Twisted by Jessica Zafra – Pumping irony since 1994

Archive for the ‘History’

The Other France. Are the suburbs of Paris incubators of terrorism?

November 15, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Current Events, History, Places 2 Comments →

Although the alienated, impoverished immigrant communities outside Paris are increasingly prone to anti-Semitism, the profiles of French jihadists don’t track closely with class. Many of them have come from bourgeois families. Photograph by Arnau Bach for The New Yorker.

Fouad Ben Ahmed never paid much attention to Charlie Hebdo. He found the satirical magazine to be vulgar and not funny, and to him it seemed fixated on Islam, but he didn’t think that its contributors did real harm. One of its cartoonists, Stéphane Charbonnier, also drew for Le Petit Quotidien, a children’s paper to which Ben Ahmed subscribed for his two kids. On January 7th, upon hearing that two French brothers with Algerian names, Saïd and Chérif Kouachi, had executed twelve people at the Charlie Hebdo offices—including Charbonnier—in revenge for covers caricaturing Muhammad, Ben Ahmed wrote on Facebook, “My French heart bleeds, my Muslim soul weeps. Nothing, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING, can justify these barbaric acts. Don’t talk to me about media or politicians who would play such-and-such a game, because there’s no excuse for barbarism. #JeSuisCharlie.”

That night, Ben Ahmed left his house, in the suburbs outside Paris, and went into the city to join tens of thousands of people at a vigil. He is of Algerian and Tunisian descent, with dark skin, and a few white extremists spat threats at him, but Ben Ahmed ignored them—France was his country, too. On January 11th, he joined the one and a half million citizens who marched in unity from the Place de la République.

Ben Ahmed’s Facebook page became a forum for others, mostly French Muslims, to discuss the attacks. Many expressed simple grief and outrage; a few aired conspiracy theories, suggesting a plot to stigmatize Muslims. “Let the investigators shed light on this massacre,” Ben Ahmed advised. One woman wrote, “I fear for the Muslims of France. The narrow-minded or frightened are going to dig in their heels and make an amalgame”—conflate terrorists with all Muslims. Ben Ahmed agreed: “Our country is going to be more divided.” He defended his use of #JeSuisCharlie, arguing that critiques of Charlie’s content, however legitimate before the attack, had no place afterward. “If we have a debate on the editorial line, it’s like saying, ‘Yes—but,’ ” he later told me. “In these conditions, that is unthinkable.”

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If you’re in the arts, The Walk is your comfort movie.

October 23, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: History, Movies 1 Comment →

This weekend we’re watching Robert Zemeckis’s The Walk again. If you’re looking for something to watch, we recommend you see it at the IMAX nearest to you. The more we think about it, the more we like The Walk. It’s a comfort movie.

How can it be a comfort movie when the trailer alone gives you vertigo? When Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Philippe Petit steps onto the steel bar, you may feel like spewing. The fact of Petit’s high, very very high-wire walk across the twin towers of the World Trade Center have already been covered in James Marsh’s excellent documentary, Man on Wire. The Walk plays like a heist movie but is an extreme metaphor for the artist’s life. Tumutulay sa alambre! Writing, painting, composing music do not carry the same probability of going splat on the sidewalk, but we will argue that a long, protracted death from fearfulness and mediocrity is more painful.

It’s all there on the giant screen. Discovering what you’re good at, check. Practising until it becomes second nature to you, check. Finding the best mentor to tell you how to hone it. Covering the practical aspects, the things that will allow you to do what you’re good at—the economics, the cohorts, and in Petit’s case, the engineering. Entertaining doubt, then shutting it out. Tuning out the people, including the ones who mean well, who tell you that it can’t be done, but not being a brat about it. Not overthinking the answer to the constant question, “Why?” There is no rational answer. You do it because you have to.

And finally, the nerve to step onto the wire that you yourself rigged up between two towers 415 meters above the ground, with no safety nets, with the wind blowing and birds wondering what you’re up to on their turf. The wire is bisecting the void. It’s just you and death, and your certainty that you can tell death to take a walk.

We also love the tribute to the Twin Towers. They were a beacon. Beacons cannot choose whom they signal to but for a moment, however brief, they call you to your dreams.

The myth of the French Resistance

September 08, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, History, Places No Comments →


Thirstily swallowed by a humiliated France, the dominant narrative of the French Resistance was cooked up by General de Gaulle – “Joan of Arc in trousers”, Churchill testily called him – when he addressed the crowds outside the Hôtel de Ville on August 25, 1944. “Paris liberated! Liberated by its own efforts, liberated by its people with the help of the armies of France, with the help of all of France.”

Yet, as Robert Gildea exposes in this comprehensive survey of the French Resistance, the myth that the French freed themselves is largely poppycock, like de Gaulle’s boast that only “a handful of scoundrels” behaved badly under four years of Nazi occupation. (One example: by October 1943, 85,000 French women had children fathered by Germans.) Most of the population didn’t engage with their revolutionary past until the last moment, when the chief thing they recaptured was their pride. The first French soldier into Paris was part of a regiment “called ‘la Nueve’ because it was composed mainly of Spanish republicans”.

Read it. Thanks to Tina for the alert.

We love Paris, but we know the whole Resistance story is merde. Please, cheese-eating surrender monkeys, you know what you did. You are not Marguerite Duras.

Ganito Kami Noon, Paano Kayo Ngayon: Define “Filipino”

September 02, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: History, Movies No Comments →


Ganito Kami Noon, Paano Kayo Ngayon (This Is How We Were, How Are You Now) is a film that constantly asks, “What is a Filipino?” but is so vibrant and droll that it never feels like the essay section of a dreaded social studies exam. It does not have the grinding sense of seriousness and self-importance that makes the typical historical film a chore to watch. The average historical film tries to guilt us into liking it, as if it were our patriotic duty to suffer through the hero’s tribulations and stifle the urge to shout, “Patayin ninyo na yan para makauwi na kami!” (Kill him now so we can go home!) Writer-director Eddie Romero puts his case with such a light touch, keeps us so amused that before we know it, we have pondered the question.

Made in 1976 and now showing at Power Plant Cinema in a digital restoration by the ABS-CBN Archives and Central Digital Lab, Ganito Kami Noon reminds us of the time when the Metro Manila Film Festival actually tried to combine artistic ambition with box-office appeal. In its skilful fusion of comedy, drama, and operetta, its casual, almost throwaway social commentary, and its depiction of life as theatre (complete with a traveling troupe), it also reminds us of the influence of Fellini on Filipino cinema in the 70s. Romero, who cut his teeth on American B-movies, was particularly interested in Philippine history—he made the epic Aguila, in which history transpires through the eyes of Fernando Poe, Jr., and Kamakalawa, set in the mythical pre-colonial past.

Read our column at

Gold and Memory: Unlocking our collective amnesia

August 18, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Antiquities, History No Comments →


In the heart of the financial district of Makati and in a basement at the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas complex sits what may be the most valuable tangible heritage of the Philippines: gold objects believed to be a thousand years old. There are gold bangles inlaid with semi-precious stones and arm ornaments of hammered gold. There are belts of woven gold weighing over half a kilogram, and finely wrought ear ornaments. There are death masks, cutwork diadems, ritual vessels and elaborate headdresses. There is a gold halter weighing nearly four kilos that can choke the most avaricious fashion victim.

There are well over a thousand artefacts at the Ayala Museum and at the Bangko Sentral, all of them found in the Philippines, all of them dating back centuries before the Spanish conquest. The intricacy of the designs and the painstaking labor that went into their production point to a sophisticated culture with a high-level of gold and metal-working technology. The number of funerary masks and other grave goods hints at a culture that believed in an afterlife. Recurring Hindu motifs such as the Upavita and the kinnari suggest that the owners of the gold traded with the kingdoms of Southeast Asia or were even part of such a kingdom. Point to, hint at, suggest — meaning we don’t know for sure. It is characteristic of our unawareness of our own history that we do not know who made these objects.

Read our essay Gold and Memory at BusinessWorld.

The mathematics of history

August 18, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: History, Language, Science No Comments →

via 3QD