Is Anti-Immigrant, Islamophobic Campaign Rhetoric fomenting Antisemitism in France?

As French police launch a massive manhunt for the person who shot down a rabbi, his two children, and another child outside a Jewish school in Toulouse, the modus operandi of the killer raises a chilling prospect. There had been similar shootings of French soldiers in the area, but the troops, three of whom were shot dead by a similar weapon by a motorcyclist, were of North African or Caribbean origin. Police are looking both at a the French far-right and at Muslim extremists as possible perpetrators. In the former case, the French political atmosphere would be implicated. [Update: As it turns out, it may be the latter: a potential suspect has been cornered, who was motivated by al-Qaeda-style extremism, the mother of all intolerant rhetoric. It is a little disturbing that his killing of 3 French troops (if it was he), two of them Muslim, is gradually dropping out of the press reporting. This breaking development does not, as some tweep suggested, blunt the force of the rest of this post, below.]

Immigrants and especially Muslims have been frequent targets of racism and racist rhetoric in French politics. President Nicolas Sarkozy was behind in the polls recently when he made up some ground with some strident rhetoric about too-free immigration inside the European Union. There are, he thundered, “too many foreigners in France.” (Hint: French antisemites view Jews as foreigners). Sarkozy has been accused of legitimating the National Front of his far-right rival Marine Le Pen by essentially stealing some of her anti-immigrant rhetoric. Indeed, he seems to be attracting her supporters.

It is in this hothouse atmosphere where it is being alleged that some French (non-Catholics, non-Gaulois) are less French than others, and are, indeed, undesirables within the French body politic, that the brutal murders of Jews outside Ozar ha-Torah in Toulouse took place.

Those on the Zionist far right who deliberately and systematically attempt to foment hatred of Muslims, are always in danger of at the same time promoting antisemitism. The same resentments, the same sordid politics and racist rhetoric, come into play for both. Sarkozy, by dirtying the Gaullist tradition with Le-Pen-iste rhetoric, is creating an atmosphere of intolerance in France that may not be entirely unrelated to the murders of innocent children and a man of God in Toulouse.

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32 Responses

  1. So far, I imagine the Far Right is urging people not to point the finger at them until they catch the actual perpetrator. If it’s a Muslim extremist, then they’ll breathe a sigh of relief and step up the demonizing rhetoric again, unrepentant. If it’s a French xenophobe they’ll take pains to show how he doesn’t represent them. Let’s take this opportunity to condemn them while they can’t hide behind the “it wasn’t one of us” argument.

    • How about condemning the perpetrator of this heinous crime, whether he is a Muslim extremist or a right-wing extremest, without using it as a platform for your own agenda? That the far right may use it (if he indeed was a Muslim extremist) for their own purposes does not lessen the guilt and wretchedness of the one who committed these murders.

      • The problem is that these things don’t occur in a vacuum. If nothing changes aside from arresting the individual, then there will be more attacks like this.

  2. Mr Cole,

    Your article, while it does well to highlight the serious problems of racism and xenophobia in France (and with which the USA is very familiar), it risks leading the reader to misinterpret the facts, owing to lack of clarification on a couple of points :

    “There had been similar shootings of French soldiers in the area, but the troops, three of whom were shot dead by a similar weapon by a motorcyclist, were of North African or Caribbean origin.”

    Your use of the word “but” is problematic. There is no “but” : what all the victims have in common, is that they are not of “Gaulish” origin, and it appears that the same killer has gunned down all the victims (police confirm same gun & motorcycle used in both shootings, as reported in this morning’s Guardian). Also, you omit to mention that Muslim, as well as Jewish, sites are being protected (also mentioned in this morning’s Guardian). Nowhere in the French media have I read that “Muslim extremists” are suspects (n fact, I’m curious as to where you got this piece of information), and neither did I read that in the Guardian, whose coverage is quite in-depth. On the contrary – a lead which, according to the Figaro, is being followed, suggests that neo-nazis who were discharged from the army some years ago because of their extreme views, may be suspects.

    Furthermore, when Sarkozy said that there are “too many foreigners in France”, he was NOT referring to Jews. Your article may lead people unfamiliar with French politics to believe that these are Sarkozy’s own views.

    Let us make no mistake : Sarkozy’s xenophobic & racist rhetoric and policies target immigrants – and French people – of Arabic/North African origin, particularly when they are Muslim. You do point out, but I feel that the above two points needed making.

    Yours sincerely,

    Stephanie McCarthy
    Paris, France

    • “Sarkozy’s xenophobic & racist rhetoric and policies target immigrants – and French people – of Arabic/North African origin, particularly when they are Muslim.”

      I think that Sarkozy and his right wing brethren in the US are making a grave error in buttering their political rhetoric with anti-immigrant rants. The right wing extremists view Jews in the same light as non-Jewish immigrants and egging them on for a few more votes may encourage a few to turn violent-as is most likely the case here. My condolences to France. May the parents and relatives of these school kids find the courage to stand up to this gross act of violence.

    • I apologize; there was a link in my previous message that didn’t go through.

      I fully agree with Ms. McCarthy. Most of the French political class can absolutely not afford to be suspected of antisemitism nowadays, it would be a political suicide in France. It goes so far that main French politicians are making very strong public statements of support to Israel, that could even be considered as high treason in other countries (one example among many others as French elections are coming: look for “Israël c’est Plus Important que les Retraites” from Eric Raoult, on Youtube; if you don’t understand French, this deputy – who campaigns for Sarkozy – is saying that he left a meeting about French retirement plans for coming to this meeting of support to Gilad Shalit, because Israel is more important than French retirement plans). Even Louis Aliot, the National Front vice president (and Marine Le Pen’s husband) made a trip to Israel and took great care to mention his Jewish grandfather. Sarkozy’s anti-immigration rhetoric is indeed essentially against immigrants who are associated with insecurity in people’s mind, or clash of civilization (Islamization of France, etc, which is why you will also see the issue of Halal food in the presidential campaign for example). This category of immigrants does absolutely not include Jews in France. Now there are opposition movements which are usually associated with the extreme-right (I would say for historical reasons, because they are more nationalist than extreme-anything nowadays), that are fighting “state-Zionism” (which is a much more obvious issue in France than in the US, essentially because of the obvious influence of openly Zionist organizations on the French political class, in a country in which lobbying is illegal). While some of these opposition movements are trying hard to filter their members from true extreme-left/right, racist, or antisemitic people, these are usually the political movements on which tend to aggregate antisemitic people.

      Best regards,

      • I have to bring a correction about lobbying in France: it is in fact “forbidden to members of Parliament to be linked with a particular interest”, but not illegal per se.

  3. I do not agree in the notion that rhetoric prompts violence. Muslim minorities have been targets in all of Europe including Scandinavia, yet you have only seen this in France.

  4. Addendum. The last paragraph of the response I submitted should read as following :

    “Let us make no mistake : Sarkozy’s xenophobic & racist rhetoric and policies target immigrants – and French people – primarily of Arabic/North African, and Black African (Continental & Caribbean) origin, particularly when they are Muslim. You do point this out, but I feel that the above two points needed making.”

    Yours sincerely,

    Stephanie McCarthy
    Paris, France

  5. The timing–coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the Evian Accords-may also play a role. The fact that soldiers killed were parachutists makes me wonder if there isn’t a connection with the anniversary.

  6. Anyone should have the right to be Divinely motivated to be nutcases to their own Right or left but inflicting their nuttiness on others to the extremes of murder is a alarming growing modern attrocity committed for jealousy, money, oil reserves, and territory, as well as religion. It’s as though there is a pressing urgent need for a reinforcing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to be more effectively policed and enforced by the UN with a reinforcing of Women’s Rights too. GOP Candidates should be first in the queue for copies.

    Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.

    Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,

    • Not only should the GOP be given copies, but anyone anywhere running for public office should be held accountable for inciting hate and violence!

    • I am not sure if I made my points strongly enough. I have been head aching about these issues for a while. There have been religious nutters afoot since before Charles 1st. I believe it is time for someone with the cajones of a Roosevelt or a Churchill to stand up and say The Declaration of Human Rights is “The Boss” above all other including Religions and they must be made if necessary by the force of the United Nations to submit to this. The US must cease to be the World’s Self Appointed Policeman in its own interests and Politicians all too must be made to comply and stop spouting religious and racial and war nonsense. I see this as the only hope for our humanity which has lost its way.

    • It’s been too long since the end of WW2 for people in the powerful states of the world to remember the conditions that motivated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Which is not that it’s wrong to commit such acts, but that they escalate into wars that perpetrators will eventually regret.

      The lessons of the Depression, we’ve noticed, have also worn off in our generation.

  7. It was the same gun, and the same scooter, so we are not talking about an Islamist, rather a right-wing extremist, of the Breivik kind.

    • Breivik definitely was in a loose network of internet communicants. Friends of friends of friends. He was confident that others would follow in his footsteps; that was the key to his whole strategy for victory.

    • Im pretty sure its clear. Islamic extremist who is upset at foreign intervention by france into muslim land. killed the soldiers because f it regardless of their background. then he lled the jews cause ever those muslim extremist like to take out their frustrations on the jews. pretty sure hes already admitted to this.

      Also you all are talking about islamaphobic events happening everywhere. islamaphobic events happening are dwarfed by the amount of anti Semitic events.

  8. Pres. Sarkozy is not a total stranger to immigrant-bashing, the French version of race baiting. When he was Interior Minister before being elected president, Mr. Sarkozy reacted to rioting in North African districts of Paris by going there and decrying the lack of “French values” by the rioters rather than speaking to the reasons underlying the social upheaval.

    Indeed, there has long been a strain of “the other” in French politics; Mr. Sarkozy is a bit ham-handed at it but Charles DeGaulle set the tone, if far more subtly. It’s why people who live in Paris disdain those who are from the provinces, and why the country shows disdain for much that is not French.

    Mr. Sarkozy’s racist campaigning may not have directly set in motion the events that resulted in a rabbi and children being shot to death but – like Bill O’Reilly’s constant refrain of “Tiller the baby killer” – they do set in motion the belief in disturbed people that they are doing the right thing in murdering innocents.

  9. Greetings Juan,
    the latest is that it was the same weapon (11.43 caliber pistol) that killed all the soldiers and some of the kids. He started at the school with a 9mm then for some reason switched to that 11.43
    Several witnesses also agree he had a camera around his neck, and was probably recording the whole thing!!!
    The mind reels….

    • That’s a .45 caliber
      He also may have deliberatly chosen areas with surveillance cameras, bank ATMs and a Jewish school!

    • My bet is that with the way the world is, you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet… Sick trumps Sane, every day of the week.

  10. Of course as a member of that ancient French family, the de Sarkozy, he has a right to speak out … oh, wait.

  11. “Those on the Zionist far right who deliberately and systematically attempt to foment hatred of Muslims, are always in danger of at the same time promoting antisemitism.”

    I’m floored by that statement. I suppose one can find isolated extremist voices anywhere but the bulk of the French Jewish community – with whom I’m intimately familiar – do not fit that description. If anything, they opt to take a low profile in the face of extremist anti-Jewish sentiment in the banlieues – the most heinous manifestation being the Ilan Halimi case. Fact is that the perps were neo-Nazis, according to the authorities. I doubt very seriously that they needed any excuse to fire their perfervid imagination.

    Not one of your better posts, Juan

  12. Such a sad sad story. More innocent people killed

    More lies about Iran
    During a conversation on Chris Matthews Hardball last evening about oil prices and production Congressman Markey closing statement was blaming Iran for rising prices. He said “Iran as they rattle the markets” Essentially blaming Israel’s endless saber rattling and threat to attack on Iran and oil speculation taking place as a result on Iran. Markey kissed Israel right on the ass last night.

    On MSNBC’s Rachel Maddows she did a one hour show on non proliferation and Mexico agreeing to take out all nuclear weapons grade fuel. Good show. But when Rachel and her team put up a map of countries with nuclear weapons Russia, China, US, France, UK, Israel, India, Pakistan and NOrth Korea. She and her team chose to put up Iran as having nuclear weapons on the map. Talk about irresponsible, inaccurate and dangerous. Fueling the endlessly repeated and unproven claims that Iran not only has a nuclear weapons plan but they have nuclear weapons. Rachel Maddow needs to be pounded for doing this. Shameful and dangerous

  13. The appeal to xenophobia — in the name of laîcité and “Frenchness” — does not lend itself to subtle distinctions. Muslims and religious Jews alike can be targeted as the “other” as long as they remain visible minorities. If they dress, eat, or worship differently, they’re viewed as a threat to French identity. In recent weeks, French President Nicolas Sarkozy
    and his prime minister, François Fillon have tried to appeal to the xenophobic far-right in France by calling for Muslims and Jews in France to abandon halal and kosher ritual slaughter.

    Of course, even if French Muslims or French Jews of North African descent tries to become invisible, they can still be targets of prejudice. As we’ve found out in the past decade here as well, one does not have to actually be an Arab or a Muslim to attract unwelcome attention (from random bigots or at security checkpoints). It’s enough to look physically like one might be from that part of the world. Those murdered French paratroopers of North African and Caribbean origin weren’t wearing any kind of religious or ethnic garb when they were killed. “Whiteness” — like “Frenchness” — is in the eye of the prejudiced beholder.

  14. I think all this speculation and finger-pointing is rather unbecoming. We just don’t know who did this or why. Not really the hour for scoring political points. One point I can make is that all my neighbours, irrespective of their politics, origin and faith or none, are horrified. Let’s just hold on before blaming the president for this.

  15. It would be worth noting that many of the rightist sentiments being appropriated by Sarkozy to draw votes from the National Front would fit quite “comfortably” in the Republican Party in the United States. And note the recent report by the Southern Poverty Law Center on the explosive growth of hate groups in the US since Obama’s election. Very worrying.

  16. Sarkozy in fact is part Jewish and from his general comments on Israel, would probably rank among those who would call such Israeli critics as Noam Chomsky “self-hating.”

  17. Yes, it is a fact that Anti-Semitic attacks happen more in France than anywhere in Europe, which isn’t surprising considering its awful record towards Jews, from pogroms to siding with the Nazis. But terrorism is not the problem of any one nation, political body or representative. Just as there is no Muslim fascism and Jewish fascism, the mature, moral response here starts with recognizing that the excuse for terrorism is a historical constant. Humans aren’t all that versatile. The American revolutionaries tarred and feathered the British when they lacked control over their economy. The undemocratic power gained by the Nazi party came in a time of just awful depression and humiliation, and political uncertainty, for example, a coup. A scholar studying the Muslim Right in Egypt recognized the tribal virus when looking at the influence of Nazis. The first group’s tribalism encouraged the second to produce the same in itself more strongly. The racist propaganda that they welcomed was not just a case of appealing to racists, it was useful to nurse their vengeance. Terrorism comes as a result of any human’s exploitation of its own tribal instincts that overwhelm moral reasoning.

    But why look at all this nuance when you can yell at someone to fix the problem? I know who to boo and who to cheer right? Don’t do that. That’s what someone does who has given up. Violence puts you on the same side as your enemy. Those tribal emotions give us only one option: we can fan the flames. Where does that get you? Hitler was cheered in the US as a “conservative” because the Communists were committing terrorism in Germany at the time. That’s just what government is going to do, live only in the nirvana of tribal rage.

    So what’s the correct response? Call to stop the wars and the insistence on focusing only on the crimes committed against your own group. We can easily arrive at this conclusion by asking what’s necessary for cross-cultural understanding that will lead to a security. Even to start with a quite sympathetic bias, so long as we follow through logically, gives us this solution: Terrorists and potential terrorists do not deserve encouragement to focus only on crimes committed against their own group. The leading Jewish organization in France obviously has realized this, and it has to be why they consider the way to prevent these attacks to be a political settlement between Israel and Palestine. The attacks are responses, you can find them occurring together going back decades.

    This is basic morality, but tribal emotions make it unbearable once they are part of the reasoning. This logically means countering them is where most of our efforts belong.

    • Lewis —

      A correction to your assertion that anti-semitic attacks happen more in France than elsewhere in Europe. I have had a devil of a time finding hard numbers, but for 2010, there were more in Britain than anywhere else, despite its having a Jewish population 1/2 the size of France’s. The number of anti-semitic incidents in France is also a function of the fact that there are far more Jews in France than anywhere else, after the US (which has the greatest number of Jews) and Israel. The lingering trauma of France’s collaboration has heightened sensitivity to anti-semitic incidents in France, but the reports of France being a bastion of anti-semitism, fostered by a lazy press (and by certain Israeli political figures who have axes to grind against French foreign policy) is not borne out by the facts.

  18. At 12 noon Paris time, the man is cornered in a Toulouse apartment. He claims to be affiliated with al-Quaeda and is reportedly “arabic”, yet a French citizen. He has also reportedly spent time in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen. He was traced via the IP address he used to post a reply to an ad for the sale of a motorbike posted online by the soldier who would become his first victim.

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