When a self-proclaimed jihadist slaughters Jewish schoolchildren in France on account of events in the Middle East, the proper response is collective horror and serious societal soul-searching. Via Meadia highlighted one laudable example of this in the form of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, and there have been many more in France. Unfortunately, there are those in France and elsewhere who do not see the Toulouse attack as an anti-Semitic hate crime to be forcefully condemned, but rather as an event to be “explained,” whitewashed or even celebrated.
Take Tariq Ramadan, professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at Oxford University, who writes of murderer Mohamed Merah,
His political thought is that of a young man adrift, imbued neither with the values of Islam, or driven by racism and anti-Semitism … A pathetic young man, guilty and condemnable beyond the shadow of a doubt, even though he himself was the victim of a social order that had already doomed him, and millions of others like him, to a marginal existence, and to the non-recognition of his status as a citizen equal in rights and opportunities.
…he was French, as are all his victims (in the name of what strange logic are they differentiated and categorized by religion?), but he felt himself constantly reduced to both his origin by his skin color, and his religion by his name.
Ramadan in no way condones or approves of these murders, but his response still falls short. Ramadan sees no anti-Semitic executioner here, only an oppressed soul driven inexorably by unfair social forces to murder others — most of whom, irrelevantly, happened to be Jews.
This response fails to reach the level of the event. There is no doubt that while the murderer killed some people simply because they were French soldiers, the kids were killed because they were Jewish; it isn’t “strange logic” to introduce this vital fact in the discussion. It is strange logic to think it can be ignored, that the Jewish identity of the victims was an irrelevant detail. If they hadn’t been Jewish they would be in school today, worried about their homework and about what their friends thought of their latest haircut.
Ramadan seems fundamentally uncomfortable with the fact that this was a hate crime, and that it was unreasoning blind hate that led the murderer to choose his targets and pull the trigger. Ramadan also seems almost willfully naive about hate; hate doesn’t appear in a vacuum. Like all hatred, the killer’s hate had many roots — in social conditions, historical facts, personal pathology, failures of the wider society and failures of the individual himself — but that is what hate is, and prominent among the hatreds that tormented this twisted, distorted soul was a special hatred of Jews.
The killer was not, as Ramadan acknowledges, an original thinker or in any way a teacher or leader. He was weak, blind, overwhelmed by events and by forces beyond his understanding or control. But Ramadan cannot or will not draw the obvious, vital conclusion: this young man did not invent or discover Jew hatred on his own. He was a reflector, not a creator, and he absorbed his Jew hatred from the milieu in which he lived. Something terrible and poisonous is at work in contemporary France; Mohamed Merah came down with Jew hatred because the bacillus was in the air.
Ramadan calls it “strange” to advert to the Jewishness of the dead. Why? Is it not stranger to turn from a vital fact?
That aside, Ramadan devotes most of his essay either to expressing regret that the events seem to have strengthened the political position of Nicolas Sarkozy or to schooling France on the way that the social conditions in which they live are creating serious problems for young people from immigrant communities. He is right to remind France (and Europe) that it is sitting on a time bomb. Europeans have committed an act of criminal folly: they opened their doors to an immigrant population they were not prepared to accept, and they have carefully erected a series of policies and laws that create sky high youth unemployment — a burden that falls disproportionately on immigrants, who are younger than the rest of the country, more inclined to bring children into the world and, as Ramadan tirelessly reminds his readers, suffer discrimination and marginalization in the wider society.
In rage, confusion and hatred, some of these young people may focus on Jews when they lash out, but it will not only be Jews who reap the harvest of dragons’ teeth that Europe in its blindness has so thoughtlessly sown. Europe and France should either have kept the immigrants out or welcomed them in as they prepared a place for them. They did neither, and the payback will hurt.
Ramadan’s response to Merah’s crime, which we shall categorize no farther than to call it incomplete, is far, very far, from the worst of the responses on display in France.
Many observers seem more concerned that the French far right will use these events to fan hatred against Muslims than with the actual event that took place or the clear evidence that the murderous hatred of Jews has been reborn on French soil. These philanthropic and liberal souls worry more about the hypothetical possibility of future aggression against Muslims than about the factual aggression against Jews — not only in this attack but in the general climate of fear in which many French Jews now live.
Ramadan apparently does not find this strange, but I do. It is as if the press commentary about an epic pogrom in Czarist Russia focused on the danger that innocent Russians around the world might be subjected to discrimination or worse as word of the atrocity spread. It is as if the news of anti-apartheid hero Steven Biko’s murder in a South African prison was greeted with concern that perfectly innocent white South Africans would be made to feel unwelcome at international gatherings. It is as if the primary response to the Irish potato famine was to worry about the pain and sorrow that innocent members of the English public would suffer as a result of the unfavorable publicity.
I wish this sort of inverted logic were the worst response to the madness in France. But it isn’t: some people aren’t explaining the crime away or worrying about its impact on innocent Muslims — because they are celebrating the murder of innocent Jewish kids and honoring the killer. Reuters reports on the vigils being held in Toulouse … for Mohamed Merah:
Thirty young people, mostly girls, gathered Saturday in the district of Toulouse, where Mohamed Merah grew up, to honor the memory of the killer of seven people shot dead by police Thursday.
French weekly Paris Match adds:
This is not the first tribute to the architect of the murders of three soldiers and four of the Jewish faith, including three children. Just hours after the death of Mohammed Merah, several Facebook pages have been created in his honor. Graffiti “Viva Merah”, “Vengeance” or “F**k the kippa” were also identified and cleaned.
I rejoice that the graffiti were cleaned, and not, as in Vienna after the Anschluss, by elderly Jews forced to scrub walls and curbs by howling mobs. But that there is a certain population in France, a minority of a minority to be sure, small but not invisible and determined to be heard, that rejoices when Jewish blood is spilled in French streets cannot be denied. The bacillus of a murderous, unreasoning hatred is in the air. And it also cannot be denied that the authorities in France have no idea what to do about this problem or how to combat it. (The French police, to give them their considerable due, have done a good job over time at preventing more incidents of this kind, but France has no viable plan or even workable vision for how to address the roots of the Jew hatred that inflames a small but not insignificant subset of its people.)
Seventy years after Hitler, anti-Semitism of the worst and most violent kind walks the streets of Europe once more. And once again the educational, religious, cultural and political institutions and leaders of Europe are ineffective and paralyzed: like a rabbit frozen with terror in the presence of a rattlesnake, the European establishment is unable to act. Its follies and errors have created a trap from which it can see no escape.