The United States and the democratic European countries both face a challenge: to respond to terrorism, particularly from home-grown terrorists, without violating individual and group civil rights. Britain faced this as a result of the events of July 7, 2005 when four Islamic suicide bombers, most of whom were born and raised in Britain, denoted bombs in London's transport system, killing 52 and injuring over 700. France has now. in March 2012, experienced the brutality of its home–grown terrorist. This incident is the canary's warning of future danger. International problems in the Middle East and in Afghanistan have coalesced with European national and local problems, particularly the alienation of minority groups, the failure to integrate into the larger society, and the continued immigration from Arab and Muslim countries have made the task of the Western countries difficult.
The West might remember the warning of Laocoon: Do not accept the Trojan Horse from the Greeks, it is a "deadly fraud." The place of Islam in democratic societies must be examined honestly, without prejudice either way.
Yet even more, those countries must ensure that Islamist fundamentalism or attempts to introduce jihad against innocent individuals or groups is not tolerated. They should ignore the false charges of "racism." It is fatuous to excuse or defend the terrorist as a "victim of the system," or to claim that "society" was the cause of his behavior. It is telling that the murderer was applauded by fellow Muslims in the housing estate in which he lived. Post-colonial rhetoric should not excuse violent actions by those taking advantage of democratic systems. Nor should it excuse the behavior of those desirous of killing Jews, ostensibly as a result of their relentless hatred of the state of Israel.
Political noise in France has long been voiced over diverse and complex issues, both internal and external. The country has been divided by intellectual civil war, by struggles over competing ideas, ideologies, and values. Among the most passionate of these battles has been the "Jewish question" and the accompanying controversy over the acceptance of Jews as part of the French community with equal political and civil rights granted by the emancipation of Jews in 1791.
Antisemitism, or "Judeophobia " -- hatred of Jews -- still plagues the world; France has never been immune from this. Although France is not currently the worst example among European countries, about a third of which exhibit high levels of anti-Semitism, a recent survey finds that 45% of the French think that Jews are more loyal to Israel than to France; 35% believe Jews have too much power in the business world, and 35% think Jews talk too much about the Holocaust (although evidently they do not think that Christians talk too much about the Crucifixion). Some encouragement may be found in that 16% fewer anti-Semitic acts (389) occurred in France in 2011 than in the previous year (466), although the number of reported cases of physical aggression remained the same.
The temperature of French anti-Semitism has varied in recent years, resulting from a variety of factors: positive action by public authorities to prevent or punish it, the impact of Jewish organizations, geo-political changes in the world, the reaction to Israel's actions to defend itself, and changing sympathy for Palestinians when Hamas and Hezbollah engage in violent actions against Israeli civilians.
It is clear that anti-Semitism in France, as elsewhere, is interrelated with expressions of hostility to the state of Israel. Even though the old hostile stereotypes of Jews remain, France cannot be considered an anti-Semitic country in the old sense. A recurrence of the Dreyfus Affair and violent outbreaks by French citizens against Jews is improbable. Anti-Semitism in the past was exhibited by political movements, by racist tracts written by writers such as Louis-Ferdinand Céline in the 1930s and 1940s and his call for the death of Jews, and by the policies of the Vichy regime during World War II which, during the Holocaust, participated in the death of 76,000 Jews from France. It was a sign of change that in early 2012 the French Culture Ministry decided, after some protest had been made, that Céline, whether regarded as great writer or not, was not worthy of being included in the list of cultural personalities to be commemorated this year.
The main manifestation of anti-Semitism in France today, as elsewhere in the world, comes from Islamic forces. France has been troubled by Arab and Islamic terrorism over the last thirty years. Memories still linger of the desecration in May 1980 of the cemetery in Carpentras, the site of the oldest surviving synagogue in France; the Palestinian attack on the Goldenberg restaurant in the Marais district in Paris on August 2, 1982, when 6 were killed and 22 wounded; the bombing on October 3, 1980 of the synagogue on Rue Copernic in Paris where 4 were killed and 40 injured; the kidnapping, torture, and killing of 23 year old llan Halimi in January 2006, and continuing assaults on Jewish French citizens who have also suffered harassment and abuse. Jewish graves have been vandalized in Paris and in Nice.
The picture is mixed. It is disturbing that Jean-Luc Godard, a key figure in the French New Wave film movement, should have been so obsessed about Jews, calling a producer "a filthy Jew," defending the Palestinian massacre of Israeli athletes at the Olympic games in Munich in 1972, implying in his documentary that Hitler and Golda Meir were equivalent tyrants, and that Israel was a cancer on the map of the Middle East. It was disquieting that the guilty verdict ruled by the Versailles court of appeal in May 2005 of "racist defamation" of Israel and the Jewish people by three writers and the editor of Le Monde who had written of "Israel-Palestine: the Cancer," led to further expressions of anti-Semitism. Among the more objectionable passages were that Jews are a "contemptuous people taking satisfaction in humiliating others" and that Israel is imposing its unmerciful rule over Palestinians.
By contrast, it was encouraging that none of the major presidential candidates in 2012 uttered any language critical of Jews or Israel. On the contrary, a considerable debate centered on immigrants and the place of Islam in France. It is significant that Marine Le Pen, sincerely or for electoral purposes, seemed to have renounced the views of her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, that the Nazi gas chambers were an "insignificant detail" and that President Jacques Chirac was "owned" by the B'nai B'rith. She immediately condemned the murders in the Jewish school and called for the suspension of the presidential campaigning by all parties.
Similarly, right wing parties have reduced the level of their rhetoric against Jews. A telling comparison is that while in 1966 about half the population opposed the election of a Jew as president, in 2011 fewer than 10% did so. Anti-Semitic manifestations by the French extreme right or by neo-Nazis have substantially declined in recent years.
But the large numbers of Muslim immigrants into France, variously calculated at between 5 and 8 million -- over 10% of the French population, the largest number in any European country -- have introduced a new strain of antisemitism coupled with "anti-Zionism," or hostility against Israel. Since 2000, the year of the second Palestinian intifada, synagogues, and Jewish schools have been attacked, and Jewish graves have been desecrated. Unemployed Arab youths, those living in economically depressed areas around cities, the banlieues, intellectuals, and imams have all participated in anti-Semitic behavior and discourse. In 2011 France made clear the perpetrators of anti-Semitic violence: of the 67 arrested for serious attacks on Jews, 45 were of North African descent. As a result of Islamic violence more than 11,000 Jews left France.
The problem with assessing the actions of Mohammed Merah, the 24 year old who murdered three off duty French soldiers on March 15, 2012 in Montauban, and four French citizens, three Jewish children and a rabbi in a Jewish school, in Toulouse on March 19, 2012 is that he was a radical Islamist whose parents were Algerian born; that he claimed to be a member of al-Qaeda, and that he was also a French citizen living in Toulouse. He murdered individuals in two pillars of France, the army and the school. Was he acting to protest France's ban on the wearing of the burqa, or French involvement in Afghanistan, or on behalf of the Palestinians in their conflict with Israel? Was he simply a deluded individual or did he act as symbolic identification with the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of Algerian independence, or as a result of reading the Koran as he claimed? Was he acting as part of the small but extreme group of Islamic fundamentalists? Was this pathology or ideology? Or are they mingled?
It was ungracious, as well as a false moral equivalency, of Catherine Ashton, the European Union's High Commissioner for Foreign Affairs, to equate, in spite of a later "clarification," the murders in Toulouse with "what is happening in Gaza." Moral relativism of that kind could well become the new Trojan Horse for democracies.