The smoke had not cleared from the Paris office of Charlie Hebdo before many journalists and talking heads were warning us not to focus too much on the Muslim identity of the perpetrators of the massacre. Their main fear was that this latest instance of Islamist terrorism would trigger a wave of Islamophobia. But while the tensions within French society are such that such worries are not entirely unreasonable, those sounding the alarm on this issue clearly missed the obvious. As today’s hostage standoff at a kosher market by what may be an associate of the Charlie Hebdo terrorists made clear, it was the Jews who were the logical next targets of violence. It’s time to remember that when Islamist terrorism is involved, the primary threat is not about a theoretical backlash against Muslims but to a European Jewish population that has increasingly been under siege in recent years.
We don’t know all the details about the events that unfolded at the supermarket that took place at the same time as a similar hostage standoff with the two Charlie Hedbo shooters that appears to have ended with their deaths. If, as seems likely now, this terrorist cell chose to target a kosher market on the day before the Sabbath when it would be busiest, their goal was to lash out at people whose existence angers them as much as those who draw cartoons about Muslim topics: Jews.
The discussion since the news broke about the massacre at the satirical magazine has centered on the need to defend free speech against an Islamist movement that seeks to silence opposing views. And as I wrote yesterday, the conflict between a huge and insular Muslim immigrant population and those portions of the French population that are hostile to them put these events in a context that is rife with potential for conflict. We’re also hearing more about the complaints of Muslims about discrimination or marginalization in French society. But what the kosher market attack should remind us is that the population that has felt most at risk in recent years in France is not the inhabitants of Muslim neighborhoods that are reportedly treated by police as “no go zones,” but Jews who openly identify as such.
The rising tide of anti-Semitism throughout Europe and specifically in France was enough to justify its prominent mention in President Francois Hollande’s annual New Year’s Eve speech when he called upon the citizens of France to reject anti-Semitism. Those words were a reaction to a situation in which attacks on Jewish institutions and harassment of Jewish individuals have become routine even in Paris. This is not just a function of violent protests against Israel during last summer’s Gaza war that led to many incidents, including a siege of a Parisian synagogue by a mob. This also involves routine behavior. Jewish travelers to France are told not to wear headgear or jewelry that identifies them as Jews lest they make themselves vulnerable to attacks.
What the attack on the market makes plain is that while Islamist terrorists seek high-profile targets like Charlie Hebdo in order to silence those who criticize radical Islam, they are always going to return to their favorite Jewish scapegoats and victims.
Islamists seek to destroy Western freedoms throughout the world. But integral to their worldview is an equal intolerance for Jews. The hatred for Jews and Israel emanating from radical Islamist preachers and ideologues in the Middle East has been brought to Europe by Muslim immigrants and found a secure foothold there. Combined with the disdain for Israel that is a hallmark of leftist intellectual elites, it has created a toxic atmosphere for Jews throughout Europe in recent years. That is the background for the increasing number of violent attacks on Jews throughout the continent.
No one should blame innocent Muslims for the actions of these terrorists or seek to speak of this conflict as one between all Muslims and the West. But the real danger in Europe is not to Muslims but to a small and increasingly vulnerable Jewish population. What happened to the hostages at the market was not an isolated event but one that must be viewed as an extension of years of assaults on European Jews. A proper response to these events can’t be limited to expressions of grief about the victims or even just to support for free speech. History teaches us that when it comes to hate, Jews are the canaries in the coalmine. If Jews cannot live freely without fear of attack on the streets of the City of Light, then everyone is at risk. Stopping Islamist terror must also mean addressing the way Jew-hatred has become acceptable in European society.