December 13, 2005
French Intellectual Tells Truth, Faces ConsequencesBy Nidra Poller
In the aftermath of November's street fighting, French opinion--makers have pounced on an expiatory victim: philosopher Alain Finkielkraut, a man of integrity who seeks to shed light on events as they happen. His intelligent analysis of, in his words, the 'pogrom against the Republic,'  conveyed in an interview with two journalists from Israeli newspaper Haaretz, has triggered an explosion of intellectual violence against his person, his ideas, his thought process, his very existence.
A dishonest patchwork of excerpts from the Haaretz interview, deliberately slanted to make Alain Finkielkraut look like a Le Pen in philosopher's clothing, was published in the leading French newspaper Le Monde. Stupidly re--translated from the Hebrew translation of the original French, it became the basis for merciless criticism, as if those few paragraphs were the entire interview, or a fair r�sum� of eight pages of careful reflection on a phenomenon that no one--then or now----could claim to truly define.
Eschewing sociological stereotypes Finkielkraut analyzes the uprising as an attack against France within France. The perpetrators, French Blacks and Muslims born in France, often third--generation, are anchored to an ethnic--religious identity that precludes integration. They feed on a diet of anti--French gangsta rap, in a culture that seeks instant gratification. Instead of being shamed for their brutality, they are being flattered as victims of society, rebels with a cause. Distorted anti--racism is becoming a totalitarian ideology, that will be the bane of the 21st century as was Communism in the 20th. Competition for victimhood leads to negation of the singularity of the Shoah and its redistribution to the victims of slavery, colonization, Palestinian 'genocide.'
The scope and intensity of negative reactions to this analysis, or to the distorted remnants thrown out as bait, defies the imagination. Commentators blustered and choked, sputtered and fumed, could hardly find words to articulate their outrage at Finkielkraut, that racist, reactionary, neo--conservative enemy of Blacks and Muslims. They called him a schizophrenic madman. An ignoramus who knows nothing about what's happening on the ground. An evil thinker whose ideas are one of the causes of the disturbances.
Finkielkraut's remarks about anti--French hatred violently expressed by immigrants who should consider themselves privileged----compared to his own father, deported to Auschwitz with his grandparents who were murdered there----were reduced to, 'France did only good things for Africans,' and thrown in his face. He said that European colonization was not a crime against humanity; he was accused of nostalgia for the good old days of colonialism. He pointed out that the blanc--black--beur (White--Black--Arab) French soccer team, once hailed as the very image of multiculturalism, is now noir--noir--noir, and Europeans laugh at this windfall from French colonialism. He was accused of claiming that the all--Black team is the laughingstock of Europe.
Finkielkraut is a prolific author,  a devoted professor, and an open--minded commentator. He is, above all, a virtuoso, a Maradona of thinking. Roughly grouped with the 'new philosophers,' he is both the most modest and the most consistently present on the scene. His weekly radio program ('R�pliques' on France Culture), a stimulating exercise in high--level cultural debate, has been running for decades. Alain Finkielkraut----the son of a Polish--Jewish immigrant deported to Auschwitz from France--is a master of French esprit. A richly cultivated agile mind. Without the usual defects of a French intellectual: he is not frivolous, precious, or perverse.
With the outbreak of war against Israel in September 2000 and a concomitant rise in anti--Semitism in France, Finkielkraut, like many comfortably integrated Jewish intellectuals, stood up and defended Israel. Some of them have since been excluded from mainstream media, accused of Islamophobia, communitarianism, extreme Zionism, or simple irrelevance. Finkielkraut managed to hang on to his place in the mainstream while speaking frankly, and against the grain, about the trouble that was brewing. However, he branched out with a second program----Qui Vive?  ----broadcast on a Jewish radio station (Radio Communaut� Juive). His consummate skill in thinking--as--he--goes reached new heights as he grappled with the abrupt decline of the Jewish condition in France.
Meanwhile, another brand of Jewish commentators were improving their fortunes by crossing over. I call them 'value--added Jews': their criticism of Israel and Judaism earns extra points because it comes from the horse's mouth. On this curious scale of values, an anti--Zionist Israeli trumps all suits. One element of the 'Finkielkraut scandal' involves a clash between these two modes of being for the French Jewish intelligensia.
In mid--November international media were focused on flaming France; articles and interviews flourished, experts were sought out or concocted. Haaretz journalists Dror Mishani and Aur�lia Samothraiz spoke with Alain Finkielkraut in French, in Paris. It seems that the interview was a sting operation, a deliberate attempt to portray Finkielkraut as a reactionary who blames the immigrants instead of recognizing the legitimate expression of underclass frustration. Whatever the intention, the interview/profile, published in English and Hebrew translations (Nov. 18), triggered intellectual mob violence against Finkielkraut in France.
He was of course attacked by the usual suspects, the dubious anti--racists whose tainted merchandise shows up rotten in the light of Finkielkraut's lucid analysis. From the smooth talking Tariq Ramadan to the Jew--hating clown Dieudonn�, and down to dozens of sputtering callers on the M�diterrann�e FM talk show who demand the de--Zionization of French media, their hatred has been smoldering in the backrooms of partisan websites.
But this time the rage spilled over and aroused a pack of scholars, social workers, journalists, pundits, punks, and miscellaneous intellectuals without losing an iota of its brutality. There has been virtually no intelligent debate about the ideas carefully expressed in the Haaretz interview. Alain Finkielkraut's words--sloppily re--translated from English or Hebrew back into French----are slashed, stabbed, kicked, and strangled. Vicious personal attacks scream from print media, radio, and television. Finkielkraut's attackers are making a spectacle of themselves. But they don't even realize it. They've gone berserk.
In fact, the analysis developed in the Haaretz interview follows logically from ideas Alain Finkielkraut has articulated over the past five years. Ideas he expressed in the November 6th edition of Qui Vive? and in an interview published in Le Figaro (English edition Nov. 17). Is Finkielkraut being punished for the unforgivable sin of spilling the beans to an Israeli newspaper? Most likely this was an aggravating factor.
More profoundly, the unbridled attacks are a sign of distress provoked by the events themselves. It would be so much more comfortable to believe that the wave of violence that whipped through France in November was a banlieue re--edition of the May '68 student uprisings plus a smidgeon of Watts, than to admit that France is facing an unprecedented situation: Not civil war, but war waged by a foreign nation born on French soil.
The cruel and senseless assault on Alain Finkielkraut bears ominous portents. Just as the street fighting could break out again anytime, anywhere, this intellectual violence against one man could so easily be extended, intensified, generalized. A groundswell of grass roots support for the distinguished, endearing philosopher is building. Will it be strong enough to turn back the mob?
 Ever--ready to correct himself, Finkielkraut has since replaced the term 'pogrom,' in favor of 'the sacking of the Republic.'
 Many of his works are available in English translation.
 'Qui vive?' literally 'who goes there?' in the sense of 'what's going on?'
Nidra Poller is an American novelist living in France.