International Papers

Egalité, Fraternité, Insécurité

The stabbing of Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoë in the early hours of Sunday morning was the last straw for a French press depressed by a recent spate of violent attacks against politicians. Delanoë, who is openly gay, was attacked by Azedine Berkane, an unemployed 39-year-old with a criminal record, at an all-night party dedicated to the joys of Paris. According to Le Monde, the mayor underwent a three-hour surgery to repair the wounds in his stomach, and he is expected to remain hospitalized for at least a week. Berkane told the police that he attacked Delanoë because he hates politicians and gays. Libération reported that although his father, a retired Algerian laborer, is “a good Muslim” who attends mosque, Azedine Berkane is not known to be religious.

Le Monde linked the attack on Delanoë with the stabbing of the culture minister in 1997, the incident in March 2002 when a gunman killed eight members of the city council in Nanterre, and the July assassination attempt against President Jacques Chirac. The knifing of Delanoë is “all the more symbolic,” the editorial proclaimed, “because it took place during a demonstration … of conviviality and fraternity,” which the mayor had organized to counter the prevailing mood of insecurity. During Sunday’s “Nuit Blanche” (“Sleepless Night”), which attracted as many as 400,000 visitors to Paris, city landmarks such as the Louvre and the Arc de Triomphe remained open all night for readings, concerts, and performances. The mayor was shanked in City Hall, which had been transformed into a 1930s-style nightclub.

One of Delanoë’s mayoral priorities was making Paris a more livable city. At the start of the Nuit Blanche festivities he told the crowd, “I want Paris to take risks. Otherwise, how is it going to become an international city to attract lovers of freedom and pleasure?” Libération said Delanoë was a “victim of his own success.” The editorial continued: “The socialist mayor of the capital has become a propagandist for Paris as a city open to its inhabitants and … with a team of elected officials close to their fellow citizens. He understands that one cannot preach a policy of closeness, of which an essential element is confidence between politicians and voters, when one is protected by lines of bodyguards.” The acting mayor, Anne Hidalgo, the daughter of Spanish immigrants, according to Madrid’s El País, told the paper, “What happened wasn’t the result of a security problem: The incident against Bertrand was the only incident in the long Nuit Blanche. … It was a great night with a friendly atmosphere.”

Surprisingly, perhaps, in Britain it was the conservative press that emphasized the attacker’s homophobia. The Telegraph headlined its report “Knifeman stabs mayor of Paris for being gay,” while the Times went with ” ‘Gay hater’ stabs Paris mayor at festival.”

Let’s go into that Colonel Gadafy, I’m Lee Marvin for some Camilla Parker Bowles. On Thursday, Oxford University Press will release an updated edition of the Oxford Dictionary of Rhyming Slang, and according to the Guardian, American movie “heart-throb” Brad Pitt has taken the place of Eartha Kitt “and the more venerable tom tit as a way of speaking furtively of one of our two commonest bodily functions.” Americans face comprehension problems not only because many of the celebrities whose names have become part of the rhyming patois are unknown on this side of the Atlantic, but also because the words they represent aren’t in common usage in the United States. Thanks to Austin Powers, however, the TV arts presenter and novelist Melvyn Bragg may soon be getting name-checked all over the world.