January 20th marked the first time a prime minister of any Western nation admitted there is “apartheid” in his country. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls stated this fact to journalists less than 2 weeks after the January Charlie Hebdo and Hypercacher killings. More specifically, he told them that there is a “territorial, social and ethnic apartheid” in France. Valls could have well added the word “religious.”
Earlier, Valls gave a remarkable speech to the French parliament on January 13, where he addressed the most urgent issue of what the government would do to prevent more jihadi attacks. He could have just stopped there. Previous French governments have repeatedly neglected the many long-term problems resulting from the unsuccessful integration of parts of the millions of Muslim immigrants. By using the word “apartheid”, Valls has now committed his government to the responsibility of improving an extremely complicated and problematic reality, rather than leaving it to future governments.
Many were shocked by Valls’ unprecedented use of the word “apartheid.” It was indeed misplaced. The term was only applicable to South Africa while it was under white rule until the latter part of the twentieth century. Furthermore, much of the segregation of parts of the Muslim population in France is not a result of government measures, but self-imposed. Valls’ opponents used some counterarguments with which Israelis, who are falsely accused of implementing apartheid, are extremely familiar.
In the coming months, Valls will have to introduce a plan to tackle this situation. One monumental problem is the development of quite a few “no-go zones”, as they are commonly called. The American scholar Daniel Pipes has better defined them, however, as “semi-autonomous sectors”.
Pipes writes that “governments often choose not to impose their will on Muslim-majority areas, allowing them considerable autonomy, including in some cases …sharia courts… Alcohol and pork are effectively banned in these districts, polygamy and burqas commonplace, police enter only warily and in force, and Muslims get away with offenses that are illegal for the rest of the population.”
This neglect was illustrated by an Israeli Channel 10 TV series. In 2012, the station sent the journalist Zvi Yehezkiely to France to investigate Muslim-related problems in Europe. He risked his life by masquerading as a Palestinian to provide material for the 4 part series. There has never been a similar European TV series developed to so broadly show the reality of the Muslim ghettoes, the rule of sharia, the religious oppression, violence, discrimination of women, anti-Semitism, and so on.
A crucial element in any French government plan would be to end the existence of these semi-autonomous areas. It is unclear how this could be done because there are no precedents. Changing the situation is further complicated by the fact that the great majority of French Muslims who vote in the elections support Valls’ party, the Socialists. His government cannot afford to offend them.
Whatever the French government will do is likely to take more than a decade to show substantial results. There will be foreseeable hindrances to these efforts from sizable parts of the Muslim community. These obstructions will not be limited to the efforts of the relatively small number of jihad supporters and the larger group of other Salafists. In addition, whatever goes wrong will be exploited by the extreme right-wing National Front.
Yet the French government’s struggle with the current situation is only one part of the equation. Much also depends on internal developments within French Muslim societies. The question of whether moderate Muslim leaders can win against the fanatics always arises. And if they do succeed how long will it take to see tangible results?
International developments in the Muslim world will not make it any easier for moderates to gain control. Muslim fanaticism may even develop further. This will occur even if the “Islamic State” movement in Iraq and Syria is wiped off the earth by the coalition of Westerners and other Muslims. Its ideas will live on in significant parts of the Muslim world. Having territorial control, such as is presently the case, helps to market these ideas, but is not absolutely necessary.
Whatever the outcome of this process might be, it will not yield positive results for the French Jewish community for at least a decade. All future scenarios are bleak.
In the year 2000, anti-Semitic incidents increased rapidly after the outbreak of the Second Intifada, and have remained at a high level. The 2004 murder of Sebastien Sellam and the 2006 torture and murder of Ilan Halimi were both perpetrated by Muslims.
The 2012 Toulouse killings of three French soldiers and four Jews perpetrated by Mohammad Merah were of a different nature, however, and the recent round of terror attacks in Paris had a similar structure. They first targeted specific French citizens, and thereafter, the Jews. It may very well be that future attacks against French targets will be accompanied by attacks against the Jews. The Jewish community only represents one percent of the country’s population, and is likely to continue to be targeted disproportionately.
One can see the degradation of the situation for the Jews since the beginning of this century. Besides the frequent anti-Semitic attacks, a trend developed where many committed Jews took their children out of public schools where they had been harassed because of their religion. The children were then placed in Jewish or private schools. Now the children who go to Jewish schools face armed soldiers on a daily basis, who are guarding the school gates from possible attack and stationed there to protect the lives of the students, staff, and parents. The soldiers serve as a reassurance but are also a daily reminder of the problematic realities facing French Jewry.
Any structural efforts made by the French government to solve the many problems coming from elements within the Muslim community are likely to lead to increased tensions. The unrest to follow is likely to affect Jews disproportionally. A strengthening of the far-right National Front, with its many anti-Semites, may intensify the general atmosphere.
As far as Israel is concerned, France’s attempts at confronting the problematic parts of Muslim immigration are either a danger or an opportunity. It is a danger because the French government may try to compensate for these actions by currying favor with potential Muslim voters though implementing even more anti-Israeli policies. The French vote for the recognition of a Palestinian State in the UN Security Council was an example of such tactics.
Simultaneously, Israel has much experience in dealing with Muslim violence. If Israel learns to present its policies in a far more sophisticated way to the international community, and in particular to the French government and population, it can show that Israel is ahead of France in the battle for the survival of Western democracy.
Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld
The writer has been a long-term adviser on strategy issues to the boards of several major multinational corporations in Europe and North America.He is board member and former chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and recipient of the LIfetime Achievement Award (2012) of the Journal for the Study of Anti-Semitism.