By Roger Kaplan
Published 9/9/2008 12:08:33 AM
PARIS -- To some observers, of course, the question is not why Muslim gangs attack Jewish kids in the streets of Paris, it is why it does not happen more often. And I'll tell you why: the Jews fight back, and they fight hard. Your typical Bnei Akiva counselor, like any one of the three young men who were attacked as they emerged from minya last Sabbath at the Akiva center in the 19th arrondissement, is no slouch. Learned in liturgy, Jewish history, Israeli political affairs, and (in all likelihood) an excellent student in whatever subject he is majoring in university, he is also probably a serious athlete, quite possibly a T'shal (IDF) reservist, and has only one flaw, which is a propensity to be reasonable.
Thus when the three youths stepped out and were assailed by chestnuts -- it's chestnut season in Paris, and those things, falling from the trees all over the city, are hard as stones -- they looked around and asked their aggressors what the joke was and did they want to talk about it. Your typical Jewish response, quite in keeping with the example set by the president of the CRIF (the French Conference of Presidents), who only a few days earlier had broken the fast with Muslim leaders at the close of the first day of Ramadan, Islam's month-long period of introspection when you are supposed to do good deeds.
My own experiences in lands where there are many people of this faith is that the Ramadan can get them a little jumpy. I am all for respect and so forth but you have to be honest about facts, and the facts are that during Ramadan you see an increase, not in introspection and acts of lovingkindness (as Catholics say), although admittedly there tends to be a spike in charitable donations, but in terrorism. In Algeria, for instance, it is no accident (as Marxists used to say) that when Condoleezza Rice stopped over to say hi to the boss, President Abdelazis Bouteflika, on her way back from Tripoli (a strategic move that escapes me, but who am I to understand our genius foreign policy?), there were death treats all over the place and you can be sure Algeria's security hard-boys, called ninjas for a reason, took them with dead seriousness.
No, sir. The Jewish boys were being true to their ancestral type, as was the gang of toughs that jumped them. After the chestnuts came brass knuckles, iron bars, "mort aux keufs" -- "kill the kikes." The attack must have been planned because the offensive side was immediately joined by a dozen others lurking in the alleys to see how strong the counter-attack would be.
It would have left the punks in the gutter, but hey, 18-to-three, this is not a Bruce Willis movie. The bnei Akiva boys fought them off, but suffered a broken nose and a broken jaw, reportedly, and had to be hospitalized overnight. Police picked up three suspects.
It is the sort of thing that happens in France.
NOW PERSONALLY, I am on record as stating that African Islam is an important factor in countering the crazies against whom we are engaged in the Middle East. African Islam, including in its North African branches, which of course are culturally much closer than black Africa to the Arab variety. African Islam is laid back, unconcerned with politics, hospitable, friendly. You do your thing, we'll do ours, and while with us you are our guest and we will protect you, matter of honor.
But what happens in France, and elsewhere in Europe, is one of those perversities of open societies. Although the French security services have been efficient as all hell in tracking down dangerous radicals, keeping them under surveillance, breaking up their networks, expelling them when necessary, eliminating them when inescapable, you cannot, in a free country -- as France is, I would argue -- put a permanent end to, on the one side, the "liberal death wish" and, on the other, the contamination of the mild by the harsh.
The liberals preach tolerance to the point where it threatens to destroy them. The mild let their young people be influenced by violent fanatics. The result is a particularly dangerous vulnerability.
Nothing shows this better than the phenomenon of anti-Jewish violence. This has become practically ordinary. Not quite, fortunately, but last week's attack had plenty of precedents, including, in the same neighborhood last June, a nearly fatal one on a kid set upon all by himself by the same kind of gang that made the mistake of taking on guys who fought back. However, stones thrown through Jewish shop windows, anti-Semitic slogans on buildings, particularly schools, arson attacks on synagogues occur often, according to watchdog organizations like Vigilance Juive or local policemen.
In the poor suburbs that lie to the north of Paris, as well as a few city neighborhoods such as this one, there are at least two sociological phenomena that accentuate the vulnerabilities of the open society. These are the breakdown of family and community foundations and the proximity to one another of diverse immigrants. There is no inherent reason why a kid whose parents come from Morocco or Mali should have it in for the Jews. In old-fashioned urban slums, gangs tended to form around ethnic or tribal solidarity, but what is happening here is that groups that might distrust one another are brought together, at least temporarily, under the banner of an "Islamic" identity preached to them by outside agitators, forgive the quaint term. That is why after these attacks, the police always seem to report there was a "gang of blacks and beurs," meaning black blacks and Arabs, though they may well be all the same color to the untrained eye.
The outside agitators are rabble-rousing imams who just happen to walk and talk and look, forgive me if I sound like old Senator Joe, like ducks, so it is not entirely unfair to at least suggest they may really be ducks.
But they are more. They are also the agitators in mainstream French politics who, regardless of how you nuance the idea, essentially blame Israel for all that trouble over in the Middle East, Israel and its American puppet master, the United States.
It is difficult indeed to counter self-indicting arguments, which I suppose are as old as liberal democracy. But it is possible to take steps that counter the consequences of such arguments, and who is to say that therein, under the diplomatic platitudes, lies the real significance of Condi Rice's visits to Tripoli and Algiers. But that, as someone used to say, is another dispatch.
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