By Barry Rubin
The murders in Toulouse should be a wake-up call for France and all of Europe. True, the assaults on Jews and French soldiers were three individual terror attacks perpetrated supposedly by a single individual. The more information that emerges, however, the clearer it becomes that this terrorist was well connected to a bigger al-Qaida network.
Even more important, these shootings are among dozens of antisemitic incidents that happen daily in France and throughout Europe. A big story like the Toulouse attack can draw attention to a broader, dangerous political and social trend.
Or it can be treated as an isolated incident. Nothing to see here; move along; go back to sleep. Al-Qaida terrorists don't pull up in front of Jewish schools to murder teachers and students every day, right?
In the past, the mass media could be expected to present a debate on how to interpret this event but now all too often they give a monopoly to the whitewashers and the apologists.
Phase one is to present any terrorist as a right-wing, 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, is sort of a sad sack character who is 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 self-help fanatic and crime-fighting superhero.
As for France itself, antisemitism 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 advisor 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, antisemitic 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.
For Vaisse, revolutionary Islamism is simply not a factor of any importance. While he correctly points out that many French Muslim activists aren't personally pious in their behavior (drinking alcohol, for example), this is besides the point. Islamism becomes a form of ethnic nationalism for them, justifying anti-Jewish and general anti-French actions.
In addition, this is no transient "second-generation" phenomenon. For over time, the radicalism is passed on to the third generation through Islamic schools, mosques, and indoctrination at home. In effect, France and other countries are turning themselves into permanently unstable bi-national states.
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 still safe to live in and which were too dangerous. The key factor is whether you are wealthy enough to move away from the threats. I’ve heard Jewish parents discussing their kids' traumatic experiences 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 French being spoken in Tel Aviv streets. My real estate agent friend has 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 Speigel interviews, Daniel Ben-Simon, an expert 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.
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, to continue denying the very existence of an antisemitic problem. And that means there will occasionally be more such tragedies but also hundreds of incitements to antisemitism, blood libels against Israel, assaults, threats, and other 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. And unfortunately that is precisely what's happening.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). His latest book is Israel: An Introduction, to be published by Yale University Press in January 2012. You can read more of Barry Rubin's posts at Rubin Reports, and now on his new blog, Rubin Reports, on Pajamas Media
Technorati Tag: Toulouse and Mohammed Merah and Antisemitism and Terrorism.