By Roger Cohen
April 20, 2015
The five million Muslims of France and the 500,000 Jews of France eye each other with unease. Muslims complain that questioning the Holocaust is forbidden by law but insulting the Prophet Muhammad is not. Two weights, two measures, they say. Sephardic Jews in suburbs of hostile Muslims feel they are back in the North Africa their forebears fled.
Muslims, often encountering daily prejudice, are susceptible to old libels about Jewish wealth, influence and power. Four Jews — Yoav Hattab, Yohan Cohen, Philippe Braham and François-Michel Saada — are shot dead in a kosher supermarket by a Jihadi fanatic and Paris, to some Jews, looks like the epicenter of a war between Islam and the West. Mosques are defaced. Synagogues are protected by soldiers. Muslims are ghettoized in drab projects, asked to pray in disused barracks.
Jewish descendants of Holocaust survivors hear cries of “Death to the Jews” in the streets of Paris, chanted by so-called anti-Zionists. Muslims speak of the need for 2,000 more mosques, a demand that is fodder for the far-right National Front. Some Jews vote with their feet. They leave.
This is not the whole story, or even most of the story, of France today, but it is enough of the story to make anyone wonder: What would happen if there were another terrible incident, say the kidnapping and beheading of a prominent Jew?
It could happen.
Immigration worked in France for a long time. Ask generations of Italians, Spaniards, Portuguese and Poles. It has not worked of late, in part because many North African Muslims, particularly Algerians, arrived in a country they detested for the often unacknowledged crimes of France during the Algerian War, in part because of various forms of exclusion.
The engine-room of French integration, the classroom, failed. Humiliation was political, social and cultural. Identity could not be Gallic. It was found through Islam, in some cases the violent Islam that has taken more than 1,500 French Muslim youths to Iraq and Syria, now the training ground of Islamic State fanatics. What, people wonder, will these people do on their return?
This is not a time of niceties in France. The Charlie Hebdo and kosher supermarket slaughter buried political correctness. Jews see a fanatical Islamist ideology that, as demonstrated in Paris, targets Western freedoms and Jews equally. Many Muslims are sick of the monopoly on victimhood they argue Jews have established since the Holocaust.
I spoke, separately, to Dalil Boubakeur, the president of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, and to Roger Cukierman, the president of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France. Their moderation is shared. Their Frances part company.
Boubakeur: “You can’t have jokes here about the Shoah, but freedom to insult Islam is complete. French laïcité is a passport to repress the rights of Muslims. Islamophobia is on the rise, we’ve had more incidents of hate and racism this year than ever before. Muslims are forced to pray in the streets for lack of mosques. The Muslim reaction is to be more fundamentalist, more extremist when it comes to identity. Muslims don’t want to dilute themselves in this false assimilation and integration.”
The killers of January were deranged terrorists, he said, criminals with no claim to represent Islam.
Cukierman: “We are in a war. A united Europe emerged from millions of dead, and now it’s hard to convince Europeans there is a real danger to Western democracy. Surveys show strong anti-Semitism in the Muslim community, stronger among the more religious. I have police in front of my apartment. I travel in a bullet-proof car, with an escort car behind. Today, despite their patriotism, and even under police and army protection, French Jews fear for their safety, their integrity, their dignity and their future.”
A few points: The Holocaust happened. Denial of it is an outrage but, as a free-speech absolutist, I don’t see it as a crime, any more than blaspheming the Prophet Muhammad. The double-standards argument of French Muslims is understandable — even if denying the Holocaust, a fact, and mocking Islam, a religion that is also a political movement, do not amount to the same thing.
Islam is in crisis, a religion at war with itself. The West is a spectator to this internal conflict and a victim of it. Up to now, the reaction of Muslims to the horrors committed in the name of an ideology of hate and death drawn from a certain reading of Islamic texts has been pitiful. The resolution of the crisis of Islam can only come through denunciation from within of the slaughterers — and recognition, rather than denial, of their Islamist inspiration.
It’s easy and facile to see all Muslims as the enemy. Some Jews in France now do. This is a path to ruin. Just as in the Holy Land, Jew and Muslim must not imagine the other will go away.