France Has Problems With All Religions — Not Just Islam

Jews Also Run Afoul of Anti-Clerical Bent

United in Memory: Hasidic men stand in the traditionally Jewish Marais neighborhood in Paris.
Getty Images
United in Memory: Hasidic men stand in the traditionally Jewish Marais neighborhood in Paris.

By Robert Zaretsky

Published August 30, 2013, issue of September 06, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

The so-called “affaire du digicode” recounted by Guitton reflects the tragi-comic aspect to these trends. Since the 1990s, Paris apartment buildings have been equipped with electronic keys: numeric pads on which you type a code in order to gain access. While this was a victory for common security, it posed a conundrum for observant Jews living in these buildings. Jewish occupants could not use the electronic key on the Sabbath, of course, but these same Jewish residents also insisted that everyone, gentiles included, assume the cost for installing a manual key for their use. When the gentile neighbors refused, a rash of digicode vandalism broke out: The pads were pulverized, allowing entry to one and all.

Guitton also casts a long and lucid gaze on the extremists in the French Muslim community. Do we need to be reminded? The horrifying murders committed last year by Mohamed Merah are still fresh in our memory. But perhaps we do need to recall the full horror. Guitton, who is merciless in his account of France’s Salafist movement, recalls that Merah had gravitated to this dark matter within Islam. This explains not only his cold-blooded murder of the Jewish teacher and three children, but also his killing of three French soldiers. Believing that all three were Muslim, Merah “executed” them because, serving in an infidel army, they were apostates.

We need, moreover, to recall not just Merah’s motivations, but also the Ministry of the Interior’s estimate that among the more than 5 million Muslims in France, between 1,000 and 2,000 are radicalized fundamentalists. Guitton asks us to recall that the vast majority of French Muslims identify with the French Republic. A study published last year by the statistical agency INSEE polled men and women who were born in France and have at least one parent born elsewhere. The vast majority of respondents were from North and West Africa, regions where Islam predominates. And yet, the researchers found that 90% of their interlocutors accept the Republic’s values and consider themselves fully French.

At the end of his tour de France, Guitton leaves us with a paradox that is both reassuring and troubling: Extremists have more in common with one another than with the communities they pretend to represent. The minority of fundamentalists found within the French Muslim community defend a vision of Islam that is as exclusionary and reactionary as the interpretations that fundamentalist Jews and Christians give to their respective faiths. Herein lies the tragedy: France’s republican model is founded on the revolutionary values of liberty, equality and — last but far from least — fraternity. Implicit in this model is the existence of a secular space, of a common life, where all citizens meet as equals. As this space becomes ever more besieged, it is difficult to argue with Guitton’s conclusion that religion is too important a matter to be left solely in the hands of clerics and theologians.

Robert Zaretsky is a professor of history at The Honors College at the University of Houston and is the author of the forthcoming “A Life Worth Living: Albert Camus and the Quest for Meaning” (Harvard University Press).


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "What I didn’t realize before my trip was that I would leave Uganda with a powerful mandate on my shoulders — almost as if I had personally left Egypt."
  • Is it better to have a young, fresh rabbi, or a rabbi who stays with the same congregation for a long time? What do you think?
  • Why does the leader of Israel's social protest movement now work in a beauty parlor instead of the Knesset?
  • What's it like to be Chagall's granddaughter?
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.