Back to the Three Ring Circus
by NORMAN SIMMS
June 21, 2012
It had to happen, didn't it? In fact, it was mooted within a week after Mohammed Merah was shot in Toulouse following his carnival of blood-the shooting, first, of two French soldiers, and then the murder of children and a teacher at a Jewish school. The young murderer went out in a blaze of glory, having set up the situation by holing himself up in his apartment, toying with the police for hours, waiting for there to be sufficient media coverage-and then leaping out the window where he expected to be shot by one or more marksmen on the scene. And now, his father wants to sue the French state for unlawful killing of his son. This is more than self-serving hypocrisy.
In the weeks after the Toulouse spectacle, the media were diverted to the first of the French elections, the vote for a new president, so that attention turned from law-and-order and anti-terrorism back to the economy and especially the downgrading of France's credit rating.
This week round one of the voting for the National Assembly has been taking place, to be followed by round two when candidates with more than 12.5% of the votes and less than 50% will battle it out. The French public must be in a state of exhaustion as the percentage of registered electors who actually turned out has dipped to an almost all time low. Such electoral fatigue has not stopped the anti-Semites from doing their thing, however. The more spectacular attacks make it to the international news, the rest stay hidden in the local press of this or that town.
An attack on three young men, who dared to wear kipas in the streets of Lyon, by a gang wielding hammers and iron bars came early in June. Then a street robbery in Sarcelles of a cell phone by a gang would not have been noticed, were it not for the accompanying anti-Jewish insults. Other assaults on Jewish youths have been happening throughout the weeks since young Merah made his spectacular departure from the world's media stage.
While Americans grapple with shooters who seem to have no political motives other than adolescent rage, France has dealt with-or rather has not dealt with, merely denounced-the same old Jew-hating gangs, who now the left-leaning press, bolstered by their win in the presidential elections, will avoid naming as North African immigrants of fanatical Islamicist belief or the children thereof with anti-social rage in search of ideological justification. Marine Le Pen claims to lead the third largest party in the nation and calls for a coalition of anti-immigrant right-wing parties and voters, and even the next generation, Marion Marchal-Le Pen, the good-looking granddaughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen stands a chance of winning in round two in the southern district where the town of Carpentras is located. Carpentras is not only remembered for the desecration of Jewish graves a few years back, but is also the place where Alfred Dreyfus and his family sought refuge after the court martial in Rennes found him guilty for the second time, "with extenuating circumstances," the chief of these being that he was completely innocent of all the charges brought against him.
There is not just a problem on the extreme right but also on the extreme left in France of imported Islamist resentments and frustration hyped up by anti-Zionist anger at Israel for daring to exist in the middle of Muslim lands, a discontent rationalized and supported by Marxist and politically-correct pseudo-intellectualism. There is also the ever-smouldering bitterness of traditional indigenous anti-Semitism on the super nationalist right, an anger stoked by fears of economic collapse and social disruption from too many non-white and non-Christian immigrants.
In an earlier article, I discussed how the festival of blood justice could be categorized-through the need to assemble a crowd, to focus on a spectacular bloody event with violence, and an appeal to a ritual cleansing and punishment, as absurd and as distant from reality this may be to a sober, rational observer. The reaction in France through subsequent and continuing acts of anti-Semitic violence suggests that the earlier sequence of murders did not exhaust the individual sense of justification by the perpetrator, his family, and those other people who still feel the core problem of Jewish presence in France marks out a contamination they must destroy in all circumstances. This deep-seated need to re-enact the violence has been more than exacerbated by failures in the majority culture and it institutions to address the reality of powerful hateful anti-Zionist rage; it has allowed the festering sore to spread, as it has been doing for many years. The failure lies in the delusion that the source can be controlled by normal police methods because it is an aberration in particular individuals and families. Moreover, it is presumed that the irritant is foreign to French society and belongs to disaffected minority groups who import ideologies that can be used by those who seek a reason to explain their anger and their sense of alienation.
The popularity of the far-right parties in the recent French elections indicates that the old anti-Semitism remains a force to be reckoned with, however prettily it is now dressed up in anti-EU nationalism, anti-immigrant bitterness, and deflection for the moment on to Muslim and other non-French looking populations. The Le Pen family's ideology has linked itself into a reaction against apparently unassimilable migrants, and thus echoes the words and actions in Scandanavia, especially in Norway's Anders Behring Breivik who bombed government building in downtown Oslo before going after young socialist campers on Utaya Island.
But old man Le Pen's power grew along with the growth in France of resentment against the loss of Algeria, particularly the return to the metropolis of long-time settlers from North Africa, and the influx of Arab and Sub-Saharan immigrants. While the pied noirs and other disgruntled former colonists added a new dimension to this racist version of nationalism, the Le Pens are only the latest in a series of radical anti-Semites. The Vichy regime of Marshall Petain was a classic instance, along with the collaborationist groups in Nazi-occupied Paris, as was the Dreyfus Affair in the 1890s.
Biological theories of Aryan superiority to other races became dominant in the second half of the nineteenth century, partly replacing an older Judeophobia of the Catholic clergy in France, the opposite of Aryan being called Semite; hence the various newspapers and political parties proudly proclaiming themselves Antisemite, in the sense of pro-Aryan. What had begun in Iberia in the fifteenth and sixteenth century as a concept of pure versus impure blood to distinguish between Old Christians-the millennial society of the various Christian kingdoms, principalities and cities of Spain and Portugal, most won back in a long struggle from the Moors-and New Christians or converted Jews, whether voluntarily or under duress-entered mainstream Western and Central European thought. Since blood could not be changed, the theological principle of baptism as a way of turning a Jew into a Christian with no tincture of former demonic status was over-ridden. The conversos or their descendants down many generations could never be trusted, was always a New Christian, and therefore perpetually to be guarded against. From then on Judaism was not just a religion, it was a malevolent genetic condition. If it is in your blood, it is ineradicable.
The development of the national states in Europe meant that people were no longer ruled by those who by conquest, marriage and heredity held the reins of power, and who determined the official language and religion. The new kind of entity that emerged after the overthrow of feudalism and absolute monarchy was to be based on a bizarre notion of nationality: as if one could draw a line around a certain geographical space, then all the people who lived within it would have to speak the same language, worship in the same church, and share the same ethnicity, one that was rooted in the soil by the blood of their ancestors. At best, those who didn't fit, the outsiders, could be tolerated-in the way a body tolerates disease; at worst, they had to be kept under strict control and limited in what they could do and say, or they would have to be expelled, or they had to be eliminated in some other fashion. There could be no assimilation of the alien. Those states which tried the experiment in multi-lingual, multi-ethnic, and multi-confessional secularism usually failed, especially in Europe; the circumstances seemed better in North America, though the place of Blacks from Africa who had once been slaves has not totally been resolved yet. The great inner-European empires in Europe-the Czarist-Russian, the Austro-Hungarian, and even the Ottoman-did not survive the First World War. Another massive conflagration resulted. The emergence of a European Economic Union has its own problems today, where financial crisis exposes the precariousness of the ethnic and social tensions both between states and within individual countries. Even Slavic nations, such as Poland, Russia and Ukraine, remain edgy between themselves, as the soccer riots of the moment reveal ancient rivalries.
In contemporary France, then, there is a three ring circus in progress, where violence against Jews remains an optic through which the older components show their ugly stubborn existence. There is the most obvious anti-Zionism of the disaffected Muslim groups, who believe they are continuing the fight to liberate Palestine from the Israeli demons, and their left-wing supporters who think they are continuing the old Marxist struggle against imperialism and colonialism by supporting religious fanaticism under the banner of post-modernism.
Then there are the various anti-immigrant parties who come to the defence of traditional rural, Catholic and enclosed France, trying to hide their anti-Semitism and anti-cosmopolitanism behind the rhetoric of super-nationalism and Islamophobia. Finally, there is the outright disgust, fear and hatred of Jews that goes back thousands of years, a jealousy of a people who supposedly are rich, influential and deadly beyond their numbers. They seem to incorporate-take into themselves the vast loads of discomfort, anxiety and despair that scapegoats have always done-everything the anti-Semite hates about the world around him or her, cannot stand in his or her body, and represents every psychological threat imaginable.
As Rabbi José Faur (author of The Horizontal Society) has put it many times: the loathing of Jews arises from the core values of Judaism-its questioning of all authority because it lives in a horizontal contractual relationship with God based on interpreting and applying the Law, because it values and educates its children with a love that transcends all else, and because it seeks to understand and control the natural world according to reason and justice in decisions that are democratically taken. In many ways, too, these are the core values of Western civilization and hence the same hatred of Jews encodes or is expressed by a hatred of America, Israel, France and other free and tolerant states.
Norman Simms is the author of Alfred Dreyfus: Man, Milieu, Mentality and Midrash (Academic Studies Press, 2011). The second volume in the series, Alfred Dreyfus: In the Context of His Times: Alfred Dreyfus as Lover, Intellectual, Poet and Jew (also by Academic Studies Press) was published in July 2013; and the third Alfred and Lucie Dreyfus in the Phantasmagoria (Cambridge Scholars Publisher, UK) in September 2013.