Andrew Neil’s history of France conveniently leaves out the bad bits

BBC journalist Andrew Neil

In a response piece to Andrew Neil’s epic rant about France’s “glorious history,” journalist Hafsa Kara-Mustapha says that the country’s ISIS recruits may have become terrorists because of French history and not in spite of it.

In the first episode of This Week (the BBC’s late night round-up of political events) since the Paris attacks host Andrew Neil launched a blistering attack on ISIS after delivering a moving description of France and its inspiring contribution to humanity.

In his speech, Neil spoke of France’s illustrious children from Descartes to Coco Chanel and insisted that the “beacon of light” that is the French capital would continue to shine when ISIS would be confined to the dustbins of history.

It’s never easy for commentators to predict the future, it is however much simpler to review the past.

So let’s review it.

France, the slave trade and colonialism

France was a pioneer of the trans-Atlantic slave trade creating entire colonies in the Caribbean dependent on slave labour. It was only after a successful rebellion by slaves under the authority of Toussaint Louverture in Haiti that France abandoned the practise to focus on the exploitation of Africa instead.

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In its long history of colonialism, France (which Neil described with such affection) was responsible across the African continent for genocide, beheadings as well as rape, which was consistently used as an instrument of torture and subjugation.

France was a pioneer of the trans-Atlantic slave trade
France was a pioneer of the trans-Atlantic slave trade

In North Africa, a favoured means of punishment of unruly tribal leaders was to rape their wives and daughters in the middle of the village square in full view of the entire population, summoned to witness the assault. At times those tasked with the rape were fellow villagers forced to partake in the gang rapes in a bid to destroy the fabric of the village and create internecine tensions.

An entire book, in fact several, would be required to recap France’s numerous crimes but at a time when Andrew Neil uses his platform to present a cleansed and enhanced image of France in a bid to create the fake image of “Good vs. Evil” some of the ‘”Hexagon’s” most notable crimes should be enumerated to a naive audience intent on downplaying Western crimes while insisting those of unruly foreigners bare no comparison in savagery.

Historical crimes

In 1921, in the Rif region of Morocco, Abdel Krim Al Khattabi rose up against the Spanish rule of his region. Fearful of a contagion across its own colonies, French authorities intervened to put a stop to Khattabi’s ambition.

They promised to spare the Rif population if he gave himself up. However, once in their custody the French unleashed mustard gas against the entire Rif region. 100 000 men, women and children perished in what was the first chemical attack of the last century.

A chapter that is also often minimised is the role France played during the Second World War.

French Nazi collaborator Marechal Petain
French Nazi collaborator Marechal Petain

France immediately capitulated to Nazi Germany and its leader Marechal Petain implemented Nazi laws inside France. His collaborationist government was fully complicit in the targeting of minorities regarded “untermesh” under German racial laws with French officers in the Gestapo constituting a major force of oppression.

France’s “hero” Charles De Gaulle spent the best part of the war years in the comfort of a UK exile until the dying days of the Nazi regime. When he returned to an already liberated France he conveniently gained the epithet of France’s “saviour” like Petain before him.

On the 8th May 1945 as allies were celebrating the defeat of the Nazi regime, De Gaulle ordered his troops to quell a protest held by Algerian war veterans in Setif in what was then French Algeria. In the weeks and months that followed the initial marches, over 20 000 men, women and children were slaughtered.

Those events alone would later trigger Algeria’s war of independence in which 1.5m people were killed. The use of napalm against villagers was a common practise during the conflict.

Other notable forms of punishment were the execution of suspects in town squares. Their bodies would be hanged and the slain suspects genitals would be cut off and placed in their mouths. Savagery coupled with humiliation was the order of the day in French-ruled colonies. The “Enlightenment” was left for Parisians to enjoy.

Coco Chanel

In a bid to end his impassioned defence of French civilisation, Neil spoke of Coco Chanel. A woman whose Fashion empire is owed to her numerous relationships with German Nazi officials.

During the occupation of France, the Chanel House prospered thanks to her Nazi connections, something films and biographies of the elegant “Mademoiselle” often overlook so as not to tarnish the brand.

Fashion designer Coco Chanel
Fashion designer Coco Chanel

In light of the wealth that would be later generated from the now world famous label, Coco would be spared the humiliation reserved for the working class women who’d bedded German enemies during the war – having their hair shaved off in public and paraded as the “whores of the Germans” on carts.

Fast forward to the mid 90’s to the most recent genocide of our time: Rwanda.

Jean-Christophe Mitterrand, President Francois Mitterrand’s son, was the head of the African cell during his father’s 14 year rule of France. Nicknamed “Daddy-told-me” (Papa m’a dit) for his constant referral to his father, the French official played a pivotal role in a genocide that left over 1 million people dead.

ISIS: The greatest threat to humanity?

This nuclear nation was presented on Thursday to dewy-eyed viewers as the “beacon of light of the civilised world” and Neil’s speech was followed by an attack on a terrorist network constituted of essentially marginalised drug addicts desperately clinging to a cause they barely understand.

These marginalised youth are described as the greatest threat to humanity.
Their ability to behead, rape and pillage, it has to be said, is truly frightening.

But as official figures emerge confirming the majority of ISIS recruits from Europe are French, it clearly shows that the French educational system is equally inspiring.

These French youths who would later go to Syria to practise their depraved activities were clearly lending an attentive ear during French history lessons.

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