Friday, July 22, 2005


The Carnegie Endowment has put up a translation of a working draft of Iraq’s Bill of Rights that a secret committee is working on. A typical document, although it may institute anti-Semitism in its first article, refusing to recognize Israeli citizenship. I should not be surprised: a measure of Iraqi sovereignty might be the ability to retain some hatred.

The document started my curiosity: is there some example from Rhenish history that explains both the hunger for reform and the zealotry of terrorism? Vandalism and sabotage have been constant themes (Aside: I have found references to the desecration of soldiers’ graves in the 1890s, which made me wonder whether it was really a Alsatian thing, not antisemitic). The Ur-event of modern Europe, the French Revolution/First Empire may be good example of exporting values and how people react to that.

On the one hand, Rhinelanders fell in love with what France gave them. The Napoleonic Civil Code, which gave them jury trials and the Guillotine, became an enduring institution (the Rhenish Code) that differentiated the West from the rest of Germany. Chambers of commerce became favorite venues for merchants and businessmen. And the creation of district councils and bureaucratic posts gave them greater control over the political functions than they enjoyed during the ancien regime.

The fruits of the revolution challenged the Rhenish Burgers to think beyond their introverted political landscapes. Because of the revolution, the Rhenish Burgers became the premier class pushing for German nationalism, and consequentially, a thorn in the side to Prussian authorities. They fought against Restoration, demanding the creation of elected, representative parliaments at all levels of government as well as voting rights.

Did they love France? Absolutely not. Resentment emerged over the methods of administrators and the attempts to integrate the Rhineland into the French economy and political sphere. Resistance followed. A number of groups emerged that attacked French agents and those whom they identified as collaborators. Johann Buckler, aka Schinderhannes, became an icon for his banditry, particularly for robbing Jews. Schinderhannes was not nearly as contemptible as Bin Laden, but he was still an unsavory character that Rhinelanders admired: he stood up against the duplicity of the French regime: the loss of sovereignty despite the promise of liberation.

Ultimately the Rhinelanders did not love the French as much as what they got from them. Indeed, occupation increased hatred for France while inspiring German nationalism. The two can hardly be separated: more than a century of Franco-German antagonism can be dated from the experience and memory of the occupation. Hatred did not undermine the desire to improve upon the legacy that the revolution left.

It is entirely possible that people in the Middle East, Iraqis in particular, feel the same way about Americans as Rhinelanders did about France. Sovereignty seems to be a primal indicator of liberty, clouding anything else that might go on. Iraqis may eagerly adopt the reforms we would bring them, and hate us for it at the same time. And those feelings may linger, whether or not those reforms take hold.

History : Politics : France : Germany


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