The French Left and political Islam : secularism versus the temptation of an alliance – Jean-Yves Camus – Engage Journal – Issue 3 – September 2006

Introduction: the rise of anti-Semitism since the beginning of the Second Intifada

Since the beginning of the Second Intifada ( autumn 2000), the increase in antisemitic activity is an everyday reality in France, as shown by both the statistics of the Ministries of the Interior and Justice and those of the representative body of the Jewish Community, CRIF (Conseil Représentatif des Institutions Juives de France). According to the (official)figures I have reported in my contribution to the Stephen Roth Institute’s yearly “Antisemitism Worldwide” report, despite a slight decline in the number of incidents in 2003, the number of violent antisemitic acts grew from 185 in 2002 to 233 in 2003, and the number of incidents during the first semester of 2004 was higher than the total number for the entire year 2003, with a decrease in the second semester of 2004. The Jewish Community’s statistics are of course higher and are as follows: 196 incidents in 2000; 318 in 2001; 516 in 2002; 400 in 2003. If one takes into consideration minor incidents ( e.g. graffiti and verbal abuse), the total for 2004, according to the Ministry of the Interior, was 950 (1).

The consecutive feeling of uneasiness felt by most French Jews is not only the result of the number of attacks: it comes from the fact that, for the first time since 1945, while the threat of the extreme right remains (the Front National leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, unexpectedly came second in the 2002 presidential election), a new form of antisemitism has emerged, which comes from a radicalized segment of the Muslim population. One of the results of this escalation of antisemitic violence, coupled with the growing feeling that the future of Jewish children is considerably clouded, for reasons we shall see further on, explains that in 2003, 2075 French Jews made aliya to Israel, and 2350 did so in 2004 (an increase of 13%).

The Left in power: organizing French Islam within the frame of the secular State

If the French situation regarding attitudes towards the Jews and Israel has changed, it is not only because the French foreign policy is overtly biased in favour of the PLO (then the Palestinian Authority) and the Arab countries: it has been so for decades. A new factor exists: it is the emergence of a political expression of Islam, not in the sense that French Muslims want to form a political party (although there are at least two attempts to do so), but because they are now increasingly becoming French citizens, and want to gain representation in the political parties, the city councils and the legislative bodies (2).

It is not the subject of this study to write the history of the relationship between the Socialist Party and the Muslim community in 1981-93 (when the party was in power), but suffice it to say that the Muslims, especially the youth, were bitterly disappointed by the failure of the Left to deliver its promises of equality, of putting an end to petty discrimination in housing and in the workplace, which were the mottos of the much publicized “Marche pour l’Egalité” that took place in 1983.

Instead of working towards the integration of the Muslims into the French society, the Socialist Party developed a communautarian approach and tried to patronize them through puppet organizations which proved totally ineffective, such as SOS-Racisme. By the end of the 1980s, though, the majority of French Muslims felt betrayed by the Left, had lost confidence in its ability to grant them full citizens’ rights, and was ready to fall pray to the fundamentalist associations which began canvassing the suburbs of Paris, Lille, Lyon and Marseille, with their message of affirmative action and self-organization (at best) and (quite often) with the message that politics led nowhere, that democracy was a tool of the “kaffir”state, and that only the retraction to the Salafi, or Tablighi way of life could offer them a status. In a way, the ineffectiveness of the Left in bridging the gap that exists between the socio-economic condition of the native Frenchmen and that of the immigrants and their children, paved the way for political Islam.

But there is another issue: that of the way both the Left and the Conservatives chose to launch a representative body of French Islam. The French Government began thinking about creating such a body at the beginning of the 1980s, at the time when the Socialist-Communist coalition came into power (May 1981). It took several years of internal debate to begin the process, and the Socialist Minister of the Interior, Pierre Joxe, finally took the decision of installing the CORIF (Conseil de Réflexion de l’Islam de France) in 1989, because he wanted to counter the already growing influence of the fundamentalists, which gained considerable media coverage during the first case of hijab-wearing in a state school (1989).

However, the members of CORIF were appointed by the Minister, not elected. Moreover, the rank and file within the Muslim community, and the Government as well, were very much uneasy about the close connection between sheikh Tedjini Haddam, Imam of Paris’ Great Mosque and a leading CORIF member, and the Algerian State: in 1992, when Haddam was named to become a member of the Algerian Haut Conseil d’Etat (3), it became clear that the emergence of a French Islam required to gather other organizations than the Great Mosque in a representative body.

However, when the Left lost the 1993 general election, the new Minister of the Interior, Charles Pasqua (an old-guard Gaullist), chose the opposite method, that is, reinforcing the influence of the Algerian-backed Great Mosque in order to contain fundamentalism. As a result, the December 15th, 1994 decree gave the Great Mosque a monopoly over religious matters and also the presidency of the newly founded Conseil Représentatif des Musulmans de France, which was never to achieve any practical result.

The reasons for this are many, and two are obvious: first of all, more than in any other European country, Muslims in France come from many countries, as many in fact as the former French colonies or protectorates, plus sizeable communities with no historical ties to France (Pakistan, Turkey); second, by choosing the Algerian Great Mosque as the sole representative of Muslims, the State had put aside many other schools of thought which, although they are often fundamentalist, have a far bigger constituency. Those are the reasons why, when the Left returned to government in 1997, the then Minister of the Interior, Jean-Pierre Chevènement (4), took another approach: in 1999, he convened a ‘Consultation des Musulmans de France’ (Consulting process of Muslims in France), which gathered nearly all the components of Islam, provided that they sign a common declaration in which they stated that they abide by the laws of the secular French State.

By July 2001, the members of the Consultation had reached an agreement which provided for the election of a representative body of Islam by the Muslims themselves and this mode of election, chosen by the Left, was also retained by the next French Home office Minister (2002-2005), the Gaullist Nicolas Sarkozy, in the name of democracy and with the goal of freeing French Islam from the interference of foreign countries and institutions. As a result, The Conseil Français du Culte Musulman was elected on April 6th and 13th 2002, by 4000 delegates from 995 mosques, with a voter turnout of over 87%. But the problem is that the election was a severe defeat for the Mosquée de Paris, which has 6 representatives out of 41, while 14 seats went to the Muslim Brotherhood-oriented Union des Organisations Islamiques de France and 16 to the Fédération Nationale des Musulmans de France, which is close to Morocco and whose leaders are no less anti-Israel than the leadership of UOIF.

Although the Council’s president is still the Great Mosque’s Imam, Dr.Dalil Boubakeur, the election had the very important result of giving official status and representation to several clearly fundamentalist groups: the UOIF emerged as the most representative group, which in a way is true (5) ; the State also gave formal recognition to the Tabligh and to the pro-Libya representative of African Muslims, Dr.Assani Fassassi, whose obsession is that France recognize the “genocide” of African slaves and pays compensation for it, because, as he sees it, what has been done with regard to the Shoah must also be done for the heirs of the victims of slavery (6).

The Conseil des Musulmans de France, represented on the CFCM’s board by the hijab-wearing sociologist, Siham Andalouci, is Tariq Ramadan’s voice, and the Strasbourg-based convert, Dr.Thomas Abdallah Milcent, a leading pro-hijab activist, represents the interest of the UOIF hardliners and the Turkish Milli Görus, which is very influential in the Alsace region. So, to summarize, the Left has initiated a process, which the Conservative Right has completed, which gives formal recognition and some kind of a State “haskama” to the fundamentalists, with the exception of the Salafi and the Habachi sect.

A short history of the French Left’s relation to Islam from the XIXth century until the end of the French Empire:

Is this situation an inevitable outcome of history? In other words, has the French Left always been hostile to the Jews, Zionism and Israel, and sympathetic to the Arab cause and Islam? Certainly not. Of course, Zeev Sternhell is right when he writes that antisemitism was an intrinsic part of the ideology of the Revolutionary Left at the end of XIXth century, the Marxist Left included (7) . But the French Left was also contemptuous of the civilizations of the colonized countries, and saw the Arab world, especially Northern Africa, which was under French rule, as a part of the globe inhabited by backward people who followed a fanatical and cruel religion.

The French Left adhered to the idea that the ideology of the Enlightenment, which is at the core of the French Revolution of 1789, was to be exported to the Muslim countries, if need be, by force, and it always supported the colonial policies of the Empire and the Third Republic. The anti-colonialist Left, apart from the Communist Party, was only to emerge after the Second World War. Until 1940, the Socialist Party, especially in Algeria, which was a French “départment” where only the Christians and the Jews enjoyed full citizenship, was merely pushing for a more liberal status of the Muslims.

The Blum-Violette law project, which the Front Populaire government failed to pass in 1936, provided for equal voting rights for the Muslims, but this remained in the frame of a strictly secular State. Furthermore, in order to understand the equivocal relationship between the Left, the Muslims and the Jews, one need to know that in Algeria and Tunisia, the Socialist Party was heavily staffed by Jews: those who were at the forefront of the struggle for the civil rights of the Muslims were also members of a community considered by the latters as “dhimmis”.

Another important point is that after 1945, when the anti-colonialist Left emerged, mainly within the intellectual circles and the Communist Party, the majority of the Socialist Party remained committed to “Algérie Française”, at least until Général de Gaulle himself was ready to grant independence to Algeria. In the mid-50s, the French High Commissioner in Algiers, Robert Lacoste, and the Minister of the Interior, François Mitterrand, were responsible for some of the harshest repression of the FLN guerrilla: both of them belonged to the Left. The result is that, still to this day, the majority of the French citizens of Algerian descent, whether they were born before the independence of Algeria (1962) or later, view the Left with great suspicion.

The French Left; Zionism and the State of Israel: from support to rejection

Can it be said that for the Muslims, the Left, or at least the social-democrat part of it, is seen as the Jews’ party? In a sense,yes. In fact, nothing would be farther away from reality than a description of the French Left as intrinsically hostile to Israel and the idea of a Jewish State, quite the opposite when one speaks of the socialist Left, now embodied in the Socialist Party, known before as the SFIO (Section Française de l’Internationale Ouvrière, founded in 1905).

Even after the Dreyfus case began and it was clear that a significant part of French society, left and right alike, harboured distinctly anti-Semitic ideas, Zionism as a solution to anti-Semitism was not supported by the Jewish establishment of the time, not even by the Rabbinate. The French branch of the Rothschild family helped Jews settle in Palestine, but it was not particularly friendly to the Zionist cause, and the Jewish bourgeoisie was totally abiding by the motto of the Consistoire, “Religion et Patrie”, that is, a Jewish brand of French patriotism that was only matched by the German Jews’ identification of their fate as that of the whole Nation.

After the Balfour Declaration, the early supporters of the Zionist cause were to be found within the SFIO: the future head of the Front Populaire government, Léon Blum, although he was not himself a Zionist at the time, was close to Haim Weizmann, to whom he was presented by one of his senior advisers, Marc Jarblum. One of the very few cabinet members of the Third Republic to attend Zionist rallies and speak outspokenly in favour of Zionism, as early as the 1920s, was the Socialist Minister of the Colonies, the non-Jew Marius Moutet. When he returned from captivity at Buchenwald, Blum, whose brother René had died in Auschwitz, became a staunch supporter of the creation of the State of Israël, and wrote several articles on this topic in the party’s newspaper, Le Populaire, in June-July 1946 (8).

While the Trotskyite and Maoist extreme-Left had always been anti-Zionist and became very vocal on this issue after the May 1968 riots and the Six Days War, the Socialist Party was not to change his attitude until 1977, when the coming into power of the Revisionist Zionists was seen by many on the Left as a take-over of the Israeli State by the extreme-Right, both Herut and Likud being often labelled as “fascist” parties.

The situation today can be summarized as follows. Between 2000 and the June 2002 general election, which put an end to the Left coalition government (9) , although the then Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin, was himself close to Israel and the Jewish community, the Government failed to assess the importance of the wave of antisemitic incidents that then took place, and whose perpetrators were almost exclusively young French citizens or foreigners with a Muslim culture. This blindness was reinforced by the fact that a strong extreme Right still existed, embodied by the Front National, and the old-style anti-Semitism of the extreme Right was considered by the Left a bigger threat than the anti-Semitic prejudice that manifested itself within the ranks of a minority of the Muslim population, in the guise of anti-Zionism.

If ideology played a role in the way the Socialist Party was to deal with the issue of Islam and that of anti-Semitism, mere political tactics were also at work. To put it bluntly, the elections experts became aware that the influence of the Jewish community was, in purely statistical terms, by far inferior to that of the Muslims, or at least so they thought, because all the scholarly studies show that there is nothing like a Jewish vote (10) , nor an an ethnic vote in France, the social status and cultural background of the voters still being the main factor for their choice.

One particularly controversial memo, written for the direction of the Socialist Party by the geopolitics expert, Pascal Boniface, in spring 2002, exemplifies what has become the Left’s search for the Muslim vote. In his paper, entitled “ Le Proche-Orient, les socialistes, l’équité internationale, l’efficacité électorale” (The Middle-East; the Socialists; International Justice and electoral efficiency), Boniface advised his (then) party (11) that it was time for the Socialists to “stop putting on the same foot the Israeli armed forces and the Palestinian demonstrators”. He added that he was “stunned by the number of young “ beurs” (12) and French Muslims of all generations who say they support the Left but, because of the situation in the Middle-East, say they will not vote for Jospin in the presidential election”.

In other words, the Socialist Prime Minister, who had become the first French statesman to label the Hizbullah a “terrorist movement”, during his trip to Israel, and who had therefore been stoned by Palestinian radical students while visiting Bir Zeit University, was too close to the Jews and the “Zionists”, and a change of policy had to be made. What was the most controversial in Boniface’s report was not his ideological stand, which is well-known (13). It is the fact that he wrote that “the Arab-Muslim community is not taken into account, and is even rejected” by the party, and seemed to imply that although “ it is better to lose an election than to lose one’s soul”, the upcoming election made it necessary for the Socialists to condemn Israel and stand clearly in favour of the Palestinian, even asking if “ supporting Sharon is worth losing the 2002 presidential election”.

As an answer to what they saw as a change in the party’s policy, some members of the Socialist executive ( most of them Jews) immediately set up a “Cercle Léon Blum”, under the direction of Laurent Azoulay, and which seems to have the favour of the party’s national leader, François Hollande. Other organizations close to the party, such as the anti-racist movement, “SOS-Racisme”, have also taken a pro-Israel stand and are at the forefront of the fight against antisemitism and political Islam.

Whether one is pro-Israel or pro-Palestine within the Socialist Party is not even a matter of belonging to the center-left wing of the party (close to New Labour) or to the more old-time Socialist faction “Nouveau Party Socialiste”: the latter, through Julien Dray, an MP and a former Trotskyite, controls SOS-Racisme (14) and has taken a firm stand in favour of the law which forbids the wearing of religious symbols, such as the hijab, in the State-run schools (15) . In fact, the attitude of the Socialists is predominantly pro-Palestinian, in the name of the anti-colonialist ideology, but it is also predominantly opposed to political Islam, in the name of secularism, a value which is the cornerstone of the Republican tradition.

This can be seen from the fact that the majority of the party was in favour of the law against religious symbols, even though it was proposed by the Right. And the secular tradition is so strong that the Mouvement Républicain et Citoyen, Chevènement’s party, had called for such a law even before 2003, although, at the same time, the party stood against the US intervention in Iraq, in the name of what it perceived was the Iraqi Baath and Saddam’s secular stand against fundamentalism.

The Communist Party: immigrants and Muslims as the “new working class”

The Communist Party is a declining political force. In the presidential election of 1969, its candidate polled 20% of the vote; in 2002, the party leader, Robert Hue, polled a mere 3,5%. Although the party was part of the Left government coalition between 1981 and 1986, then again in 1988-1993 and in 1997-2002, it has lost much of its local strongholds and is divided between several competing factions, which range from the diehard Stalinists ( the faction “Initiative Communiste” and the “Rouge Vifs” (16) ) to reformist social-democrats who can be described as close to the Italian PDS. One of the major problems facing the party is that the working class, which was once its stronghold, has progressively drifted away from Communism, and now votes heavily (as much as 30% in the 1995 presidential election) for the extreme-Right Front National. Both parties have a heavily urban, male electorate, with a lower than average educational level.

Both are stronger in the poor suburbs of the major cities ( Paris; Lille; Lyon; Marseille and Strasbourg), which are also heavily populated by the Muslim immigrants and their French-Muslim descendancy. And a significant part of their electorate sees immigration and Islam as a threat: according to a 1991 survey 32% of Communist voters thought that a too big Muslim population could pose a threat to law and order; 34% said they fear that France could become an Islamic country. The anti-Semitic prejudice of a significant part of Communist voters is also attested by the fact that 26% of them agreed with the idea that “ the Jews hold too much power in France”, a proportion only surpassed by the FN electorate (40%) (17) .

In order to keep hold of the city councils of the suburban cities it has held for, sometimes, decades, the Communist Party began, in the 1990, to try attracting voters from the immigrant communities, mostly the North African one. This meant, first of all, reaffirming the traditional pro-Palestinian, anti-Israeli stand of the party, a course it had followed since the beginning of the 1950s, when the USSR, which had been in favour of the creation of Israel, switched its policy and became aggressively anti-Zionist.

Thus, the Communist Party became some kind of a French correspondent of the PLO and the Palestinian Authority, participating in many public conferences where the PA’s representative in France, Leila Shahid, spoke, and inviting her to be the keynote speaker at the party’s annual rally, the “Fête de l’Humanité”, in September 2004. Another way of showing support for the Palestinian was organizing several twin cities agreements between Communist-controlled cities and Palestinian towns and, consecutively, trips to Palestine for the party’s and the cities’ executives, through organizations such as Association France-Palestine Solidarité; the Association Franco-Palestinienne d’Echanges Culturels ( an association for cultural exchanges with Palestine) and the CCIPPP ( Civil Campaign for the Protection of the Palestinian People). In many Communist cities, exhibitions about the fate of the Palestinian people are held regularly, always putting the emphasis on the “Israeli occupation” in a manner which dramatizes the everyday difficulties of the Palestinian people, to the point of deshumanizing the Israeli army and, subsequently, the Israeli people, while, however, acknowledging the existence of a debate within the Israeli society on such issues as the evacuation of Gaza and the military operations in the Palestinian territories.

Whether this pro-Palestinian propaganda effort was one of the reasons for the growing number of anti-Semitic incidents is arguable. As a matter of fact, however, it is true that the Communist-run cities in the Paris and Lyon areas have been hit hard by the wave of anti-Semitism. In order to show the Muslim population that the Communist Party was willing to engage into a dialogue, some elected officials, such as André Gérin, the mayor of Vénissieux, near Lyon, chose to turn a blind eye to the growing Salafi influence which progressively took over the more moderate brands of Islam and, in his particular case, even openly asked the United States to free the three Islamists detained in Guantanamo who were citizens of his city.

Another way of making the Communist Party attractive to Muslim voters is putting Muslims on the party’s slates for national or local elections. One very controversial use of this tactic occurred in the March 2004 election for the Regional Council of the Ile de France Region, which includes Paris and the heavily immigrant-populated “départments” of Seine Saint Denis ;Val de Marne (both run then by the Communists) and Val d’Oise. In this region, the Communist Parti chose to play the Muslim vote card by nominating Mouloud Aounit, the president of the anti-racist organization MRAP ( Mouvement contre le Racisme et pour l’Amitié entre les Peuples, which was a front organization of the Communist Party), as the leader of its slate in Seine Saint Denis, and also nominated Hamida Ben Sadia, the leader of the women’s organization “Collectif pour l’Egalité”, as one of the eligible candidates in Paris. It was well known to most Muslims, then, that MRAP was at the forefront of the fight against what it calls “islamophobia”, had been one of the organizers of the anti-war and pro-Palestine demonstrations, and was very critical of the Jewish institutions, which it accused of drifting towards the far-right (18).

The electoral results of the Aounit slate in Seine Saint-Denis were far beyond even the most optimistic of the party’s expectations: in the city of Stains, which is home to one of the most virulent Salafi mosques, it polled 32, 33%, while the Communist candidate in the 2002 presidential election polled 10,29%. In other cities, it polled more than 20%, far more than its average score in previous national or regional elections: 28,91% in Bobigny; 28,59% in Blanc-Mesnil; 23,95% in Saint Denis and 21,25% in La Courneuve. After the election, the Socialist president of the Regional Council, Jean-Paul Huchon, refused to named Aounit as a vice-president, contrary to a pre-election agreement between both parties, on the ground that MRAP and its chairman were opposed to the law on religious symbols in public schools, and that Aounit had talked about Huchon bowing to the “Jewish lobby”, after the latter said that Aounit was possibly unfit for a vice-presidency.

To conclude on the attitude of the Communist Party (19) , one should know that there is a growing discontent, both within the moderate wing of the party and among the MRAP rank and file and even leadership, about the ideological line imposed by Aounit. During the national convention of MRAP, in December 2004, there was a heated debate over the issue of islamophobia, and the minority asked for a thougher approach of Islamism, as well as for a more positive approach to the issue of Muslim anti-Semitism.

Political Islam and the Far-Left: Partners in the anti-globalization movement. The controversy around the European Social Forum ( November 2003) and beyond

As the Socialist Party and the Communist Party tried to attract the Muslim electorate, the extreme Left felt compelled to do the same. This attitude comes in the context of the late 1990s, when, after years in power, the social-democratic Left, and even the Communists, were rejected by many of their traditional voters, who switched their allegiance to the Green Party or the Trotskyite Far-Left. After decades on the fringe of politics, the two Trotskyite movements, Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR; led by Olivier Besancenot) and Lutte Ouvrière (led by Arlette Laguiller), obtained seats in several regional councils in 1998, and in the European Parliament in 1999. In the presidential election of March 2002, Besancenot polled 4, 25% and Laguiller, 5, 72% ( this represented 2, 840 million votes) while Daniel Gluckstein , the leader of the ( alsoTrotskyite ) Parti des Travailleurs, obtained 0, 47%.

So for the first time in its history, the far-left accounted for 10% of the electorate, a result which made it necessary for it to broaden its constituency(20) of the leading forces pushing for an alliance between the extreme left and political islam is a small ( several hundred members) Trotskyite faction called “Socialisme par En-Bas” ( Socialism from below, frequently refered to as SPEB), which is in fact the French branch of the British Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP). SPEB joined the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire in January 18th, 2004. With slogans such as “Islamism is not fascism but a cry of the people” (21) , SPEB has taken over the ‘Agir contre la guerre’ movement, which was pivotal in organizing the pro-Palestinian and anti-war demonstrations in Paris in 2003/2004. Its central thesis, which is exposed in the writings of the SWP theoretician Chris Harman, is that fundamentalist Islam is neither a clerical nor a reactionary movement but an anti-imperialist one which should be supported both in the Middle East against Israel and in the West, against. This explains the presence of women wearing the hijab and even the abaya(combined head cover, veil and shawl) at their meetings (22) .

But the connections between the far-Left and Muslim fundamentalism go far beyond the influence of SPEB. The anti-globalization movement is widely known for the anti-US and pro-Palestinian stands of José Bové, former leader of the peasant union Confédération Paysanne, who holds the view that the antisemitic incidents in France are the work of the Mossad. The major force within the anti-globalization movement, ATTAC (Association pour une Taxation des Transactions financières pour l’Aide aux Citoyens – Association for the Taxation of Financial Transactions for the Benefit of Citizenry), accepted the participation of the Islamist fundamentalist Tariq Ramadan and some of his followers (namely Présence Musulmane, Secours Islamique and Collectif des Musulmans de France) in the European Social Forum (ESF) which took place in Paris in November 2003, and at that time, a major controversy arose within the ranks of the anti-globalization movement concerning the stand it should take in the debate over secular values, women wearing the hijab and the Middle East issue.

Ramadan, a Swiss citizen, is the grandson of Hasan al-Banna, the Egyptian founder of the Muslim Brothers (although the two differ ideologically). He has established himself, through his books and conferences, as the most influential preacher among Muslim youth in French-speaking countries and now supports the political platform of the anti-globalization left, at least when it comes to such issues as Palestine; the war in Iraq and the opposition to what he, and the anti-globalization Left, calls the “neo-colonial” policies of the French State vis-à-vis the Muslim population. What was particularly shocking in Ramadan’s attendance of the ESF, is that a few weeks before, he had published a text (on the pro-Islamist Muslim website oumma.com) that attacked several prominent French intellectuals, some Jewish (Alain Finkielkraut and André Glucksmann, among others) and others he mistakenly thought were Jewish (Pierre-André Taguieff), for having supposedly betrayed their universalist beliefs in favour of unconditional support for Zionism and Israel.

The leadership of ATTAC, notably Bernard Cassen, the editor of the Monde diplomatique monthly, remains firmly committed to secularism, rejects the alliance with fundamentalist Islam and, while highly critical of Israeli policies, keeps a moderate profile that recognizes Israel’s right to exist. But it seems that the leadership is in fact in the minority, and many ATTAC members, gathered around Pierre Khalfa, hold the view that, despite his highly conservative views on social and moral issues, Ramadan and his network are reliable allies in the fight for anti-globalization, mainly because they share the anti-American platform of the anti-war movement.

Another proof of the building coalition between the anti-globalization Left and the supporters of Ramadan is that, between December 2003 (when President Chirac announced he would submit a law on the hijab) and spring 2004 (when the law was passed), several demonstrations took place in France in support of the right of Muslim women to attend public schools wearing the hijab, which were attended by several high-ranking officials of the LCR, the Green Party ( especially the MP, Noel Mamère), and far left feminists (around Christine Delphy), alongside members of Présence Musulmane and the Collectif des Musulmans de France.

As within the Communist Party, some voices were recently heard within ATTAC, which condemned the links between the anti-globalization movement and the Islamists. The discontent became especially strong after the London ESF, held on October 15-17th, 2004, which saw the participation of several well-known Islamists and antisemites (such as the Muslim Parliament’s Dr. G. Siddiqui) alongside the hijab-wearing Salma Yacoob from the Stop the War coalition, and the usual pro-Saddam Leftist MPs, George Galloway and Jeremy Corbyn. As a result, a committee was set up within ATTAC-France, under the chairmanship of Green Party member Bernard Dréano, which was given the task of “screening” the applicants to any further ESF or ATTAC event, and of writing a memorandum on the history and ideology of the Muslim groups that have participated in the Paris and London meetings.

The Green Party: in favour of a communautarian society

The Green Party is a relatively new political force in the French political spectrum, having emerged in the mid-1990s. In the 2002 presidential election, its candidate, Noël Mamère, polled 5,25% and 6.83 percent in the 2004, Euro-election, obtaining one MEP. The Green Party has always been very active in favor of all minorities, such as ethnic minorities living in France and the gay movement. As opposed to the highly centralized, strictly secular model of the French Republic, the Greens are in favor of a communautarian model of society which would allow the free expression of all cultural and religious differences, including for fundamentalist Islam.

Furthermore, anti-Zionism is very much prevalent within the Green Party, as exemplified by the participation of the former National Secretary, Gilles Lemaire, and of the Senate member for Paris, Alima Boumedienne-Thiery, to several pro-Palestine and anti-war demos where the extreme Islamist movements (such as the Hizbullah) were visible. The Green Party has named a notorious anti-Zionist, Patrick Farbiaz, as the head of its Transnational Commission ( although he is Jewish, Farbiaz once shouted after a party meeting: “Long live the Hamas, Hamas shall win”) (23) and a member of Arab origin, Ahmed Bouzid, as head of its Committee on Middle Eastern Affairs. When the Green group in the European Parliament organized a conference in Brussels, on December 11, 2002, on the topic “ Islam in Europe or European Islam?”, Boumedienne-Thiery was a guest speaker, but so were Tariq Ramadan; Ahmed Bakcan, The secretary general of the French branch of Milli Görus and Mohamed Bechari, the chairman of the European Islamic Conference who, on May 13th, 2003, when the Ambassador of Israel paid a visit to the Paris Great Mosque, said that this “was a provocation” (24).

Finally, one affair shows that the Green Party even allows some of its members to have contacts with the most extreme Islamic groups: for several years now, it is well-known to the party’s leadership that Ginette Skandrani, a member since 1984, works with such notorious antisemites as Israel Shamir and Mohamed Ennacer Latrèche, chairman of the small Parti des Musulmans de France. Skandrani best exemplifies the existing links that were describes sometimes as the “Red-Green-Brown” alliance, as she has participated into the activities of the far-left pro-Palestinian movement (through her own minuscule movement, La Pierre et l’Olivier); to those of the Holocaust-denial sect, and as a journalist for the Tunisian oppositional pro-Islamist newspaper, “L’Audace”, and even as a writer for the Centre d’Etudes Euro-Arabes, a Saudi/Gulf States lobbying group in Paris. In spite of this evidence, and although several elected officials of the party called for her expulsion from the Green Party, she is still a member to this day.

New anti-Zionist organizations on the Left:

For some of the pro-Islamist and pro-Palestinian activists, the attitude of the Communists, the extreme Left and the Greens was probably too soft. So, some of them decided to launch an organization that would be both radical when it comes to the Palestinian issue (that is, critical of the Palestinian Authority and even benevolent towards Hamas) and firmly standing on the Left of the political spectrum. To this effect, Olivia Zemor, a Leftist Jew with a background as a Lutte Ouvrière activist, and leader of the CAPJPO (Coordination des Appels pour une Paix Juste au Proche-Orient), decided in 2003 to stand for the Euro-election of June 13, 2004, in the Paris district, under the name Euro-Palestine. The list, on which was the antisemitic Afro-French comedian, Dieudonné, polled 1.83 % ( that is, 50, 000 votes). It received over 5% in 12 of the 40 cities of the Seine Saint Denis “department”, with peaks at 8,1% in Villetanause and 7,19% in La Courneuve. In other “departments”, it polled a record 10,75% in Garges les Gonesse and 8,62% in Trappes, often only a few votes less than the conservative UMP and the Socialist Party.

Layla Shahid, the PA representative in France, vigorously condemned the initiative as detrimental to the Palestinian cause, mostly because the Euro-Palestine slate drew away Muslim votes from the mainstream parties on which the PA relies heavily for recognition of its claims. But it is a very new, and disturbing, phenomenon, that a movement which solely addresses the Palestinian issue, with a staunch and open anti-Zionist bias (the head of the Euro-Palestine slate, Christophe Oberlin, admitted that, as a surgeon going on frequent missions to the Gaza Strip, he was linked to Dr al Rantissi, the son of the late Hamas leader), has succeeded in making an electoral breakthrough locally.

Conclusion:

The French Left is not the only political force that has taken the risk of giving an official status to the Islamists. Part of the conservative Right, under the leadership of the former Minister of the Interior, Nicolas Sarkozy (who is now chairman of the main party of the coalition, UMP), also thinks that allowing the fundamentalist UOIF to seat on the French Representative Council of French Muslims is a way of containing the dissemination of the most extreme ideologies (i.e. jihadist and salafi doctrines) among the Muslim youth. The fact that Sarkozy is at the same time a strong supporter of Israel, that he was warmly received by the Jewish organizations in the United States, and that he is the one who succeeded in curbing the wave of antisemitic incidents that swept France, does not change anything to the situation: the Muslim Brotherhood-oriented UOIF, which relies on the strongly anti-Semitic sheikh Qaradawi’s fatwas for religious guidance, are now part of the mainstream. However, there is, to this day, nothing like the political alliance which binds together part of the anti-globalization Left and those fundamentalist Muslims who, along with Tariq Ramadan, think that the Muslims should not restrain their activities to the purely religious sphere, and should organize themselves as a lobby, in order to push the Government and the political parties for a more radical, pro-Palestinian and pro-Arab approach of the Middle-East conflict. For many of today’s Leftists in France, the Muslim population is the new working class and is worshipped with the same fervour that was shown to the “working masses” in the days when the Communist Party still accounted for the majority of the workers’vote.

If one only looks at demography, there is no reason why this trend should stop: the Jewish population is small, a significant part of it is assimilated, and it sticks to the old attitude of “being Jewish at home and a citizen outside”, while the Muslim population is growing, younger, and openly campaigns for its political and religious rights. However, the values of the French Republic are still strong, and this includes a deep commitment to secular values, especially within the Left. So there are welcome (if late) signs that, especially within the Socialist ranks, people want to turn their back on the unholy alliance with Islamic fundamentalism. Exposing the antisemitic content of Islamic ideology, the connections between the French Islamic movements and the terrorist organizations in the Middle-East and in the Maghreb, has been a key factor in this change of attitude, but it is still a long way to go before the Left as a whole admits that Islamism is intrinsically hostile to the values of the French Revolution and the Enlightenment.

Jean-Yves Camus, IRIS (Institut de Relations Internationales et Stratégiques), Paris.

Notes:

(1)Announcement of the Minister of the Interior, Dominique de Villepin, January 19th, 2005. According to the same source, the total number of racist and anti-Semitic incidents in 2004 was 1513. In most cases, incidents other than anti-Semitic target the Muslim Community. 41,97% of those anti-Semitic incidents took place in the Paris region, followed by the Lyon area and the Provence Côte d’Azur region. In almost one fifth ( 307) of the cases of racism and anti-Semitism, the perpetrators were arrested. The proportion, in the case of anti-Semitic incidents, is 182 people arrested ( out of 950 cases).
(2)The first one is the Strasbourg-based fundamentalist and anti-Semitic Parti des Musulmans de France, led by Mohammed Ennacer Latrèche, which never polled more than 1%; the second is the equally unsignificent Union Française pour la Cohésion Nationale ( UFCN), also islamist-leaning. Both promote a strictly conservative social agenda and do not even pretend being associated with the Left.
(3)The Haut Conseil d’Etat was the provisional executive of the Algerian State, following the Chadli presidency.
(4)Chevènement, who is often criticized for having given representative status to the islamist federations, is however a strictly secular figure of the Socialist Party ( until 1993) and then the founder of the Mouvement des Citoyens, a political party which sticks to the old-time values and beliefs of the « gauche républicaine », with even an anti-religious slant. He had previously left the Government in 1990 over his disapproval of the French participation to the first Gulf War, and in 2003 reiterated his opposition to the US-led military intervention in Iraq.
(5)As only the mosque’s flock do vote ( and not all the Muslims), and UOIF is the umbrella organization of around 200 of them, compared to the FNMF’s 150 and the Great Mosque’s hundred.
(6)The Fédération des Associations Islamiques d’Afrique, des Comores et des Antilles (FFAIACA), represented by Fassassi, promotes a distorted view of history: for exemple, the Federation acknowledges the existence of the Nazi genocide of the Jews, but only to include it in a list of the “most horrible tragedies in the history of mankind”, ranging from the trade of slaves to the genocide of “the Tutsi, the people of Bosnia and Kosovo, the people of Chechenya and the Palestinian.” On October 10th, 2000, the Fédération issued a press statement calling its affiliates to “express their solidarity with the Palestinian people and to pray for the safeguard of the al Aqsa mosque” and asking them to “pray for the memory of the martyrs and innocent victims who fell for the defense of the third Holy place of Islam.”
(7) Z. Sternhell : Ni droite, ni gauche. L’idéologie fasciste en France, 1983
(8) Cf. François Lafon : Sionisme et Socialisme : nous nous sommes tant aimés. In : Tohu-Bohu n°3, 2002
(9) That is, the coalition of the Socialist and the Communist Parties ; the Greens ; the center-Left Parti Radical de Gauche and the Republican Socialist « Mouvement des Citoyens », led by Jean-Pierre Chevènement.
(10)Chantal Benayoun, « La question d’une politique juive aujourd’hui », in : Pierre Birnbaum (dir.), Histoire politique des juifs de France, Paris, Presses de Sciences Po, 1990, p. 258-277 and Sylvie Strudel, Votes juifs. Itinéraires migratoires, religieux et politiques, Paris, Presses de Sciences Po, 1996.
(11)He left the party in 2003, certainly before being expelled.
(12)« Beur » is a slang word meaning « young of North African Muslim origin ». It has become a common word in the media, and is also used by the Muslims themselves. However, Islamists tend to think this is a derogatory word and prefer to simply use the term “Muslim”.
(13)One needs to say clearly that Boniface, although he is hostile to the present Israeli Government’s policies, is not an anti-Semite. In his report, he begins by clearly saying that “the Jewish people is the only one to have suffered from a real genocide” and emphasizes that “the State of Israël, whilst the Arab population does not enjoy the same rights as the Jewish population, is a democracy surrounded by authoritarian, if not dictatorial regimes, and has had to fight in order to make its neighbors accept its existence”. I have quoted this report from the original, full-text version which was written for the members of the Socialist Party’s Direction Committee. I thank Pascal Boniface for handing me this version.
(14)The secretary general of SOS-Racisme is the former president of UEJF, the Union of Jewish Students: Patrick Klugman.
(15)The law was announced by President Chirac in December, 2003, and voted by the Parliament in March 2004. It came into effect in September 2004. Contrary to what had been predicted, the number of cases when a Muslim girl refused to take off her “hijab”when going to school was very low: around 150.
(16)On the fringe of the Communist Party are several small hardline groups such as the Pôle de Renaissance Communiste de France; Renaissance Communiste and Gauche Communiste, which are particularly supportive of Palestinian hardliners, especially the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. All of them promote extreme anti-Zionism, but stay on a strictly secular line, thus refusing to cooperate with the Islamists. However, in 2004, Bruno Drweski the director of the Party’s quarterly review, “ La Pensée”, was sacked from his position, after he repeatedly held extreme anti-Israeli views and endorsed the Iraqi “resistance”. Several sources from inside the party reported that he had become radical after September 11th, 2001, and also because of his close friendship with the former ambassador of Sudan in France, who arranged for his visit there.
(17)Cf. Pascal Perrineau : Le symptôme Le Pen, 1997, p.161
(18)The lesser-known Collectif pour l’Egalité, which presents itself as a “feminist”group, in fact campaigns on the “islamophobia”issue and against the law on religious symbols in public schools. The use of the feminist rhetoric to justify the pro-hijab campaigns of the Islamists, on the ground that hijab-banning is another form of patriarcal oppression, is a new theme of the pro-Islamist Left.
(19)It should be reminded that the party supports the idea of a Palestinian State, along the State of Israël in its 1967 boundaries.
(20)The extreme-Left did not succeed so well in the 2004 regional and Euro-Parliament election. The common slate of LCR and LO, polled only 2.89 percent of the vote in the Euro-election and lost all their seats. In the first ballot of the regional election, the far left polled 4.95 percent and also their seats. This setback, however, made the broadening of its constituency even more urgent.
(21)« Fascisme ou cri populaire ?”, Hassan Berber, in : Socialisme International n° 48, january 1992. Other SPEB publications on this subject, most of them translations from SWP publications, are: « Le prophète et le prolétariat «, Chris Harman ( first published in the UK in september 1994 in the weekly Socialist worker; and « Questions – réponses sur le port du foulard islamique à l’école », Denis Godard and Hassan Berber, Socialisme International n° 76, november 1994
(22)I personally witnessed this at a SPEB meeting in Paris, in June 2003, where abaya-clad students from the Sorbonne and Jussieu universities held a newsstand selling the works of Léon Trotsky.
(23)Cf. www. Proche-orient.info, january 17, 2003. Article here.
(24)cf. this article.

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