Overcoming Anti-Semitism in Europe's Most Arab City
March 14, 2005
Guest: Laura Rozen
Overcoming Anti-Semitism in Europe's Most Arab City....Regular readers of my site, War and Piece, may be aware that I like spy fiction (and non fiction). So I was drawn into this Jerusalem Post interview today with American spy novelist Claire Berlinski. The interview is not really about Berlinski's spy novel, but about a fascinating article the Oxford-educated PhD recently published about why France's most Arab immigrant-dense city, Marseille, has seen among the least amount of anti-Semitic violence plaguing much of France:
The launching of the second Palestinian intifada, in late 2000, ignited the most extensive outbreak of anti-Semitic violence in France since the Holocaust. The crimes have been perpetrated almost entirely by the beur – Arab immigrants...
Yet while in other French cities the violence continues, in Marseille the animus soon fizzled out. This is largely because the city reacted with revulsion to these crimes: City-wide protests against anti-Semitism were immediately organized. Significantly, Arabs participated in these protests.
Islamic leaders were also present for the burial of the synagogue's charred Torah scrolls, and were photographed comforting Jewish religious leaders. These symbolic actions have been surprisingly successful in dampening outbreaks of ethnic violence.
Marseille's success is particularly impressive when one considers its demographics.
Fully a quarter of Marseille's population is of North African origin, and demographers predict that Marseille will be the first city on the European continent with an Islamic majority. Moreover, its Jewish community is the third-largest in Europe.
The most ethnically diverse city in France, then, has paradoxically been the most successful in containing its outbreak of ethnic violence.
A key reason for the city's calm is an entity called Marseille Esperance, a group of religious leaders convened by the mayor in a regular discussion group. Created in 1990 to stave off ethno-religious conflict between Jews and Muslims, it includes delegates from each of the city's religious communities who meet regularly to discuss civic problems... Whenever tension threatens to rise, the group meets and, at the mayor's urging, makes a public display of solidarity.
Most striking about Marseille Esperance, however, is this: It challenges the core principles of the French republican ideal, and the historic concept of what it means to be French.
This is an important article that certainly deserves more attention. Also don't miss the interview with Berlinski, which features some interesting observations about anti-Americanism in Europe, including this bit:
In some ways, anti-Americanism is not really irrational, if you completely ignore what the Europeans keep nattering on about their desire for human rights and international brotherhood of man. If you see that for the total bulls--t it is, and look at it in terms of traditional power politics and traditional European interests, you can see it as the traditional impulse that most nation states have for power.
Europe was divided, occupied, razed to the ground – some parts literally levelled by American bombers. And the US has dominated the continent for the entire post-war period.
Finally, the Cold War is over and we're looking at a new generation of people growing up who do not feel any personal guilt for past events. What they do feel is that they are Europeans – with a grand tradition of an extremely powerful Europe...
Is it any surprise, then, that these countries are now concerned with establishing and asserting their power on the world stage? Their biggest obstacle to this end, of course, is the United States. Structurally, what you would expect to see is a resentment of American power and a yen to curb it in any way possible. In the European case, curbing American power can only be done through diplomatic means, not military ones. In this sense, we're not talking about a psychotic illness; we're talking about something quite rational.