Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Still More 9/11 as "Protest"

The link to the French school exam topic - "The United States, A Contested Superpower" - that was not working when I first posted on the subject is now working. You can see the complete exam topic here, including two further accompanying "documents" in addition to Plantu's famous cartoon depiction of Islamist "contestation" of American power on 9/11.

Two remarks:

In document #1, a map supposed to illustrate the "financial and military power" of the United States, note the arrows meant to depict the flow of foreign direct investment from the United States and the especially thick and menacing arrow pointing at Europe.

This will no doubt strike fear into the heart of many a French adolescent who has been properly indoctrinated into believing that foreign investment - or rather specifically American foreign investment - is a threat to their liberty or "values" ... or something at any rate. But it is far less awe-inspiring when one realizes that EU investment in the US in fact exceeds US investment in the EU: in 2002, for instance, by €889 billion to €650 billion. If French schoolchildren were properly informed about the relative importance of the EU and the US in the global economy, would not their view of the scary "superpower" be altered? (In the same vein, note too the star in the symbol key, which is supposed to stand for "nuclear power". But there is only one star placed on the map, namely over the US, as if there were not any other nuclear powers - such as France, for instance....)

Secondly, note that of the three "documents" to which students are supposed to make reference in formulating their responses, two are taken from Le Monde: the Plantu cartoon and an excerpt from an article by Alain Franchon (whom Trans-Int readers will have previously encountered here being misidentified by - who else? - Thomas Friedman). Franchon has recently co-authored a book, L'Amérique messianique or "Messianic America", on scary American "neo-conservatives" and their alleged "Messianism". The excerpt from him included in the exam topic is supposed to illustrate America's "economic and cultural power". (Yes, the Ministry of Education did indeed devise an exam including one document ostensibly touching on American "financial" power and another on American "economic" power - just in case French school children were not confused enough already.) The excerpt ends with the for impressionable youngsters no doubt reassuring observation that "Hollywood exercises an absolute domination over world cinema - hence 'over our dreams and our minds', as one says in Europe." Franchon does not specify who exactly the "one" in question is supposed to be.

The exam topic provides a perfect illustration of how, despite a relatively modest circulation, a single newspaper can pollute the public discourse of an entire nation. But Americans will surely be familiar with the phenomenon...