Kate Maloff

Kate Maloff: Carla Bruni v. the American First Lady

Kate MaloffIt’s rare that the French provide us with the watercooler stories we cherish here in the States—à la the Spitzer downfall and the Lewinsky travails of a decade earlier. Rather, the land of amour tends to stay unruffled when it comes to matters of the heart, or the bedroom. How refreshing it is then to recount the Israeli visit earlier this week by supermodel emeritus-turned-French First Lady Carla Bruni. What a splash she made as she disembarked to the stares of Shimon Peres and his giggling ministers, some of whom no doubt were struggling not to recall her scandalous nude pictures.

This light-hearted arrival was bookended by a less jocular finale when an Israeli border policeman committed suicide at the Sarkozys’ farewell ceremony. Regarde la Presidente as she pushed Sarko aside and bolted for safety—designer pumps and all—back up into their waiting Airbus!

But Sarko and Bruni’s antics reveal larger trends about the French psyche, and how we all perceive what a First Lady should be. Though the French were initially turned off by their new president’s infantile need to be perceived as alpha male, Sarkozy’s popularity rates are steadily increasing. But is this because—or in spite—of Bruni?

Despite her foibles and quasi-sordid background, at day’s end, Carla Bruni is to the French no more than casual fodder for occasional jokes. The French—and I’d posit the Europeans in general—have been able to regard their leading ladies with an air of frivolity and with properly managed expectations.

By tracing the tenures of Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush, and examining the recent rhetoric surrounding Michelle Obama, the polarity between the Europeans’ and Americans’ perception of the first lady appears radically different. In most circles, gender equality is a battle that’s been fought and won; race relations, civil liberties, and immigration debates spark far more fireworks today. Then why is America’s first lady stuck in the 1950s?

Belinda Cooper

Belinda Cooper: In Turkey, History as Gov’t Property

Belinda CooperLast week, Turkish publisher Ragip Zarakolu was convicted by a Turkish court of “insulting the state,” a crime under Article 301 of the Turkish criminal code. Zarakolu was sentenced to five months in prison, which was then commuted to a fine. His crime: publishing a Turkish translation of a British book on Armenian-Turkish reconciliation that included discussion of the Armenian genocide.

Turkey not only officially denies that the early-twentieth century killings of Armenians was genocide, something most serious scholars have long acknowledged; since 2005 the government has attempted to punish those who assert that it was, including a long list of journalists, authors and publishers.

Nobel Prize-winning author Orhan Pamuk, now a Columbia University professor, was perhaps the most famous name to be charged under this law (the charges were ultimately dropped); Hrant Dink, an Armenian-Turkish journalist who was later murdered by a Turkish nationalist, had been convicted under the article, though his conviction was overturned. For Zarakolu, this was not the first time he had been prosecuted on similar charges, including “insulting or belittling” Turkish state institutions.

Davis Andelman, Editor

David A. Andelman: Iraq According To Its Sheikhs

Davis Andelman, EditorWelcome to the debut of The World Policy Blog, what we at World Policy Journal believe will be a whole new way of looking at the globe – not from an American perspective of “foreign” being everything outside the United States, but a world in all its variety and fascination, how nations, regions, and people interact among themselves. Our goal is to build a community of informed individuals who will come together here to exchange views or simply absorb interesting, perhaps controversial, but always provocative takes on events or trends that are shaping the world where we live – a constantly shifting kaleidoscope of human beliefs and emotions.

As a first step, today, I’d like to tell you, the members of this community (simply by virtue of your coming here to read our thoughts and observations – we will never require you to identify yourselves) about a gathering at World Policy Institute last week. We had a visit from 11 Iraqi sheikhs and provincial governors, representing critical regions in this war-torn nation.