To get four million French people out into the streets on a cold Sunday in January is quite unusual. In fact it has never happened before, and hopefully never will again, or at least not for the kind of reasons it happened this time.
The murder by Muslim terrorists of cartoonists and journalists in the offices of Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine, aroused feelings of horror, distrust and distaste throughout the civilized world. The idea of killing for the sake of ideology, religion or honour is something that is totally alien to most normal people, and became passé when the European Wars of Religion ended in 1648 with the compromise solution: cujus regio, eius religio (your ruler’s religion shall be yours).
Yet here it is, right under our noses, in the most civilised city of the civilised world. France is not some ‘shitty little country’ in a backwater of the Middle East (as Israel was defined by an unnamed American official a few months ago), and neither is Paris, the cradle of the rights of man, a place where just anyone, even a Muslim, can get away with murder.
What brought the French out into the streets en masse was the feeling that their basic rights were being violated, that someone was seeking to deprive them of the right to freely speak their mind and to poke fun at anyone and everyone. What brought the French out into the streets en masse was not the hostage-taking and murder of four Jews in a kosher supermarket.
The French are used to Jews being killed simply because they are Jews. Let’s not go into the coopreration and collaboration by the French government, police and railway system during the Nazi occupation. In Toulouse not long ago a rabbi and several children were murdered by a Muslim terrorist outside a Jewish school, and there was no apparent outcry. Security outside Jewish institutions was increased for a while, but then relaxed.
The same happened in Belgium, where four people were murdered, once again by a Muslim terrorist, at the entrance to the Jewish Museum there. The idea that anyone who wants to can get hold of a deadly weapon and use it against innocent people who happen to be Jewish is an idea that has returned to haunt the Jewish diaspora in this post-Holocaust era.
Israel is not without its dangers, as we all know, and it doesn’t take much for a single Muslim individual with a kitchen knife to wreak havoc on a Tel-Aviv bus, as happened not long ago. The terrorist was quickly overpowered and the injured treated and evacuated to hospitals by teams practiced in such activity. That, however, is small consolation.
So where is a Jew going to feel safe? Australia? Even the remote antipodes have had a taste of Muslim terrorism, though on a relatively small scale. London? Having recently spent a few days there I wouldn’t want to guarantee anything. The crowded tube carriages and shopping centres seem to me to be easy targets for anyone determined to make a statement by shedding blood, and if it happens to be Jewish, all the better. Wasn’t it a leading figure in the BBC who is Jewish who said that he is starting to feel uncomfortable as a Jew in England.
Expressing anti-Israel (i.e., what amounts to anti-Jewish) sentiments is becoming de rigeur on university campuses in the USA as well as in European democracies. In the IS-ruled area of Syria-Iraq thirteen teenage boys were executed recently for the crime of watching a football game on television. If that didn’t bring every football fan in England out onto the streets, nothing will.
It is the apathy of the masses that is the most dangerous tool in the hands of the terrorists. Chapeau to the French who at least showed that they were prepared to stand up and be counted. As for the rest of the so-called civilised world, if it continues along this road it will eventually have no choice but to submit to those who are prepared to take action, abusing the democratic system in order to subvert Western values and go on to kill and maim in the name of Allah or Muhammed.
Recent signs of a slight change of heart among the over-tolerant governments of Europe, and the fact that at least in Israel we are fighting against this trend both overtly and covertly, provides some consolation in these troubling times.
(This article appeared previously in the AJR Journal (Association of Jewish Refugees.)