The Region: France: Here comes the whitewash

Murders in Toulouse should be wake-up call for France. A big story can draw attention to a broader social trend.

March 25, 2012 23:00
Islamist march in France

Islamist march in France. (photo credit: Reuters)

The murders in Toulouse should be a wake-up call for France. True, the attacks on Jews and French soldiers were three individual terror attacks perpetrated, perhaps, by one person. Yet they are among dozens of incidents that happen daily in French cities, in schools, and in all aspects of life. A big story like the Toulouse attack can draw attention to a broader, dangerous social trend. Or it can be treated as an isolated incident.

Nothing to see here; move along; go back to sleep.

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In the past, the mass media could be expected to present a debate on this issue, but now, all too often, they give a monopoly to the white-washers and the apologists. Phase one is to present any terrorist as a right-winger, neo-Nazi, or opponent of left-wing policies.

If the terrorist is a Muslim, however, his own explanations – citing dominant interpretations of Islam and the goal of furthering an Islamist revolution – are ignored.

Instead, he or they are presented as confused, psychologically disturbed individuals; victims of discrimination; or, in short, anything other than ideologically motivated revolutionaries.

Perhaps the leading “professional” apologist for France in this context is Justin Vaisse. In an article in Foreign Policy, “The ‘New Normal’ in France?” he claims that Mohamed Merah, the Toulouse terrorist, was sort of a Sad Sack character merely seeking to take his fate into his own hands and to emerge as the defender of oppressed Muslims in France. In other words, he’s sort of a combination of a self-help fanatic and a crime-fighting superhero.

As for France itself, anti-Semitism is supposedly declining.

There’s no problem, and few major attacks on Jews. Everything is just fine. No need to make changes; no need to demand that Muslims teach tolerance and fight against extremists in their own ranks; no need to provide more protection for Jewish institutions.

And no need for a real soul-searching about the constant demonization of Israel in the French media and, at times, schools.

Is this disgusting? Yes, and it’s also dangerous. The subhead on the article tells us the Toulouse attack is merely “a banal and fading version of extremism.”

To a Jewish ear, the word “banal” recalls the famous Hannah Arendt line about the “banality of evil” in the Holocaust, while the word “fading” means the problem is going away. It so happens that I have met Monsieur Vaisse and discussed these issues with him.

At that time he was an adviser on Islam in the French government.

Vaisse had just written a book saying that there was no real political problem regarding Muslims in France. The book was quickly translated into English and published by a prestigious Washington research center.

According to Vaisse, the entire difficulty lay with economic and social issues. The problem was that Muslims were poor and badly treated.

If this were fixed then there would be no radicalism, Islamism, or terrorism. I asked him: Accepting your premise for the moment, why should we possibly believe that France can solve the economic and social problems involved? There aren’t good jobs; there is no prospect of better housing and higher living standards. Government regulations discourage entrepreneurship.

So in the context of your worldview, isn’t the prospect for more radicalization and violence? He simply gave no serious answer.

And this, I should add, was before the current international economic crash and the Paris riots.

But there’s more. A colleague asked Vaisse what sources he used in composing his study.

Only French-language sources, he replied. My astonished colleague said that nothing could be understood without looking also at the Arabic material that French Muslims were writing and reading. In fact, this person added, there was an Arabic-language bookstore within five minutes’ walk of Vaisse’s office and we could go there right now and see the radical, anti- Semitic child-raising manuals being sold there. These books, my colleague added, weren’t just sitting on the shelves, they were being bought and used.

Vaisse showed zero interest in this point.

Incidentally, in the Netherlands – in contrast to France – Jewish groups successfully protested the sale of these child-raising manuals telling parents to teach their kids that Jews were evil and should be extirpated. The Dutch government responded by ordering little strips of white paper be glued over the offending passages.

My host then showed me, with a flick of his finger, how easily these paste-overs could be removed and the sections calling for the killing of Jews be read.

Now consider this point. I am unaware of a single incident in Europe or North America when a non-Muslim attacked Muslims with guns or bombs in an attempt to kill the maximum number possible.

Probably, you could find a couple of such cases, but it won’t be easy and they won’t be many. It is the Jews who are being targeted as a group by many levels of violence and intimidation. This is a secret to nobody except Western governments, “experts” and much of the mass media.

I have listened in France to discussions among Jews over what parts of their cities were safe to live in and which ones were dangerous. The key factor is whether you are wealthy enough to move away from the threats. I’ve heard Jewish parents discussing the traumatic experiences of their children in the public schools. French Jews are either leaving France or at least buying homes in Israel.

Aside from reports in mostly Jewish media, I know about this because I hear more and more French being spoken in Tel Aviv’s streets. My real estate agent friend has had a growing number of French clients, some of whom leave their families in Israel and commute to work in France.

These people know what’s actually going on in France and other countries.

Der Spiegel, for example, interviews Daniel Ben-Simon, an expert on the subject who explains there are, “hundreds of anti-Semitic incidents” a year, committed mainly by Arab immigrants. Indeed, the teacher and his two children murdered in Toulouse were French Jews who had emigrated to Israel until he had been persuaded to return to France to work in the school.

So while we will be told to listen to Vaisse and such people, these reassuring lies have nothing to do with reality. Yet this is not just a matter of misinformation.

Such falsehoods encourage governments and institutions not to prepare, not to change their ways, not to learn from bloody experience.

And that means there will be more such tragedies, as well as hundreds of other incitements to anti-Semitism, blood libels against Israel, and acts of anti-Jewish hatred that you will never hear about. Hiding the truth only ensures that the problem grows and the tragedies are repeated.

The writer’s new book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press. He is director of global research in the International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and a featured columnist at PJM and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal.

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