Graphic Images of the War in France
by NIDRA POLLER
October 15, 2012
As Islamic outrages multiply, PC France remains adamant: This has nothing to do with Islam.
PARIS. Islam, où est le problème? [literally, Islam, where is the problem?]. In the wake of the latest spate of Islamic rage operations, Yves Calvi, one of our most decent journalists, made an honest effort to squarely face the question. Though he tried as usual to include a broad range of guests, the September 24th broadcast of his political discussion program "Mots Croisés" was a mismatch, with philosopher Alain Finkielkraut fending off a barrage of accusations from all sides. Accusations, of course, against us, not against Islam.
The very possibility that Islam might be a problem was evacuated early on. The majority of Muslims in France are law-abiding well-integrated members of society. The proof? French Muslims did not react violently to Charlie Hebdo's caricatures of Muhamed. Consequently, the problem is not Islam and Islam is not a problem. The problem is the failure of French society to integrate immigrants and make them feel at home. The problem is the stigmatization of Muslim immigrants down to the third and fourth generation, relegated to ghettoes, victims of discrimination in the job market, subjected to humiliating ID controls, constantly suspected of criminality.
Clémentine Autain of the Front de Gauche [The Left Front, ed.] extended the humiliation argument to its outer limits. Those immigrants had to put up with the debate on national identity, the burqa ban, the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the festering Israel-Palestinian crisis. Finkielkraut and Socialist politician Julian Dray managed to squeeze in a few words about anti-Semitism without really linking it to Islam or stemming the tide of criticism of French society.
Finkielkraut gave a subtle explanation for this studied reluctance to entertain the notion that Islam in and of itself might be a problem by citing the case of his colleague Robert Redeker, a philosophy professor who has been in hiding and under police protection since he published an unvarnished reflection on Islam in the Figaro daily in September 2006.
Asked for reactions to a proposed Qatari investment of 50 million euros in the banlieues (suburbs), Calvi's guests were almost unanimously opposed to what seems like foreign interference in domestic affairs. But, argued Rama Yade, who served as Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs in the Sarkozy government, we have to ask why Qatar would step in. It's because we have neglected the banlieues. Aside from the fact that this is not true, it does not explain the warlike behavior that actually provokes the question Islam, where is the problem?
Latifa ibn Ziaten, the bereaved mother of the first parachutist killed by Mohamed Merah [the French-Algerian terrorist who murdered four men and three children in Toulouse in March of this year, ed.], contends that her son Imad is a war casualty, targeted and killed solely because he was in the service. The Defense Department refuses, on the grounds that he was not on duty when he was shot. Merah lured Imad into an ambush by pretending he was interested in buying the scooter the parachutist had advertised online. Merah's "home movie" shows Imad, who refused the order to kneel, standing upright and looking his killer in the eyes.
Calvi ran an excerpt of a TV interview of the soft-spoken dignified grieving mother. Tears flow as she tells how she found the courage one day to visit the neighborhood where Merah grew up. She came upon a group of youths and asked them if they knew Mohamed Merah. They slapped their thighs and high fived. Merah? He's a hero, he's a shahid [Islamic martyr. ed.], he's our model. When she told them Merah killed her son, the boys sobered and apologized. She says, with a mixture of boundless grief and determination, "I spoke to them for 45 minutes. ... I am Muslim and I'm telling you they strike fear in my heart. Something has to be done. If nothing is done, I tell you, there will be other Merahs."
In this and other recent interviews, Madame Ziaten, who has created a foundation in the memory of her son, elaborated on her conception of Islam. She raised her children in their religion and taught them to respect their country - France. To her eyes and to her heart, Merah betrays Islam. "We're Muslim but there are things we don't know. Jihad we don't know. That's not Islam." We cannot doubt her sincerity.
Does it take an Israeli who served in Gaza to get to the heart of the Islam, où est le problème question? The journalist Zvi Yehezkeli has produced a four-part documentary for Israel's Channel 10 entitled Allah Islam. Passing for a Palestinian journalist, he was welcomed into the intimacy of Muslim communities in several European countries including France and Denmark (see our own Lars Hedegaard in that segment). I don't expect any French TV channel to run a subtitled version of the series!
Left, Right, and Center in France defend the "modèle républicain" of integration as opposed to a decried "Anglo-Saxon" mosaic of juxtaposed ethnic communities. This might be one more blinding illusion. According to an article in the daily Libération, the Franco-Qatari fund for the banlieues didn't come out of the blue on a magic carpet; it was negotiated by members of Aneld (Association nationale des élus locaux pour la diversité), an association of local elected officials whose diversity is rather uniform. Not bothering to create a lobby, they went straight to the source. If the government still hasn't managed to curtail the influence of foreign states in French mosques, how will it deal with these freelance foreign policy makers?
In the field, the issue is crystallized in anecdotes like this: C., a Frenchman in his 60s, Parisian born-baptized-and bred, practices his profession in a firm that, like many others escaping high rents, located in the banlieue. "We do not feel safe in Aulnay-sous-bois," he says. "We have to take infinite precautions to protect ourselves and our offices. I saw a garage explode. Because ‘they' didn't want to vacate it. The police stood by and did nothing. I cross a large open area on my way to work. The other day, someone walking behind me called out. I turned and asked him what he wanted." C.'s gaunt face is hidden by a thick, short, salt and pepper beard. "'Are you a Jew?'" he asked. I replied, ‘absolutely not,' he mumbled ‘OK,' and I went my way."
What if he were Jewish, and admitted it? What if he bore some identifying feature? Like Jewish eyes?
Kevin Noubissi and Sofiane Tadbirt, both 21, were savagely murdered on Friday evening in Echirolles, a banlieue of Grenoble. Kevin and Sofiane were known as big brothers in the community, models of integrity, integration, and success. They intervened to keep the peace, lead the way, help others to succeed. Kevin's younger brother had offended someone earlier that day "by the way he looked at him". The offended party punched him and sprayed him with tear gas. Kevin asked the aggressor to apologize. The now doubly offended party raised a platoon of 15 young men armed with knives, clubs, hammers, baseball bats. ... They stabbed, slashed, and pummeled Kevin and his friend Sofiane to death.
This evening [October 3rd, ed.] President Hollande and Interior Minister Manuel Valls visited Echirolles. Residents pressed around the president, pleading for law and order. A woman called to him from an upper story window. We voted for you, give us more police to protect us from these thugs. A tall African man said gently, almost talking to himself: "We came here to escape persecution in our own countries."
Où est le problème? The problem is that these well-meaning afflicted people brought their misfortune with them. The skirmish between the youths of Echirolles and the thugs from neighboring Villeneuve is of the same nature as this week's massacres in Kenya and Somalia. How can French society, the government, police and educational system deal with it? Twelve suspects have been arrested in the Echirolles case, among them are two brothers who are serving in the army, and their mother.
Zvi Yehezkeli's documentary in Hebrew is posted at This Ongoing War. Dispatch International would like to be contacted if somebody would provide the series with English subtitles.
Nidra Poller is an American novelist and journalist living in Paris since 1972. She publishes regularly in the Wall Street Journal Europe, New English Review, and other outlets.