Mireille Knoll, 85, a Holocaust survivor, was stabbed and then immolated in her apartment in Paris last month. The suspect, Yacine Mihoub, 28, released from prison last September, shouted “Allahu Akbar” as he murdered Knoll, according to his accomplice. The following week, thousands gathered in Paris and marched in her honor. President Emmanuel Macron denounced the anti-Semitism behind the brutal murder, but the underlying Islamism went largely unremarked by the nation’s leaders.
Islamist anti-Semitism courses through Europe’s Muslim migrant communities. No country has been affected by this frightening development more than France, which in 2015 alone saw the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the killings at a kosher supermarket a few days later, and then the Bataclan shooting. Less recognized is the steady onslaught of lethal anti-Semitism on Europe’s streets, claiming one Jewish life at a time.
The rise in French anti-Semitism is undeniable. Knoll was the eleventh French Jew to be murdered in twelve years. New York Times columnist Bari Weiss places the murders in context: French Jews are less than 1 percent of the country’s population, but 51 percent of racist attacks in France in 2014 were against Jews.
That same year, the think tank Fondapal issued a report on anti-Semitism in France over the preceding decade. The author, Dominique Reynié, noted that at least 400 anti-Semitic attacks had occurred on French soil every year. Failing to understand Islamist anti-Semitism, some observers appear caught between blaming identity politics and blaming Israeli politics for the rise in France’s anti-Semitism. Neither explanation is adequate.
Many refuse to recognize that Islamism obfuscates its totalitarian character while it poses as the political imposter of the monotheistic religion that is Islam. Unless we examine Islamism, the role of Muslims and Muslim communities in the new anti-Semitism will remain obscured. Islamism is not Islam. The two are often mistaken for one another, however, to the detriment of the Muslim and the non-Muslim alike.
Consider, for example, Islamism and Islam, the culmination of more than 40 years of inquiry by Muslim scholar Bassam Tibi, a Syrian émigré and German national. Tibi identifies six tenets of Islamism. The first is the quest for a new world order through a global, dictatorial caliphate. Such an objective appears nowhere in the Koran. The second tenet is that democratic institutions should be exploited for purpose of attaining permanent power. Islamists seek to establish themselves within democracies. They relish electioneering and the whole process but, once elected, seal the democratic causeway behind them.
The third tenet is that Jews are Islam’s prime enemy, rendering anti-Semitism not merely a political obsession but a religious duty. Like all totalitarianisms, Islamism needs an enemy to unite against.
Enter Islamist anti-Semitism.
The memory of colonial rule is still fresh in the North African Arab community, many of whose members have migrated to France. In the Second World War, Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria fell to Nazi rule. Unlike Italy, France, and Germany, these Arab nations had no existing anti-Semitic laws.
Other tenets of Islamism involve an invented form of sharia law, one without historical roots, and a fanatical obsession with purity and authenticity, requiring Islamism to be at permanent war with both secularism and pluralistic Islam. Any challenge to Islamism is labeled Islamophobic and de facto un-Islamic. By this logic, naming Islamist anti-Semitism for what it is becomes an Islamophobic act, even when it is I and other pluralist Muslims who expose the hypocrisy.
Islamist ideology, which relies on the principle of “Islam under siege,” was conceived by 20th-century Egyptian Marxists who founded the Muslim Brotherhood and were imprisoned by pan-Arab nationalist Egyptian president Gamal Nasser (1918–70 ). In the view of Islamists, Islam competes for primacy in a new world order but is forever thwarted by “Jewish global powers.” The Islamist sees himself as a victim of a Western, Jewish supremacy that dominates the world and tries to impose its beliefs on Muslims.
In France, matters become more complicated, given its history of colonialism. The memory of colonial rule is still fresh in the North African Arab community, many of whose members have migrated to France. When France was occupied by Germany under the Vichy government of 1940–44, Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria fell to Nazi rule. Unlike Italy, France, and Germany, these Arab nations had no existing anti-Semitic laws.
Mehnaz M. Afridi, a Muslim scholar of the Holocaust, notes that, though Arab Muslims “were humiliated and powerless under colonial rule,” they did not initiate the anti-Semitic persecution that took the form of labor camps, mostly for Jews, that were built in their midst. In some cases, Nazi authorities incarcerated Muslim Arabs alongside Jews. On the other hand, as Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, argues in his book Among the Righteous, “Arabs played a role at every level” of the persecution. Some Arab interpreters went door to door with SS officers to expose Jewish neighbors to the Nazi occupiers, Satloff writes. Some led Jews on forced marches. Some manned the trains taking European Jews on railroad journeys deep into the Sahara. In Tunisia, some patrolled the streets of Sousse and Bizerte, looking for Jewish escapees.
Satloff recounts that Si Kaddour Benghabrit, the rector of the Great Mosque of Paris, documented that Jews fled the Holocaust as certified Muslims with identity papers. One hundred French Jews were thereby saved from deportation to Nazi death camps. Those events inspired the film Les Hommes Libres, directed Ismaël Ferroukhi, a French Moroccan who sought to bring the story to French schools, as a deterrent against present-day hate.
France is home to the largest Muslim population in Europe: 5.7 million, or 8.8 percent of the nation’s total population, according to the Pew Research Center in 2016. The French Muslim population swells as Europe continues to struggle with an influx of asylum seekers. Then add the exploitation of migrants by human traffickers, and the ranks of French citizens with varying degrees of sympathy for ISIS. It should come as no surprise that France has grown suspicious of its growing Muslim population.
Islamism embarrasses secular French Muslims, many of whom are highly educated professionals far removed from their Arab heritage. It is precisely these French Muslims who are the bastion against the onslaught of lethal Islamist anti-Semitism. France’s leaders must empower civil Islam against Islamist totalitarianism and expose Islamist anti-Semitism for what it is: a new form of anti-Semitism but just as lethal as the one the men and women died fighting in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, whose 75th anniversary the world marked last month. “Given that Muslims constitute more than a quarter of humanity,” the tension “between civil Islam and Islamist totalitarianism matters to everyone,” Tibi writes. Nowhere and at no time would it seem to matter more than in France today.