The letter below is a reply to  http://normanfinkelstein.com/2020/10/29/frances-wahabi-secularists-read-the-whole-article-its-very-informative/

Dear Norman,

I’ve read the article posted on your website in connection with Samuel Paty’s murder.

Besides making several good points, its apocalyptical tone seems to me exaggerated. The islamophobia may be on the rise in France, but is nowhere near the “crackdown on Muslims” your correspondent describes. The radicalization of young Muslims is on the rise there too, as well as the incidents they commit. I expect this to lead to higher islamophobia levels in the future, more than the biased mainstream press’ discourse.

France has a very long secular history, a history of fighting against the church. One doesn’t have to like that, but it’s necessary to acknowledge this context when speaking about their criticising or mocking of religion of any kind. Most of the French society is attached to its freedom of speech & mores and doesn’t want to renounce them, and also sees Islam (and religion in general) as backward. The education taught in schools is done according to their culture and history. It has the same approach regarding the freedom of mores and often has an irreverent attitude versus issues valued or revered by other cultures. This is visible starting with the children’s books published today.

Hence, criticising religion is legal, in France, and even a banal thing to do. Have Muslims ever truly accepted for their religion to be criticised? Have they ever accepted the right to blaspheme when this concerns Islam?

Charlie Hebdo’s satire is often more than disgusting, and also hypocritical (they don’t touch the Jewish faith or mock the Jews since a long time. Siné, their best caricaturist, was fired when he dared to do so https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Affaire_Sin%C3%A9 ). But I must say the Catholics are mocked by them just as the Muslims are, and, as far as I know, they never slain anyone. There are much more crimes committed by Muslims on “infidels” than vice versa, and generally much more violent. That’s why your correspondent’s example with the Muslim women that were attacked looks to me like cherry picking. (that’s just the last crime I heard of – https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/france-nice-stabbing-church-attack/2020/10/29/e375eef0-19c5-11eb-8bda-814ca56e138b_story.html )

Does he know how many churches were set on fire or vandalised in the last years versus how many mosches? Only in 2019: “Dans son bilan des actes antireligieux, antisémites, racistes et xénophobes, le ministère de l’Intérieur décompte 1052 actes antichrétiens, contre 687 faits antisémites et 154 atteintes aux musulmans. Plus d’actes antichrétiens, toute proportion gardée” (https://www.francetvinfo.fr/societe/religion/actes-antichretiens-en-france-que-signifient-vraiment-les-chiffres-du-gouvernement_3803085.html )

And these anti-Christian acts are also much less discussed in the press then those against Islamic faith (not to speak of Jewish faith). The official discourse, clearly anti-Catholic, only emphasizes the scandals connected to their church. Is that a crackdown on Catholicism and Catholics, then?

Not long ago some Chechens had a gun fight (with kalashnikovs) in the middle of Paris – the police didn’t intervene. I agree with your correspondent that thugs and terrorists are left alone while blameless communities are collectively punished. All this is done with the tacit agreement of state structures (it could even be their creation). It can serve some interests (LICRA’s, CRIF’s for example) of dividing Christians and Muslims, or justify state tightening population control. Of course, it can also be a result of the clash between an archaic culture and France’s contemporary Occidental one. Or of simply living in today’s lost and dehumanising society.

A friend of mine wrote me that he sees Paty as a victim of the antiracist discourse, whose conformism was media induced; a naive imbued by secular thinking, not willing to understand the Muslim sensibility regarding the blaspheme. He’s a history teacher in college too, and even if he’d never choose to teach Charlie himself, especially to Muslim students, he’s still concerned for his safety, thinking that no one is protected today from a crazy violent terrorist’s anger, be him an immigrant or not. He’s afraid that from a large Muslim population, often angry and frustrated, a more radical one can happen to pass to act against a French person whose fault is simply being there at the wrong moment. He loves to teach, but is, however, happy not having to teach to young Muslims from working class neighbourhoods – young people that, at the end of the day, don’t grasp why should they listen to boring subjects taught by a misbeliever, a poor underpaid guy that doesn’t have the authority of their imam and nothing to do with their world.

I’m surprised your correspondent seems so shocked by the hatred exposed by the mainstream media. Unfortunately, that’s the mainstream discourse everywhere in the West, for a long time – that’s hardly a novelty. (Social media makes no exception (ex https://www.mintpressnews.com/study-facebook-complicit-anti-muslim-violence-islamophobia/272256/ )

Interesting viewpoints exist, but one won’t find them on BFM TV. I’ll only cite two I stumbled upon – https://www.voltairenet.org/article211344.html and http://ancommunistes.fr/spip.php?article2552

But, if that doesn’t surprise me, it doesn’t mean I don’t see the danger of such propaganda. Much of the blame for what happened belongs to the media, as well as to the direction and directives given for the school teaching.

Criticising any religion is legal, but that doesn’t make teaching to Muslim students the blasphemy against their religion, a moral option. That teacher was an imbecile and the official directives he followed are despicable – I learned that college teachers have an obligatory class on free speech that includes Charlie Hebdo’s caricatures. I don’t know how is this taught in practice – true, the discussion about the limits of free speech and about what happened may be worth hearing, even if the materials are offensive to many and some are totally disgusting. But one could ask if it’s appropriate to show images in class, at that age, that concern nudity, vulgarity etc. Is that a good, or even acceptable pedagogical choice? One doesn’t bring pornographic film scenes to explain that pornography exist. (Even if it should be said that a caricature, as disgusting or shameful it could be, is not pornography.)

A lot of other examples could have been found in history or nowadays. How about Dieudonné’s excellent shows (at least one cannot deny there’s humour there!) which were a huge success and, unlike Charlie’s caricatures, were censored. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dieudonn%C3%A9_M%27bala_M%27bala) This implies that they were more problematical and thus, would constitute a more meaningful choice to be discussed in relation with the limits of free speech. (There was no problem whatsoever as long as he mocked Blacks, but then he moved on to mock Jews).

This to me sounds as an impossible mission – “before offering your students any precept, any maxim, ask yourself: Is there, to your knowledge, only one honest man who could be offended by what you are about to say?” not to ask, is this even desirable as a goal. But there is a real bias in French instruction and it should be addressed. It is so ingrained it became the new normal. There are mandatory semester courses on Shoah and more and more everything turns around this subject, while there are debates whether France’s own Middle Age history should be taught any longer.

Just as a side note, I wouldn’t worry too much about the “culinary separatism” i.e. halal or casher shelves disappearance – the CRIF would be the first to object to it. (Btw, it’s them who started the “communitarianism” trend vilified today in France, and asked to enjoy special treatment, not the Muslims.) However, Darmanin’s remark, as clumsy as it was, has to be understood as a response to a worrying dissolution, for some, of one of the central, ancient instilled values of French civilisation. Decades ago, immigrants coming here were integrated by force in the “French way of life” and identified, just as the natives, as French citizen before anything else. French language was aggressively imposed in its primacy and exclusivity. “Tes ancêtres les gaulois” was a discourse preached to all children, no matter their country of origin or ethnicity. Even native French children were severely punished if they spoke a word of dialect (patois) at school. I don’t discuss if this was good or bad – what I say is, this was a way of unifying the nation. The mandatory military service also contributed to this goal.

Now, a recent Ifop survey suggesting that 40% of Muslims, including more than three-quarters of those under 25, put their religious convictions ahead of the country. That’s a very different situation that the one a lot of French citizen grew up and were educated in. One country’s history and civilisation should be considered before evaluating its incomprehension and rejection of another civilisation’s mores. That incomprehension could be reciprocal.

I also object to the characterisation “Marine Le Pen’s neo-fascist far right” – if that party was neo fascist it would’ve been forbidden a long time ago. They’re nationalists. (Some of my “radical left” friends even voted Le Pen as the smaller evil, while all the woke French people voted for Macron’s neoliberal policies. The “antifascist” discourse he deployed was but a token of identification with his “progressist” electorate.)

I think nowadays the distinction Left/Right is slowly fading, becoming less meaningful compared to the sovereigntist/ globalising one. The anti-Immigration speech (which exists, but is not so mainstream as your correspondent says) manipulates a complicated issue. I don’t think it is ok to lure people into coming massively in occidental countries with the goal of replacing the local workforce. I don’t refer to those coming from war zones, that in plus the Occident contributed to create, but the massive economical immigration to whom Germany gave green light to come. They’re offered very low wages and no social protection, conditions that local workmen would’ve never accepted. This way, the local fight for better work conditions is crushed. That’s what the usual soulful pro-immigration discourse frequently covers.

Cristiana