Au Revoir Les Enfants

Nobody should be surprised by a jihadist's murder of Jewish schoolchildren in France.

After last week's killing of three children and a rabbi at a Jewish school in Toulouse, early reports suggested that the murderer was a white, right-wing racist who was targeting minorities.  Indeed, one could be excused for getting the impression, from those first accounts, that the authorities and the media wanted him to be a white, right-wing racist – a lone maniac like the guy who mowed down dozens of teenagers in Norway last July.  Yet the Toulouse terrorist turned out, like so many perpetrators of unspeakable European atrocities in recent years, to be an Islamic jihadist – a self-declared Mujahideen and member of al-Qaeda who said he was out to avenge the deaths of Palestinian children and the military involvement of France in the Islamic world, and who, if a van had not blocked the path of his scooter, might have succeeded in executing as many young people as Anders Behring Breivik did on the island of Utøya.

If at first many highly placed Frenchmen were eager to attribute the Toulouse murders to right-wing racism, the revelation of Mohamed Merah's identity initiated a rush to dismiss the relevance of the killer's religion and his openly expressed motivations and associations.  Nicolas Sarkozy, who was quick tomeet with Jewish and Muslim leaders at the Elysée Palace, was equally quick to tell the French people that “our Muslim counterparts have nothing to do with the crazy motivations of a terrorist.”  Dalil Boubakeur, rector of the Grand Mosque in Paris, declared that “what happened in Toulouse...had nothing to do with Islam.”  And in Le Monde, Jean-Yves Camus, an “expert” on radical Islam and the extreme right, insisted that in determining the root cause of the murders, “the impact of the re-Islamization of French Muslims by the conservative currents, that is to say fundamentalists, is less important than the unleashing of a radical anti-Zionism that has gone too far and that does not emanate from our own Muslim compatriots, far from it.”

It is certainly true that “radical anti-Zionism” – not to mention vicious anti-Semitism – is on the rise throughout Western Europe.  But it is also true that before the current wave of Jew-hate really took off, a deep-seated antagonism for Jews was already endemic among Muslims in France.

People across France were supposedly shocked at the massacre, shocked to discover that Jewish schoolchildren in their own country could be murdered in such a fashion.  I don't know what to make of those declarations of shock.  The fact is that Jewish schoolchildren in France have been in danger for years, and anyone who cares anything about the subject has known this for years.

Two words: Obin report.  Several years ago, the French Ministry of Education appointed a team led by one Jean-Pierre Obin to investigate the impact of Islam on the country's schools.  Obin and his colleagues traveled to sixty-one schools around France, observed student life, interviewed school employees ranging from the principal to the cook in the cafeteria, and produced a report entitled “The Signs and Manifestations of Religious Affiliation in Educational Establishments.”  Their conclusions were so sensational that the ministry, instead of releasing the report to the public, shelved it.  Fortunately, there exists such a thing as the Internet, and in March 2005, the report – dated July of the previous year – was leaked online.  It is now available at the ministry's own website.

Every one of the 18,000 words in the Obin report is worth reading.  And sobering reading it is.  As I observed in my 2006 book While Europe Slept,

The report was in large part a catalog of refusals: increasingly, Muslim students were refusing to sing, dance, participate in sports, draw a face, or play an instrument....They refused to eat school cafeteria food that isn’t halal (that is, prepared according to sharia law) and refused to draw a right angle in math class because it looks like part of the Christian cross. They refused to swim because they didn’t want to be polluted by “infidels’ water.” They refused to read Enlightenment authors such as Voltaire and Rousseau because they’re antireligion, Cyrano de Bergerac because it’s too racy, Madame Bovary because it promotes women’s rights, and Chrétien de Troyes because it’s, well, chrétien. They refused to accept basic facts of Christian and Jewish history and they rejected outright the existence of pre-Islamic religions in Egypt.

Many Muslim students refused, quite simply, to identify themselves as French: when told that they were French, they said that this was impossible – they were Muslims!  They explicitly rejected laïcité (the concept of public secularism that is at the very heart of modern French society), calling it anti-religious.  Indeed, they rejected Western values tout court.  And they had deliberately disrupted moments of silence for the victims of 9/11 and of the 2004 train bombings in Madrid, many of them openly expressing admiration for Osama bin Laden.

But perhaps the most sobering revelations contained in the Obin report concerned the attitudes of Muslim students toward Jews, and the effect of this on their Jewish classmates.  In history classes, Muslim students objected to anything having to do with Judaism.  Holocaust denial was common.  And of course the entire history of the Middle East, especially the Israeli-Palestine question, was a minefield.  Aside from a “routine” use in schools of the wordsJew and fuij (kike) as insults, Obin and his colleagues reported an increase in threats and assaults directed “by students of North African origin” against classmates known or suspected to be Jewish.  “In the testimonies we collected, events in the Middle East as well as a chapter of the Quran are frequently cited by students to justify their words and aggression.”  Muslim kids spoke positively about the persecution and extermination of Jews; praise of Nazism and Hitler was “not unusual”; anti-Semitic graffiti, including swastikas, abounded.

As a result, in some cities, Jewish students were separated from their classmates and transported to and from school together for their own safety.  In many cases, at the request of Jewish parents, only the school principal was informed of their children's Jewish identity, which was concealed from teachers and other students – although, as Obin and his team noted, “the surnames of students do not always allow” for such concealment.  (Seen Au revoir les enfantslately?)  In drawing their conclusion about the effect of all this on Jewish students, Obin and company did not mince words.  I will first quote from the original French: “Il est en effet, sous nos yeux, une stupéfiante et cruelle réalité : en France les enfants juifs - et ils sont les seuls dans ce cas - ne peuvent plus de nos jours être scolarisés dans n’importe quel établissement.”  In other words: “It is, in effect, in our view, a stupefying and cruel reality: in France, Jewish children – and this statement applies only to them – can today no longer be educated at any institution.”

That was in 2004.  I have no illusion that the situation for Jewish children in France has improved in the slightest since that report was written – on the contrary, I am sure that things have only gotten worse.  I imagine that this is at least part of the reason why some Jewish parents send their children to Jewish schools such as the one in Toulouse: presumably they think their children are safer there than they are in public schools.  Perhaps the parents of at least one of the children slain in Toulouse enrolled their child in that school for precisely that reason.  But this massacre, carried out by a young man (aged 23) who was himself presumably only a few years out of the classroom, only confirms that Obin was absolutely correct: there is no school in France – not even a Jewish school! – where Jewish children are safe from the pernicious evil of Muslim Jew-hatred.  It also underscores the fact that, in all the years since Obin sounded the alarm, nothing significant has been done by French authorities to address the atrocious state of affairs he on which Obin and his co-workers so boldly pulled back the curtain.  After Toulouse, the question is this: Will anything be done now to make it possible for Jewish children to receive a safe education in France?  What's your guess?

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