Micro-aggressions in France

It was June 2003, Vanity Fair magazine ran an article by Marie Brenner entitled France’s Scarlet Letter. The article was the hot topic of conversation at synagogue services, dinner tables, bar mitzvahs and weddings.

The article spoke about Muslim citizens across Paris who marched to the refrain of “Kill the Jews,” who attacked school aged children for no reason other than the fact that they were Jewish, who firebombed synagogues and who committed a variety of other clearly anti-Semitic acts, over several hundred of them per year. Ms. Brenner noted that France had the third largest concentration of Jews after Israel and America but it also had a Muslim concentration almost ten times greater. Brenner documented the fear of the many Jews she interviewed and did not play the blame game of how being disaffected in French society or the conflicts in the Middle East somehow rationalized Muslim aggression against Jews so many others seemed to use then and continue to do today. She explained the resentments of the Muslim communities and their not feeling part of French society but she did not justify the use of their attacks against innocents. She called it what it was then and it is now – anti-Semitism.

The Vanity Fair article highlighted a small Jewish organization that collected information regarding all of the attacks that was led by a retired French police commissioner, Sammy Ghozlan. The focus on Mr. Ghozlan was important because, as a former police officer he served all communities and was respected by all. As a police officer he documented the many incidents of rocks thrown at the windows of Jewish stores, the paddling of children walking to their Jewish schools, the call for men not to wear yarmulkes in public. He also noted the apparent lack of a plan to by the government to address the problem. To Ghozlan it was clear, all of these incidents would lead to more unrest. Of course he was correct.

The day after the impressive march in Paris, the day following the commitment to stand as one in France, the day after the placards read – je suis Charlie, je suis Juif, a 65 year old Jewish woman was attacked and molested on a Paris city bus by a Muslim man who ripped off her coat and part of her dress. The bus was full, all around saw what was going on. She screamed and her attacker called her a dirty Jew. Every person on the bus including the bus driver heard the commotion. They turned and watched. No one on the bus came to her aid .Somehow she managed to get away from him. She ran off the bus found a police officer who helped calm her but refused to take an official complaint. He told her that there is no way they could track down the offender and “besides” he said to her “you really don’t want to start up with him.”

Start up with him? He attacked her! The police officer went on “It’s not such a big deal. You’ll get over it quickly.”

The attacks in France continue. I hear of them almost daily. Most of those attacked don’t even bother to say anything at all. It is even more unfortunate that the officials see most of the attacks as minor. There is no effort to perform what police officers elsewhere call “Broken Window policing.” Based on an article published in 1982, the theory of broken window policing is a model that suggests that community disorders, such as a broken window, creates withdrawal and fear among community residents. When residents withdraw there is less social control and serious crime can easily move in. If police focus on the less serious disorders they gain the respect of the community residents and together keep serious crime from entering the area. If police took a report from this woman and showed interest, Broken Window policing would motivate the citizenry to get more involved and maybe even begin to address the blatant anti-Semitism. But, “It’s not a big deal” remains the motto being followed.

The attacks continue also because, despite French President Francoise Hollande’s open and clear statement that the attack at the Hyper Casher supermarket was an act of anti-Semitism, there is no real commitment in France to openly combat it. It was 2003 when Ms. Brenner called it anti-Semitism. In France, the president’s words are a first attempt to publicly name it. A plan on how to do address it remains non-existent.

About the Author
Dr Michael Salamon ,a fellow of the American Psychological Association, is a 2018 APA Presidential Citation Awardee for his 'transformative work in raising awareness of the prevention and treatment of childhood sexual abuse". He is the founder and director of ADC Psychological Services in New York and the author of numerous articles, several psychological tests and books including "The Shidduch Crisis: Causes and Cures" (Urim Publications) and "Every Pot Has a Cover" (University Press of America). His newest book is called "Abuse in the Jewish Community: Religious and Communal Factors that Undermine the Apprehension of Offenders and the Treatment of Victims."