Opinion: I'm dreaming of no longer living in a dark land
Before the historic demonstrations that saw four million people take to the streets of France in calm and dignified fashion, and even more so after those demonstrations, all of the media and all of the politicians told us over and again: the terrorists have lost; France is united.
I would really like to believe them, but I do not. I think that, through those words, the lie that led to what has been happening over the last few days and over the last few years lives on. Because the terrorists have won. Once more, they have succeeded in their mission.
I think that this country lost itself and lost us when it accepted anti-Semitism as an ideology, admittedly a crappy one, but nevertheless one that was possible.
On Wednesday, some mischievous journalists were killed. In France, a land that unceasingly tells the world what they should be doing, claiming that it is better and fairer than any other land, in France, clowns have been killed. Correction: in France, today, Frenchmen have killed jokers.
The Jews were not even cartoonists
And then, like always here, like always in this country, on Friday, a French person killed other French people because they were Jews, and only because they were Jews. Not even because they were cheeky Jews or cartoonist Jews. And yet we wanted to believe, this time, wanted to believe, for once, that it was not the Jews that were targeted. It was unthinkable enough as it was: citizens had just committed an act never seen before in the free world – exterminating the editorial staff of a news publication on its premises.
We are living in a country that considers it possible, today, for Jews to be murdered because they are Jews. Naturally, everyone reading that will want to cry out that I am mistaken, that I am caricaturing.
In Carpentras, the symbol was violent: the dead were attacked. Today, the living are being killed. It is worse.
Such an outcry will be a lie, a lie to oneself, one more lie. If I am exhorting us today to stop lying to ourselves, it is because it has indeed become acceptable for the French to see their Jewish fellow citizens taken as targets. I remember, as a child, seeing the French President of the time, François Mitterrand, walking at the head of a huge procession and indignant following the profanations of the Jewish cemetery of Carpentras. A few years later, profanations of Jewish and Muslim cemeteries are an everyday occurrence, without that making anyone react any more. And, regularly, Jews are murdered for the sole reason that they are Jews. In Carpentras, the symbol was violent: the dead were attacked. Today, the living are being killed. It is worse. And for those living beings who are murdered, no one walks any more, with an indignant French President at the head of the procession. When Fofana and his gang murdered Ilan Halimi after torturing him for several weeks, hardly anyone but Jews could be found walking the streets and expressing their indignation, as if it were a Jewish problem. When Mohamed Merah, after attacking and killing off-duty soldiers, went after the children of the Ozar HaTorah School, going as far as to chase a little girl into the playground to shoot her in the head at point blank range, the French shed tears at the horror of the situation, but no massive demonstration brought together the citizens of France, regardless of their convictions, and regardless of their religions, of their degree of religiousness or non-religiousness, to speak out against the fact that when children of the Republic are attacked, it is the whole of the Republic that is attacked. As if it were a Jewish problem.
Then, on Wednesday, journalists were killed. And on Wednesday evening, there were, in the cities of France, hundreds of thousands of shocked citizens, pencil in hand, tears in their eyes, to express the horror felt by us at an attack on the freedom of the press, an attack on journalists for their ideas, an attack on humour. As both a journalist and a Jew, I cannot help thinking that what is being said today is merely a re-edition of what has been being said for years now, and that has normalised (while regretting) the murder of Jews in our country, that has normalised verbal, physical, and ideological hatred of Jews in our country, and I cannot help thinking that the same normalisation process could soon apply to journalists, artists, and comedians. Our country has a short memory: so short it forgets the singularity that terrorist violence takes here. The terror attacks of New York and Washington were heinous, they transformed the world, for the worse, shattered it and bruised it. The Madrid bombings, a few months later, took Europe into the tragedy experienced by the United States. The London bombings finally convinced Europeans that they would henceforth be targets in their own countries.
The other common denominator of these terrorists is that they are French, born in France and educated in the schools of the Republic.
But what do Fofana, Merah, Nemmouche, the Kouachi brothers, and Amedy Coulibaly have in common? Admittedly, they claim to belong to Islam. But their other common denominator is that they are French, born in France, educated at the schools of the Republic, the schools that are supposed to give those famous and sacred values of tolerance, integration, and universality. They did not, unlike the London, Madrid, or New York terrorists, come more or less directly from some Jihadist land for the purpose, from the outset, of committing massive and symbolic murder. They grew up here, and, for the most part, were at the desks of the same state schools and in the same years as me, and, today, they want me dead, twice over, as a Jew, and as a journalist.
Today, I reproach the Muslims of France whom I know and love and defend, and with whom I want to live, for having, for too long, allowed themselves to be represented by individuals whose ideas, without being at the level of violence of the terrorism we are seeing today, feed such radicalism. I know, since I have socialised with them, and since I share sincere and old friendships with some of them, that many Muslims in France, and I would like to believe the majority, are as critical and benevolent in their Islam as I am in my Judaism. Today, it is time for the Muslims of France to rise up, not in the way they are being asked to, shamelessly and through pure ostracism, to excuse themselves for crimes that they neither wanted nor caused, that harm them and that move them, sadden them, and hurt them doubtless as much as all of the other citizens of this country. No, it is time for them to rise up to refuse to allow radicals the right to put forward thoughts on religion in their names. It is time for them to refuse to allow themselves to be abused by the extreme right and some of their often self-proclaimed representatives.
I reproach the Jews of France for their political timidity, for having allowed themselves to be reduced to the state of target citizens, for having allowed themselves to be abused, for having given in to what this country has been pushing them into for so many years: withdrawal into their community. I reproach them for not having asserted more strongly, more loudly, and with more virulence and firmness that it is possible to be French and wear a kippah and tzitzits, including in public, to say that we are Jewish and citizens of the Lay Republic at the same time.
Violent and constrained acculturation
But my reproaches go above all to the people of France, who have abandoned their Jews, as they have all of the other minorities that live within their territory, in the name of a universalism that shows itself a little more every day to be merely an essentialisation, a violent and constrained acculturation, a permanent suspiciousness so as to impose a culture that is just as singular as the others, with doubtless some marvellous aspects but also innumerable flaws.
Finally, I reproach the French authorities for having, for years, had us, Jews of France, believe that we have the duty of allowing ourselves to be murdered, randomly, because any assertion of singularity of the violence that is committed against us today would apparently be a betrayal of republican and lay universalism.
This French Republic has, to a such an extent, learnt to hate any form of religious manifestation that it has come to instigate ignorance of religious culture as a virtue and as a value. The result can be seen today. No group knows the other: ignorance, mistrust, violence. I might want to believe in this universalism if did not know it was a lie, and firstly a lie that we tell ourselves on a day-to-day basis. I might want to lead the fight to change society, this society in which I grew up and that has certainly, to a large extent, fashioned the way I think about and see the world. But I refuse to have my family and friends, and my children pay the price for these struggles to which they are being subjected. It is not so much that I fear for their lives, but how can you grow up, and find fulfilment in your multiple identities in a country that enjoins you, through its dogma or through the hate culture that has spread widely through it, to hide a part of you that makes you the individual you are?
That is why, today, I am dreaming of other lands, which, while they have their problems, their imbalances, their pathologies, at least have the merit of not having made the mistake of designating a whole section of culture that is called religion as an enemy and a shame, or of wallowing in that mistake by proclaiming it proudly, constraining the weakest of their children to take refuge in an intolerable defence that results in murders, in the refuge counter-model that religious radicalism often constitutes for the pariah or for the ignorant. Because, regardless of the subject, including religion, there is word for refusing learning and knowledge: obscurantism.
Antoine Strobel-Dahan, editor in chief of the magazine for Jewish thought “Tenou’a – Atelier de pensée(s) juive(s)”
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