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From Ilan Halimi to Sarah Halimi: France’s disgrace

An open letter to the new French Interior Minister Gérard Collomb on the horrific murder of Sarah Halimi
Sarah Halimi (Courtesy)
Sarah Halimi (Courtesy)

An open letter to the new French Interior Minister, Gérard Collomb

Mr. Minister,

A 65-year old Jewish woman, a doctor, is attacked while asleep in her home and tortured horrifically for more than an hour. She lives in a modest apartment on Rue Vaucouleurs in Paris’s densely populated 11th arrondissement. The murderer, who climbed into her apartment via the balcony, attacks with incredible violence, resulting in about twenty fractures all over her face and body.

He then throws her, dying, out of the third floor window. During the entire time, the police, three armed officers present in the building just outside the apartment door, do nothing. The neighbors (several dozen) can hear the victim’s yells: they too do nothing. The French media are alerted. They make no queries and do not report the murder.

Her name was Sarah. Sarah Halimi.

Sarah Halimi (Courtesy)
Sarah Halimi (Courtesy)

This horrific scene did not take place in 1942, before or after the “Rafle du Veld’hiv” that rounded up Jews to be handed to the Nazis, but rather on the night of April 3rd, 2017, in a tiny apartment close to the “Bataclan” where an Islamist murdered more than 100 French people. Cries of “Allahu Akbar” accompanied the scene. The following Sunday, a silent march took place in the area. Youngsters from the nearby quarters countered it with yells of “death to the Jews” and “we own kalachnikovs.”

The Paris public prosecutor immediately cautioned against drawing conclusions about the nature of the crime until the results of the enquiry were made public. Who knows? An elderly Jewish lady savagely slaughtered by a 27-year-old Islamist with many priors (drug trafficking, assault): this could just be a dispute between neighbors… Nevermind that the murderer, Kada Taore, from Mali, insulted the victim on a regular basis, and that she had reported to neighbors how frightened she was of him. “We are at war,” former Prime Minister Manuel Valls proclaimed, “so that Muslims will no longer feel ashamed and Jews will no longer be frightened.” Brilliant.

Mr. Minister, you have just taken up your position in a country where it is once again possible to murder Jews without eliciting much concern from our fellow Frenchmen and women. By the way, the men who were in charge before you, both on the left and the right, preferred not to look any further than the end of the broom with which they swept the problem under the carpet. None were up to this challenge. Will you be? On Sunday May 21, on i24NEWS,Sarah Halimi’s brother, speaking with extraordinary dignity, said, “I have waited seven weeks before saying anything. The absolute silence surrounding my sister’s assassination has become unbearable.”

A human interest story? Not even. In the extreme decadence that reigns today in the country of Dieudonné, the “comedian” for whom “the Jews are dogs” (that gets plenty of laughs), a dog run over by a car apparently deserves more attention than a murdered Jewish woman.

Deep down, I know, Mr. Minister, that you share my analysis. I remember when we went together to Rumania in the early 90s, shortly after the fall of communism, to promote democracy, which is normally not compatible with anti-Semitism. At the time, we were both concerned at seeing certain East European elites reunite with their old anti-Jewish passion. But here, the Judeophobia that makes blood run in the streets of Europe no longer comes from the far right: it comes from Muslim.

That’s so much more embarrassing! Despite this mutation in Judeophobia, I can only hope that you will bring the convictions you once held to wake France from its slumber. As William Goldnadel, one of the Halimi family’s lawyers, remarked, “if the murderer had been blond-haired and blue-eyed, all of France would have marched in the streets: he is an Islamist, so all of France hides in the woodwork.”

Thus, mention of this murder during the presidential campaign was out of bounds. French journalists — who had been so interested in the “Theo” case, in which a minor delinquent who complained of having been brutalized by the police received a visit in the hospital from President Hollande — obeyed the public prosecutor’s instructions to hush up the case with unprecedented unanimity. Aside from the Jewish press, only one Texan newspaper reported on it. The police report has just been issued and the lawyers have given a press conference expressing astonishment over the total cover-up of the case. In fact, the enquiry confirms what we already knew — and then some. Dr. Halimi’s murderer butchered her while reciting suras from the Qur’an and calling her “Satan” (a neighbour recorded several minutes of audio). After having killed his victim while the three police officers were present (they were waiting for extra police backup), the murderer started praying again. He was finally arrested at 5:35 am. Sarah Halimi was lying dead, on the pavement.

All this is truly awful. And, contrary to all evidence and reason, we comfort ourselves with the reassuring claim that, like the murderer who rammed 86 people to death with his truck on la Promenade des Anglais in Nice, this killer is “insane.” And hence, he was not sent to jail, but rather to a psychiatric hospital, where he’s still being treated at public expense. Phew, now we can breathe easy!

As you may recall, Mr. Minister, this denial of truth has already killed in France. Just think of the 23 days during which the young Ilan Halimi was kidnapped, tortured, and finally murdered by the self-named “Gang des Barbares” in 2006. The French police were of no help during the entire episode, rejecting any idea that anti-Semitism could have played a role in the affair and preferring to believe the absurd notion that this was the result of some war between rival gangs.

The head of the Criminal Courts Police would not admit that anti-Semitism could have played a role there, even after the main murderer, a certain Youssof Fofana, was captured (with the help of the Mossad) in the Ivory Coast. There has not been — there cannot be — anti-Semitism in France. Only at the trial was anti-Semitism finally cited as an aggravating circumstance.

Ten years later, we’re back again. From one Halimi to another, we confront a textbook case in which those who plumb the depths of the collective unconscious and its pathologies can find food for thought. Two Jews put to death under torture, in cases that could have been avoided. Yes, this is unacceptable and it has become your problem. It is unacceptable for the Jews, but it should be so for non-Jews as well.

At least it should be in any normal democracy. The revival of anti-Semitism is always a mark of the moral health or failings of a society. What are we witnessing today, in 2017? Sanctioned hatred and unbridled translation into action by some. Willful blindness and tacit approval, silent or vocal, from others. And, last but not least, complete indifference from almost everybody else.

Yes, this was not a politically correct murderer. Neither was the victim. Have you noticed this, Mr. Minister? As long as our local barbarians were only killing Jews — Sebastien Salem in 2003, Ilan Halimi in 2006, the Toulouse children in 2012, a Jewish couple in Brussels in 2014, some people shopping in Porte de Vincennes in 2015 — it was no big deal: let’s not make too much fuss about it.

After all, they had to be a little “guilty” somehow, since people have been saying that for two millennia. Surely the victims must have included some “Arab” soldiers (such as the two killed by Mohamed Merah in Montauban four days before he murdered French Jews in Toulouse) and those “islamophobic” Hebdo journalists who were somehow asking for it. Let’s not make a stink about such things. But at the Bataclan, it was “innocent Frenchmen,” to recall Raymond Barre’s unfortunate slip after the anti-Semitic attack on rue Copernic in 1980, well, that was too much! This was unacceptable. “Why us? Why France? Why murder innocents?”

On July 31, 2016, about 100 French Muslim intellectuals signed a letter calling on their fellow French Muslims to embark on a process of self-examination after the murder of the Charlie Hebdo caricaturists, and youngsters at a concert, and a pair of policemen, and women and children at Independence Day celebrations, and a priest during Mass. Yes, this letter left out none of the dramas of this kind that had taken place in France…except, that is, for every attack in which Jews, individually or collectively, were murdered, some of them children. Surely this was just an oversight. Outrage? Objections? Hardly any.

Unless you’d rather be “wrong with the jihadists than right with the realists,” to borrow an old saying from the left, what do you plan to do, Mr. Minister, about this indifference? How will you shake us out of this terrifying apathy? This time it won’t do to dismiss those “neo-reactionary” alarmists and just try and let the fire put itself out. Our politically-correct journalists and intellectuals have become expert at this. We won’t get out of this through magical thinking and reciting the time-worn catechism whereby Evil can never arise from the camp of the Good.

Will you, with your new mandate, put an end the inertia?

As you well know: to continue not calling a spade a spade, to minimize (“isolated acts” and “lone wolves”), to euphemize (“the lost children of jihad”), to make excuses, to trivialize and, when all else fails, to dismiss as psychosis — this will lead us straight into a wall.

Indeed, the enemies from within are neither madmen nor nihilists. They are Islamists. And the fact that they hate secular France at least as much as they hate the Jews puts us all in the same boat. We are counting on you to say it loud and clear, to dare to name the enemy, to stop adding to the mind’s confusion and the world’s calamity.

It will take some courage because you may make enemies within your political camp. But this is still preferable to going down in history as a proponent of what Jacques Julliard, the icon of the Second Left, calls “the collabo party.” This party in whose eyes “it is acceptable to suggest that these [jihadist] crimes are not crimes, but consequences [of exclusion, unemployment, racism].” Where political correctness makes common cause with political abhorrence.

It is expected of you, Mr. Minister, that you will embody the party of a France awakened, a France that no longer idealizes the anti-Jewish hatred that is rotting the brains of so many young French Muslims.

The historian Georges Bensoussan, author of A Submissive France (in French, “d’Une France soumise” Fayard, 2017), said it into Alain Finkielkraut’s microphone on the France-Culture radio show. This is why an extravagant lawsuit was filed against him this winter for “incitement to racial hatred”. Shall we use a broken thermometer to convince ourselves that the patient is cured? Since the Charlie Hebdo attack, we have come a long way in the art of blinding ourselves — from refusing to see what is clearly visible, we now refuse to believe what we know to be true.

Because you are not unaware of the fact that all the opinion surveys for the past three years have shown that anti-Jewish stereotypes are more deeply held than ever among three categories of the French population: those who define themselves as National Front supporters, extreme left, and Muslims. And surely you will agree that in this case, abdicating the most elementary clarity can not allow for coherent policy. Because without identifying the problem, there is no possibility for a solution.

A heavy burden weighs on your shoulders, Minister. Your honor is at stake, and so is that of France.

Alexandra Laignel-Lavastine, is a PhD in philosophy, historian and author.

The above was adapted from the French by André Unterberger and Richard Landes. Original French published in Atlantico, and also available on The Times of Israel French edition.

About the Author
Alexandra Laignel-Lavastine, PhD, is a philosopher, historian and author.
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