In Onward Muslim Soldiers I entitled a chapter “Everybody must get stoned: The strange alliance between radical Islam and the post-Sixties Left.” Now Christopher Caldwell in The Weekly Standard shows how rapidly the alliance between the Left and radical Islam is progressing in (where else?) France.
A few of Caldwell’s keen observations: “While America believed it was avoiding a clash of civilizations–fighting our enemies in the Islamic world without fighting our friends–drawing such distinctions may be beyond the capacity of most of the Muslims Washington sought to help. Avoiding a clash of civilizations thus demanded an explication not only of our war aims but of our Western way of life, which in turn requires more rhetorical sophistication than this American administration has at its disposal. . . .
“The Arab world’s case tends to get made in red-meat terms, as it was at a rally I attended in a mud-ringed, marijuana-smelling tent in St. Denis. The antiwar Scots member of parliament George Galloway had the audience roaring its approval when he expressed his hopes that George W. Bush would be buggered by one of Prince Charles’s servants during his forthcoming state visit to Britain, and the American delegate Rahul Mahjane direly warned that the occupation of Iraq would resemble–horror of horrors–‘what the United States did to Germany after World War II.’ The yearnings of radical Muslims are now at the core of the Social Forum’s universe. They have jostled aside the left-wing economics and focus on global markets that once dominated. The key sign of this shift was the Forum’s anointing of Tariq Ramadan–along with BovÃ©–as the event’s costar. Indeed, when the two embraced onstage on the first day of the gathering, it was taken as a richly, even smarmily, symbolic moment.
“Ramadan, a Swiss-born professor of Islamic studies in Geneva, is the grandson of Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, who was assassinated in 1949 but remains a figure of inspiration for fundamentalists worldwide. Ramadan’s father was one of the founders of the Saudi-funded World Islamic League. Ramadan himself is a handsome, soft-spoken advocate of traditionalist Islam whom outsiders have a hard time casting as a hardliner. He has just returned from a lecture tour of American campuses–Dartmouth, for example–where he got chipper write-ups from student newspapers.
“But in 2002, the Spanish judge Baltasar GarzÃ³n linked Ramadan and his publishing house Tawhid to Ahmed Brahim, the Algerian financier of al Qaeda. This does not prove Ramadan a terrorist, or even a sympathizer, but it does mean he has important contacts in extremist circles. Then there is the matter of his brother Hani, a fundamentalist of harsher mien, who in September 2002 published a notorious article defending the lapidation (stoning to death) of adulterous women in Nigeria. Hani is director of the Centre Islamique de GenÃ¨ve, on the administrative council of which Tariq has sat since December of last year. So Tariq’s views on the matter have been closely scrutinized. When he said on television in November that he had always denounced wife-beating, his opponents were quick to note that on page 330 of his 2001 book ‘Islam: The Meeting of Civilizations,’ he explained that the Koran permits, even requires, the practice. But the coyote will catch the roadrunner before Ramadan falls into such an obvious trap. That is because he hews rigidly to a distinction between Islam and ‘Islamic cultures,’ and chalks all the faults in Koranic applications up to the latter. He will insist that the Koran is the best way to lead your life, and tell you that the Koran says X. But he will never say, ‘Do X.’
“In late October, Tariq Ramadan began circulating an editorial in which he attacked French Jewish intellectuals (Alexandre Adler, Alain Finkielkraut, Bernard-Henri LÃ©vy, et al.), and one whom he’d mistakenly assumed was Jewish (Pierre-AndrÃ© Taguieff) for ‘communitarianism’–which, in its French context, means alleging that their very Jewishness led them to support Jewish interests over the universal ones proper to French intellectual life, and Israel over France. LibÃ©ration and Le Monde rejected the article for being suffused with the very groupthink it purported to critique. And when the article was eventually published on oumma.com, France’s largest Muslim website and a venue particularly hospitable to Ramadan, inquiries began pouring into the Social Forum–most of them, surely, from non-attendees–demanding to know why Ramadan was being permitted to play such a prominent role in its debates.
“The Forum leadership issued a press release as dismissive as the author’s rambling French would allow: ‘A number of commentators have questioned the European Social Forum, claiming to see opinions of an anti-Semitic nature in the text by Tariq Ramadan that has been circulated on our emailing list. This text is not anti-Semitic in the slightest, otherwise the ComitÃ© d’Initiative FranÃ§ais, as organizer of the Social Forum, would have faced the consequences, even if this text is susceptible to different opinions. Consequently, the Social Forum being a pluralist space of meetings and debates, Tariq Ramadan has his place there.’
“Ramadan raised questions at the Forum about the ‘soft Islam of Turkey.’ It was bad timing. His remarks came only hours before al Qaeda set off two bombs in front of an Istanbul synagogue. On the same night in Gagny, north of Paris, a mammoth fire destroyed the Merkaz Hatorah Jewish day school.
“It was striking how thoroughly the two events were twinned in the minds of most French people, and President Chirac reacted swiftly. He called a meeting of Jewish representatives at the ElysÃ©e Palace, where, ‘solemnly, in the name of the nation,’ he stated that ‘when one attacks a Jew in France, it is all of France one attacks.’ Clearly Chirac feared a repeat of April 2002, when such acts were occurring at the rate of several per day. If anti-Jewish aggression has abated since then, it has never stopped. In the first 10 months of 2002 there were 184 such incidents, versus 96 this year; over the same period, anti-Semitic threats fell from 685 to 295. But a representative of the CRIF (the council of Jewish institutions in France) told Le Monde that the decline in vandalism reflects only a heightened vigilance over Jewish sites. Aggression and insults are now part of the fabric of daily life, according to Jews who live in metropolitan Paris, even if they take the form of harassment rather than outright violence. . . .
“A situation in which ‘progressivism’ rubs shoulders with extremism creates nightmares for the French center-left. Shortly after the Ramadan essay was published on oumma.com, it was condemned by the Socialist party’s leader, FranÃ§ois Hollande. The smaller parties of the left took a different tack, seeking to use the occasion to pick up radical street cred. This was true not just of the Communists and the Trotskyists but also of the Greens, whose leader, NoÃ«l MamÃ¨re, implied that the whole Ramadan scandal was a plot of Socialists against the Social Forum. But to alienate the Social Forum altogether–or to draw undue attention to its antidemocratic side–would be to alienate those Trotskyite and Communist parties that won 10 percent of the vote in the first round of the last presidential elections, and which the Socialists will be counting on for their margin of victory in elections for the foreseeable future. Socialists could easily find themselves in the position the French right has been in for the last two decades, when it hemorrhaged the 15 percent of the most reliably right-wing votes in the country to a party (the National Front) which neither public opinion nor its own principles permitted it to form coalitions with.
“So the Socialists tried to play it both ways. The day the Social Forum opened, Hollande, along with Denmark’s former socialist prime minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, wrote a front-page editorial in Le Monde begging for a role in it. He and Rasmussen spoke about the unbridled global economy–an economy that Hollande’s own party had done a superb job of fostering in the late 1990s under the intelligent leadership of two ministers of finance, Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Laurent Fabius, who were cut from the Robert Rubin pattern of business-friendly center-leftism. But suddenly Hollande was intoning the nightmare of the free market, which ‘often enshrines the rights of the powerful, increases inequality between the North and the South [as the French call the First and the Third worlds], bypasses the collective preferences of peoples, and feeds the sentiments of fear and apathy in public opinion. At its worst, it fosters extremisms, with their logic of security and reaction.’
“Hollande paid respectful visits to both Attac and Oxfam at the Forum, and the future presidential candidate Laurent Fabius himself–having scrapped his business suit for casual wear–breakfasted with JosÃ© BovÃ© on opening day.
“But none of this–duh!–was enough to satisfy the radicals at the Forum. On the second day of the gathering, at La Villette in Paris, protesters threw tear-gas bombs in the course of a ‘demonstration against the presence of the Socialist party at the European Social Forum.’ Not against anything they said–against their presence. When it came to the Socialist party, the Social Forum was not quite the ‘pluralist space of meetings and debates’ that Tariq Ramadan’s defenders had said it was. During the November 15 closing march, hostile protesters surrounded the Socialist delegation. They accused the party of collaborating with capitalism, threw bottles, and (according to the later account of one Socialist marcher) yelled, ‘Lynch them!’
“But it is not just Socialists who will bear the brunt of France’s shifting politics. The week after the Forum ended, the immensely popular Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s law-and-order minister of the interior, appeared on France2’s popular television show ‘100 Minutes to Convince’ with the newly exalted Tariq Ramadan and Jean-Marie Le Pen invited alongside to grill him. Although Sarkozy is French voters’ idea of an ideal future prime minister (54 percent see him in this role, versus just 26 percent for his rivals Alain JuppÃ© and Dominique de Villepin), and although Sarkozy has a lot on his plate, including the suppression of a low-intensity terrorist uprising in Corsica, almost the entirety of the discussion surrounded the issues of immigration, assimilation, and Islam.
“Sarkozy has created a French Council of the Muslim Faith, which brings Islam somewhat into conformity with French laws that govern Catholicism, Protestantism, and Judaism. He is proud of it. Unfortunately, it is already headed for legitimacy troubles, for its president Dalil Boubakeur, rector of the Great Mosque of Paris, is dismissed by the purs et durs of ghetto Islam as something of an Uncle Tom. It is unlikely the Boubakeur tendency will be able to hold out long against the Union of Islamic Organizations of France, which is more partial to Tariq Ramadan. Sarkozy, it is true, impressed audiences by keeping Ramadan at bay throughout the evening. ‘I didn’t like your article [on Jewish communitarianism],’ he said. ‘To my mind, you should think with your head, not with your race.’
“But substantively, Sarkozy has no better solutions to the problem of assimilating Islam than anybody else. It appears that more drastic measures are going to be necessary. Affirmative action, which so deeply violates the French republican creed of equality under the law that it was unthinkable even to the left in France just five years ago, has just been held legal by a court ruling on a controversial admissions program at the Institut d’Ã©tudes politiques. And Sarkozy became the first French government official to sing its praises. Some neighborhoods are so disadvantaged, he said, ‘that if you don’t give them extra assistance, they’ll never get ahead.’ He promised that he would soon appoint a Muslim prefect. And one of the first areas in which affirmative action is likely to be used in a broad way is in the hiring of police.
“Then he got to the most vexing problem: the veil. Since the late 1980s, a few girls every year have decided to challenge France’s official secularism (or laÃ¯citÃ©), [challenging laws which forbid] all religious symbols in school, that is, [opposing efforts] to extend France’s 1905 laws on secularism to roust religion totally out of the public square.
“France’s original laws on secularism were drafted to keep a declining religion–Roman Catholicism–under control. They are not much use for keeping a widely distrusted rising religion from dominating the public square. What’s more, as the political scientist Farhad Khosrokhavar noted in a smart recent essay in Le Monde, the laws won’t work because the stated justification–that the scarf itself is an offense against equal rights for women–would not be the real reason for the ban. The vast majority of the girls wear the scarf not because they’re being coerced but because they are willingly practicing their religion. Such a law is simply an attack on the headscarf, and by extension, Islam. ‘The rest is trivia,’ writes Khosrokhavar–even if the government tries to make the law look serious and impartial by arresting the occasional yarmulke-wearer or a teacher who wears a cross around her neck. (Assuming that people aren’t too terrified to wear yarmulkes in the first place.)
“Sarkozy, to his credit, is against such a ban on religious symbols. ‘Are we going to accept nose-piercing [in schools] and refuse baptismal medals?’ he asked on France2. But in place of such a law, the only alternative he could suggest was that Tariq Ramadan tell his young Muslim neighbors not to wear the veil to school. So here is France’s ‘leader of the future,’ begging an Islamic fundamentalist to help him keep Islam out of French schools. What a predicament. Faced with a real religion, with real beliefs and a real sense of purpose, France’s secular, consumerist society is whimpering for mercy.”