Shmuel Trigano @ Mosaic Magazine:
Listening to French politicians, journalists, and intellectuals responding to the seafront massacre in Nice in mid-July of this year, or to the murder two weeks later of a priest in the village of Saint Etienne du Rouvray, one could not escape a feeling of déjà vu. By now, official France has developed a carefully scripted ritual for reacting to such Islamist attacks. Prior to this past summer’s events, the script was most conspicuously deployed in the wake of the killings at the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo on January 7, 2015, and before that on the occasion of a jihadist spree in Toulouse in 2012; but its use can be traced back much farther in time.
The ritual opens with an outpouring of compassion for the victims, as public officials, stunned by the horror of the event, appear too deeply engulfed in emotion to process its significance or formulate what might be done about preventing its recurrence. This is followed rapidly, almost reflexively, by a choreographed rite of “no-linkage,” whereby politicians assure the public that the latest bloodshed “has nothing to do with Islam.” With a barrier thus erected to any rational consideration of the killers’ self-professed motives, it is but a short step to the third phase: solemn warnings against the dangers of “Islamophobia,” itself a concept mobilized solely for its utility in a larger strategy of evasion.
The object of this strategy, which derives much of its moral force from an implicit parallel with the socially sanctioned French struggle against all forms of racism, is to foreclose any ideological or political debate about Islam. The term “Islamophobia” itself—meaning fear of a religion rather than fear of murderers who invoke or otherwise identify themselves with that religion—is meant to imply that anyone engaged in criticism of Islam or its proponents is by definition suffering from a psychiatric disorder. And this gives the game away: would an atheist’s critique of Christianity or of Judaism be described as a phobia? The question answers itself. By means of this term, one religion, and only one, is singled out for official protection.
Refusing to name the enemy—always “terrorism,” never jihadism—declining to condemn it or rally citizens to join the fight against it, officials smartly move on to the only possible conclusion: “we have to learn to live with terrorism.” Surrendering to what is supposedly an impregnable fact of nature, the government masks its supine posture with empty slogans of social solidarity: “We stand together!” “Disunity is what [ISIS] hopes for!” “Let us remain united!” [...]
The flaw, as I say, goes back a long way, and its etiology is worth exploring. Today’s failures exist on a continuum that stretches back to the dawn of the 21st century, and specifically to the persistent and blatantly anti-Semitic attacks that began to proliferate at that time. The years between 2000 and 2002 witnessed 500 such incidents of anti-Jewish violence. All were greeted by a total blackout on the part both of government authorities and of the media—as also, it pains one to record, on the part of compliant Jewish institutions. So as not to admit that the actors almost uniformly were Muslims of African origin, facts were concealed or distorted, and the perpetrators’ clearly anti-Semitic motives were hidden behind a veil of euphemisms.
There ensued a decade and more of downplaying or ignoring anti-Semitic violence, an exercise that afforded its practitioners much experience in the art of denying the realities of jihadism and thereby contributing to the current confusion. Daniel Vaillant, who served as minister of the interior from 1995 to 2014, would later admit that the administration of then-Prime Minister Lionel Jospin (1997-2002) had explicitly ordered the blackout so as not to “add fuel to the fire.” This shameful cover-up would have serious implications for France and French democracy. In effect, France sacrificed its Jewish citizens on the altar of “public order” and the ideal of vivre ensemble (living together)—a slogan constantly tossed about by the government. But as one group of citizens (an element of the Muslim community) continued to act violently toward another (Jews), public order was not in fact maintained. Vivre ensemble meant instead, that one group, a kind of scapegoat, could be attacked by members of another group with impunity.
Worse yet, it became convenient to blame the problem on Israel, and thus by extension on French Jews themselves. The more the Islamic nature of the attacks was suppressed, the more Israel and “Zionism” were brought forward for ritual indictment. Jospin’s foreign minister, Hubert Védrines, went so far as to declare that, in the light of “what was going on” in the Middle East, he “understood” why the “youngsters of the suburbs” attacked their Jewish fellow citizens. Such statement paved the way for a political alliance to be formed between Islamists and (mainly) leftist foes of Israel. The media, led by Agence France-Presse (AFP), cooperated by presenting a systematically distorted version of the Palestinian jihad against the Jewish state.
In its turn, the “respectability” of anti-Zionism gave respectability to plain anti-Semitism. An early move in this direction was the coinage of the term “intercommunity conflict,” as if the victims of jihadism were at least equally as culpable as their persecutors, and as if the problem was not France’s to resolve but theirs. The introduction of the Israel-Palestinian issue into the equation then tipped the moral scale in favor of the perpetrators. The “two communities” (a pointed expression introduced earlier by President François Mitterrand) continued to be lumped together, but one of them was now, as it were, innocent by association with a just cause, the other guilty by association with an unjust one. When Jews had the temerity to insist on naming the religion or ethnicity of their attackers, they were called “racist” or, worse yet, communautariste. Literally meaning “communalist,” the term refers to those who place their own ethnic, religious, or social community above the well-being of the republic as a whole—one of the harshest adverse judgments in French political discourse.read more