By M. Expat, who lives near Paris
This past summer my family and I moved to France, not far from Paris, for work. I’m an American Jew and heard the stories but didn’t worry much. Days after we arrived French Muslims rioted, chanting “Death to the Jews” and destroying Jewish buildings. OK – they’re worked up about Gaza and they’ll settle down I thought. My parents told me that 10,000 Jews had left France for Israel and I told them “well, with my arrival they’re only down 9,999.” Up until last week it’s been politically incorrect to point out men burning kosher grocery stores while engaging in the “Quenelle,” a sort-of limp-dick version of the Nazi salute – downward, rather than upward – seem more focused on Jew-hatred than Israel or Zionism.
Everybody was shocked about the murders at Charlie Hebdo, a French born and raised jihadi assault on freedom of speech and expression. But details began to emerge that were equally disquieting. We heard that the murderers wanted to kill Jews. How do we know? Then we heard that the only woman killed at Charlie Hebdo, Elsa Cayat, was also the only Jew who worked there. Dr. Cayat was a Tunisian-born psychiatrist who worked as a columnist. She told her family that before her murder she would frequently receive death threats by phone that nobody took seriously.
Once my French colleagues told me the antiterrorism police were responding to a hostage situation at kosher grocery store it immediately became crystal clear what was happening. This past summer the jihadis burnt down a kosher grocery store: it was obvious their target was neither random and that they weren’t just looking for a some pastrami. Four more Jews soon lay dead, including Yoav Hattab, the 21 year-old son of the Chief Rabbi of Tunis.
At this point it would be natural to think that maybe it’s time to look towards moving back to America, or maybe go on an anti-jihadi rant with vaguely anti-Muslim overtones, or perhaps some type of vaguely anti-Semitic spiel, trying to equate Zionism with worldwide Jewry and to imply the victims deserved this. I’ve seen all three approaches plus one other uniquely American one that blames the violence on the invasion of Iraq or the US torture program. Of course, this is France; the perpetrators were all French and they know France is not involved in any of that. Even deranged French jihadi’s wouldn’t stoop so low as to argue that France is some extension of the US even if Americans, on both the right and left, can’t seem to shake this strange US-centric view of the world. But, I digress…
I blame this violence on opportunistic jihadis who aren’t especially different than any other demagogue who uses religion to gain and maintain wealth and power. These leaders exist in all religions in different forms: vitriolic clergy in the US preaching to pick up guns in a holy war against liberals are different only because their followers, so far, haven’t gone out and actually shot anybody up, which is to say they’re not much different at all. I especially wish the mainstream press would stop using the term Muslim to describe the terrorists and start using the term jihadi or jihadists; there are about 1.7 billion Muslims but very few jihadists, and the jihadists terrorize ordinary Muslims as much or more than they do everybody else.
I purposefully didn’t say an ordinary Muslim because many jihadis, especially foreign-born one’s, don’t even start out Muslim: they convert in order to fight. They seem to be more like the school and theater shooters in the US than genuine holy warriors; these latest three didn’t seem especially religious. Religion is their excuse to murder, not the cause of their violence.
The French response has been substantially stronger than the jingoistic fit we saw Bush and Cheney go on after 9/11. It looks like the government plans to shower them with love while simultaneously sheltering the country. They’re already working hard to find out what switch turns an ordinary person into a jihadi with the purpose of preventing the transformation, rather than trying to identify and kill them. The French are much stronger militarily than Americans give them credit for – we saw tough looking French forces last week – and they will do what is necessary to protect the Republic. But they’ll do this begrudgingly as a last resort, rather than a first: I feel confident in predicting that the world will never see a French Abu Ghraib.
Of course, none of that excuses the violence or doesn’t mean that we are not affected. My wife was about a mile away from the offices of Charlie Hebdo while the murders were taking place and we drove through the village where the two brothers were hiding out; we saw the long convoy of police cars. Our child’s school is on lockdown, as it was in the US after the Sandy Hook, and they’ve indefinitely postponed all public meetings, including the school play. I’m not delusional: as an American Jew I’d probably count for double points so I’ll stay relatively quiet (I’ve reluctantly asked Yves to publish this piece anonymously though if anybody wants to reach me they can through her). Still, I won’t be terrorized or cowed or flee. Even though I can barely speak their language I stand firmly with the French: my neighbors, colleagues, grocers, and all the rest, who have welcomed my family and I with warmth and grace and who will watch over us.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has proclaimed that “If 1,000,000 French people of Spanish origin were to leave, I would never say that France is not France anymore. But if 100,000 Jews leave, France will no longer be France. The French Republic will be judged a failure.” Of course this includes immigrants: all those killed were Jewish immigrants and France has an ancient history of attracting Jews. So I’ll do the very best thing that I can for the Republic and to show the terrorists they’re not effective: I’ll stay. For a long time. I’ve never had a difficult time finding work but moving to France for a few years seemed like a fun and exotic idea. But what started out as a job has turned into a mission; as long as France wants this Jew I’m staying, and no amount of terror can do anything to shake my resolve.
Je suis Juif. Viva la République.