01/27/2015 05:18 EST | Updated 03/29/2015 05:59 EDT

Don't Say the Paris Supermarket Attack Had Nothing To Do With Antisemitism

Writer Karen Armstrong recently made the following statement in a Dutch interview: "The supermarket attack in Paris was about Palestine, about ISIS. It had nothing to do with antisemitism; many of them are Semites themselves. But they attempt to conquer Palestine and we're not talking about that. We're too implicated and we don't know what to do with it."

The Germans have a wonderful word that means nonsense, or bullshit, depending on the context: Quatsch.

The criminal terrorist assault on the kosher grocery in Paris on January 9, 2015 had everything to do with antisemitism, which is now unfortunately exacerbating an already complex and intractable conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

Arabs are not Semites and neither are Jews. Semites are a fictitious product of the European racial imaginary, and one would have hoped that a popular and opinionated writer like Armstrong would know that very important historical fact. Jews and Arabs are speakers of Semitic languages, Hebrew and Arabic respectively. It was this linguistic categorization that European thinkers racialized in the 19th century. Antisemitismus, a German word popularized by Wilhelm Marr in 1879, was used to modernize the more traditional Judenhass (Jew hatred), and it was never applied to anyone but Jews.

To disconnect the murders of French Jewish customers in a kosher grocery store from the antisemitic ideology of ISIS, to which their murderer Amedy Coulibaly pled allegiance, is a serious error. To try to connect these murders to Palestine is not fair to Jews or to Palestinians, and does nothing to improve the chances for peace in the region. Who exactly is conquering Palestine in Armstrong's words is not clear, but I think it's fair to assume that she means Israel. Again, this appears to have Armstrong justifying the violence against those same French Jews, buying milk at the corner store, as somehow retaliatory and therefore logical.

Denying the Jihadist roots of the recent antisemitic violence in France is not helpful to anyone, because it is fundamentally untrue. The intention of this denial is to shield the Muslim minorities among us in Western societies from a backlash of hostility and criticism, and to avoid feeding the Jihadist propaganda machine that promotes war between Western civilization and their imagined global caliphate. These are noble and respectable intentions but they cannot override or replace an honest and principled confrontation with today's reality, however complex and upsetting.

Just as Nazism grew out of German history and culture, and then hijacked a respected cultural heritage for its own nefarious purposes, strains of Islamic thought likewise inspire the growing variety of Jihadist movements that perpetrate horrendous violence on Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Jews, and other "infidels," as well as women, girls, and gay people, in the name of Islam.

Jihadist Islam is as much a hate-filled supremacist ideology as was Nazism, except that it uses religion instead of race as its organizing principle. Crucifying Christians, raping and enslaving women and little girls, throwing gay men to their deaths off buildings, massacring whole towns and villages, Jihadist Islam is as ruthless and barbaric as Nazism, and all decent people should condemn it in the same vociferous terms. Just as we condemn Nazism today as a dangerous form of racial supremacism, we should all condemn and isolate Jihadist Islam as a dangerous form of religious supremacism.

Denials of reality about the Jihadist roots of this violence are already feeding frustration in Western populations who know better. The well-intended strategy of protecting Muslims in the West will actually do the opposite -- it will very likely guarantee a backlash against Western Muslims by a growing right-wing movement. We already see an expansion of right wing support on this issue across Europe and even the UK, which has no well-established fascist tradition of which to speak. Here, we have a case of the West bringing about precisely what it seeks to avoid, and this must be stopped immediately.

If the individuals leading society were to begin an immediate and honest confrontation with the problem of Jihadist religious supremacism, in the West and throughout the world, we may see a reduction in support for right wing reactionary solutions. This would be a step in the right direction as it might actually build a genuine multicultural unity in Western societies, based upon our commitment to democratic principles of freedom and equality, which is what we all desire. It is in our common interest that we all vow to disassociate ourselves from ideologies, both religious and racial, committed to the destruction of others.


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