How Islamism Tainted France’s Presidential Election – Part I - The Jewish Voice
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How Islamism Tainted France’s Presidential Election – Part I

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Marine Le Pen- Leader of Frances National Front
Marine Le Pen- Leader of Frances National Front
What is Europe going to do about Islam? Submit? Resist? Or just wait it out, dimwittedly? The recent French presidential election offers insight into the way Islam, or more exactly the Islamist factor, may eventually play out in European politics.

Despite attempts by the Left to focus the debate on the economic crisis, Islam played a decisive role in the contest. The Socialist candidate, whose platform was tilted to favor the party’s Muslim clientele, could not have won without total support in the second round of voting from far Left parties marked by zealous anti-Zionism and a full range of anti-Western ideologies. The question of Islam-in-France was raised with unprecedented candor by incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy of the Movement for a Popular Majority (UMP). For the first time in France, a major party clearly advocated a push back against Islam (qualified of course with the adjective “radical”). This strategy fired up the enthusiasm of the base, mobilized voters, brought tens of thousands to party rallies, and led to a daily increase in Sarkozy’s polling figures. It would be fair to estimate that if he had had one more week to campaign he might have defeated Hollande during the second-round vote on May 6, 2012.

But his momentum had already been slowed by Marine Le Pen, candidate of a refurbished Front National. During the first-round campaign of April 9-22, the media kept its spotlight on her in a replay of the strategy used by the last Socialist president, François Mitterrand, who deployed them to exaggerate her father Jean-Marie Le Pen’s importance and weaken the conservative opposition. While accusing the Right of dallying with the Front National “fascists,” Mitterrand had unashamedly governed with a coalition of communists and the far Left without which the Socialists could never have won. A variation on this strategy was used in 2012: Anyone who dared question the virtues of “immigration” (code word for Islam) or defend national identity (code word for Islamexasperation) was smeared with pejoratives, all related to Nazism and the Holocaust.

In fact, this worked to the advantage of Le Pen, who came in third with 17.9 percent of the vote in the first round. What explains her pulling power? Did millions of French voters, disappointed with Sarkozy’s failure to release the pent up energies of the French economy, go for the Front National’s unrealistic economic program? Or did they, like the more vocal counter-jihad activists who rushed into her arms, simply ignore it and focus strictly on her championing of Islamexasperation? The activists, blaming Sarkozy for being big on rhetoric but soft on Islam, placed their faith in Le Pen, who came out beating the drum against Muslim street prayers (“an invasion without tanks”) and marched forward, stressing all the issues about which they themselves were blogging. They believed she would put an end to shameful compromises by the Right and the Left, which they designated by the composite “UMPS” (UMP + PS [Parti socialiste]).

Enchanted by her tough-on-Islam rhetoric, the new enthusiasts ignored the core of small-minded, retrograde anticapitalist—and often anti-Semitic—Front National stalwarts. Members of the “Jews-for-Marine” faction gave credibility to her clumsy visits to the United States and Israel. Her secularist Jewish supporters hardly noticed the way she lumped Judaism together with Islam, willing to sacrifice kosher slaughter if Islamic halal could be abolished along with it.[1] They did not even hear her declare that the U.N. Security Council should recognize Palestine.[2]

Heady with power after her good first round showing, Le Pen orchestrated the defeat of Sarkozy by convincing half of her supporters to cast a blank ballot in the second round of voting. Bloggers and activists associated with the counter-jihad site, Riposte Laïque,[3]believed that the UMP, condemned for its failure to stop the Islamic onslaught, would fall apart, and Le Pen would pick up the pieces. Confident that a slew of deputies would be elected in a Front National wave, they said she would be the leader of a new conservative party and, in 2017, why not Présidente de la République?

The True Victims

There is one category of the indigenous European population that is clearly persecuted by Muslim immigration: the Jews.

Not all Muslims attack Jews but virtually all anti-Jewish violence in France is committed by Muslims. And it is so widespread, so merciless, so stubbornly resistant that thousands of Jews have chosen to emigrate.[4] Of those who remain, many valiantly devote their energies to denouncing the violence and trying to defend Jews against it. But no less shocking than the flight or fight choice imposed on Jews is the general indifference to their dilemma.

The expulsion of a few illegal immigrants can monopolize prime time news for days while most attacks against Jews are ignored by the national media. Those that are reported are twisted out of shape by fabricated ambiguity. The victim says he was beaten/knocked down/kicked/slashed/bombarded with anti-Semitic insults. The perpetrator denies the insults. The journalist gives equal credibility to the Jew-basher and the bashed Jew, and the story quickly drops out of sight.[5]

On the rare occasion when an anti-Semitic crime is too big to ignore, it is drowned in a flood of emotion: Solemn public figures in skull caps attend synagogue ceremonies, Jewish community leaders and intellectuals publicly agonize in the media, and minutes of silence and solemn marches are organized. But the connection between Islam, Jew hatred, the specific killer, and the criminal act is severed. This was the case with the murder of Sébastien Selam by a Muslim neighbor in 2003 and the kidnap-torture murder of Ilan Halimi by an Islamist gang in 2006.[6]

Islamism’s brutal face showed up once again on the eve of the official presidential campaign in the form of Muhammad Merah, who assassinated three paratroopers of fellow North African origin—Abel Chennouf, Imad Iban Ziaten, and Muhammad Legouade—and then on March 19, executed Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, his sons Aryeh and Gavriel, and 7-year-old Miriam Monsonego at the Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse. A surviving soldier, Loic Liber, is a tetraplegic while student Bryan Aaron Bajoui is recuperating from critical chest wounds and the shock of witnessing the murders.

Because Merah killed both Jews and apparent Muslims (in fact one of his Maghrebi victims was Christian), the crime could not be termed as purely anti-Semitic. The fact that he was a run-of-the-mill punk rather than a wildly deranged one-of-a-kind killer raised no alarms in the public mind: Ominously, a striking increase in attacks against Jews following Merah’s jihadist operation showed that a very broad swath of the French Muslim population is both radicalized and activated.[7]

This does not mean that French society was not shaken by the Merah massacre. The weekly Nouvel Observateur featured a cover story on anti-Semitism in July. Yet, the lead article by Isabelle Monnin, “Journey to the Depths of Anti-Semitism,” meanders with half-closed eyes down the path of the new anti-Semitism. Merah is identified as a jihadist admired by a “small minority.” Several attacks against Jews are described. (Attacked by whom?) Jews who wear skull caps are afraid to go into certain neighborhoods. (What kind of neighborhoods?) Most incidents, it seems, are not violent enough to be worth reporting. Others—in Villurbane, a North African bashed a young Jew’s head with a hammer—are admittedly serious but, writes Monnin, they are whipped up by bloggers, leading to a “paranoid trend that makes every attack on a Jew the absolute proof of rampant anti-Semitism.” Finally, Monnin identifies the Jew-bashers when she states that “today’s anti-Semitism is often [sic] committed by youths of Maghrebi origin or sub-Saharan Africa calling themselves Muslims.” Are they not really Muslims? Or does the author think they do not represent true Islam? She attributes this anti-Semitism to a “political-religious molasses transposed from the Israel-Palestine conflict and anti-Americanism.” But, she alerts her readers to watch out for “a certain number of Jews whose racism and Islamophobia is reinforced by the increase in anti-Semitism.”

This blaming of the victim is repeated in other articles of the special issue, which accuse Jews of exaggerating the situation while exonerating Islam of anti-Jewish animosity. Journalist Marie Lemonnier begins her piece with a statement by the prominent Muslim Brotherhood cleric, Yusuf Qaradawi, hoping the Muslims will follow in Hitler’s footsteps and perfect the next holocaust. Yet after admitting that “extremists” like Qaradawi draw their legitimacy from Muslim tradition, she goes on to deny the evidence: The anti-Judaism of Islam’s beginnings is just the “traditional” way that religions differentiate themselves. She cites specialists who tell us that Jews and Muslims lived harmoniously together for fourteen centuries, ignoring massive documentary evidence to the contrary.[8] Forced conversions during the Almohad period, she says, were an exception to the “imperishable” Qur’anic verse: “Let there be no compulsion in religion [Surat al-Baqara, 256].” Anti-Semitism in Muslim lands was tragically imported from Christian Europe. And, she concludes, “in the wake of decolonization and Israeli-Arab wars, Jewish presence in Islamic lands became rare.”[9] If by chance Jewish presence in France were to become rare, would it be equally passive?

(To Be Continued

Next Week)

Nidra Poller is an American novelist and journalist living in Paris since 1972. The English version of her collection of short stories, Karimi Hotel and Other African Equations, will be published by Authorship Intl in 2013.

[1] Author interviews with anonymous supporters of Le Pen, Paris, Apr.-May 2012.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Riposte Laïque website, Chanteloup-les-Vignes, Sept. 10, 2012.

[4] Michel Gurfinkiel, “French Jews/No Future,”, Aug. 12, 2012.

[5] See, for example, Les Dernières Nouvelles d’Alsace, Apr. 30, 2010; The New York Sun, Feb. 22, 2006.

[6] Algemeiner Journal (Brooklyn), Mar. 19, 2012.

[7] “Alerte Actes Antisémite,” Service de Protection de la Communauté Juive en France, accessed Oct. 9, 2012.

[8] Paul B. Fenton and David G. Littman, L’Exil au Maghreb (Paris: PU Paris-Sorbonne, 2010)

[9] Le Nouvel Observateur (Paris), July 5-11, 2012.

From the Winter 2013 issue of Middle East Quarterly

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