TCS Daily

The Riot Act

By Nidra Poller - December 2, 2005 12:00 AM

PARIS -- Add one more casualty to the victims of the November incidents in France: Alain Finkielkraut, 56-year-old professor, philosopher, author, and subtle commentator on current events. This humane intellectual has been dragged into something like a cross between a medieval disputation, the Moscow Trials, and an al Qaeda beheading scene, simply because he deviated from the accepted interpretation of the violence then raging in France...and said it in an Israeli newspaper.

Finkielkraut was interviewed in the thick of the fighting by two journalists from the Israeli daily Haaretz, Dror Mishani and Aurélia Samothraiz. Thinking himself in friendly territory, the philosopher spoke freely about the origins and implications of the violence that was shaking France on its foundations.

Haaretz published an awkward English translation of the interview/profile, originally conducted in French on November 17; the Hebrew version was the cover story of the November 18 weekend supplement. In the course of the interview Finkielkraut remarked that it was not possible to say "these things" in France.

How right he is.

A slapdash French (re-)translation by notorious Israel-bashers Michel Warshavski and Michèle Sibony was rapidly posted by the French Jewish Union for Peace (UJFP) under the title, "They're not miserable they're Muslim." Once the sharks had drawn blood a motley crew of French journalists, scholars, and all-purpose intellectuals rushed to devour the man who dared to speak his mind, inadvertently exposing their own mental and ethical poverty in the process.

Here in France, where no accusation against America or Israel is too scurrilous for official dissemination and mass consumption, Finkielkraut was beaten almost senseless for developing, with utmost precaution, a thoughtful analysis of the riots. Going beyond the simplistic sociological description of ghettoized youths bursting out in frustration against discrimination and unemployment, Finkielkraut analyzes the violence as a nihilistic attack against the French Republic. He points out the dangers inherent in romanticizing the riots as the justified revolt of the wretched of the earth. And he has the courage to mention that the perpetrators of the street violence are, for the most part, black and/or Muslim...born in France but anchored to an ethno-religious identity that makes their integration well nigh impossible. He cautions against a misguided anti-racism that may become the totalitarian menace of the 21st century, as was Communism in the latter half of the 20th.

Every detail of the extensive Haaretz interview merits debate and reflection. But the prevailing dhimmitude climate leaves no room for debate: It is forbidden to criticize Islam.

Finkielkraut's forthright search for the truth led him into the heart of the "Seine-y triangle," where Le Monde, Le Nouvel Observateur, Télérama, and Libération dictate the lockstep thinking that stifles French minds. A collage of excerpts from the Haaretz interview, slapped together by Sylvain Cypel, was published in Le Monde ("Finkielkraut's Deviant Voice", 26 November). Not only were the excerpts deliberately slanted to make Finkielkraut look bad, but the words attributed to him had been re-translated into French from a Hebrew translation of the original French interview. A linguistic crime.

Mouloud Aounit, executive officer of the Mouvement contre le racisme et pour l'amitié entre les peuples, announced that he was suing the philosopher for racism and hate speech. The MRAP, originally a Communist-inspired movement against racism and anti-Semitism, is now distinguished for associating with notorious Islamists and defending their causes. The NGO-infiltration strategy pays off -- instead of coming on like a scary cloak-and-qur'an cell pronouncing a fatwa against Finkielkraut, the MRAP stands proudly as a government-subsidized anti-racist association and unashamedly goes public with a vicious assault on Finkielkraut that has been raging for years on Islamist and fellow traveler websites. And the mainstream media join the mob.

Interrogated by a sharp-tongued Jean-Pierre Elkabach (Europe 1 Radio, 25 November), Finkielkraut apparently apologized to any person or group who might be offended by his words. In fact he was condemning the "puzzle" pieced together by Cypel to make him sound like a despicable far-right bigot. But the honest thinker was trapped in shark-infested waters. Elkabach's insolent tone was echoed in a whole series of interrogations, debates, articles, and commentaries over the following days.

The accusations leveled against Finkielkraut are simply preposterous. Elkabach called him to order: "When a society is in crisis, an you, Alain Finkielkraut, is supposed to be above the fray and exert a calming influence. But your recent declarations in foreign newspapers are deemed...unacceptable..." Elkabach accused Finkielkraut of causing "damage in cascade" by pointing out that most of the rioters were Muslim and/or black.

Parrying Finkielkraut's request to exercise his "right to respond," Le Monde subjected him to another carping, scolding interview ("Alain Finkielkraut: 'J'assume'" 26 November) at the mercy of Sylvie Kaufman and...Sylvain Cypel.

Cypel/Kauffman studiously avoided answering for the scandalous re-translation -- for example, the grossly inaccurate use of the term "savages" -- and forged ahead like a gruff detective: "So, you claim that the key to understanding the riots is the fact that the rioters weren't indeterminate 'youths' but Blacks and Muslim Arabs?" Ignoring Finkielkraut's intelligent reply, the interrogators hammered away: "Policemen and counselors did not observe any religious demands. Some of the youths who were arrested and sentenced were 'native' French. What makes you think it was an 'ethnic-religious' revolt?" Drawing to the conclusion of this shameful tongue-lashing, Cypel/Kauffman throw a ridiculous punch: Why did you tell the Haaretz journalists that you aren't free to say "those things" in France?

As if the interview were not sufficiently hostile, it was followed, on the same page, with a dastardly rundown of the affair, actually a garbage can of citations. Mouloud Aounit claims that he withdrew the lawsuit because Finkielkraut apologized, but he doesn't believe the apologies are sincere. Sociologist Michel Wievorka accuses Finkielkraut of bearing some responsibility for the "recent events in the banlieue...because his discourse...widens the chasm between the promises and the reality of the République." Further, Wievorka calls Finkielkraut a "Communitarian Republican" who acts like a Frenchman on French radio and then talks like a Jew in Haaretz and on Jewish radio. The UJPF brings up the rear, describing Finkielkraut as an example of "the worst of neo-conservative thought" and accusing him of fanning the flames of anti-Semitism.

Dozens of similar examples could be cited to illustrate the perverse, nasty, and extremely stupid reactions to Alain Finkielkraut's intelligent reflections on the wave of unprecedented "urban violence" that has exploded the very platitudes retailed by his detractors.

There is every indication that the street fighting will recur. And expand. And guerilla warfare against thinkers who explore the deep-seated causes of this conflict will certainly intensify. Alain Finkielkraut, who is admired for his broad learning, intellectual finesse, open heart, and open mind, knows how to defend himself. But he is too lucid to ignore the long term implications of the personal attacks currently aimed at him. Whatever distress this may cause today must be overshadowed by a far greater and ultimately inconsolable distress at the collapse of intelligent discourse in this France that he loves so deeply.

Nidra Poller is a novelist living in France.


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