I am writing to all Jewish newspapers in Canada and the U.S., as a concerned Jewish writer who experiences racism and anti-Semitism on a regular basis, much as French Jews are
living it in 2015.
I live in Montreal, Quebec, where only a year ago, our religious rights and freedoms were on the legislative chopping block, so I know how it feels: Living somewhere you consider to be your home only to have an elected government try to strip you of your religious rights and freedoms is a terrifying experience, to be sure. It definitely changes how you feel about “your home”; I may live in Montreal, but it is no longer my home.
France has had these so-called secularizing laws on the books now for 10 years, and they are routinely strengthening and expanding them. These so-called “secular” laws are primarily targeting France’s 10 percent Muslim community who, as one might anticipate, isn’t taking too kindly to having their religion legislated out of “French society.” (For the record, neither are the Jews, but Jews represent only about 1 percent to 2 percent of French society.)
How can we frame the Charlie-Hebdo massacre as a freedom of press or freedom of expression issue when satirists were actually poking fun of a religious group of people whose rights are being systematically stripped away, simultaneously, by the state? To me, this is not satire. This is not freedom of the press related. This is rubbing salt on a wound and, in my opinion, represents the worst in journalistic ethics and practice.
I’m just saying that there are two sides to the coin here, and I fear our desire for solidarity with any people who’ve just experienced an act of terror like this is clouding our ability to delve deeper into the issue of what the state might or might notbe doing to enable and even stoke the fires of this type of extremist reactionary violence.
What would happen in New York State if the governor suddenly passed similar legislation? Could you imagine telling New York Jews that it was against the law for them to go to work wearing yarmulkes? There’d be a lot of plotzing and very few doctors left to handle it all.
As Jews, we are, or at least should be, more sensitive to issues that involve a state trying to take religious rights and freedoms away from its citizens. Our ancestors have experienced this for generations and generations, all over the planet.
In fact, Europe’s current trend toward secularization is not that at all; it is actually a red herring for
nationalism. If you look deep enough into the legislative agenda behind these laws, it is the preservation of the future “French state” that is uppermost on legislators’ minds. Historically, does this remind you of another era?