Everybody seems to speak French this week, love France and sympathize with the French. "Empathy" is now a French word. Even the British, long-time enemies of the French people, forgot about their jealousy, their rivalry in colonizing the world, their British superiority complex, and they did the undoable: on Monday The Guardian ran a long editorial en français!
But this outpouring of love and support seems to have made people forget some great stories of French literature. In the 17th century, Lafontaine wrote an amazing book of fables inspired by the Arabic translation, Kalila wa Dimna, of an old Indian book.
The fables intended to educate despotic monarchs without ruffling their feathers. They were based on stories where the protagonists were animals talking to each other.
The story of the ox and the frog
One of these fables is named "The ox and the frog."
As the story goes, the frog watched a beautiful big ox near a pond drinking water. The ox was drinking and drinking and drinking... the frog looked at this huge animal and envied him. He looked superb, strong and full of power.
The frog wanted to drink as many litres of waters as the ox so that he would eventually become as big as the ox. The frog took a first sip then another, then another... Almost a cup, and then another cup... But being a frog and not having the same stomach size as the ox, the frog didn't realize that his body had become dangerously swollen, his eyes were bulging and his skin was stretched. After another drop, the frog was so full of water that he popped like a balloon.
Immediately after the attacks of 9/11, the whole world felt great sympathy for the U.S. Led by Tony Blair at that time, the British followed American policies step by step. They went to Iraq and then to Afghanistan. They didn't relent.
In some circles, Tony Blair was mocked as George Bush's poodle, following the U.S. in whatever endeavour his American counterpart decided to pursue.
But at that time, French president Jacques Chirac refused to be carried away by the impulsive response of U.S. war policies. The French people felt sympathy with Americans, but France being France and doing things à la française, in their own way, did not go to war in Iraq. They refused to become puppets of the U.S. in the indefinite and ambiguous war on terror. Instead, they relied on their own political and foreign diplomatic channels.
The Americans were immediately disappointed and I remember a time when there were ridiculous calls to boycott French wine and other French products.
A new era in French-U.S. relations
Things changed with the election of Nicolas Sarkozy, who came into power in 2007. Sarkozy started a new era in the bilateral French-U.S. relationship. That era opened the doors to a more American-style foreign policy, based on belligerence, war and open military support to dictatorships around the world.
This doesn't mean that France was an angel before Sarkozy took over but it is interesting to emphasize that it is this parallel alignment with U.S. war policies that created the perception of France by the rest of the world as another American satellite (in that respect not so different from the British).
But if the U.S. is geographically isolated from Middle East turmoil and violence, it is not the case with France. Moreover, the presence of a high population of disenfranchised North Africans inside France made the French government an easier target to attack. For some French people, France became the target for revenge.
In 2012, after the bitter defeat of Sarkozy, people thought that France would be taking a different approach with respect to running the world's affairs. François Hollande, supposedly a socialist, declared in his victory speech that he was the president of the youth of France, of the collective pride of France, of justice in France.
But this wasn't the case. Economically, France didn't give any hope to its youth who kept migrating to other parts of the world. Some youths took extreme steps and travelled to join extremists and violent movements like ISIS. Internationally, France continued dangerously meddling in African affairs: in Libya, Chad, Sahal, Somalia... all under the disguise of helping democracy. France participated in creating a state of chaos everywhere it went.
Leaving a trail of destruction
It bombed Mali, creating even more chaos in the region. It supported the Ben Ali regime until that the last minutes of his dictatorship. It even sent anti-riot weapons to help Tunisian police forces stop the demonstrators taking to the streets to pave their way to freedom.
In Syria in the 1930s, it was France that encouraged Alawites to join their military forces, in an attempt to weaken the Sunni majority (which was against the French protectorate).
That decision paved the way for the Alawite minority to seize power in Syria and to become one of the most ruthless military regimes in the Middle East. Today, after the Paris attacks, nobody seems to point fingers at Bashar Al-Assad who kills his own people with total impunity. Rather, François Hollande recently said, "In Syria, we are looking for the political solution to the problem, which is not Bashar Assad. Our enemy is ISIL."
So does this all mean that France looked for its own trouble? I've never believed that violence from any side could be justified or accepted. Killing people isn't a choice. However, it is time for France to re-examine its foreign policies, its collective conscience and its blind new alignment with American imperialistic policies.
François Hollande's declaration of war will not make the French feel safer. Hiring an additional 5,000 police (he already hired 10,000 more police after the Charlie Hebdo attack) won't help. Why won't French police be held accountable for what happened? Why isn't French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve being held accountable for not making France safer? Why is François Hollande not held accountable for trying to imitate America?
Always remember the Lafontaine fable: the frog can never become an ox.