Monday, January 12, 2015

How French Victims Became Jewish Martyrs

A march organized by the French government to protest agains the terrorist attacks that took place in Paris this week drew over a million people according to the Ministry of the Interior, while a total of over three million marched across France, and similar marches were held around the world. Now that the drama has played itself out for tv, the questions it raises must be addressed.

First of all, the extraordinary participation in this charade shows that governments can diffuse citizens’ resistance to increased surveillance of their e-mails and phone calls by encouraging them to demonstrate their support for free speech and expression by journalists. The implication is that if you don’t want the free speech of journalists to be targeted by terrorists, you must allow the govern-ment to surveil your speech. (Interestingly, while the contradiction this implies in the Western world is swept under a rug of emotion, it has afforded journalists in the Arab world, such as Egypt, the opportunity to demand freedom of the press, according to images on France 24.) 

Secondly, it was logical for the other leaders of Europe to be in the front line of the march together with French President Francois Hollande, because the events of this week are part of a Europe-wide problem. But why was Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also there? As I wrote in my previous piece, France has a small but very influential Jewish community, tightly linked to Israel, as does the United States. Yesterday, one of the Sunday talk shows featured a Jerusalem banner stating ‘Israel is Charlie’, and nothing could illustrate more eloquently the fact that Europe’s - and especially France’s ‘- Arab problem’ is also a ‘Jewish’ problem.  

The problem is no longer, as it was for centuries, that of Christian Europe rejecting so-called long-nosed outsiders accused of murdering Christ. In broad brush strokes, it is about Europe’s balancing act between Israel, to which hundreds of thousands of French Holocaust survivors fled for safety, and the oil located in the ground of Israel’s neighbor, Saudi Arabia, which France needs. Not to mention two centuries of direct involvement in the Arab world, starting with Napoleon’s incursion into Egypt and the colonization of Algeria in 1830, that lasted until 1962. The French should not be surprised that the special relationships Paris maintains with former colonies, ensuring that they evolve within a French sphere of influence (not much different from Russia’s ‘near abroad’ policies, except that France is separated from Africa by a sizable sea), should influence the thoughts and feelings of the Muslim population in what used to be called ‘la metropole’ to distinguish between mainland France and Algeria, when the latter was considered part of France.

Discussions of ‘the Muslim’ problem this week have focused on the thousands of young Europeans who travel to Iraq, Syria and Yemen to join Al Qaeda or ISIS, returning to commit acts of terrorism in their countries of origin. (I do not use the term ‘homelands’ because it is clear that these people now consider the Arab world as their homeland.) News references to the foreign policies of France or other European countries, most of which are members of NATO, are few, far between and brief.  However those countries should not be surprised that their contributions to the US-led war on terror boomerangs, as journalists covering yesterday’s events admitted.  And yet, the question of Israeli policy toward Palestinians, went largely unmentioned, notwithstanding - or perhaps because of - the prominent presence of Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli Prime Minister never hides his attitude toward Palestinians in particular and Arabs in general, in a vivid example of the tail waging the dog, similar to what AIPAC does in the US. Jake Tapper on CNN mentioned that it was a mistake for Washington not to send a high-ranking official to the march (Eric Holder was in Paris only for consultations), but that it might have been a way to show (pretend) that DC doesn’t run Europe.  I would add that Israel represents US interests in the Middle East, and that its highly publicized participation in the Paris commemoration marked its official entry into Europe, not in the same category as Turkey if it were accepted, but as a member of the club of white rulers of the world confronted with a developing world still mired in poverty. 

The Paris attack illustrates the bubbling up of a full-fledged crisis between Europe and the Islamic part of that developing world, whose populations account for more than a fifth of the global total. It has been reduced, for the popular imagination and tv ratings, to a fight against terrorism, which Israel will exploit to the hilt to justify a Palestinian policy that goes a long way toward maintaining that crisis. If this sounds like an exaggeration, four Jews were killed at a Kosher supermarket, and of the twelve people killed at Charlie Hebdo, only two or three are identified as Jewish; two were Arabs, as was a policeman shot at the scene. Why then did the march, led by the head of a resolutely secular state and forty world leaders, end at the Grand Synagogue, with Israel’s Prime Minister as the featured speaker?

The Jewish Part of the Charlie Equation

This week’s attacks on a French satirical journal that often published cartoons demeaning Islam, and on a large Kosher supermarket that replaced the mom and pop delicatessens of the formerly poor Jewish quarter, illustrate more vividly than any analysis what is happening in France.  France has both the largest Muslim population in Europe and the largest Jewish population. Jews and Muslims constitute France’s two prominent minorities, but there are almost eight times as many Muslims as Jews. 

France had a centuries-long history of anti-Semitism before it developed a Muslim problem.  Jews were emancipated in France in 1791 on the heels of the French Revolution, but in the rest of Europe, it was a gradual process. In Germany, they were not given equal rights until 1871, and at the time when these rights were cancelled by Hitler, after a short-lived socialist government in the latter 1930’s, France had a right-wing government that supported him. After Hitler invaded France in 1940, it created a collaborationist government that carried out the Reich’s orders.  

The most infamous of those orders was the deportation of about seventy-six thousand Jews, about a fifth of the community, to concentration camps, where most of them died.  The post-war population was boosted after the war by the arrival of  Jews from North Africa, as liberation movements swept the French colonies, and currently, the Jewish community in France is estimated at about 600,000, concentrated mainly in Paris, Marseille, Strasbourg, Lyon, and Toulouse. Muslim anti-Semitism surged worldwide following the founding of Israel and Israel's military victories against Arab armies, and this was perhaps particularly true in France.

While Europe’s Jews suffered deportation, torture and death at the hands of the Nazis, it is fair to say that on the whole they rebounded with great success.The French Jewish community, the largest in Europe, has become increasingly influential since the end of the war. The Jewish tradition of learning led to many Jews graduating from France’s prestigious universities in both the sciences and the humanities, entering the cultural and political establishment in numbers far out of proportion to their percentage of the population. The CRIF, representative council of Jewish institutions in France, is a powerful organization, akin to AIPAC. Two Jewish philosophers, in particular have long been household names in France: Bernard-Henri Levy and Alain Finkelkraut have been prominent media figures for decades, constantly beating a pro-Israel and anti Muslim drum. 

France’s Muslims are the descendants of populations who were colonized for over a century, some, like the Algerians, had to fight long and bloody wars to achieve independence. Many North Africans fought alongside the French in both World Wars. Promises were made, but not, or poorly kept, and it is only now, after several generations, that French Muslims are beginning to enter the mainstream.

Different from, but just as reprehensible as the intellectual assault on Muslims, is that of the National Front Party, founded in 1972 by Jean-Marie Le Pen, a former Legionnaire who, having at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 became a permanent fixture on the French political scene two years later.  According to Wikipedia, the party “rejects both the French revolution and its legacy”. Le Pen’s daughter Martine, took over the party in 2011 and has been highly successful at modernizing it, coming in in third place in the 2012 presidential election, and rapidly becoming a prominent member of the right-wing caucus in the European Parliament.  Although she promises to pull France out of NATO, opposes same-sex marriage and vows to drastically reduce immigration, in a September 2013 poll she was the top choice for president in 2017.

Under Jean-Marie Le Pen, the National Front was openly anti-Semitic as well as anti-Muslim. Under his daughter, it is merely anti-Muslim. Very differently from their Semitic cousins, the Arabs were colonized for more than a century and are still today largely among Europe’s disadvantaged.  Even in its new, more respectable form, given the historical volatility of French politics, the National Front continues to contribute to the polarized situation, a situation which, and in the past year, has resulted in increasing numbers of French Jews enquiring about immigrating to Israel, according to Natan Sharansky

According to France 24, a million people are expected to participate in a march tomorrow afternoon in Paris, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the King and Queen of Jordan, among others. The leaders of Europe will also be there, and the discussions among and between these different sets of leaders will  influence a major policy area for years to come. The Schengen Agreement of the European Union guarantees free travel for its citizens between the 27 member states. Illegal immigrants fleeing war-torn countries acquire refugee status in those bordering the Mediterranean, and proceed from there to all parts of the peninsula, including Germany, France and Great Britain. Most are Muslims. The population of the European Union is 500 million, that of Middle East is about equivalent, and Africa shelters 1.1 billion people.

Europe’s number one problem is supposedly the Euro, but money problems go up and down. What can only increase is the presence among mainly white, relatively affluent Judeo-Christian populations, of poor brown and black populations, most of whom are Muslims. And cartoons are at best a way of hiding Europe’s collective head in the sand. 

Friday, January 9, 2015

Charlie Hebdo versus Drones on Wedding Parties

One thing that has not been stressed in the coverage of the events in France is the fact that the percentage of Muslims inhabitants is almost equal to the percentage of blacks on the one hand - or Hispanics on the other - in the U.S.: It is 10%.
Unlike the situation in the U.S., where blacks have lived for centuries, and Hispanics have immigrated from countries that have been - at least nominally - independent for at least a century, the Muslims in France come primarily from former French colonies which did not achieve independence until the nineteen fifties or sixties, some, like Algeria, after a lengthy and bloody struggle.
North Africans were enrolled to defend France in both World Wars, and promises were made during the second of these which were either not kept or kept very tardily. Add to that the official secularism of France which has existed for over a century and constitutes for the French something akin to the first ten amendments of the constitution for Americans, and you can begin to see why the presence of Muslims is a major element in daily life and hence, in politics.
The complexity of the French situation is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that although the two brothers who killed twelve people at a satirical newspaper Wednesday claimed they were ready to die as martyrs, allied hostage-takers in a Jewish convenience store in Paris made good on their promise to kill them when the two brothers were gunned down in their hiding place.  
The pan-European nature of the crisis is illustrated by the fact that heads of state or government from all over Europe - and the world - will attend a march in memory of the victims to be held on Sunday - a regular Franco-German summit being rescheduled - while the National Front party of Marine Le Pen was not invited. (Germany’s Muslims represent 7% of the population, which is about equal to the European average.)
While most analysts have focused on whatever happens to be the situation at any given moment, I have always thought the raw reaction to the increasing numbers of Muslims in Europe could only be halted by a sober consideration of broader numbers: the population of a largely under-developed Africa was expected to top one billion in 2014. The population of the European Union is half of that. For Africans struggling to earn a living in a continent that has been colonized in one way or another for over two centuries, in which traditional societies have given way to a ‘modernization’ that raises up only a small minority of citizens, Europe represents a promised land.  (Americans need to know that the European welfare state, together with those of Scandinavia, represents the highest level of well-being in the world.) 
It seems to me that nothing is going to stop the northward economic migration of Africans, while the logical place for refugees from a war-torn the Middle East is also Europe.  Yet all signs are that no one in Europe is considering the numbers.  Right-wing parties like that of Marine Le Pen in France merely add fuel to the fire, as they struggle to ‘defend’ their Christian traditions. For let’s not be coy about this: Islam is the fastest growing religion worldwide, and there is nothing ‘wild’ about the fears of Europe’s Christian population that Islam could eventually become the dominant religion on the continent. (It is no coincidence that the Catholic Church has given itself a Pope who breaks with almost every rigid tradition and very visibly reaches out to sectors of society that have hitherto been ignored by the Church.)  
There are two other aspects of this crisis that deserve attention: one is that European leaders may begin to question the wisdom of teaming up with the US to lay down the law in Muslim countries by force. France is a special case because it’s prominence in the ‘fight against terrorism’ is closely linked to a colonial history that has morphed into close relations with ‘sovereign’ African states.  (Italy could be the first to break ranks with the US led coalition, if campaigns against the use of its air-bases for bombing raids in Pakistan are any indication.)  In this context, Vladimir Putin’s traditionalism is bound to be viewed differently by ‘secular’ heads of state than heretofore, because it includes Islam. Whereas Europe’s traditional right-wing parties see Islam as an enemy, Putin recognizes its value as a religion deserving of equal status with the Orthodox church.  His policies and statements vis a vis the Muslim countries on Russia’s southern rim are a testament to that approach. The war in Chechnya is what makes the news; we hear little about Russia’s relations with the Stans, which support and encourage a modernizing and peaceful Islam. This is part of Putin’s overall attitude toward the world and relations with other countries, which should be based on cooperation and negotiation, the opposite of that of the U.S., which seeks ‘full spectrum dominance’ in order to pursue the global rule of the 1%.
I was gratified to see in the debate on France 24 (France’ s English language channel) that not all the participants rabidly defended Charlie Hebdo’s right to insult the leader of a major religion. And this brings me to the ‘free speech’ aspect of this crisis. Like many of my friends, most of the participants kept repeating: “I have a right to say anything I want. If I offend other people, that’s too bad. Free speech is an inalienable right.”  These people have lost sight of the fact that in France as in the US and the rest of the Western world, free speech was originally about the right of citizens to criticize and even mock their government without being put in jail - as still happens in Muslim lands.  Brain-washed by the consumer society they have come to equate free speech with the free choice of goods, while accepting a press that hides most of the truth most of the time. They are utterly indignant that a few followers of a foreign religion are ready to kill to avenge an insult (although not so long ago in Europe even personal insults resulted in duels), while being unperturbed by their government’s daily killing of innocent followers of that religion for the purpose of extending the reach of global industry and finance.
The cartoonists who were killed may have been convinced that they were merely exercising their right to free speech, and while they are right in claiming that this does not give individuals who feel offended the right to murder them, they are conveniently forgetting that their insults to Mohammed, that seek only to make people laugh, can be seen my Muslims as applause at the daily killing of innocent Muslim civilians across the world. Although the French Foreign Minister, Pierre Vals affirmed today that the fight is not against religion but against terrorism, claims that the killers were barbarians contradicts the fact that they were trained by Al Queda, whose motives are political.
For a confirmation of the views expressed here, from a uniquely qualified source, please read

Satire and Secularism

This is a hastily put together cut and paste, thanks to Wikipedia and based on my long familiarity with France.  An original comment on this event which is destined to have long-term repercussions, will follow in the coming days.

France is the only country I know of that has an official policy of secularism. Religion was banned, or at leas frowned upon, in the Soviet Union, but that was not the same thing.  In France, secularism is reflected in a wide range of laws that go back to 1905, when the separation of the State from all religions was codified.  

It’s important to know that a century later, France has the largest Muslim community in Europe, equal to one tenth of its population. Due to France’s century-plus colonization of North Africa (it took over Algeria in 1830) and the lengthy stages of its disengagement, French/North African relations are more dense that the relations between other European countries and their erstwhile colonies. North African cultures have become a part of French culture, via music, the cinema and literature. Muslim students have always gone to school with Catholic students, and while ‘integration’ has certainly been rocky, and North Africans have been widely discriminated against, there can be no turning back.

In September of 2010, the French Senate passed a law prohibiting concealment of the face in public.  This instituted a ban on face-covering headgear, including masks, helmets, balaclava, niqābs and other veils covering the face in public places, except under specified circumstances. The ban also applies to the burqa, a full-body covering, if it covers the face. The key argument supporting this proposal was that face-coverings prevent the clear identification of a person, which is both a security risk, and a social hindrance in a society which relies on facial recognition and expression in communication. The key argument against the ban is that it encroaches on individual freedoms. While searching for precise dates on-line I came upon an article stating that the law against face coverings had already resulted in many women abandoning the workforce for remunerative activity that they could engage in at home. And in France, as in the rest of Europe, young Muslims are leaving to join ISIS.  The number, probably conservative, is put at around one thousand and includes women.  

Freedom of the press also has a long history in France.The Law on the Freedom of the Press of 29 July 1881 (French: Loi sur la liberté de la presse du 29 juillet 1881), often called the Press Law of 1881, is a law that defines the freedoms and responsibilities of the media and publishers in France. It provides a legal framework for publications and regulates the display of advertisements on public roads. Although it has been amended several times since its enactment, it remains in force to the present day. Inspired by Article 11 of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen of 26 August 1789, it is often regarded as the foundational legal statement on freedom of the press and of speech in France. At the same time, it imposes legal obligations on publishers and criminalizes certain specific behaviors (called "press offenses"), particularly concerning defamation.

There has been a consistent backlash against ‘Islamization’, led by the National Front party, that first gained prominence in 1982, when it won a local election in a town not far from Paris.  Since that time, Jean-Marie Le Pen’s movement grew to the point where he reached the second round in the 2002 presidential election.  His daughter Marine took over the party in 2011, and she too upset the applecart, finishing third in the 2012 presidential election. She quickly turned away from the party’s traditional anti-Semitism and built on the disenchantment of low-income segments of the population with socialist President Francois Hollande’s policies.  Among other unexpected developments, like other traditionalist European leaders, she has spoken out in support of Vladimir Putin.

Irreverent and stridently non-conformist in tone, the publication is strongly antireligious[2] and left-wing, publishing articles on the extreme right, Catholicism, Islam, Judaism, politics, culture, etc. According to its former editor, Charb (Stephane Charbonnier), the magazine's editorial viewpoint reflects "all components of left wing pluralism, and even abstainers”.[3] 

In the early hours of November 2, 2011, the newspaper's office in the 20th arrondissement[16] was fire-bombed and its website hacked. The attacks were presumed linked to its decision to rename a special edition "Charia Hebdo", with the Islamic Prophet Mohammed listed as the "editor-in-chief".[17] The cover, featuring a cartoon of Mohammed by Luz (Renald Luzier), had circulated on social media for a couple of days.organizationCharb was quoted by AP stating that the attack might have been carried out by "stupid people who don't know what Islam is" and that they are "idiots who betray their own religion”. Mohammed Moussaoui, head of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, said his organization deplores "the very mocking tone of the paper toward Islam and its prophet but reaffirms with force its total opposition to all acts and all forms of violence."[18] "[18] François Fillon, the prime minister, and Claude Guéant, the interior minister, voiced support for Charlie Hebdo,[16] as did feminist writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who criticized calls for self-censorship.[19]

Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius criticized the magazine's decision, saying, "In France, there is a principle of freedom of expression, which should not be undermined. In the present context, given this absurd video that has been aired, strong emotions have been awakened in many Muslim countries. Is it really sensible or intelligent to pour oil on the fire?"[25] However, the newspaper's editor defended publication of the cartoons, saying, "We do caricatures of everyone, and above all every week, and when we do it with the Prophet, it's called provocation.”

This, then is the background for the assassination today of twelves employees of Charlie Hebdo, including its editor, by a group of armed Islamist gunmen, who claimed to be acting ‘in the name of the Prophet’.