in society.”
SAS argued the ban on the full-face veil violated several articles of the European Convention and was “inhumane and degrading, against the right of respect for family and private life, freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom of speech and discriminatory.” She did not challenge the requirement to remove scarves, veils and turbans for security checks, also upheld by the ECHR. The ECHR rejected her argument and accepted the main argument made by the government: that the state has a legitimate interest in promoting a certain idea of “living together.”
By now, it is clear that Article 9 of the European Convention does not protect freedom of religion when the subject is a woman and the religion is Islam. While this may seem harsh, consider the ECHR’s 2011 judgment in Lautsi v. Italy, which found the display of the crucifix in Italian state schools compatible with secularism.
In Lautsi case, the Court argued that the symbol did not significantly impact the denominational neutrality of Italian schools because the crucifix is part of Italian culture. Human rights scholars have not missed the contrast between the Italian case and the earlier 2005 decision in Leyla Sahin v Turkey where the Court found that the wearing of the headscarf by students was not compatible with the principle of laicité or secularism.
The Court did not make a value judgment in SAS case about Islam, women’ rights in Islamic societies, or gender equality, as it did in earlier cases where they upheld bans on the wearing of the headscarf by teachers and students in France, Turkey and Switzerland. In all cases involving Islamic dress codes, the ECHR emphasized the “margin of appreciation” rule, which permits the court to defer to national laws.
The ECHR acted politically and opportunistically not to challenge France’s strong Republicanism and principles of laicité, sacrificing the rights of the small minority of Muslims who wear the full-face veil. Rather than protecting the individual freedom of the 2000 women, the ECHR protected the majority view of France.
The ECHR is the most powerful supra national human rights court and its decisions have widespread impact. Several countries in Europe, such as Denmark, Norway, Spain, Austria, and even the UK, have already started to discuss whether to create similar laws banning the burqa in public places. This raises concerns that cases related to the cultural behavior and religious practices of minorities could shift public opinion dangerously away from the principles of multiculturalism, democracy, human rights and religious tolerance.
The most recent law bans the full-face veil, but tomorrow, the prohibitions may be against halal food, circumcision, the location of a mosque or the visibility of a minaret; even religious education might be banned for reasons of public health, security or cultural integration. Muslims, Roma, and to some extent Jews and Sikhs, are already struggling to be accepted as equal citizens in Europe, where right wing extremism is rising, in a situation of economic crisis.
The ECHR should be extremely careful in its decisions, given the growth of nationalism, xenophobia, and anti-immigrant sentiment in Europe.Considering this context, the EHCR’s main argument in this latest judgment is worrisome, since it accepted France’s view that covering the face in public runs counter to the society’s notion of “living together,” even though this is not one of the principles of the European Convention.
The Court recognized that the concept of “living together” was problematic (Para 122). And, even in using the “wide margin of appreciation” rule, the Court acknowledged that it should “engage in a careful examination” to avoid majority’s subordination of minorities. Considering the Court’s own rules, the main reasoning for the full face veil ban—“living together” seems to be inconsistent with the Court’s own jurisprudence.
Further concerns were raised about Islamophobic remarks during the adoption debate of the French Burqa Law, and evidence that prejudice and intolerance against Muslims in French society influenced the adoption of the law. Such concerns were more strongly raised by the two dissenting opinions. The dissent found the Court’s insensitivity to what’s needed to ensure tolerance between the vast majority and a small minority could increase tensions (Para 14). The dissenting opinion was especially critical of prioritizing “living together,” not even a Convention principle, over “concrete individual rights” guaranteed by the Convention.
While the integration of Muslims and other immigrants across Europe is a legitimate concern, it is vitally important the ECHR’s constructive role. The decision in SAS v France is a dangerous jurisprudential opening for future cases involving the religious and cultural practices of minorities. The French burqa law has created discomfort among Muslims. By upholding the law, the European court deepens the mistrust between the majority of citizens and religious minorities.
Name: Kingdom Hearts 2 Genre: Action, adventure Artist: Shiro Amano Publisher: Pika Edition (France), TokyoPop (US) Original Release Date: October 11th, 2003 (US), January 2nd, 2013 (France) Roxas has been going through a few bizarre experiences lately as his summer vacation is coming to an end. Strange occurrences involving slippery white creatures and hooded strangers ... Read more
Two bodies, giants almost naked, advance slowly to a circle of clay. This graphic experience features the expressiveness of their bodies which are to repeat a sumo ritual. The two wrestlers are fighting in a lightning way through each of their deeds, which are the direct expression of their most exposed being.