David Amar, head of the Jewish community in Marseilles, says in an interview with the Shalem Center journal Tchelet (Azure) that in the last four years it is possible to distinguish two expressions of the rise of anti-Semitism in France: anti-Semitic actions against the dead and actions against the living.
The vandalism and desecrations of Jewish cemeteries are mostly done by the extreme right, but most of the violent attacks on living Jews are being done by young North African Arabs living in France. According to Amar, the danger of radical Islam in Europe has evolved and is now recognized as not merely a Jewish problem. Senior officials in France regard the Jews as a barometer for social stability in France. Amar said that even a minister known for his sympathy for the Arabs, like Dominique de Villepin, told him that he anticipates difficult problems from extremist Islam in France.
Public opinion in leading states in the European Union is bothered nowadays by the danger posed to European society and its values by radical Islam. The murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh and the wave of violence that swept over Holland in its wake shocked Western Europe. There is talk in Germany, Italy and Britain about legislation against terror, and they are implementing rules that harm the sacred freedoms of the individual. The Germans watched on TV as an incendiary speech was delivered by an imam in a Berlin mosque promising that "the German non-believers would burn in hell."
This week, German police raided dozens of apartments and offices attributed to the Al Aqsa organization, which funnels financial donations to Hamas.
The European press is now using the term "clash of civilizations." With 20 million Muslims in Europe, the words of Bassam Tibi, an academic of Syrian origin now residing in Germany, echo. He said there is only one choice: "Either Islam becomes European, or Europe becomes Muslim."
One of the leading Orientalists in the world, Bernard Lewis, wrote recently that based on current demographic trends, by the end of this century there won't be any clash because by then Europe will be Islamic.
The turning point in Marseilles came in March 2002, after the arson of the Or Aviv Synagogue in a quiet neighborhood in the north of the city. That same day there were orchestrated anti-Semitic attacks throughout France, but the pile of ashes that had been the synagogue resulted in a vehement condemnation of the arson by the heads of the Muslim community in the city. It was in Marseilles, of all places, where a quarter of the population is Muslim and which could become the first European city with a Muslim majority, that forces united to prevent interethnic clashes.
Alongside an ironfisted police, an organization called "The Hope of Marseilles" has been operating in the city since 1990, under city hall patronage. It brings together the heads of the religious communities to regular meetings and emergency sessions at times of crisis. Marseilles Mayor Jean-Claude Gaudin is known for his sympathy for Israel, and during his visit to Israel in early 2004, he even spoke in favor of moving the French Embassy to Jerusalem. A Catholic, he managed to defeat both the nationalist right and the socialist left in his city, and he is unusual in French politics for his support for Israel.
The Marseilles model combines the strong arm of the law with ecumenical dialogue and serves as an inspiration to its big sister, Paris, where only last week a joint Muslim-Jewish Friendship Association was formed. Jointly heading the group is Simone Weil, president of the French Holocaust Fund and former president of the European Parliament, and the former Lebanese ambassador to France.
The path to true dialogue between the communities in France and the rest of Europe is a long one, strewn with obstacles. The real change is taking place in broader communities feeling the threat, after they comprehended that anti-Semitism may have started as a problem for the Jews, but it could end by severely harming the social foundations of Europe itself.
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