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It is one of history’s more amusing ironies that a substantial amount of French men and women are in the streets today declaring a bigotry and an ignorance that would make an increasingly fringe branch of the Republican party proud.

France, doubtlessly, has gone up in the estimation of the Westboro Baptist Church this week. Which alone you think would give them pause.

But one often forgets, given the glamour and fascination of the historically very successful French left, that it wasn’t actually a decadent socialist government that declared the Iraq war an imperialist misadventure. It was Jaques Chirac. A consummate rightist. To say nothing of NIcolas Sarkozy or the Le Pen’s, father and daughter. France’s right wing is active, dedicated, and powerful.

An anecdote; I once went to a private member’s club in Paris, which shall remain nameless, but which was in a rather swanky area of town. We had a few drinks, and laughed at the incongruity of our being there, when as I was leaving I spotted a portrait of Marshall Petain.

The quisling French leader under Nazi occupation.

I asked someone who looked like they worked there whether it was, in fact, him.

He smiled, winked at me, and said yes it was. And it hung there all year.

We left after that. Haven’t been back since.

Strange, isn’t it? But this goes back to the revolution. France still feels starkly, utterly divided about that event. There’s a rich tradition of revolution, of struggle, of restless drive for improvement and progress. But there’s also a substantial amount of people who didn’t vote for the death of the king, so to speak. Who look back to a Catholic, medieval, chivalrous France, and despise France’s disorderly modern heritage. Petain had a lot of support.

At least some of it came from the same people who stoned collaborators in the streets and shaved the heads of women they knew as they beat them in the street when the Nazis finally withdrew.

And we’re seeing that side of France today. The one that hates change. The one that gladly handed over the Jews. The one that despises the erosion of traditional gender norms and values, and sees gays as a threat.

Above all, it’s the violence that surprises me. The disgust. The anger. One wonders what we did.

But one also doesn’t really care, because ultimately these people tend to lose. Their endless quest to hold back the tides of history, to freeze things, to preserve a golden moment, are doomed to inevitable failure. Progress is inevitable. Change cannot be stopped. And it’s impossible to sustain this level of hatred and anger. It eventually comes back to burn you.

Bigots, whether they be French, American, Ugandan, Saudi, Russian, or indeed Canadian, lead bitter, unhappy lives. Because ultimately they’re spending far too much of their day worrying about the habits of other people. Which is an unproductive waste of everyone’s time.

I’ll think twice about showing affection to someone I love in the streets of Paris now. I wish I didn’t have to. But apparently the city of love is for straight people.

France’s Mistake

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