Les juifs ciblés

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Not long after the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris, there was a second, apparently coordinated attack: the killings at Hyper Cacher (kosher supermarket), consisting of four French Jewish victims. The locations were almost certainly chosen in advance by the killers and more likely their handlers (as it looks increasingly like it was coordinated by an Al-Qaida affiliate) for hitting what they likely believe are sore spots and shibboleths in Western society.

The Charlie Hebdo killings happened first, involved more people, and caused the immediate shock, and so it may not be quite surprising that it overshadowed the Hyper Cacher killings, but nevertheless, in the parade of #jesuischarlie declarations (by the way, are you sure you aren’t actually someone on whom Charlie vomits?), don’t forget #jesuisjuif. It does almost seem like the second killings are observed as an afterthought.

But they weren’t. And I’d like to thank regular commenter Marky for his reminding us of that in the previous thread. Because of our previous interactions with him, it’s too often that I, at least, assume that his complaints about anti-Semitism and the Left are focused on a defense of Israel. Well, even if they are, it’s necessary to point out that things do look pretty grim these days for French Jews, as we see from this Tablet listing of anti-Semitism-related events in France.

But from there, I found this entirely excellent on-the-ground series by Marc Weitzmann, in which the topic of anti-Semitism in France is also a powerful lens through which we can see the malaise in French society and its relationship with the descendents of mostly-Muslim immigrants. Weitzmann notes that the more lurid attacks on Jews by French Muslims are perpetrated by people with a particular social history — ones very similar to the Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher attackers.

It is important at this point to note that the context of immigration here is a little different from what the average Canadian might have in mind. This isn’t a case of an excessively lax immigration board rubber-stamping people through, or even largely one of an illegal immigrant stream. A huge chunk of Muslim immigration to France came in waves associated with colonialism and other particular incidents in French and European history. For better or for worse, these are France’s Muslims now and the issue is principally a French problem.

Weitzmann paints a grim picture of social anomie and pitiless grinding tedium in socially-isolated dead-end suburbs, where the children of some of France’s immigrant populations grow up not seeing any chance of a way up and out, but only, at best, rather precarious control over their lives in a local sphere, excluded from national society and economy. A kind of immigrant “trailer trash”, so to speak. In these situations, many of them end up in jail, where only very orthodox forms of religion become a path to personal strength, firm identity, and self-respect. Not surprisingly, these situations are the recruiting grounds for the assorted Fight-Clubby nihilist groups that appeal to the sense of cosmic injustice and Islamic identity.

Pretty much all of the recent killers of French (and Belgian) Jews plus the Charlie Hebdo killers have this background. For the recruiters, directing the targets against Jews is easy: Jews are an apparently more successful group (how? must be a conspiracy) and in any case, “they’re” oppressing “our” people, the Palestinians. Then add to that the latent Jew-othering in both Islamic and French Christian culture.

Speaking of the latter, one may be tempted to think that the answer to the problems of French Jews lies with the French Islamophobic right. Consequently, Weitzmann turns his attention to the Front National, and finds no good answer there. In fact, at times it feels like there is a backchannel between French Islamophobes and Muslim extremists over anti-Semitism! The FN has spent its time attempting to clean up its overt image, however, and Weitzmann has an interview with its premiere cleaner-upper, Marine le Pen (who refers to her famous father, rather oddly, as “Le Pen”; is there some upper-crust French custom I don’t know about?).

The interview is vaguely surreal, and in fact, it sums up why these problems are so intractable in France. To Weitzmann’s dismay, Marine le Pen is so far from “racism”, she denies that there is a Jewish community who even has particular interests in France. Whatever her or her party’s actual feelings are, Mme. Le Pen hews strictly to a French “republican” dogma of colour-blind equality.

And therein lies the rub. This belief in colour-blind equality, which amounts to pretending that we all come from the same place, leaves France ill-equipped to deal with the challenges of a diversity that, despite what some may wish, is an integral part of French society. The special engagements with disadvantaged communities, the kinds of accommodations required to ensure that minorities can reconcile their group identities with that of the larger group, those are very difficult for most of the French political spectrum to accept, it seems—-merely that something in that direction is necessary.

If anything, the pressure in France is to head the other way: to widen the gaps between France’s Muslims and the majority culture in the apparent belief that it will force truculent Muslims to think more Frenchly. And the Parti Socialiste is, to a large extent, also fully enmeshed in this mode of thinking.

So, in this unfortunate long-term dilemma, sit France’s Jews, caught between the disappointed Muslim suburbs and a difficult-to-move French political class. Finally, I leave you with a quote from Weitzmann’s series (thought I don’t agree with all aspects of his perspective, there are so many good quotes that I should only give one for space reasons):

According to Gilles Kepel, the Syrian momentum is but the latest episode of a more general renewal—“a postmodern Salafist Jihad of the poor,” as he calls it, as theorized by a Syrian engineer named Abu Mussab al-Suri, who trained in France and has written many thousands of pages that have been posted on the Internet. In those pages, al-Suri argues in favor of training young Europeans from migrant backgrounds to be later sent back to Europe to be sacrificed to the greater cause of jihad. Jewish secular places like museums or schools—not synagogues—are listed among the first targets—with the goal of deliberately victimizing Muslims, creating ethnic “Islamophobic” conflicts in Europe—and later on, religious war. It is, interestingly enough, the very same project that could be heard in the 1990s in some circles of the French extreme right. Why France has become so sensitive and porous to al-Suri’s ideas is another story.

As a postscript: I would like to remind you that Québec, at least, dodged a bullet when it rejected the “values charter”, which was an attempt to import the secularism portion of the French republican programme. These events have resulted in calls for the resurrection of that idea in Québec media, but as Lysiane Gagnon points out in La Presse, why does anyone think that the French model is a good idea?

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This page contains a single entry by Mandos published on January 10, 2015 11:21 PM.

On the Charlie Hebdo atrocity was the previous entry in this blog.

Making a Fine Point of It is the next entry in this blog.

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