In August, I wrote about the disturbing way in which anti-semitism has been allowed to worm its way back into Western society – from street protests to swanky dinner parties, all too often it’s possible to hear tropes that we might have hoped banished forever.
As I noted in the piece, growing numbers of Jews have chosen to leave countries which they previously considered to be their homes, repeating in the 21st century scenes which ought to be confined to history books.
And yet, I fear the reality of the situation is still not universally accepted. For some, antisemitic slogans scrawled on synagogues or shared on social media could be explained away as a political dislike of ‘zionism’. The same went for supposedly ‘anti-Israel’ protests targeted at Jewish, not Israeli, institutions in the UK and on the continent. Even when the victims of such abuse feel sufficiently unsafe in their home that they decide to leave, the penny still does not drop.
The horrific events that took place in Paris last week reflect further on the issue.
Disgracefully, within hours there were apologists who tried to claim that Charlie Hebdo had provoked and, implicitly, somehow deserved a murderous assault (they are easily distinguished by the presence of the word ‘but’ after a vacuous declaration of support for free speech).
A Financial Times columnist writing on the same day criticised the magazine’s lack of ‘common sense’ and suggested it ‘provoked Muslims’, simultaneously justifying the gunning down of journalists with assault rifles and wrongly assuming that all Muslims felt ‘provoked’ into violence by a few cartoons.
This routine misrepresentation of jihadi motivations suggests that if only the cartoonists hadn’t drawn their cartoons then bloodshed could have been avoided. It is the same line of argument – either a lie or a self-deceit – which suggests that if only the West would ‘get out of the Middle East’ then these butchers would go back to their day jobs and leave us alone. The slightest acquaintance with jihadis’ beliefs or their actions – or, for that matter, with the beliefs and actions of a wide variety of terrorist movements over the years – would demonstrate the stupidity of either idea.
But if logic, evidence or history isn’t enough, will the hostage-taking and killing in a kosher shop last Friday be enough to make such fantasists snap out of it? They may be able to convince themselves that cartoonists should choose to stop drawing cartoons. They may even be callous enough to believe that we ought to choose to give tyrants and terrorists a free hand in pursuing carnage in the Middle East, while we watch from afar. But Jews cannot choose not to be Jews. The third Paris attack gave the lie to the convenient, cowardly fictions.
As Paul wrote last Thursday of the Islamists’ real motivation for attacking the West,
‘They don’t kill us because of what we do. They kill us because of who we are.’
That goes for the Jews of Paris, but it also goes for that satirists of Charlie Hebdo. It goes for the Christians of Nigeria; for the Yazidis of Iraq; for me, writing this, and for you, reading it.
That was clear before last Friday – tragically, its clarity is redoubled now.
And yet we still aren’t rid of this virus. In August, I noted that ‘growing numbers have accepted the elision of the Israeli government and the Jewish people’. Sunday saw yet another example of this tendency. Interviewing a French woman who had grown up in Israel, and who had joined the huge march in central Paris, a BBC reporter responded to her concerns about rising anti-semitism with the statement:
‘Many critics though of Israel’s policy would suggest that the Palestinians suffer hugely at Jewish hands as well.’
There it is. It has crept out of the basement meetings of conspiracy nuts and the hate-filled online rants of violent extremists, and was beamed around the country by our state broadcaster as a counter-argument to the idea that a racist killing Jews in a shop in Paris is bad.
Almost as disturbing as the argument itself was the way it was deployed. I doubt that the reporter in question goes round making this argument himself – rather, it was put forward as part of the pantomime interpretation of ‘balance’ which is practiced by so much of the broadcast industry (see this Twitter exchange for another depressing example of how balance can go mad).
Something like this can only happen if there is a dangerous mixture of two conditions: first, the argument itself must be sufficiently common as to have intruded into the speaker’s consciousness at some point; second, he must be possessed of sufficient moral relativism that it gets past the internal filter which ought to ask ‘Is this a horrendous/insane/dangerous/murderous case to make?’
The existence of a widespread movement of anti-semitic, anti-democratic, theocratic fascists is bad enough in itself. The fact that they are willing to pursue our destruction through violence compounds the problem. The challenge we face is made yet worse by the fact that parts of the same free society which they seek to destroy either share some of their prejudices or are still willing to indulge them with a fair hearing.