January 16, 2015

France and Islam

I hope and pray the massive demonstration in France against the barbarians who attacked Charlie Hebdo and the Hyper Cacher market will mark a sea change in European attitudes. I hope, but I am not convinced. Hollande is still stuck in the same old orthodoxies of the left, which was why he invited Abbas, of all people, to join his march.

What is the biggest threat to our freedom? It is the arrogance of the assumption that all reasonable human beings will agree with a basic value system and that if one avoids confrontation one will be able to achieve one's ends. It is what we call appeasement. The European reaction to Hitler was to do nothing and hope the danger would pass. It did not. Inaction was taken as weakness. In the end the fight came at a catastrophic price.

It was the great achievement of the French Revolution to proclaim the theoretical values of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. But we know it soon deteriorated into mass murder and chaos. Britain achieved its freedoms and human rights through evolution rather than revolution. In both cases beautiful sentiments proved useless in the face of power and vested interests. Even in the USA, whose revolution and noble aims predated the French, discrimination, anti-Semitism, and xenophobia have continued to flourish. The reality has been that exhortations and slogans all collapse in the face of human selfishness, ever since “Love your neighbor as yourself." Every ideal falls apart or fails when people are unwilling to fight to preserve what they value.

We are experiencing a stage in history in which one part of the universe is fighting for its insane, barbaric, medieval values and another part is all but sitting back and expecting that its value system will prevail by appeasing at home while using its militarily abroad. Across Europe there are no-go areas where immigrant extremists, more often than not of Muslim extraction, control whole swathes of territory. Every year hundreds of thousands of poorly educated Muslim refugees flood into Europe: 100,000 from Tunisia, 100,000 from Syria, and 100,000 from other Muslim countries, from Afghanistan to Somalia. If they were being integrated into European society, it would benefit everyone. But they are not. The laissez faire liberal policies have backfired and Europe is lost.

The apologists argue that the West is to blame for imperialism, for invading other countries, for supporting Israel. The West is responsible for causing alienation, for failing to integrate immigrants, and for not providing jobs; much of this may be true. But this sounds like a child blaming his parents for everything, besides it does not excuse random violence. It does not excuse singling out opponents for assassination with the now familiar, blood-curdling cry “Allahu Akbar.” Alienation inevitably seeks scapegoats. But some ideologies seem more prone to violent responses, to spreading extreme hatred towards the outside as well as internally. Our world is choc-a-bloc full of people who blame someone else instead of taking responsibility.

But the French problem is particular. Napoleon was the first European to give the Jews equal rights. Yet a hundred years later, France was awash with anti-Semitism as the Dreyfus Affair released the virus of prejudice and hatred against innocent human beings. You might argue it was the freedom of expression that allowed this hatred to fester. But I believe it was the tolerance of hatred, by government, church, and society and the refusal to denounce and react to it that was to blame. This also explains the craven attitude of France to the Nazis. You might have thought that the morally indignant Voltaire secularism of France would have achieved a better result. Instead it seems to hate all religions and not care until it itself is attacked.

For years now in France the mood of hatred toward Jews and Israel has been allowed to fester. There has been no corrective in the face of repeated abuse and violence. There was no serious response in France, no outrage when hundreds of thousands of its citizens bought books claiming 9/11 was a Mossad plot. No reaction to universities refusing to teach the holocaust for fear of giving offense. Anti-Semitic comedians like Dieudonné are massively popular. French media, like the British continues to vilify Israel, and in so doing it only encourages public demonstrations that place all the blame for the conflict in the Middle East exclusively on Jews and encourages and support those who not only fail to negotiate but whip up hatred and honor child murderers. This is why so many Jews no longer feel safe in France. Meanwhile, failure to act only plays into the hands of right-wing neo-fascists. If we do not marginalize and reject hatemongers, worse ones will only emerge. France needs a Zola to write a new “J’Accuse”. Manuel Valls, the Prime Minister, has taken such a stand. He has courageously and strongly, far more so than the President, condemned the rabid hatred and called on France to reject anti-Semitism. But, as you might expect, support for his call has been polite and muted.

The refusal to confront Islamic fascism ideologically and recognize its encroachment on our culture is responsible for the fact that it has its metastasized. Just consider: Hollande, Clinton, and Obama all declare that this is not a problem within Islam. That is the western world’s trope. But it takes the Egyptian President al-Sisi to tell the clerics of Al-Azhar, the premier Sunni theological college, that there is indeed a problem with Islam that the clerics must address before it destroys Islam itself. Even Nasrallah of Hezbollah, the last person I would expect to, says the same. Every day Sunnis kill Shi'a and Shi'a kill Sunnis. Don't tell me this is a problem within Christianity. The Arab world is a sewer of current anti-Semitic literature and media. Yet much of Europe says nothing and turns a blind eye.

The official policy is that to criticize Islam is to promote Islamophobia. But I did not hear anyone in the West object that to criticize Catholic priests who sexually abused their charges would cause anti-Catholicism. If I attack the problems and myopia of Jewish fundamentalism, does that mean I am inciting Jew-hatred? Yet for some reason the liberal world refuses to recognize the threat for what it is. Europe and even America tolerate hate preachers and others inciting their audiences to despise the “other”. But very rarely is action taken.

You can hear preachers attack Jews and infidels every week in some British and European mosques. Indeed in France some Muslim schools and Imams refused to participate in the moment’s silence and the demonstrations. Yet it must be reiterated that not all Muslims buy into this hatred. Indeed in Paris there were heroic Muslims who came to the defense of Jews under attack and moderate Imams who expressed solidarity.

All religions are subject to interpretation; some interpretations are jingoistic, self-serving, and exclusionary. Others are open and inclusive. But they are both products of the religion and must be addressed as such.

Despite my religious conviction, I strongly believe that religions need to be subjected to scrutiny, criticism, and, yes, satire. All systems need it. It is the best way of getting one to see what is wrong or what needs addressing, because all systems tend to resist change, to decay and to become paralytic. Uncomfortable as I am to see American comedians like Jon Stewart poke fun of my religion, I think it is healthy. That is why I object most strongly that there exists in the USA and Britain a tacit understanding in the media not to provoke, or make fun of, or show cartoons of Islam. Charlie Hebdo's anodyne post-massacre cover was not shown by the press in either country.

Meanwhile it is perfectly OK to make fun of Mormons and other Christian sects on Broadway. It cannot be right. If one wants a fundamentalist approach to religion one should live in that world, not the free world. The West must not capitulate. It must allow the freedom to disagree and to ridicule as much as the freedom to practice whatever weird religion one chooses (so long as you do not harm others). I might even add that one of the reasons for Jews’ success in rising in the West was that they simply had to cope with ridicule and become stronger to prove themselves. This is a lesson new immigrants of other religions would do well to learn instead of expecting to be mollycoddled.

It is one thing to be a civil or secular state, which I applaud (in no small measure because I just do not have the confidence in any religious leadership). And such a state must act to preserve its values. But if it does not respond other than with social payouts to those who preach hatred and undermine liberty, in time the secular or civil state will be overcome with hatred of all kinds or collapse altogether. That is something I believe neither Jew nor gentile would welcome. “All it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to remain silent.”

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