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Saturday, October 16, 2021

A familiar ache

As many Parisian Jews prepare to leave France, the awful smell of history is back.

Written by Bhawesh Mishra |
Updated: January 28, 2015 12:21:36 am
French Jews, Islamic extremism, France, Jews, Muslims, French Muslims, Religious extremism, Today there are armed police on the streets of Brussels, London and Paris, with orders to shoot to kill. This is not how Europe was meant to turn out.

Driving the 1,000 kilometres from Paris to Munich, somewhere near Stuttgart, you stop at a pizzeria run by one Mr Kiyani from Peshawar. He jokes about Indians always looking for cheap food. You ask if he misses home, if he likes Germany. “For us, this is jannat, heaven. You know everything about our countries, bhai, don’t you?” Mr Kiyani says.

You are back on the autobahn, in a German car with a Nazi past. Lines from a chat you had with your Indian friend’s Jewish wife begin to harrow into Kiyani’s cheerful goodbye. She had said she would not be able to set foot in Germany. “I hate no one, no place but just the thought of Germany brings tears to my eyes,” she had said. Kiyani’s heaven is the success of today’s Europe. The moist pain of a Jew in Jerusalem is from the untold horrors of the Continent’s past.

Driving past pretty towns, large forests and verdant farms, you see her tears were not her own, not for today. Seventy years since the liberation of Auschwitz on January 27, 1945, the tiny number of Jews left in Europe fought the unbearable past while they rebuilt their present. But suddenly, the demons are back. This time from another religion, another ideology and with grievances that, it seems, must again end in murder.

One Muslim youth, acting on imported anger, goes into a kosher food store and kills four Jews. It would have been much easier to find non-Jews. There is only one Jew per 100 people in France. In conflicts across the world, Muslims are the main victims of Islamic violence.

But Jews are singled out in Mumbai and Paris alike. That, however, is elsewhere. What Europe can’t bear is that homegrown terror has the same target — to attack synagogues, kosher delis, schools where Jewish children go and hound Jews out. The Holocaust between 1939 and 1945 was committed on the convenient assumption of Jewish evil. Much of Europe agreed and participated. But today, Europe is terrified. Because it knows there is such a thing as history’s blood. It’s thick but it does not dry. The youthful haze of the present is blameless for not having been born when history’s blood spilled in death camps. But the present can’t selectively rest on the success of a million Mr Kiyanis. Of all the burdens that Europe carries, the death of six million Jews, 1.5 million of them children, during World War II remains the most agonising. There is a sliver of history’s blood on each starched sleeve in Europe.

As many Parisian Jews prepare to leave France for Israel or London, the awful smell of history is back. Germany, Europe’s wounded soul, and the European Union at large have made enormous efforts to remake a society where no one is killed again for their difference. Forty million immigrants later, this project of remaking Europe into a haven of freedom seems to be turning on itself. This freedom project often means little can be done to nip Islamic extremism in the bud. You have to wait for killings such as at the kosher shop to justify preemptive action. So the law and society cannot always protect Jews, upon whose terrible deaths they were remade. In Europe, every potential killer of a European Jew has the same rights as the dead. But history’s blood has it that the Jew must not be killed again.

In the turmoil of its foreign 10 per cent, France finds itself in a uniquely difficult position. It has the largest number of Jews and Muslims living in one country outside Israel — 6,00,000 Jews to six million Muslims. More than half of French Jews went there from North Africa in the 1950s and ’60s. After France’s past of collaboration with Nazis, Jews were supposed to be the emblem of the Continent’s return to humaneness and decency. And it did go well till 2000. But since then, the French Jew has become a target — this time not of the rabid European right or the ultra left, but of their fellow immigrants from France’s former colonies in Arab Africa. Official figures show there were 527 attacks on Jews in France in the first seven months of 2014, about double of the same period in 2013. More than 7,000 Jews left France for Israel last year. This new exodus of a people who have lived the values of the French Republic has France distraught.

Today there are armed police on the streets of Brussels, London and Paris, with orders to shoot to kill. This is not how Europe was meant to turn out. It’s not just the orthodox Jew in his long black coat walking the streets of Paris 16th who has to be saved. Millions of livid Muslims have to be embraced and lakhs of terrified Jews soothed into staying. And it all must be achieved under the unalienable promise of liberté, égalité, fraternité.

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