Michelle Mazel on La tentation obscurantiste: Essai

, October 1, 2006

Jewish Political Studies Review 18:3-4 (Fall 2006)

 

A Timely Warning

La tentation obscurantiste: Essai  (The Temptation of Obscurantism: An Essay), by Caroline Fourest, Grasset, 2005, 167 pp. [in French]

Reviewed by Michelle Mazel

Caroline Fourest is now firmly established in France as being at the forefront of the fight against religious fundamentalism and fanaticism-be it Christian, Jewish, or Muslim. She is coauthor of Tirs Croisés (Crossfire),[1] a book focusing on the onslaught of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim fanaticism against secularism; Foi contre choix: La droite religieuse et le mouvement pro-life aux Etats-Unis (Faith versus Choice: The Religious Right and the Prolife Movement in the United States),[2] a study of the religious Right in the United States and its struggle against abortion; and Frere Tariq (Brother Tariq),[3] a critical study of the charismatic leader of European Islam. In her new book she turns the spotlight on a puzzling phenomenon: the wholehearted support given by large segments of the Left to extremist Islamic factions fighting for a new world order based on Islamic Sharia law.

Fourest does not hesitate to call this new movement the “obscurantist, pro-Islamic Left,” and brands its members as “fellow travelers.” The true Left, she says, a Left that opposes both religious fanaticism and totalitarianism, looks on as if “struck dumb and paralyzed by its lack of understanding.” When members of this Left do try to condemn religious fanaticism in the name of secularism, or anti-Semitism clothed as anti-Zionism, they are accused of Islamophobia or racism, if not of “Bushism”[4] and “Sharonism.”

How did it happen?

 

A Movement Torn in Two

Fourest first became aware of the problem at the Durban conference in 2001 when the clamor for a free Palestine was suddenly drowned out by a rising chorus of “death to the Jews.” This was a scant two weeks before 9/11, which, she notes, somehow ended up being blamed on America itself as the embodiment of the evil, imperialist, colonialist West. At the same time, atrocities by Islamic terrorists in Algeria were glossed over as part of a legitimate fight for freedom.

Between altermondialists and antitotalitarians, the Left was being torn apart. According to Fourest, the former see the world as colored by Algeria’s fight for independence from the French, whereas the latter take World War II as a reference. Thus antitotalitarians fight for human rights and against new totalitarianism or genocide; altermondialists focus on the struggle for self-determination against colonialism and imperialism.

 

Leftist Anti-Semitism

Inevitably, the two trends clash bitterly over the Israeli-Palestinian issue. One group sees Israel as a state created to shelter the survivors of the death camps; the other views it as the ultimate colonial state. Theoretically, both groups might agree on a two-state solution, but that is where anti-Semitism enters the picture. Although usually associated with the Right, the Left, says Fourest, has had its share of anti-Semitism as well.

During the nineteenth century, leftist movements fighting capitalism saw the Jews as the mainstay of the banking establishment and, hence, of capitalism. Today, it is through both Third Worldism and anticapitalism that leftist groups are led to anti-Semitism. Israelis are compared to Nazis and said to be committing genocide against the Palestinians; and some on the Left are afraid to condemn anti-Semitism because they do not want to be perceived as supporting Israel.

This leads almost naturally to the next step: refusing to condemn anti-Semitism for fear of being branded an “Islamophobe.” In November 2004, following several attacks on Jews and Jewish sites in France, a number of leftist associations decided to boycott a protest march because it did not also condemn aggressions against Arabs and might even be viewed as suggesting that Arabs were behind those attacks. Islamophobia, Fourest notes, became the new catchword for anything perceived as criticizing Islam-such as denouncing its discriminatory treatment of women and homosexuals. Muslims wishing to lead a secular life and women refusing to wear the veil suddenly found themselves accused of Islamophobia, a word that was obviously coined to parallel “Judeophobia.”

 

A Worrisome Outlook

Toward the end of this short but well-structured essay, Fourest discusses the temptation facing part of the Left today: supporting religious fanaticism so as to fight imperialism and capitalism in all their hated forms. Similarly, some leftists blindly backed communism in the past, and for the same reasons. Many believe that as an added bonus, such support for Islamic fanaticism will lead to a diminution both of world tensions and of terror threats.

Fourest admits to being apprehensive-not of an Islamic takeover of Europe in the near future, but of an attempt to use Europe to prepare another Iranian-style revolution encompassing the whole world. After all, she notes, some on the Left favor Iran acquiring nuclear weapons so as to confront America. Fourest would like to see a new Left that is united and free of the obscurantist temptation-before it is too late.

La tentation obscurantiste, easily Caroline Fourest’s finest work to date, was awarded the Prix du livre politique for 2006. This is a prize for the best political book of the year in France, and Fourest received it from the hands of the president of the French National Assembly.

 

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Notes

[1] With Fiammetta Venner (Paris: Calmann Levy, 2003). [in French]

[2] Villeurbanne: Golias, 2001. [in French]

[3]  Paris: Grasset, 2005. [in French]

[4] To establish her own credentials as a bona fide leftist, Fourest writes: “Personally, when the Twin Towers fell…it was difficult for me to feel moved. America had been hit in its very heart and had lost three thousand of its citizens, but America’s policies lead daily to dramas and deaths…the embargo on Iraq caused nearly a million deaths” (22).

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MICHELLE MAZEL is a graduate of the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris and the Faculté de Droit of that city.

About Michelle Mazel

Michelle Mazel is a graduate of Sciences Po – the Institute for Political Science – and the Paris Faculté de Droit. She is a writer of both fiction and non-fiction and lives in Jerusalem.