The stunning reversals in the criminal case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a putative French presidential candidate, have reawakened a dormant anti-Americanism here, fueled by a sense that the raw, media-driven culture of the United States has undermined justice and fair play.
There was shock in France after the arrest of Strauss-Kahn and intense criticism of the manner in which he was displayed in handcuffs, pulled unshaven into a televised court session and stuffed into a jail cell under suicide watch. There was confusion and criticism over the glee with which the New York tabloids in particular highlighted every humiliation and turned to cliches about the French – “Chez Perv” and “Frog Legs It” – in its coverage. And there was a sense that it was not just Strauss-Kahn who was being so jauntily humiliated, but France itself.
Now, with the case appearing to collapse over questions about the credibility of his accuser, and Strauss-Kahn freed from house arrest, the French are feeling a kind of bitter jubilation of their own, and renewing their criticisms about the rush to judgment, the public relations concerns of elected prosecutors and the somehow uncivilized, brutal and carnival nature of U.S. society, democracy and justice.
Former Prime Minister Lionel Jospin said Friday that Strauss-Kahn “was thrown to the wolves” in the U.S. system; a former justice minister, Robert Badinter, called Strauss-Kahn’s treatment “a lynching, a murder by media.”
Noelle Lenoir, a former European affairs minister, said many French felt insulted. “They thought the prosecution was making common cause with the tabloids,” she said.
Though it was the U.S. prosecutors who revealed the accuser’s various fabrications, the turnabout “does wake up this slumbering anti-Americanism,” said Dominique Moisi, a longtime analyst of French-American relations. “The case does damage to the image of America and recreates negative stereotypes that existed before.”
Even in the 1990s, “when we were so close, when the Cold War was over and before the second Iraq war, we were divided along the line of the death penalty,” Moisi said.
“There is a sense in Europe that you can’t be fully civilized with the death penalty,” he said. “Now this feeling is reinforced – that the United States is not a fully civilized country with a police that behaves like that, that wants to humiliate,” he continued. “There is a sense that it’s a dangerous country.”
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