November 19, 2015
The French people — along with everyone else around the world who values human life — are still reeling from the mass killings in Paris on November 13. The ISIS murderers were indiscriminate: their victims were of every ethnicity and religion, and came from all walks of life.
While the number of dead and injured almost boggle the mind, the scope of the horrific crime must not cause us to lose sight of previous Islamist attacks in France that surely led up to this one.
Curiously, Molenbeek, a heavily Muslim neighborhood in Brussels, Belgium, played a role in all of them. At least three of the most recent ISIS-inspired killers lived there. Another resident was Amedy Coulibaly, the Frenchman of Malian descent, also an ISIS adherent, who took hostages in a Paris kosher store last January while brandishing weapons obtained in Molenbeek. He killed four people before police shot him dead. Coulibaly coordinated his crime with the Kouachi brothers, who attacked the editorial offices of Charlie Hebdo and murdered 11 staff members, and then killed a police officer.
The history of Molenbeek and terrorism goes back even further. On May 4, 2014, Mehdi Nemouche, who rented a room in the neighborhood, walked calmly (as recorded on an installed video camera) into the Jewish Museum of Belgium in Brussels, and killed four people. Nemouche, a French national of Algerian descent, had the distinction of being the first European to carry out an attack after returning home from fighting for ISIS in Syria. This made him the prototype for several of November’s Paris killers.
The pattern is sickeningly powerful. In chronological order, an attack on a Jewish institution that kills four, followed by virtually simultaneous attacks on a bastion of free speech and a Jewish store that kill a total of 16, and then an orgy of indiscriminate bloodshed in the French capital that kills, at last count, 129.
Antisemitism never just stops with the Jews, and failure to deal with it effectively endangers all of society.
Threats and attacks on French Jews have been on the rise for more than a decade. This year, the number accelerated at an alarming rate: during the first quarter of 2015 there were 508 antisemitic incidents, an 84% increase from the 276 incidents in the equivalent period last year.
In July, the head of CRIF, the central body of the French Jewish community, said, “Nothing seems to stop the drastic increase of antisemitism in France.” So far this year some 6,000 French Jews have moved to Israel, and the rate of immigration will likely increase in the wake of recent events.
While public-opinion surveys indicate that worrisome levels of antisemitism exist on the right and left political extremes in France, crimes against Jews have almost invariably been committed by young, French-born Muslims imbued with radical Islamist ideology. That was certainly the case in the most shocking and brutal attacks — the January 2006 kidnapping, torture and murder of Ilan Halimi; the March 2012 killing of a rabbi and three children at a Jewish school in Toulouse; and the hostage-taking and murder at the Parisian kosher store in January 2015.
Jews are not the sole people endangered by a theology that asserts a fundamentalist expression of Islam as the only legitimate faith and calls for the establishment of an amorphous theocratic caliphate. By its very nature — as we saw on November 13 — radical Islam rejects democracy, freedom of speech and religion, and the rights of women and minorities that form the cornerstone of the way of life shared by Europe, the United States, and Israel.
Antisemitism — sometimes cloaked as anti-Zionism — is increasing in other European countries as well, in large part because of the large recent wave of Muslim refugees that can only reinforce the Islamic extremism already firmly planted in certain Brussels neighborhoods and Paris suburbs. And as the series of terror attacks in Paris showed so tragically, attacks on Jews, when left unchecked, ultimately endanger everyone.
Lawrence Grossman is the American Jewish Committee’s director of publications (www.ajc.org).
This article was originally published by Algemeiner.