A beastly crime of anti-Semitism in France

Ilan Halimi, 23, was kidnapped, tortured over a period of 2 weeks and left for dead, naked, by a gang of French kidnappers– a young, multi-ethnic group of Muslims and non-Muslims that, with great understatement, refered to themselves as "the Barbarians"–in Bagneux, France.  (See WSJ article )

Halimi was Jewish and the perpetrators’ behavior leaves little doubt that anti-Semitism played a major part in this truly ghastly crime. 

As more details come out, the monstrosity of this crime becomes harder and harder to bear.  The animals put cigarettes out in the poor young man’s face, beat him, and left burns on over 80% of his body.  He was tortured for weeks–during which time his depraved captors regularly called his terrified family to demand ransom and taunt them (it has even been reported in the media that they taunted the family by forcing them to listen to recordings of the Quran, an image so simutaneously blasphemous and inhumane that it makes my blood boil)–and then dumped him, gagged, naked and tied to a tree.  He died en route to the hospital.

For me, the most chilling detail to come out is that over 20 people are believed to have visited the room where Halimi was held, sometimes even joining in the torment, during those weeks.  This included friends and relatives.  The depravity and inhumanity beggars the imagination.

It reminds me of Hannah Arendt’s warning concerning the "Banality of Evil" and the potential for evil that lies beneath the surface of our impersonal "modern" socieities that are full of strangers lacking any bond or sense of solidarity to their neighbors.

May Allah grant him and his family peace and punish those responsible.  And may all people, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, learn a lesson about our shared humanity from this terrible tragedy and obscenity.

Exaggerated though it is at times by sensationalistic media, Muslim anti-Semitism is real and needs to be addressed.  I remember getting into a shouting match with a bookseller  at the Grand Mosque in Paris after Friday juma prayers a decade ago over his sale of a revisionsist tract (i.e., one denying the Nazi Holocaust) along with Qurans and various religious books.  I made quite a scene, in the process probably reinforcing some of his suspicions.  (What’s better "proof" of Jews running America to a bigot from North Africa than the only white American Muslim he’s encountered freaking out when he merely wants to "reexamine" the historical facts of the Holocaust?) 

On a related note, I’ve always been greatly disstressed by the simplistic and ultimately dehumanizing way some Muslims talk about  "the Jews", as if all Jews were the same regardless of time, space, circumstance or personal characteristics.  There’s a tendency to discuss all members of other religious traditions (and even other Muslims, as illustrated the way Salafis and the Salafized talk about Shiahs)–but especially Jews, it must be noted–like cartoon characters who’ve popped out of the pages of scripture, rendering them impossibly monolithic and devoid of individuality or real humanity.  People get reduced to abstract geopolitical categories, anonymous members of an opposing camp, with whom serious dialogue, much less friendship, becomes impossible.  As I’ve noted before, Muslims need to stop talking as if all Jews are the Banu Qurayza of Medina in the Prophet’s time or Golden Calf-worshipping Levites of Moses’ days.  They come in all shapes and sizes.  Some are good and some are bad.  Just like us.

Of course, this isn’t a simple request, as many Muslims have great trouble extending that courtesy even to other Muslims, much less "kafirs" ("People of the Book, People of the Shmook"!).  The fact that we Muslim now are on the receiving end of such dehumanizing stereotypes thanks to sensationalistic coverage of 9/11, Osama Bin Laden, the Taliban, honor killings, ad infinitum, ought to open our eyes, though, about the need not to stereotype.

It’s inevitable that a savage, polarizing crime like this will create new tensions, fears and misunderstandings between Muslims and Jews.  I can’t entirely blame people for being a little afraid of Muslims when they hear a terrifying story like this.

I have to note, though, that I think viewing this horrific tragedy through a post-9/11 ideological prism (i.e., as this being a manfestation of Islamic hate rather than as a grisly crime that involved Muslims and Jews) is a big mistake.  Out in suburbia, we may forget that killings like this aren’t all that unusual in the violent socieites we live in–recently, a friend of Shabana’s got the chilling news that an old high school friend had been kidnapped, raped and dumped naked on the street–and I hope people will remember the culptrits involved were depraved criminals with a history of kidnappings, and that some involved were not even Muslim.  Their motivation appears to have been primarily greed, though anti-Semitism clearly played a disgusting role. 

Also, at the risk of sounding like a bleeding heart liberal and without in any way minimizing my outrage at the rank prejudice and brutality displayed, these ghastly crimes are also clearly linked to some extent to the poor, crime-ridden and increasingly stratum of French society that these people inhabit.  As we saw recently in the riots, France has social problems that cause resentments to fester and encourage the eventual outbreak of communalism and lawlessness.

We must pray for the victim, stand his family and demand that those responsible be held responsible to the fullest extent of the law and made an example of, but we mustn’t let tragedies like this drive new wedges between communities or let bigots and xenophobes exploit  outrage over this crime to promote their hateful agenda (which will only lead to more intercommunal prejudice and violence; declaring open season on Muslims in France in the name of fighting anti-Semitism will not help France’s Jews).

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