Tuesday, December 09, 2003

France Falling – Alain Finkielkraut on Anti-Semitism

The Varieties of Anti-Semitism

Alain Finkielkraut’s contention is that there exists a variety of anti-Semitisms, but that the most threatening today, at least in the western world, is the religiously-tinged sentiment of negating humanism that obsesses over the Other and condemns the figure of the Oppressor.

Now, the notion of “anti-Semitisms” itself carries a fairly post-modern ring with its seemingly endless plurality, and a doubter could claim that this plurality is merely a trick to deflect all criticisms registered against Israel. The response, however, would be that the Jewish Question itself lies at the heart of western civilization, along with philosophy, and it should not surprise us that various expressions of anti-Semitism would come to light in the West – a West which, in some respects, must also include the Muslim world as Islam is itself caught up in the Jewish drama of a transcendent God and a mundane creation. Understanding and assessing the various forms of anti-Semitism is central to understanding the current health, especially the political health, of the West. The Jewish Question, in other words, cannot be overcome.

With this in mind, Finkielkraut reminds us that we must distinguish among the various forms of anti-Semitism in order to identify that which most threatens Europe today. As mentioned earlier in this series, Finkielkraut does not believe that the traditional anti-Semitism of the Nazi, let alone the medieval anti-Semitism of Christianity, is particularly virulent in Europe today. The Jürg Haiders and Jean-Marie Le Pens of the world are not a significant threat. Indeed, there exists greater common cause between French Jews today and those in the Front National who agitate for a France for the French, because most French Jews see themselves as proud Frenchmen. This was certainly the case with Raymond Aron and it remains the case with Alain Finkielkraut. While I don’t wish to lump Aron and Finkielkraut together with Le Pen or Haider, it must be noted that much of what Haider and Le Pen oppose in terms of creeping European transnationalism has also been criticized by Finkielkraut. Moreover, Le Pen’s pledge to restore security in the French suburbs dominated by Arab youth gangs was a promise that resonated with many a French Jew.

But even the dangers posed to French Jews by angry Arab youngsters bringing the Intifada to France do not represent, in Finkielkraut’s eyes, the greatest threat. As he notes, this form of anti-Semitism on the part of people who are themselves primarily Semitic, is the result of religious doctrine merging with a hatred born of the complete failure of the Arab states – a failure only accentuated by their repeated humiliation at the hands of an Israeli military over the decades. This is not to suggest that Finkielkraut is justifying this hatred. The failure of the Arab world, especially its almost total inability to modernize, has its sources squarely in the Arab world.

By contrast, the anti-Semitism that most concerns Finkielkraut today is that of the anti-racist, negating humanist version. The transnationalism that condemns Israel for its dedication to the nation, while taking the side of the oppressed Other, the Arab in his tribal brutality and simplicity. Of course, this is an image that many of the more educated Iraqis would themselves disown, but it is the one that excites the provincial cosmopolitan now so trendy in the French and European elite. Today’s anti-Semitism, today’s chic western hatred of the Jew, is rooted in the very European project with its sense of historical overcoming and its preference for the tribal over the political nation.

It is perhaps an odd phenomenon that allows the contemporary European anti-Semite to condemn Israel by casting it as a new Nazi state, the new home of apartheid, while championing the cause of the Muslim Other who seeks to wipe Israel out of existence, all the while creating his own form of humanist anti-Semitism. It is, however, essential that we understand these varieties in order to identify the real threat to western civilization – a threat that comes from inside, more than from without. And we must be careful when accusing Europe of anti-Semitism when it votes for a Le Pen or a Haider, because, paradoxically, we may only be feeding the forces of a much more vicious, yet somehow more subtle anti-Semitism, all the more dangerous for its subtlety.

I’ll be taking a few weeks off from the France Falling series, but I’ll be back at the end of December with posts on Jean-François Revel’s treatment of anti-Americanism (close kin of today’s anti-Semitism) and Stephen Launay on wars Just, American and pacifist-European. In the meantime, I’ll be posting on the situation in Canada as a new Prime Minister prepares to take office and the Right unites.


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