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Monday, May 26 2014
The Myth of the Twenty-First Century
The prognosis for European Jewry.
The prognosis for European Jewry is bleak. One year ago, I contended in You Only Live Twice, an essay written for the American on line journal Mosaic, that European Jews both underwent a remarkable rebirth and revival in the post-Holocaust era and are facing today renewed existential threats that may force many of them to emigrate to Israel or other places. I am afraid I was not off the mark. Antisemitism is indeed rising, either in terms of actual violence against Jews – think of the Brussels massacre last Saturday - or of anti-Jewish or anti-Israeli rhetorics. Allow me to focus on two events that took place in France, where about one half of European Jewry is concentrated, in January 2014.
First, there was the Dieudonné-Valls confrontation, and the way the French public opinion reacted to it.
Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, 48, known as an artist as just Dieudonné, is an African-French former humorist who over the years turned his shows into rabid anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish gatherings. More recently he created and launched the « quenelle », an inverted Hitlerian salute (one arm down, the other one touching the shoulder) to be used as an expression of contempt for Jews and everything related to the Holocaust. The quenelle is enjoying growing popularity in France and in other countries. Among growing sectors of the youth, it is seen as the cool thing to do in front of Jewish buildings or Holocaust memorial monuments like the Drancy memorial in the suburbs of Paris or the Mahnmal in Berlin, or at other places as well. A dozen of young, anonymous, European looking passer by were photographed performing the quenelle together under the street sign « Rue des Juifs » – Jews Street – in Strasbourg. In England, Nicolas Anelka, a French football star of African descent playing for the West Bromwich Albion Fooball Club, indulged in the quenelle salute on December 28, 2013, after scoring against West Ham, and declined to apologize. Immigrant players from Manchester City’s and Liverppol Football Clubs were also reported to perform the gesture.
By the beginning of January, 2014, Dieudonné was about to start a grand tour of France, to disseminate his hate propaganda from town to town. Manuel Valls, who was then the Interior minister – he was to become prime minister in April - issued orders and guidelines to préfets (local government commissioners) and mayors to ban his shows as public-safety risks. Moreover, the police raided the agitator’s home outside Paris and found potential evidence for tax evasion or money laundering. What happened next ? While many citizens congratulated the minister r for acting decisively against a dangerous agitator, many others criticized him for « curbing free speech and expression » in line with his own « politically correct » agenda : in fact, Valls, who was then the most popular politician in the country and the most popular minister in François Hollande’s socialist administration, dropped by ten points in the polls, from an average 60 % of positive opinions to an average 50 %. Even more revealing and disturbing: only 38% of the French approved of the ban, while 32% opposed it, and 64% said that Dieudonné and Valls were in fact « comforting each other. »
The second ominous event took place on January 26, amidst a rightwing or populist rally against the François Hollande administration – dubbed Jour de Colère (Day of Anger) - that attracted at least 20,000 people and possibly twice as many. Some of the demonstrators - clearly supporters of Dieudonné — repeatedly shouted anti-Semitic slogans: « Jew, France does not belong to you » ; « the Holocaust is just a hoax. » The other demonstrators did not seem to be greatly disturbed by the chanting, nor did the rally’s organizers bother to call the rogues to order, as Ivan Rioufol, a conservative commentator, observed the next day in Le Figaro.
True enough, Islamic militant groups in France have repeatedly voiced similar and even worse slogans for years during street demonstrations. However, since they were doing it in Arabic, not in French, they were largely unnoticed by the media, if not the police. And people debating the issue of a resurgent anti-Semitism could resort in good faith to the reassuring remark that « after all, Nazis were not marching in Paris. » In front of the Jour de Colère rally, even die-hard optimists had to recognize that this is no longer true. Nazis were marching in Paris, unchecked. Postmodern Nazis, to be sure: no brown shirts. But Nazis nevertheless — people who relished in anti-Jewish paranoia and were eager to spread it everywhere. And they seemed to be drawn from every corner of contemporary French society : from the Left and the Right alike, from the native, Christian European majority as well as from the non-European and largely non-Christian immigrant minorities.
Why is anti-Semitism suddenly a popular issue all over in France, and why is it all encompassing ? A first answer is that anti-Semitism is often connected to radical politics and that France in 2014, a country deeply in crisis, is ripe for radical politics because classic politics seem to have failed. According to an Ipsos/Steria poll published on January 21 by Le Monde, 8% of the French — only 8%! — trust the political parties. Only 23% trust their National Assembly representatives. Trade unions do not fare much better: 31%. Nor does the judiciary, at 46%. Real confidence starts only with local powers: 63% of the French trust their mayors. The increase culminates with such last-resort players as the police and the army, credited, respectively, with a 73% and a 79% confidence rate. (A recipe for a coup d’Etat, one would say.)
Defiance against traditional politics translate into electoral returns. The abstention rate was 40 % at the French local elections in March, and almost 60 % at the Euro-Parliament elections yesterday. In both cases, it boosted Marine Le Pen’s National Front, originallly a Far Right party but now a more global protest party with both rightwing and leftwing characters.
France’s current government, the Fifth Republic established by Charles de Gaulle in 1958, was long perceived as a stable and efficient democracy. That was largely a fallacy. From the very onset, the Fifth Republic was subverted by the Noblesse d’Etat (« State Nobility »), to use a terminology coined by sociologist Pierre Bourdieu : the senior civil service, which supplanted the political class and merged with the economic elite (about 70 % of all members of government and parliament are civil servants). A further blow came from the European Union Commission in Brussels, a non-elected multinational super-government that gradually superseded the elected national government of France on many issues, including money supply and day to day legislation. Finally, there was the immigration factor : the ever-growing non-Western immigrant communities who more often than not tended to ignore French traditional culture and values — including in political matters — and to enforce their own.
As long as the economy was booming, the welfare benefits growing, and the legal working hours shrinking (it went down to 35 hours per week with five weeks vacation; and eight legal holidays easily turned into extended weekends), most citizens did not pay attention. Things changed when the French economy was not able to deliver anymore. In 2005, an angry France derailed the so-called « European constitutional treaty » in a referendum. In 2007, it elected the conservative Nicolas Sarkozy on the assumption that he would curb the State Nobility, tame immigration, lower taxes, and revive the domestic economy. Sarkozy took some steps, but at the end of the day disappointed his constituency on almost all accounts. In 2012, the pendulum switched to the socialist François Hollande, who promised lots of things to his own supporters but eventually had to admit that he could not deliver, and is currently seen as a pathetic figure. No wonder that radical parties (from National Front to the Greens and the neocommunist Left Front) are attempting now and then to supplant the mainstream parties (the conservative UMP, the socialist PS, and the centrist UDI). And that even they are overpassed by grassroots movements of all sorts, from La Manif pour Tous, a family values oriented movement, to Bonnets Rouges (Red Bonnets), a large-scale civil rebellion in Britanny, to Jour de Colère.
But then, why the Jews ? Why should the Jews, of all people, be turned again into scapegoats by everybody, or at least by very diverse constituencies, when things deteriorate ? Why should antisemitism work so well now in France and in many other European countries, in spite of so many educational programs about the Holocaust and as society is turning increasingly multiracial, multicultural and multireligious ?
A second, deeper, answer is thus needed. My personal assessment is that antisemitism endures, and comes out when appropriate circumstances are met, because it is embedded in world culture, world fantasies and world nighmares. In a nutshell, the problem with Jews is that they produced the Bible, the all times bestseller. And that the Bible deals chiefly about Jews. Something non-Jews, statistically the largest group of Bible readers in the world, tend to resent.
In Western countries, including France, antisemitism stems from – or can be boiled down to – the Marcionite tradition. Marcion, a 2nd century bishop in Sinope, a city in present day Turkey, attempted to solve a basic Christian dilemma : if Jesus was the Jewish faith’s culmination, how come Jews rejected him – or Christians did not become Jews ? To get out of that contradiction, Marcion resorted to dualism. The Gospel, he contented, was not the culmination of the Hebrew Bible but rather its antidote. The Old Testament God – the Demiurge who created the material world – was in fact the Devil. And Jesus - the Gospel’s spiritual God – intended to rescue humanity from him. Jews were accordingly the Devil’s people, an intrinsically perverse and evil nation, whose purpose was to « kill Jesus » again and again, in order to delay, obfuscate or prevent salvation.
The classic Churches – either Orthodox, Catholic or Protestant – forcefully rejected marcionism as an heresy. They solved the Jewish-Christian dilemma according to Paul’s paradox in the Epistle to the Romans : « Jews were not rejected by God », even if they failed to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah (XI,1) ; their effacement was only temporary, as a ploy to help « jealous » Gentiles to take part in the grand work of faith and salvation (XI, 11) ; at the end of time, when Jews would « return to God », they would recover their « supremely exalted » position (XI, 12) ; in the meantime, Christians were supposed to understand that Jews were in fact « supporting » them, just like « roots are supporting a tree » (XI, 18).
However, when it came to practical matters, when they had to deal with the populace, the Churches usually found it more expedient to resort to binary rhetorics – Christianity is pure, holy and beautiful, Judaism is perverted, sinful and ugly – than to dwell on the Paulinian paradox. It was much easier for them to cast Jews as enemies or pariahs than to grant them anyhthing like an « elder brothers » status. A de facto marcionism – or a cryptomarcionism, as some would prefer to call it - thus creeped into Christian culture, from the Middle Ages to later times, and spread eventually to post-Christian Western culture as well, as a secular social and political antisemitism : the eliminationist fantasy according to which Jews were the main obstacle to the Good Society and had to be removed – or annihilated.
The success of Mel Gibson’s 2004 released movie, The Passion of the Christ, has testified to the residual strength of marcionism among Christian believers even today, in spite of the main Churches efforts, since the Holocaust, to go back to the Paulinian predicate. Regarding the remanence of political marcionism, an earlier example comes to mind. Charles de Gaulle, as everybody knows, was the leader of the Free French during World War Two, an enemy of Nazi Germany and a resolute opponent to Marshall Pétain’s Vichy regime, including its anti-Semitic legislation. Indeed, the first thing he would do any time the Free French would take over a Vichy ruled territory was to abrogate Vichy’s infamous Jews Statute, and restore Jews to their full rights as French citizens or subjects and human persons. For all that, the same de Gaulle delivered publicly some twenty-five years later, on November 27, 1967, as the founder and first president of the Fifth Republic, an utterly antisemitic diatribe. In a press conference, he not only defamed the State of Israel as an aggressor in the Six Days War, and even as a somehow illegitimate entity created in « dubious circumstances », but went so far as to describe the Jewish people at large as an « elite, self-confident and domineering people », with large resources in « money, influence and propaganda » in « many countries », especially « America ». The former leader of the anti-Nazi Resistance was now echoing the Protocols of Elders of Zion or even worse the paramount French 19th century antisemite, Edouard Drumont. I was then 19 years old. I remember how, as a young French Jew, I felt when I heard de Gaulle on the radio : it was as if blood in my veins was being changed into ice.
Retrospectively, what happened to de Gaulle looks rather evident. We know that he was raised in a « social Catholic » milieu, where both leftwing and rightwing antisemitism was rampant (even if his father is said to have sided with Captain Dreyfus). We know that he became in the 1930’s a kind a rebel against the French military and political Establishment, a precondition for rejecting Pétain in 1940, and that the only military expert who then took him seriously was a maverick Jewish officier, Colonel Emile Mayer. We may thus surmise that he overcame antisemitism throughout the most momentous period of his life, only to relapse into it when he grew older, with a special twist : as the champion of French national independance, he was getting more and more anti-American ; and he tended to confuse Jews, or Israel for that matter, with « Anglo-Saxon imperialism » .
For all that, the current revival of antisemitism in France and Europe is not just a mere resurgence of the enduring Christian heresy of Marcionism. What makes it particularly virulent is that it combines with what one would call Islamic Marcionism. Admittedly, Marcion as such never exerted any direct influence on Islamic doctrine or culture. But quasi-Marcionite views developed at a very early stage in the Islamic world, either in the Hadith (the Prophet’s reported Deeds and Sayings) or the Sira and Maghazi literature (the systematic relation of the Prophet’s life and of Islam’s early victories). According to them, Jews were the utterly perverse enemies of Allah, Muhammad and the Islamic Umma, and in fact devilish creatures that had to be destroyed. There is much evidence that just like Christian Marcionism was an attempt to sever Christianity from its Jewish roots, Islamic quasi-Marcionism was originally an attempt to erase from Islam its own Jewish roots, so apparent in the Quran, in many Judaizing Hadith (the Israiliyat) and in Islamic ritual, law or lexicon.
Christian antisemitism and Islamic antisemitism have met and interbred since the 19th century : it is apparently more rewarding to hate the Jewish Devil together than to dwell on irreconciliable differences between Cross and Crescent, West and East, Europe and Asia, colonial expansion and Jihad. Antisemitism was an important factor in the global alliance between fascist powers and islam before and during World War Two, either in the Arab world (with figures like Amin al-Husseini in Palestine or Rashid Ali in Iraq) or in the Balkans and in the German-occupied USSR (where Muslim Waffen SS units were easily set up). Nazi and fascist antisemitic agitation and legislation was an inspiration for Muslim antisemitic pogroms in Algeria, Turkey, Iraq, Morocco, Libya, Egypt, and Muslim antisemitic legislation in Egypt and Turkey. Muslim antisemitism was even used by Vichy France from 1940 to 1944, either in colonial North Africa prior the American landing in 1942, or in France proper : Jacques Doriot’s French People Party and Marcel Déat’s National People’s Rally, the two major pro-Nazi parties in occupied France, had large chapters drawn from the North African Muslim immigrant community ; the infamous « French Gestapo » operating from Rue Lauriston in Paris had so many Muslim recruits as to be known alternatively as an « Arab Gestapo ».
After World War Two, the impact of Western antisemitism was not abated in the Muslim world. Nazi and fascist criminals escaped to Muslim countries and served there as political, military or even scientific instructors. Neofascist Arab nationalism – Nasserism, Algerian nationalism, Baathism, Kadhafism – was largely modeled after Hitlerian and Mussolinian patterns, with some loans from Stalinian or Maoist communism as well. Radical islam, either sunni or shia, reinvigorated its own antisemitism with a Western pseudo-scientific antisemitic doxa ranging from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion to Mein Kampf. New pogroms took place, new antisemitic legislation was enacted, and finally the entire Muslim world engaged into a mass expulsion of its age old Jewish communities. Moreover, the Muslim contries cultural life, at both highbrow and popular level, from the universities and the media to radio, cinema, madrassa teaching and mosque preaching, and finally the internet, has been permeated to an unprecedented level by Western style antisemitism.
But now the West to East transfers in antisemitic discourse and politics are duplicated by East to West transfers : the mass migration of Muslims from Arab countries, Subsaharan Africa, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, and so forth, allows an unreconstructed antisemitism to spread again in Western countries and to coalesce with the local dormant or not too dormant post-Holocaust antisemitism. In France, the UK, the Scandinavian countries, Belgium, the Netherlands, the main pool for antisemitism is to be found among Muslim immigrants or children of immigrants, who now account for 10 % of the global population and 20 to 25 % of the youth.
Hence the symbolic overreaching importance of Dieudonné who, as a French-African, can be seen as « one of us » both by the white European French and by the non-white, non-European neo-French.
If Dieudonné is the antisemitism’s prophet, its caliph is Alain Bonnet, a.k.a. Alain Bonnet de Soral or just Alain Soral, a 55-year-old French-Swiss actor and lumpen-intellectual who started as a communist and switched to the Far Right some ten years ago while still claiming to be a « Marxist ». An erstwhile critic of Dieudonné, Soral eventually befriended him, and was probably the first one to fully realize his political potential. He launched in 2007 a political club promoting an alliance between French and neo-French « anti-Zionists » : Egalité-Réconciliation (Equality and Reconciliation).
Some suspect Dieudonné and Soral to be merely canvassing support for France’s main Far Right political party, the National Front. Indeed, Dieudonné and Soral were very close to National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen for a while, his anti-immigration posture notwithstanding. In 2007, Le Pen welcomed Soral to the party’s Central Committee. In 2008, he agreed to be the godfather of Dieudonné’s third child. However, Jean-Marie’s daughter and political heir Marine very quickly distanced herself from both men, either out of principle or strategy or for more personal reasons: a charismatic Soral could easily become a rival.
In 2009, Soral left the National Front, which according to him had been « taken over » by « Atlanto-Zionists » (supporters of the United States and Israel). While Marine Le Pen, who succeded her father in 2011, has been eager to recast the party as patriotic and democratic, somehow in the Gaullist tradition, and does not countenance any more explicit expressions of racism or anti-Semitism among her supporters, Soral now claims to be a « French-style national-socialist. » In Comprendre l’Empire (Understanding the Empire), a book he published in 2011 under a title borrowed from Italian radical philosopher Toni Negri, he claims that banks, Wall Street, the bourgeois upper classes, the protestant churches, the United States, and Israel are leagued together to destroy sovereign nations and to consolidate their power through a « world goverment. » Alfred Rosenberg’s book, The Myth of the Twentieth Century, was dubbed to be the Third Reich’s « second most unread bestseller after Hitler’s Mein Kampf » : it provided nevertheless a logically articulated rationale for the Nazis war on the Jews. Soral’s book might be seen, and feared, as The Myth of the Twenty-First Century.
For many decades, conventional wisdom was that antisemitism was essentially a rightwing phenomenon, and a mere offshoot of Christian bigotry, racism or xenophobia at large. Then, it was realized, at least among some observers, that there was a leftwing antisemitism as well, masquerading as anti-Zionism and a perverse reading of human rights. We are now witnessing, notably in France, the emergence of a « fusion antisemitism » drawing both from rightwing and leftwing fantasies. Chances are that this new incarnation will play an ever larger role in the 21st century pop culture and political culture and that, ironically, it will help native Westerners and immigrants from non-Western countries – now a sizable element in Western societies - to bridge their differences. Whether we are adequately equipped to investigate, monitor and fight this new antisemitism remains to be seen.
© Michel Gurfinkiel, 2014
Michel Gurfinkiel is the Founder and President of the Jean-Jacques Rousseau Institute, a conservative think-thank in France, and a Shillman/Ginsburg Fellow at Middle East Forum.
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Good point. Now they have TWO scapegoats, Jews AND Israelis!