Monday, December 10, 2018
Saturday, December 8, 2018
The flag of Brittany is called the Gwenn-ha-du, pronounced [ɡwɛnaˈdyː], which means white and black in Breton. It is also unofficially used in the département of Loire-Atlantique although this now belongs to the Pays de la Loire and not to the région of Brittany, as the territory of Loire-Atlantique is historically part of the province of Brittany. Nantes (Naoned), its préfecture, was once one of the two capital cities of Brittany.
The flag's dimensions are not fixed and may vary from 9 cm × 14 cm (3.5 in × 5.5 in) to 8 m × 12 m (26 ft × 39 ft). The flag is not only used by cultural associations or separatists but by other people. For years, the authorities considered the flag as a separatist symbol, but the attitude has now changed and the flag, no longer having any political connotations, can appear everywhere, even on public buildings, along with the other official flags. It is widely used throughout Brittany and can even be seen on town halls in the region. Because of the absence of legislation concerning regional flags in France the flag is also flown on sailboats and fishing boats. The design of the ermine spots can vary, but the version most frequently seen is shown above.
The flag was created in 1923 by Morvan Marchal. He used as his inspiration the flags of the United States and Greece as these two countries were seen at that time as the respective symbols of liberty and democracy.
The nine horizontal stripes represent the traditional dioceses of Brittany into which the duchy was divided historically. The five black stripes represent the French or Gallo speaking dioceses of Dol, Nantes, Rennes, Saint-Malo and Saint-Brieuc; the four white stripes represent the Breton speaking dioceses of Trégor, Léon, Cornouaille and Vannes. The ermine canton recalls the arms of the Duchy of Brittany.
The flag first came to notice by a wider public at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris in 1925. It was adopted by various cultural and nationalist groups through the 1920s and 1930s. However, its association with nationalist and separatist groups during the Second World War brought suspicions of collaboration on the flag. A revival of interest in the flag took place in the 1960s. Since then, it has lost an association with separatism in the mind of the public and become a widely accepted symbol for all Brittany and Bretons. The older ermine field flag and black cross continue to be rarely used, though, by some individuals and groups.
In his book In Praise of Love (2009), the French communist philosopher Alain Badiou attacks the notion of ‘risk-free love’, which he sees written in the commercial language of dating services that promise their customers ‘love, without falling in love’. For Badiou, the search for ‘perfect love without suffering’ signifies a ‘modern’ variant of ‘traditional’ arranged-marriage practices – a risk-averse, calculated approach to love that aims to diminish our exposure to differences: ‘Their idea is you calculate who has the same tastes, the same fantasies, the same holidays, wants the same number of children. [They try] to go back to arranged marriages,’ writes Badiou. The philosopher and cultural theorist Slavoj Žižek subscribes to similar ideas about arranged marriages, referring to them as a ‘pre-modern procedure’.
When it comes to the view of arranged marriage in the West, Badiou and Žižek offer relatively genteel criticisms. Popular and learned representations of the practice almost always associate it with honour killings, acid attacks, and child marriages. It’s often presumed to be the same thing as a forced marriage; coerced, dutiful, predictable – the very opposite of individual agency and romantic love.
Due to the growth of international migration, the question of how Western states treat arranged marriages bears very serious consequences in terms of how we perceive the emotional lives of migrants and diasporic community members. The prevalent Western perception of illegitimacy is unwarranted, based both on ignorance of arranged marriage and on a lack of insight into Western norms.
Badiou criticises both libertinism (superficial and narcissistic) and arranged-marriage practices (empty of that organic, spontaneous and unsettling desire that inspires emotional transgressions). He argues that love is real when it is transgressive – a disruptive experience that opens people to new possibilities and a common vision of what they could be together. It possesses the power to floor the ego, overcome the selfish impulse, and transfigure a random encounter into a meaningful, shared continuity. To Badiou, love is not simply a search for an adequate partner, it is a construction of an almost traumatic transformation that compels us to look at the world ‘from the point of view of two and not one’.
Do arranged marriage practices suppress the transgressive power of love, as Badiou implies? Can choosing an arranged marriage be the act of a free person, and does that person then feel with as much depth as those who met through a friend, or at college, or via a dating app? Any answer must take into account that there are different arranged-marriage practices, and that what people experience as true love varies across different cultures.
It is important to emphasise the difference between arranged marriages – which respect consent of prospective spouses – and forced marriages, where such consent is absent. By distinguishing forced and arranged marriages, we can begin to see an overlap of the cultural logics that underpin arranged marriages and ‘modern’ match-making practices.
Arranged marriage usually refers to a broad spectrum of practises in which parents or relatives act as matchmakers. They introduce their young ones to ‘suitable’ partners and influence their personal decisions. Such arrangements are fairly common in much of the Middle East and North Africa, as well as in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and China. Some arranged marriages are the result of several different introductions organised by families or professional matchmakers, followed by chaperoned or unchaperoned meetings of the prospective couple. The meetings serve as prelude to family discussions that culminate in a decision by the couple. Other marriages are arranged only in the sense that they receive the blessing of the families after a couple expresses the desire to marry (self-arranged).
To varying degrees, each arranged marriage is influenced by filial and social pressures on the agency of the prospective couple. But so are Western marriages, in form. In romantic love too, social class, education, profession, religion (factors that are deeply influenced by family), all mediate and shape attraction and compatibility. The social reality we are raised in shapes our freedom to choose partners, even to feel desire. For Badiou, love becomes meaningful when it is subsumed under anticonsumerist politics. Others find meaning in different ideals.
Couples in arranged marriages often find romance in family-initiated introductions because it speaks to their broader value system. For many, it is a smarter, more spiritual form of love because it prioritises collective will and emotional labour over sexual impulse and selfish individuality. This is perhaps one reason why couples in arranged marriages express high levels of satisfaction in their relationships, sometimes more so than couples in love marriages.
Another common criticism of arranged marriages goes something like this: arranged marriages are not built upon informed desire. Since partners lack familiarity with each other, they cannot be expected to possess any genuine feelings for each other. But as the British psychotherapist Adam Phillips has observed, the romantic euphoria we feel towards a desired partner is not always derived from our knowledge of them, but from prior expectations of meeting someone like them: In Missing Out (2013), he writes:[T]he person you fall in love with really is the man or woman of your dreams; … you have dreamed them up before you met them. You recognise them with such certainty because you already, in a certain sense, know them; and because you have quite literally been expecting them, you feel as though you have known them for ever, and yet, at the same time, they are quite foreign to you. They are familiar foreign bodies.This sense of dreamed-up familiarity inspires people to pursue real intimacy. Arranged marriages work in the same way.
It is hard to universalise notions of love because it is such a dynamic, delicate and complicated experience. What Western observers often forget is that people of other cultures are constantly carrying out subtle transgressions against the lazy stereotypes in which they are viewed.
Postcolonial feminist theory has demonstrated that women who opt for arranged marriages are not passive subscribers of patriarchal traditions, but engaged in negotiating the practice to shift the balance of power in their favour. Arranged marriage might not be the perfect solution to the problem of love, but it isn’t a fossilised holdover from archaic times. It’s an ever-evolving, modern phenomenon and should be understood as such.
Badiou’s definition of true love is limiting, idealistic and dismissive of the cultures and experiences of most people in the world. It gets in the way of understanding how love can be expressed and experienced within even the most seemingly ‘traditional’ practices. This misunderstanding and limitation poses real dangers in our current political climate.
As the volatile Western political world plunges deeper into xenophobia and nativism, empathy is ever more at risk. Dismissive and stigmatising caricatures of cultural differences can be – and often are – enlisted to cast migrants and people in diasporic communities as lesser or somehow not worthy of respect.
History has repeatedly shown us that imagining a group of people as unloving beings serves as a prerequisite to mistreating them. While it is necessary for us to condemn violent and coercive social practices such as forced marriages, we must not malign an entire culture as the loveless ‘other’. What would that say about the quality of our love?
Thursday, December 6, 2018
Wednesday, December 5, 2018
Monday, December 3, 2018
This week, a CNN poll revealed anti-Semitism is alive and well in Europe. A question now is: where does honest criticism of Israeli state policy end and anti-Semitism begin?
The results are eye-opening and working. With 20 percent of young French people unaware of the Holocaust. Indeed, a similar number believe anti-Semitism is a response to Jewish people's own behavior. Also, a third of respondents think Jews have too much influence.
While we should, without any restraints, condemn and fight all forms of anti-Semitism, we should nonetheless add some other observations to the results of the poll.
First, it would be interesting to learn how the percentage of those with a negative stance towards Jews compares to the percentage of those with a negative stance towards Muslims and Blacks – just to make sure that we don't find some racism unacceptable and another racism normal.
Second, one should raise here the paradox of Zionist anti-Semitism: quite many European (and American) anti-Semites just don't want too many Jews in their own country but they fully support the expansion of Israel onto the West Bank. So, how do we count them?
This brings us to the key question: how do we measure anti-Semitism? Where does the legitimate criticism of Israeli politics in the West Bank end and anti-Semitism begin? Let's explain this through some further observations.
One of the best indications of the gradual disappearance of the sense of irony in our public space was the repetition of a certain metaphor about the negotiations between the state of Israel and Palestinians. About a decade ago, when some kind of peace talks were still going on, the Palestinian negotiator noted how while Israel was negotiating how to divide the West Bank, it was gradually building more and more settlements there.
He compared dealing with Israelis to two guys at a table negotiating how to split the pizza between them. But while their debate goes on and on, one of the guys is all the time eating parts of the pizza.
In a recent documentary report about the West Bank, a settler mentions the same anecdote, but with no sad irony, just with a brutal satisfaction: "Our negotiations with Palestinians are like debating about how to cut a pizza while we are all the time eating slices of it," accompanied by a mischievous smile.
There is something truly disturbing in the way the TV documentary from which we quoted the remark on eating pizza presents the West Bank settlements. We learn that, for the majority of the new settlers, what brought them to move there was not a Zionist dream but a simple wish to live in a nice and clean habitat close to a big city (Jerusalem, in this case).
They describe their life there as much better than living in a suburb of Los Angeles: green surroundings, clean air, cheap water and electricity, with a large city easily accessible by special highways. Plus all the local infrastructure (schools, shopping centers, etc.) but cheaper than in the US, built and sustained by Israeli state support.
As for the Palestinian cities and villages which surround them, they are basically invisible, present in two main forms: cheap labor building the settlements with occasional acts of violence treated as a nuisance.
In short, the majority of settlers live in invisible bubbles, isolated from their surroundings outside and behaving as if what goes on outside their bubbles belongs to another world that doesn't really concern them.
The dream that underlies this politics is best rendered by the wall that separates a settler's town from the Palestinian town on a nearby hill somewhere in the West Bank. The Israeli side of the wall is painted with the image of the countryside beyond the wall – but without the Palestinian town, depicting just nature, grass, trees… is this not ethnic cleansing at its purest, imagining the outside beyond the wall as it should be, empty, virginal and waiting to be settled?
So should we doubt that Israel sincerely wants peace in the Middle East? Of course it does. Because colonizers and occupiers in general always want peace, after they've got what they wanted, because peace means they can enjoy what they grabbed.
No doubt after Germany occupied most of Europe in 1941, it also sincerely wanted peace (and ruthlessly fought all resistance as terrorists). In fact, as for the use of the term "colonization," one should recall that the early Zionists themselves used it to designate their endeavor a century ago.
Now we should return to our starting point: if anyone who just read these lines considers them anti-Semitic, then, I think, he or she is not only totally wrong but also posing a threat to what is most valuable in the Jewish tradition.