Yesterday I posted about the media lynching of a Latina nanny in New York.
The Krim case: Media play prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner’ recalls the Dreyfus Affair.
TIME magazine rates its as one of the Top 10 Trials That Shook The World.
Below is an excerpt from the portion of the TIME article on ‘The Dreyfus Affair‘ by Alexandra Silver:
“In 1894, Alfred Dreyfus, a captain in the French army — and a Jew — was falsely accused of selling military secrets to Germany. He proclaimed his innocence and the evidence was weak, but he was court-martialed, convicted for high treason, and sentenced to life imprisonment on Devil’s Island. […]
“France was divided into Anti-Dreyfusards and Dreyfusards, one of whom was the novelist Èmile Zola. In 1898 he championed Dreyfus’ cause in an open letter to the French president, entitled “J’Accuse.” Zola himself was put on trial, and convicted, for libel. […]
“It wasn’t until 1995, however — more than a hundred years since he was first accused, and decades after he’d fought for France in World War I — that the French army publicly stated that Dreyfus was innocent.”
Parody of justice
The New Yorker magazine carried a write-up calling it the ‘Trial of the Century’.
Below is an extract of some passages from Adam Gopnik’s ‘Revisiting the Dreyfus affair‘:
“The Dreyfus affair never goes away, and is the subject of a brave new book by the novelist and lawyer Louis Begley, “Why the Dreyfus Affair Matters” (Yale; $24). Brave because Begley wants to use the occasion not for French-bashing, or for reciting the enduring history of European anti-Semitism, bleak as it is, but as a pointed warning and reminder of how fragile the standards of civilized conduct prove in moments of national panic. The Dreyfus affair matters, he believes, because we have, in the past decade, made our own Devil’s Island and hundreds of new Dreyfuses—the Dreyfus affair matters because we’re still in the middle of it. Begley, as he recounts the story of the Parisian fin-de-siècle legal drama, also spends many pages showing that among the prisoners in places like Guantánamo are many Dreyfuses—innocent, as he was, and, on the whole, much worse treated. […]
“Far from being faceless, he was all face: the haters never tired of describing and drawing his hideousness. “His face is grey, flattened and base, showing no sign of remorse . . . a wreck from the ghetto,” the journalist Léon Daudet wrote. […]
“The Catholic Church, in turn, seized on Drumont’s ideology, and a virulent anti-Semitism became, especially in the pages of the Catholic newspaper La Croix, the new tonic note of even respectable French Catholicism. This coalition of hatred of immigrants and Catholic reaction did not put Dreyfus in a cage. But it helped keep him there.” […]
“It was then, too, around 1898, that the affair became the Affaire, the preoccupation of all educated France. It suddenly took in not just the Army and the Jews but the central question of modern French history: nation or republic? Was one’s loyalty to be given to the nation as a repository of a heritage, mystical and ethnic in nature, or to a set of abstract ideals achieved by reason and available to all? These arguments split the upper and the educated classes — dividing even the Impressionists, the anti-Dreyfusards Degas and Renoir drawing daggers with Pissarro and Monet.”
Adam Gopnik further writes in the New Yorker:
“Stirred into movement by Mathieu, the entire liberal establishment, frightened and feeble at first, began to enlist in the cause; the great left-wing politician Jean Jaurès joined, then the publisher and future Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau, then the novelist Émile Zola—none of them Jewish, but with a certain self-interest in seeing the right done down, and, above all, with a passion for republicanism and a sense that it could not survive this parody of justice. They insisted that they were asking France to be faithful to its own declared rules. […]
“In 1905, the Roman Catholic Church was more or less disestablished in France, and equality among Protestants, Catholics, and even Jews imposed, largely because of the grotesque role that the Church and La Croix had played in the persecution of Dreyfus.”
To read the rest of Gopnik’s article, please go to the New Yorker
The miscarriage of justice was both tragic and outrageous. Dreyfus was made a prisoner in solitary confinement (he wasn’t allowed to talk to anyone) for years and chained to his bed at night.
This particular line from the New Yorker – “a pointed warning and reminder of how fragile the standards of civilized conduct prove in moments of national panic” – is befitting of us given the political psychosis in Malaysia today.