Shorter David Kopel

by Henry on October 16, 2006

Calling young African immigrants ‘scum’ is a brilliant move that paves the way for necessary economic reforms in France.

No, really. “See for yourself”:http://volokh.com/posts/1161028053.shtml.

Update: Commenters have suggested that this post might be read as saying that Kopel is himself a racist. That isn’t what was meant, and isn’t what I believe. The snark is because Kopel is uncritically praising a highly offensive and racist statement, but I happily accept that he’s doing so for reasons other than its racism.

{ 44 comments }

1

P O'Neill 10.16.06 at 8:43 pm

God that’s a tough read. But it’s not even true that Sarkozy has shied away from directly discussing economic issues. He has taken an almost perverse pleasure in putting the nice retirement deals at public enterprises on the agenda, much to the annoyance of Chirac and de Villepin, who would rather keep any issue that gets the unions worked up off the bargaining table. Probably the only thing constraining him from sounding off more on economic issues is that he’s not the Minister for Finance.

2

C. L. Ball 10.16.06 at 9:13 pm

Francophiles need to speak up. In American English, there is serious difference between “rabble” or “riff-raff” and “scum.” Call me ‘rabble,’ and I’ll laugh at the quaintness. Call me ‘scum,’ and I’ll laugh after I’ve popped you on the nose.

3

David Sucher 10.16.06 at 9:31 pm

What’s the source for “racaille” = “scum?” Besides Kopel?

Since you disparage Kopel, why do you rely on his definition? He seems to be wrong. The most common definition I can find (on the web) for racaille is “rabble” or “riff-raff.” Would you suggest another characterization for the rioters? Maybe “misunderstood youth?”

4

engels 10.16.06 at 9:45 pm

Since you disparage Kopel, why do you rely on his definition? He seems to be wrong.

From the French wikipedia

Le sens du mot racaille dépend donc du contexte dans lequel il est utilisé. Selon François Rastier[6], le terme « racaille » utilisé régulièrement dans les discours de Jean-Marie Le Pen, le président du Front national, notamment dans des associations directes (« racaille black », « racaille allogène », etc.) donnerait au terme « racaille » un caractère raciste par association. Le terme est aussi utilisé par des sites d’extrême-droite.[7]

Only the English word “scum” could used in this racist sense, I think.

5

cs 10.16.06 at 9:45 pm

In fairness to Henry, his “shorter Kopel” is an accurate paraphrase, even if Kopel mistranslated the word racaille.

6

Henry 10.16.06 at 10:04 pm

What Engels says. (for non-Francophones my quick and dirty translation).

Thus, the sense of the word ‘racaille’ depends on the context in which it’s used. According to Francois Rastier, the term ‘racaille,’ is used regularly in the discourse of Jean-Marie Le Pen, the president of the National Front, notably with direct connotations (‘black racaille, ‘alien racaille’ etc), which lends the term a racist character by association. The term is also utilized by extreme-right sites.

The Wikipedia article also cites its use by French rap groups as a term of self-definition – but given the way that US rap groups have appropriated similar terms, I don’t think that this is good evidence that it’s a quaint or innocent term.

When Sarkozy used the term a few months back, ‘scum’ was the most usual English translation that I saw. This “FT piece”:http://search.ft.com/searchArticle?queryText=racaille&y=0&javascriptEnabled=true&id=051210000878&x=0 says it has been variously translated as ‘scum’ or ‘rabble.’ A quick Google search finds “10,900 results”:http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=racaille+scum&btnG=Google+Search for ‘racaille’ and ‘scum, but only 709 for ‘racaille’ and ‘rabble.’

7

P O'Neill 10.16.06 at 10:19 pm

Note also that Sarkozy coupled the use of racaille with a reference to needing to clean up the projects with a Karcher power hose which would normally be used to remove, er, scum from walls, amongst other things.

8

Adam Kotsko 10.16.06 at 11:03 pm

I can’t imagine that a strategy of using racist-tinged “tough-on-crime” discourse to provide cover for dismantling a welfare state could ever work in the real world.

9

Anatoly 10.17.06 at 1:59 am

In fairness to Henry, his “shorter Kopel” is an accurate paraphrase

Are you on drugs? Henry’s paraphrase implies that all young African immigrants are rioters and/or criminals.

It’s not surprising that he would paraphrase Kopel this way, but “accurate”? Please.

10

Z 10.17.06 at 2:28 am

One should also note that the opinion polls purportedly showing that the French agree with Sarkozy’s crime policies occurred right after a spectacular series of brutal attacks on police forces. Indeed, the wording of the question explicitly referred to those

A propos de la récente agression de deux CRS à Corbeil-Essonnes et plus généralement au sujet de la délinquance, êtes-vous tout à fait d’accord, plutôt d’accord, plutôt pas d’accord ou pas d’accord du tout avec les affirmations suivantes ?

With a question starting with “Taking into account the attack on two Police officers” and with the events of recent weeks in mind, it is hard not to declare one’s support for tougher policies.

11

David Sucher 10.17.06 at 3:18 am

Anyway, Henry, do you object to even the nastiest definition of “racaile” on the grounds of

• some racist element in the term, or

• inaccuracy i.e. that the youths in question are not all that nasty, just need after-school rec centers etc or
• political ineffectiveness i.e. that Sarkozy’s gambit in using this word to spark discussion will be as much of a failure as Jack Straw’s very personal reflections on the veil? (Not.)

BTW, Kopel’s post suggests that the characterization of Sarkozy’s move as ‘brilliant’ is not his own but Le Figaro’s, though unfortunately he provides no link, (which to raise another subject entirely is bad form and should be avoided on a blog, especially.)

Also, as a matter of general interest: Europe Raising Its Voice Over Radical Islam.

12

Chris Bertram 10.17.06 at 3:29 am

“as a matter of general interest”

David, rent yourself a copy of La Haine

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0113247/

and stop trying to fit everything into your odd Manichean worldview.

13

novakant 10.17.06 at 5:21 am

“The Wire” would do nicely too … especially season 3.

14

Natalie Solent 10.17.06 at 5:27 am

Henry writes: “Calling young African immigrants ‘scum’ is a brilliant move that paves the way for necessary economic reforms in France.

No, really. See for yourself.”

No, not really. And I know that because I did see for myself. The move that Le Figaro thought was brilliant political tactics on Sarkozy’s part was calling young African immigrant rioters scum.

15

novakant 10.17.06 at 6:36 am

not that the audience Sarkozy’s is playing to or indeed the riff-raff commenting at libertarian/contrarian blogs like Volokh would be much interested in the distinction

16

SamChevre 10.17.06 at 7:53 am

I thought Kopel was reporting France-Amerique‘s view, not offering his own.

France-Amerique doesn’t seem to have back issues online; does anyone have access to the issue cited (Sept 30-Oct 6)?

17

Henry 10.17.06 at 8:45 am

David, as Chris says, your view of what is happening here seems rather distorted – the causes of the riots in the Paris banlieues have nothing much to do with radical Islam. Nor, when a post begins

A pair of articles from the Sept. 30-Oct. 6 issue of France-Amerique (Le Figaro’s American weekly) offer some cause for hope that France is getting ready to pull itself out of its downward spiral.

is it unfair to assume that the author of that post agrees with the articles, and is quoting the relevant bits to support his point.

Anatoly – I read my post again and somehow failed to see the word “all” in it. But perhaps that’s because I’m not wearing any Magical Wingnut Reading Glasses.

Natalie – the issue is that Sarkozy is quite clearly pandering to racists in his choice of language and target, and Kopel knows it; he specifically says (I believe incorrectly) that nearly all of the rioters were from Africa. It’s a move to mop up National Front voters. The best equivalent I can think of would be if a US politician in the 1960s started describing the Watts rioters in language borrowed from George Wallace in order to gin up support for getting rid of welfare, and some libertarian commenter starting guffing on about what a brilliant political move this was. Which is part of the point of Adam Kotsko’s comment above. I don’t think that self-respecting libertarians should be doing this sort of thing. Do you?

18

William Sjostrom 10.17.06 at 9:04 am

Natalie Solent beat me to the obvious point. I have not checked, but it is a safe bet that, say, Conor Cruise O’Brien or John Bruton has used harsher language than scum to describe the IRA. Are they now anti-Irish bigots?

19

Henry 10.17.06 at 9:09 am

Bill – see what I say above.

20

David Sucher 10.17.06 at 9:23 am

Henry, Chris.
Please stop assuming so much about my views.

21

Chris Bertram 10.17.06 at 9:41 am

David, it wasn’t an assumption but a reasonable inference from what you wrote.

22

Anatoly 10.17.06 at 11:06 am

Henry,

Anatoly – I read my post again and somehow failed to see the word “all” in it. But perhaps that’s because I’m not wearing any Magical Wingnut Reading Glasses.

I really do need to spell it out, don’t I? When talking about Sarkozy’s famous racaille remark, Kopel always mentions that Sarkozy referred to “rioters” or “criminals”. Kopel mentions Sarkozy’s remark several times in his post, and always uses these words. I guess Kopel thinks it important to note that Sarkozy wasn’t calling all young African immigrants scum!

Kopel does – you don’t. If your “shorter Kopel” is to be considered “an accurate paraphrase”, perhaps satirical but largely accurate, well in that case “young African immigrants” as a group on one hand, and rioters/criminals among them on the other, must be one and the same. If they’re very different, then there’s nothing accurate about your retelling of Kopel.

Either you, Henry, don’t see any difference between “young African immigrants” and Kopel’s
rioters/criminals – an intriguing possibility that perhaps deserves further consideration – or
you deliberately changed Kopel’s point to make your “shorter Kopel” more ridiculous – and, of course, wildly inaccurate.

23

Steven 10.17.06 at 11:49 am

Here are, I believe, every sentence in which Kopel describes the targets of the epithet:

“French Public Ready to Crack Down on Criminals

“Last November, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy referred to the young rioters in the French housing projects as “racaille” (“scum” or “rabble”).”

“But the racaille remark turned out not to be a mega-gaffe, as the intelligentsia had predicted. To the contrary, Sarkozy’s tough talk about youthful criminals has proved to be enormously popular.”

“A new poll shows that 77% of the French public (including 74% of persons aged 18-24) agree that the French system is too lenient on juvenile delinquents.”

By proposing crack-downs on young criminals, Sarkozy has made himself the leader on a topic of national near-consensus, and thereby shifted the focus away from his economic ideas.”

Now it is true that he mentioned immigrants, but the focus of his post is, by any honest reading, on youthful criminals, not “young African immigrants.” This reading is extremely dishonest and deserves apology.

24

abb1 10.17.06 at 1:05 pm

Minister of the Interior who says that tens of thousands citizens of his country rioting all over the country do it because they are ‘scum’ is a racaille.

25

Henry 10.17.06 at 1:40 pm

anatoly, steven – I’d say don’t be stupid if I didn’t suspect that the stupidity was willed. Sarkozy’s remarks were – bluntly – intended to appeal to racists. He used a vicious epithet which has been introduced into political discourse by Le Pen and a variety of hate-sites. Kopel is clearly aware of this background to the story – he says explicitly that nearly all the rioters were of African origin and that this was a major point of controversy. If he hadn’t said this, I’d have put his point down to standard American ignorance of Europe, and let it go. I’ll repeat:

The best equivalent I can think of would be if a US politician in the 1960s started describing the Watts rioters in language borrowed from George Wallace in order to gin up support for getting rid of welfare, and some libertarian commenter starting guffing on about what a brilliant political move this was.

Kopel simply can’t claim ignorance of the political background here – and the result is a highly offensive post.

26

user 10.17.06 at 1:58 pm

I don’t see the point of listening to this crap anymore. I’m removing CT from my blogroll.

27

Steven 10.17.06 at 2:19 pm

I have no opinion on the epithet (I don’t speak French, nor do I follow French politics particularly closely)–perhaps it is as offensive as you say. But do you really think that you can take the quotes I gave above and paraphrase them to “Calling young African immigrants ‘scum’ …” Honestly, Henry, if one of your students cited an article which no less than five times referred to “criminals” but instead said the article was talking about “immigrants,” wouldn’t you have a problem with this? I know a blog post isn’t an academic paper, and you were just trying to make a snarkish point (as is Crooked Timber’s way), but you’re plainly smart enough to see that this paraphrase is not accurate.

28

Steven 10.17.06 at 2:24 pm

To add–it’s certainly possible that Kopel is wrong and the “rioters are ‘scum'” line was an entirely racist appeal (I’m skeptical of this, as I don’t think all “law and order” rhetoric from the ’60s was merely racism, although there was surely a great deal there). That doesn’t change the fact that you shouldn’t “shorten” someone’s words into something offensive that they did not say.

29

Henry 10.17.06 at 3:42 pm

Steven – I should say that I withdraw my snark directed at you above – I had you confused with one of our less pleasant regular commenters, who calls himself Steve. But to answer your question – context is important here. I don’t believe that David Kopel is a racist. But the burden of my snark is that he _doesn’t seem to especially care_ that the statement that he’s quoting so enthusiastically as evidence of France’s new dawn etc has been made in particularly violent terms, using well-established codewords, so as to appeal to racists. He clearly knows this – indeed he explicitly refers to the anger that this comment aroused among various French commenters – but it doesn’t seem to bother him. When politicians pander to racists, respectable commentators shouldn’t give them cover.

30

Anatoly 10.17.06 at 3:55 pm

Henry,

I don’t really mind you putting words into Kopel’s mouth to make his post look way more ridiculous and offensive than it was. I expect LGF-ish methods of this kind from some CT authors, based on past experience. It’s not surprising. What’s strange is that someone could be… misguided? enough to actually really think yours was an accurate paraphrase.

And, count me naive, I do think you ought to be able to admit the obvious fact that your paraphrase is very inaccurate, without resorting to willing willful stupidity on me, instead. Yes, I understand that you think Kopel wrote a very offensive post, that you think he gave his support to Sarkozy’s racist hate-mongering, etc. etc. It still has no bearing on the very simple fact that Kopel very clearly and deliberately talked of criminals and rioters (mentioning their origin, but still only of criminals and rioters), and you very clearly and deliberately paraphrased this into talking of young African immgirants as a class. Yes, I understand that you think that your LGF-like way of paraphrasing was employed here for the good cause. It still shouldn’t prevent you from being able to admit that it’s not an accurate paraphrase. Because it just very plainly is not.

31

Natalie Solent 10.17.06 at 4:51 pm

I make this comment mostly to show that I did read your response. I could spend a long time saying which bits of your views about Sarkozy and/or your Wallace analogy I agreed with and which bits I didn’t agree with and which bits I did not know enough to comment on – but it’s all irrelevant. David Kopel did not say, and went to some effort not to say, what you had him as saying. Your “shorter David Kopel” was actually a “misrepresented David Kopel.” If the like was done to you, or to someone you admire, you would call it a smear.

32

Henry 10.17.06 at 6:38 pm

Natalie, Anatoly, come on.

[1] Kopel clearly knows the background here and is quite aware that Sarkozy’s remark was denounced for its racism when it was made – he specifically refers to these debates in his post.

[2] He still goes ahead and quotes the writers from Le Figaro to say what a brilliant move this was.

So in what sense on earth is it a smear to say that Kopel said that “calling young African immigrants ‘scum’ is a brilliant move” ? He’s explicitly claiming that an incident in which a French politician quite deliberately called African immigrants scum, borrowing language from Le Pen & co., was a brilliant move. He’s not saying that it was a brilliant move _because_ it was a racist move – but I don’t claim that he was saying this in my post. He is saying that it was a brilliant move, and seems not to care especially that it was quite baldly racist.

(I want to withdraw my earlier snark to Anatoly btw – it seemed to me when reading the post that all this was blindingly obvious; apparently it’s not).

33

Steven 10.17.06 at 6:57 pm

Henry-

Thanks for withdrawing the earlier snark.

But all you have demonstrated is that Kopel knew the statements were denounced for being racist–not that he knew they actually were. This is a fine distinction, but an important one–allegations of racism aren’t an uncommon method of argument even when untrue (again, I take no position on the French issue, not knowing the relevant background that well).

If you had simply made the points you made in the comment section in the original post, I don’t think there would have been much heat. Instead, you changed Kopel’s words into something blatantly racist, and then said “I don’t believe that Kopel is a racist.” But how could anyone read your original paraphrase and reach that conclusion?

34

tom hurka 10.17.06 at 7:58 pm

From here Natalie, Anatoly, etc. look obviously right: Henry’s original post was seriously misleading. But here’s a further question for him. The Figaro article says Sarkozy’s remark was brilliant because it made him “the leader on a topic of national near-consensus.” Is it your suggestion that in France there’s a national near-consensus on racial hatred of immigrants? Or is it a little more plausible that the consensus is on the need to do something about youth crime?

35

thompsaj 10.17.06 at 10:24 pm

I believe the national near-consensus is that there’s a huge unassimilated or unassimilable immigrant population that, depending on your point of view, suffers from social isolation or choose not to integrate themselves into the national culture, but that the unrest last year is basically a symptom of this population’s non-integration. In America, conservatives deride the position of trying to understand the root causes of poverty, whether foreign or domestic, and apparently French rightwingers do too. Since the ethnic dimension of the riots is present and generally acknowledged, it is inconceivable that calling the rioters scum (i believe it’s settled that this is an accurate translation, complete with racist subtext, apres le pen) could be viewed as a neutral, “get tough on crime” type comment. Hence, I believe the jump that Henry makes is justified. He doesn’t say all immigrants are scum, but since there is an ethnic element to the riots, using the term in this way is undoubtedly a FN pander. Shorter thompsaj: ditto Henry.

36

Henry 10.17.06 at 11:04 pm

Steven – If the problem is that people think that I’m saying Kopel is himself racist, I’m happy to post a clarification, and will do so.

Tom – I haven’t read the original Figaro article; Kopel didn’t link to it. My broad take on this is that Sarkozy’s comment is partly aimed at making him look tough on crime, but is more importantly aimed at stealing Le Pen’s voters. There has been a vigorous debate on the French right over the last ten years about how to deal with Le Pen, with a lot of rightwingers wanting to steal his clothes through more vigorous anti-brownskinned foreigner rhetoric. National leaders, including, much as I don’t like crediting him, Chirac, have mostly held the line on this at the national level, although there has been some nodding-and-winking in local races. Sarkozy’s move has been pretty universally interpreted to my knowledge as a change in course, seeking to compete head-to-head with Le Pen on these issues and grab as many of his voters as possible.

37

Z 10.18.06 at 5:03 am

Just to add that to someone familiar with the context, such as myself, Henry’s shorter was crystal-clear. To reiterate the point: Sarkozy’s remarks were outrageous and were directed to far-right voters. His policies or may not be vindicated by French opinion (the poll quoted by the Figaro asked only a tangentially related question). Le Figaro is very close to the French right party (UMP) (its owner is a UMP senator) and Alexis Brézet is famous for his loyalty (some would say servility) to the UMP, it is thus not surprising that he would write that Sarkozy’s choices are brilliant.

38

abb1 10.18.06 at 5:31 am

Is it your suggestion that in France there’s a national near-consensus on racial hatred of immigrants?

As far as I can tell – definitely not hatred, rather Pat-Buchanan-like attitude: they don’t fit here and they cause a lot of problems. But with a little help from the ruling elite it can, of course, be easily transferred into hatred.

39

DivGuy 10.18.06 at 6:20 am

To add—it’s certainly possible that Kopel is wrong and the “rioters are ‘scum’” line was an entirely racist appeal (I’m skeptical of this, as I don’t think all “law and order” rhetoric from the ‘60s was merely racism, although there was surely a great deal there). That doesn’t change the fact that you shouldn’t “shorten” someone’s words into something offensive that they did not say.

But can’t we agree that all “law and order” rhetoric from the sixties that explicitly used racist language was racism?

If an American politician during the LA riots called the rioters “monkeys”, would the fact that he was talking about “rioters” make it not racist? By being obviously, explicitly racist, a statement comes to be universal. That is, one thing that’s so awful about racist slurs is that even if they are used against only a specific group of criminals, the slur implicitly labels every person of that racial/ethnic group as similarly “scum.”

This is the thing I think that Kopel’s and Sarkozy’s defenders are missing. This is a really clear case of a politician using a racial slur to win votes. It doesn’t really matter whether he was talking about every single African immigrant or some rioters or just one – the slur still works on every person it could label.

40

engels 10.18.06 at 12:21 pm

Calling young African immigrants ‘scum’ is a brilliant move that paves the way for necessary economic reforms in France.

Anatoly appears to believe that this statement implies endorsement for the tactic of calling ALL African immigrants ‘scum’ (“as a class”). (#9, repeated at #22 and #30).

As usual, he’s wrong. Compare:

“Calling older children names is a silly thing to do on your first day at school.”

Does Anatoly think that this sentence is only advising a pupil against calling ALL older children names? If not, perhaps he ought to concede that his reading of Henry’s sentence is incorrect.

41

Bobcat 10.18.06 at 12:48 pm

I think this incident is much like the Willie Horton ad.

Someone says: “the Bush campaign is racist because it’s basically saying that Dukakis will let black males murder and rape white women.”

To which someone responds: “uh, no it’s not; it’s saying that Dukakis is too weak on violent criminals, not on black males in general.”

To which the rebuttal is: “well, that’s what the Bush campaign is explicitly saying; but implicitly, it’s playing on whites’ disproportionate (and racist) fears of black males.”

Similarly, Sarkozy is not explicitly smearing all immigrants; just the rioting ones. But he’s hoping that by tarring the rioters he can (1) insulate himself from racism while (2) supporting racist measures that target African immigrants as a class, thereby mopping up the extremist vote.

Do I have that right, Henry?

42

engels 10.18.06 at 1:06 pm

Also, it’s mildly laughable that Anatoly, Nathalie Solent and Steven think that the fact that Kopel was assiduous in referring to the rioters as “criminals” rather than “African immigrants” is sufficient to exonerate him. The “criminals” in question were African immigrants; actually this fact is crucial. We know it, Sarkozy knew it, Kopel knows it. Sarkozy called some African immigrants scum. Kopel approves of this. Sarkozy’s behaviour is correctly referred to as “calling African immigrants scum” and it is quite legitimate, when summarising Kopel’s argument for polemical purposes, to substitute this description of it for Kopel’s evasise descriptions.

Shorter Engels: Anatoly, Nathalie and Steven have been long on indignation and short on arguments. It’s rather strange that Tom Hurka thinks it “obvious” that they are right.

43

Steven 10.18.06 at 4:37 pm

But can’t we agree that all “law and order” rhetoric from the sixties that explicitly used racist language was racism?

Absolutely.

If an American politician during the LA riots called the rioters “monkeys”, would the fact that he was talking about “rioters” make it not racist? By being obviously, explicitly racist, a statement comes to be universal. That is, one thing that’s so awful about racist slurs is that even if they are used against only a specific group of criminals, the slur implicitly labels every person of that racial/ethnic group as similarly “scum.”

I don’t necessarily disagree on the general point, but the analogy doesn’t quite hold up. Calling black rioters “monkeys” is using a racial slur against a class of people–it’s wrong to call rioters “monkeys” because it’s wrong to use racial slurs, period. I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong to call people “scum” (which I don’t think was originally a racial epithet against Muslims). Where it becomes wrong (and this is, I believe, Henry’s point), is when the word “scum” is taken by racists. Then, using the word has an entirely different effect than before.

44

roy belmont 10.19.06 at 8:35 am

Quibbling over context to establish the potential racism of a statement – here but not here, there but not there – but never extending that context outside its local and temporal boundaries is weak.
Sarkozy spoke to a moment in French history, but it was, and is, a moment in the history of the world as well – a moment and a context in which his racist assumptions of superiority are obvious and disgustingly egregious.

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