Muslims and Jews in France

muslims and jews

Muslims and Jews in France – History Of A Conflict
By Maud S. Mandel
Princeton University Press – £24.95

With the appalling events that have taken in place in Paris over the last week, it needs to be remembered that relations between the West and the Islamic World, not to mention the relentless centrifugal stasis of Israel and Palestine, has been horribly fraught with acute mistrust, contempt and ill-feeling, for many years.

An ill-feeling, which, it has to be said, appears to be nothing short of out and out hatred; exemplified over the years by way of countless terrorist attacks: New York, Madrid, London and now Paris, to name but a despicable few.

That said, my own upbringing was punctuated by the so called Troubles, that due to the Good Friday Agreement signed in Belfast in 1998, has now thankfully (fundamentally) come to an end. Yet no such conclusion seems possible anywhere in the Middle East (and almost the entire Muslim world). The on-going repercussions of which are unfortunately, both staggering and relentless.

And have been so ever since I’ve been on the planet.

None of which is helped by the trajectory of turmoil that is transmitted across the globe almost everyday by way of the media. An area of reportage that is profusely damaging to say the least. Suspect media – whether it’s The Daily Mail or Fox News – does indeed do a a great deal to both promote and exasperate an already agonising problem.

A problem, deeply entrenched within a psychological mindset that’s nothing other than heartbreaking, tragic deadlock. Is it any wonder that so much continues to be written on the dilemma?

To call Muslims and Jews in France – History Of A Conflict idiosyncratically, yet understandably inflammatory, is an understatement of colossal proportion(s). Focusing on local events in France’s second city of Marseille, authoress Maud S. Mandel writes of the aforementioned global, as well as national and local, origins of the conflict between Muslims and Jews in France. While she does so in such a way as to challenge the notion that the terrible, more recent upsurge of anti-Semitism throughout the country, is solely due to the ever unfolding crisis in Israel and Palestine.

Mandel illustrates how the conflict initially emerged from internal processes within French society itself; although somewhat shaped by affairs taking place elsewhere. A strong and rather cohesive example being North Africa during the era of decolonization.

This is made clear at the very vanguard of the book, where chapter one (‘Colonial Policies, Middle Eastern War, and City Spaces’) begins with: ”In June 1948, North African Muslim dockworkers in Marseille refused to load freight onto boats transporting Jews or arms to the Middle East. As one official reported, ”They consider Marseille to be one of the principle supply bases for the state of Israel.” […]. As such comments suggest, the 1948 war over the declaration of Israeli independence had repercussions in France. The war coincided with the growth of North African anti-colonial movements in the metropole, which at times criticized British and Jewish control of Palestine as a symbol of wider European efforts to dominate the Arab world, and the growth of Jewish nationalism in the aftermath of the Holocaust.”

As previously mentioned, each of this book’s six chapters are underlined with a tonality of language that can only be described as detonative in persuasion. The above quote alone, is fully charged (”Israeli independence,” ”anti-colonial movements,” ”British and Jewish control of Palestine,” ”dominate the Arab world,” ”Jewish nationalism,” ”the Holocaust”) to such a contemporaneous degree, that the reader immediately knows what s/he is entering into.

To be sure, this is surely accountable by the mere fact that one has chosen to read about the issue of Muslims and Jews (in France) to begin with.

Mandel absolutely tells it as it is. Or, as she sees it; which, as David Feldman of the (Birbeck) University of London has written:”Mandel reveals how the conventional opposition between Muslim and Jew has obscured a more complex pattern of inter-ethnic relations in France. At the same time, she demonstrates that the language of ethnic and religious discord has itself had a powerful impact on Muslims and Jews alike. In a study that combines sophistication and clarity, Mandel provides a compelling historical account of an issue that continues to shape the present.”

Muslims and Jews in France is a most in-depth, sophisticated piece of work that warrants a lot of attention and needs to be read; particularly in light of an on-going conflict where there appears to be no end in sight. Je Suis Charlie might admittedly tick an array of immediate boxes, but it’s the all round wider gambit of inflammatory thought and ideology, that will eventually need to be thoroughly examined.

David Marx


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