#atozchallenge: Tout et rien- a September 11th Story

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11 September 2001: We watch the towers come down in horror from a classroom. I sit in the office at school; my mother is coming to take me home. We are all scared, and there are a million rumors flying about. All we know is that it is definitely a terrorist attack and the last plane, the one that came down in Pennsylvania, is the one that was headed to the White House. I write in my journal:

In praise to our Lord and Lady
Help us see the light through the smoke.
Help us in our quest for justice

For it is JUSTICE, not REVENGE
for which we are searching.

I am for the Operation Enduring Freedom. We are no longer allowed to wait for our friends and family at the boarding gate. My mother tells me that my grandfather was at the opening of the World Trade Centres.

15 March 2005: My very best university friend and I go to New York. We visit Ground Zero; it is a huge gaping wound that we stare at through a chain-link fence. We are both stunned, tears in our eyes. We stand and stare at the hole, and then walk on, shaken, saddened. It greys the rest of our day. (New York City itself was a wonderful experience. I can see why it it is easy to fall in love with the place.)

11 September 2006: I am in Lyon, France for a semester abroad. I am out with friends in an elegant café and there is suddenly a crowd of people demonstrating, waving Palestinian flags and carrying anti-zionist slogans. The year before there had been massive demonstrations in Clichy-sous-Bois, near Paris, and a few months previous there had been demonstrations across France. Both of my parents are nervous but I am twenty and fearless.

The demonstration scares my friends and me, and we nervously head to the subway and to our respective homes. I live in the centre of the city, in the Presque-Île. I call my mother from my bedroom, watching the demonstration from my window. She warns me to stay inside. I don’t even realise the date until the next day.

4 December 2006: I am at a house party in Lyon, sitting on a sofa. The man across from me is drunk, like I am. He keeps asking me questions about Bush, about Iraq, and I am struggling, not just in French, but with my ideology. I feel as though I must defend and explain the American psyche, even though I myself don’t agree with it. I spend a lot of time on the balcony, staring down the beautiful boulevard, confused and dismayed.

11 September 2011: I am in London. It is a beautiful day and I am walking home on the Edgeware Road. There is a police presence, and of course I am curious. There are men with long beards and taqiyahs and hijabi women holding signs that say America is at war with Islam and Muslims and anti-war slogans. I am filled with shame for having supported the strikes in Afghanistan, and I stand and watch the protest.

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Photo taken by the author.

My neighbour tells me that one of the bombs that exploded during the 7 July bombings was the tube station that is directly behind our flats, platform 4, Edgeware Road. It has been a decade for me, but only five painful short years for her. Britain was America’s first ally during Operation Freedom. I do not know anything any more.

Until we meet again. – SDM

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If you’d like to read the other posts in this year’s A to Z challenge, check out my category!

Lead picture by Unsplash

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#atozchallenge: Liberté, égalité, fraternité

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I am stopped every time I go to France. I don’t mind; the security theatre must be played by both actors. But I am stopped every time, and questioned about my movements. I have an EU passport, so I naively thought that granted me some latitude, some freedom, but it does not.

I am asked why I speak French so well (I’m a French teacher); I am asked how long I’m planning on staying (a week, two?); I am asked where my place of birth is (yes, that is an American military base–my mother is German, hence, I have jus sanguinis, or birthright citizenship). It is a constant play. Then, they open my bag on some pretext, compliment my packing skills (almost every time) and then I am sent on my way. I am not offended or put off, but I feel that the official French line is that brown people who speak their language are suspicious. It’s ridiculous considering France’s long history of colonialism and imperialism.

Living in a militantly secular but historically Christian nation is interesting, coming from a ‘secular’ but actually quasi-Christian nation like America. Living in a militantly secular state means that ‘ostentatious’ displays of religion are offensive, and talking about Christian holidays in the classroom is verboten.

I was a senior in high school in America when France passed its law against ostentatious displays of religion. I remember being outraged and disappointed: France for me had been the bastion of culture and true liberalness of thought, society and politics. When you live in the Bible Belt, anything seems liberal. I’ve learnt since that France is still entrenched in its colonial mindset, and is still struggling (and in some senses, failing) with immigration and integration.

Being a French teacher means I not only teach language, with vocabulary and grammar structures, but also differences and similarities in culture. Most of my students think that France is a liberal bastion, just like I did, but I am slowly opening their eyes to the fact that even in la belle France, there are some ugly and deep scars. – SDM

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If you’d like to read my other posts in this year’s A to Z challenge, check them out here.

Photo by Nuno Lopes

What I’m reading this week: 11 March 2016

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I apologise for not updating my weekly reads in a week. Last week was horribly hectic and busy; this week hasn’t been much better, but I have a small collection of reads from the past fortnight.

First up, a little bit of good news from France, in honour of International Womens’ (Workers) Day. François Hollande, president of France, was profiled in the latest issue of Elle France, discussing various ‘feminist’ issues. Le Monde‘s Catherine Mallaval and Virginie Ballet summarise the article and discuss the history of French presidents and their attempts at connecting with women. France in general, in my view, still has an issue with equality amongst the sexes, but Hollande calling himself a feminist is probably better than anything we’ll get out of our male American leaders. [Article is in French.]

It’s not all good news in la belle France, though. Le Monde reports on findings from the European Council on issues of racism there, especially in the rise of harassment towards Muslims and Jews, along with general xenophobia. The council especially notes that France’s concept of la laïcité is taken to extremes very often, by banning outward expressions of religion that are deemed ‘ostentatious’. France is the very definititon of a ‘problematic fave’ as my students would say. [Article is in French.]

Coming back to America, then. The election continues apace, and now we are in an interesting place: the Republicans don’t want their winner to continue to win, and the Democrats are pushing further and further to the left. Danielle Kurtzleben writes about Tuesday’s (9 March) primaries, and what there is to learn.

Veit Medick, the Washington correspondent for Der Spiegel, writes about Donald Trump’s rise and the worry it is bringing people in the Republican party and in intellectual circles in his article Donald Trump und der Super Tuesday: Angst um Amerika. You can see my thoughts on his Super Tuesday win, and Super Tuesday in general, right here.

And finally, Emma Lindsay explains parts of the complicated history of racism tinged with classism and why it’s helping Donald Trump at the Medium. Being white and being poor, she explains, is probably still better than being black and being poor, because:

To summarize, no one wants to occupy the “last” place in society. No one wants to be the most despised. As long as racism remains intact, poor white people are guaranteed not to be “the worst.” If racism is ever truly dismantled, then poor white people will occupy the lowest rung of society, and the shame of occupying this position is very painful. This shame is so painful, that the people at risk of feeling it will vote on it above all other issues.

Whilst this is not a new argument, Lindsay’s essay is well-timed and well-written and a good look at the mindset of poor, white America.

Until next time. – SDM

Photo by Javier Rodriguez

What I’m reading this week: 19 February 2016

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The thing about politics is that it is everywhere. People have a horror of talking about it, but it invades our daily life. Politics affects me as dual citizen; it affects me as a woman; it affects me as a person of colour. It insinuates every part of my life, so I take an interest in it (some may say it is quite an unhealthy interest).

In huge political news, Justice Antonin Scalia passed away the 13th February 2016. You can read my thoughts on his passing here, but I was also interested in seeing how his death affects cases already on the docket. Ian Millhiser at Think Progress wrote an interesting article about how his death affects decisions already made and those upcoming ones. The ramifications of his death are still to be seen, especially with the Republican obstructionist streak we are seeing now.

Justice Scalia was a lover of opera, and a comment I spied in NPR’s obituary about him mentioned that his favourite was Der Rosenkavalier. The opera was performed at PROMS 2014, and I read an article from July 2014 by Simon Callow in The Guardian about the opera. I’m not a fan of opera in general, but I do like comic operas, so I may just have to check this out.

Continuing on with The Guardian. In the US version’s Comment is Free, George Soros writes that Putin’s aggressiveness and dishonesty makes him a bigger enemy for the European Union than Daesh and Al-Qaida. Putin is looking at the instability of the EU as a good sign–an unstable EU is a weaker enemy.

Some of that instability in the EU is from the refugee crisis; the EU is scrambling to find the best solution for the issue. I will write about this later, at great length, because it is something I spend a lot of time thinking about. Le Monde’s Frédéric Lemaître writes about the increasingly strained and divisive talks happening in München (Munich) right now.

And finally, an article from The New Yorker that is quite personal to me. I teach French, and I’ve been working as teacher for the past five years. In David Denby’s Cultural Comment, Stop Humiliating Teachers, he writes that Americans tend to denigrate the teaching profession as a whole, even as they recall their favourite ones. Teaching is a stressful and usually thankless job, so reading this had me nodding my head vigorously at every line.

So, until next time then. – SDM

Photo by le bateleur

#weekendcoffeeshare: A Weekend of Politics

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I do not actually drink coffee. So, were we having a cup of coffee, I would opt for a nice cup of tea. Today’s cup of tea is actually a cup of Fortnum & Mason’s Queen Anne blend of Ceylon and Assam. (I am a bit of a tea person.) It is a bright and sunny but impressively cold day for a southern state (3°C).

Currently, I am curled up on my sofa listening to my enormous backlog of podcasts. I am a big fan of podcasts and I listen to a wide range of them. My favourite political one, other than the BBC’s The Week in Westminster is The Best of the LeftI’ve been listening to them for a while. I’m on episode #985, A conservative policy showcase (Flint’s poisoned water). Obviously, I can only say that this sort of thing is infuriating, and were we having our caffeinated beverages, we’d probably spend a lot of time talking about it. My favourite bit about this podcast is that they have a segment called Activisim, where they tell you about petitions, awareness campaigns and other proposals to help once you’ve been informed and angered.

If we were in France and having coffee, it would be an espresso, and I would be overjoyed (I do love France). I would be gushing about my new favourite news magazine, Les Jours. It is a subscription-based, completely independent and online news source created by a team from Libé, a left-wing newspaper which I also love. I’ve just finished reading a longform article about the collège system in France. Collège is French for middle-school, and it was an amazing look at it. I’m current reading a first-person account about the days after the 13 November attacks. I have found a new love. I would be telling you to subscribe!

Later, I will probably binge-watch The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. I was a huge fan of the show with Jon Stewart, and I love Noah’s very different look at our political system. I also think he’s very cute, superficially. So were we having coffee, I’d probably be repeating a joke poorly or telling you about something I learnt from the show.

And finally tonight, the Republican debate on CBS. Were we having coffee, you would probably ask why I would torture myself. I would tell you that I am really funny on Twitter and that the Republican debates are a source of much horrified amusement.

So, let’s drink on, friends. – SDM

NB: Read all the other Weekend Coffee Share posts for this weekend here.

Photo by Greg (Vanderdecken)

What I’m reading this week: 12 February 2016

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I read a lot of strange things this week, and sort of last week. It’s been very busy chez moi, and also busy in the world of news. I stayed abroad this week (in news, not literally); mostly, to get another perspective on all of our political madness. That does not mean, however, that I have forgotten about New Hampshire. Of course I haven’t.

First off, New Hampshire. The New Yorker once more has some amazing reporting. I really do not regret getting my teacher’s subscription.  My first article from the magazine is John Cassidy’s Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump Ride the Populist Wave. Interesting look at the idea that, whilst Sanders and Trump are running two very different campaigns, their ideas are very much based on the anger and disillusionment of their supporters. Sanders supporters are angry because America isn’t as equal as it should be, and Trump supporters are angry (in my opinion and observation) because they have to share more of their pie with people they don’t think deserve it. Otherwise, my thoughts on New Hampshire can be found here.

I knew in my heart that the American primary was pretty interesting to the rest of the world, mostly because it is so much bombast and takes so long. So the next two articles are from the Swedish and German perspectives. I am a novice Swedish speaker, and Metro is easy enough (and probably a tabloid) for me to undestand. Göran Greider wrote a short article about Bernie Sanders and how socialism has become less of a frightening word in American politics, entitled Varför är alla rädda för Bernie Sanders? (Why is Everyone Afraid of Bernie Sanders?) Though not optimistic about his chances, Greider writes:

Nej, Bernie Sanders blir nog inte amerikansk president. Men hans kampanj är den politiska väckelserörelse som skakar liv i ett förstelnat och allt mer ojämlikt USA. Alla som sitter på för mycket makt är rädda för honom.

[No, Bernie Sanders won’t be the next American president. But his campaign is the political revival that is shaking apart the ossified and and increasingly unequal United States. All who have too much power are frightened of him.]

Please excuse my questionable translation.

From Der Spiegel: Politik, a FAQ about the American primary system for Germans. Our democracy is a bit of a carnival for anyone who doesn’t live inside of the circus tent, so the questions might seem funny, like ‘What is Super Tuesday?’ and ‘Why do Americans even have primaries?’ but there were also questions that some Americans can’t even answer, like ‘What are Super-delegates?’ and ‘What are Super-PACs?’ If you understand German or have German relatives who want to understand our system, send them to Veit Medick and Marc Pitzke’s Endlich verständlich: So funktionieren die US-Vorwahlen (‘Finally understandable: Here’s how the US Primary System Works’).

From Bill Moyer, via The Nation, an article by Ari Berman about the GOP’s fight to stop the Voting Rights Act (VRA). The VRA is usually a bi-partisan, completely normal vote, but the Supreme Court’s gutting of it has caused some 21 states to enact very strict voter identification laws (I happen to live in a state with fairly strict laws, which chafes a bit). Ted Cruz has taken up the completely bogus mantle of fighting voter fraud. Do not be fooled: restricting access to voting is a violation of one’s civil rights.

Moving on to France. I have lived in France three times: six months in Lyon, a year in Nancy and a year in Paris. Being a woman of colour there who speaks fluent French (but is not French) is always an eye-opening experience; I’m sure I will write about it more in future. So Annette Lévy-Willard’s post «Pour être Français il faut être blanc aux yeux bleus» (‘To be French, one must be white with blue eyes’) was another reminder that racism exists everywhere, even in countries I might prefer over my current home. This blog post was a review of the documentary Les Francais, c’est les autres (The French are other people). I certainly wish I could find a legal copy of it to show my students.

February is Black History Month, so I thought I’d end this week’s article list on two fascinating articles dealing with Blackness, Black identity and the future of Africa post-post-colonialism.

The first is from Identities.Mic, discussing the hashtag #HistoricPOC going viral on Twitter. The post, entitled #HistoricPOC Is the Powerful Illustration of Black History Month Everyone Needs to See has some great pictures and more links to follow.

And finally, I leave you with Le Monde’s article about the sudden rush of money to African technology start-ups, Samir Abdelkrim’s Les robinets du financement s’ouvrent pour les start-up africaines (The financial taps open for African start-ups). A rather dry look at how capital is coming into west African countries to help them on the path to becoming networked.

Until next time. – SDM

Illustration from E. Benjamin Andrews History of the United States, 1912.

What I’m reading this week: 29 January 2016

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I try to read articles from all around the world. Admittedly, I usually browse them between classes or at lunch. I get a lot of my news from National Public Radio; I try to avoid watching television for news. Yes, I read mostly left-wing publications. So without further ado, what I’m reading/perusing this week around. I hope to make this a weekly thing, if I can remember. Definitely fort-nightly, at least.

How Iowa Hijacked Our Democracy by Jeff Greenfield : I never knew why we picked Iowa of all places to kick off the grand democratic game of the US presidential election. I hadn’t realised that it’s a fairly young institution (1972). Iowa isn’t a great representative state, although it is an honest place, seemingly. There’s also an alarmingly low turnout rate, although there’s an alarmingly low turn out rate in the US elections, generally.

After reading such a negative look at Iowa, I thought, well what can we do, really? Thankfully, I found some ideas in a handy list form from Danielle Kurtzleben at NPR: No Way To Pick A President? Here Are 6 Other Ways To Do It. There were some really good ideas; my favourite was the rotating regional primary, wherein regions of states would vote together.

Continuing on my American politics read, I am a new subscriber to The New Yorker. When I lived in London, a friend would give me her old copies and I’d read them on the Tube during my commute. I was tired of getting that reminder that I had read half my monthly allotment so I just went in for an educator’s subscription. Hot tip: if you are a school teacher, just call The New Yorker direct at 1.800.825.2510 and you’ll get the discount!

I read two articles from The New Yorker, one about Bernie Sanders and one about Flint, Michigan. I really do like Bernie Sanders over Hilary Clinton, but it’s way too early for me to make that heavy of a decision! The article, Bernie Sanders and the Realists by John Cassidy was a very pithy look at Sanders’s actual chances, and how idealism works in such a cynical environment as the US political system.

And then I read The Contempt That Poisoned Flint’s Water by Amy Davidson and just got angry. How is this sort of blatant and utter corruption even still a thing in America? I should be less naive, I know, but it was disheartening nonetheless. Sometimes, I feel as though America is still a developing nation sometimes, no matter how sophisticated we pretend to be.

Onto world news, then. From Europe, I read Der Spiegel from Germany; The Guardian from the UK (along with the BBC and The Independent, though I don’t like the latter that much); Le MondeLe Figaro, and Le Libération from France and a few newspapers from Sweden and Spain when they pop up on my Twitter feed. I also read Al-Jazeera English when I remember I have the app!

In Der Spiegel, an article about the new refugee identity cards caught my eye; it was an article about how this new identity card would create a faster and more secure way of identifying asylum seekers and getting the help they need. [Article’s title: ‘Asylpolitik: Bundesrat billigt Flüchtlingsausweis’]

From The Guardian’s Simon Parkin, an article about Daesh and its mastery of pop culture: ‘ How Isis hijacked pop culture, from Hollywood to video games‘. It was a fascinating (and long!) read about how Daesh and many other organisations use pop culture in order to entice, indoctrinate and recruit new members.

Le Monde had an article about the proposed changes to Paris’s neighbourhoods, called arrondisements. Redistricting isn’t a super sexy thing, I know, but changing a century’s old system for voting purposes (seriously!) is something that is strikingly similar to American gerrymandering. Paris’s mayor, Anne Hidalgo, says that putting together the first four arrondisements would create a larger, more fair voting bloc. To what end, I have no idea, as I am not a Parisienne, but it will be interesting to watch. [The article: ‘Tout comprendre aux vingt arrondissements de Paris’]

And finally, from Le Libération, I read an article by Jean-Manuel Escarnot about two brothers from Toulouse, former Catholics, who have become rappers/singers for Daesh; it’s entitled Les frères Clain, rappeurs catholiques devenus voix de l’Etat islamique. Like The Guardian article above, it shows how sophisticated Daesh is in reaching its audience, using voices from around the world to carry its message to the most ears possible. There is also a fifteen minute documentary about the brothers at Arte Radio that you can listen to here (it is in French).

Until next time. – SDM

Picture by Angelo DeSantis from Berkeley, US