Guest Writings
22/07/04 Lies and assumptions betrayed by Azmi Bishara
Al-Ahram Weekly Online 22 – 28 July 2004 Issue No. 700

A young French mother fabricates an attack by “dark-skinned” youths and all hell breaks loose. Then she apologises, not though, writes Azmi Bishara, to the real victims

A 23-year old French mother admitted to having lied when she said that she had been attacked on Friday, 9 July, by a gang of six youths whom she described as “dark-skinned, from North Africa and between 15 and 20 years old”. Marie-Leonie LeBlanc apologised, but let's take a closer look at her statement: “I apologise to the president of the republic and to Minister Nicole Guedj and to all the people who came out to demonstrate in support of the lie I told. I am sorry for what I have done and I apologise to all those I have offended.”

There's something very odd in that apology, something that just doesn't sit right. And that is because there is something that isn't right. She did not apologise to Arabs, Muslims, dark-skinned people or North Africans, unless these peoples managed to deduce that they were included in the all-embracing “all those I have offended”. The only parties she apologised to by name were the president, who trumpeted his outrage for fear of the “beating” he would get if he didn't, the minister of state for victims' rights and the demonstrators against anti-Semitism in France whom she had misled. These are the people, in her opinion, or the opinion of the person who composed her apology, and perhaps in the opinion of the media that relayed it, who were the victims of her lie. As for the Arabs, a frank apology to them might get them thinking they're innocent and it wouldn't do to let that go to their heads. In all events, Arabs and Muslims were merely an incidental component of Marie's story, as we shall see, which is why they were so tangential in her apology.

The young French mother's story has a certain entertainment value. But then she appears to have had plenty of practice. According to the French police she has a long history of reporting assaults and attempted rapes and supplying evidence that has yet to lead to the discovery of the alleged perpetrators. This time, however, her fabrication, aided by her boyfriend, involved drawing a swastika on her belly — the perfect illustrated story, taken right out of the textbook. The attack was said to have taken place on an RER suburban railway. There were six vicious Arab hooligans and 20 passengers none of whom made a move to help her as the gang tore her clothes, slashed at her with their knives, cut off her hair and knocked over the baby carriage carrying her 13-month-old child. These were truly brutal, heartless beasts.

To the Arabs and other minorities in Europe the story evokes those urban transit carriages packed with drunk and rowdy football fans and the nightmare of unprovoked attacks by skinheads and yobbos against Arabs, blacks and foreigners in general, and sometimes against the elderly and infirm. In Marie's story the image is reversed, with the Arabs cast as skinheads or neo-Nazis. Not bad for starters. Then to top it, the 20 passengers who remained passive or indifferent in the background become the metaphor for the silent European majority at the time of the rising tide of Nazism and the carting off of Jews to the concentration camps and gas chambers.

After the parade of politicians stepping forward to voice their condemnation of the crime, to demand the harshest penalties for the offenders and to deplore the continued existence of anti-Semitism in France, the French newspapers outdid one another in their commentaries and analyses. Editorial writers are always keen to be the first to hit upon that essential element that they believe has eluded everyone else. In this case we have one analyst who locates the crux of the issue in the passivity of the 20 passengers and another who expounds on this theme, condemning the 20 for failing to take action and not even attempting to call the police. It never occurred to these writers that those 20 mute accomplices did not speak out in their own defence because they existed only in European history, which had been summoned to have its conscience purged at the expense of hypothetical Arabs.

The Communist Party staged a demonstration on Wednesday and all organisations working against racism, including the League of French Muslims, denounced the atrocious crime, and atrocious it was as it was described. Sympathisers with the Arabs and their causes, and activists against racism directed against the Arabs and Muslims, took the occasion to affirm their opposition to all forms of racism, including anti- Semitism. And so they should. If a Jew is attacked because he is a Jew we should take a clear and unequivocal stance, without a hint of stuttering or the slightest reservation. The opposition to racism can brook no “buts”. However, the problem is that the assault on “the train of hatred”, as Le Figaro called it, was different. It never occurred.

What happens now that all those statements are echoing out there in the social, cultural and political space? Senior politicians have taken positions that were not even founded upon the woman's claims or prefaced by, “If what she said is true”. But now they can't just retract their positions, which would have been proper if the crime had in fact occurred. Moreover, just as the woman did not apologise to Arabs and Muslims in general for her offence, the politicians cannot abandon a campaign that is morally sound, even if it was triggered by a lie. So what choice do they have? They now face that unpleasant task of having to justify not making any retractions. So that no one, God forfend, takes the fact that the woman lied to mean that anti-Semitism in France is also a lie, the task involves creating a climate that implies that anti-Semitism is an ever-lurking danger. Thus, they maintain that what they said still stands, regardless of the fact that the woman lied which, they say, is a separate issue for which she should be punished. Some have gone further and suggested that even if she did lie, a crime such as she described could have taken place.

There are undoubtedly remnants of anti-Semitism in Europe. However, the prevailing form of racism in France and elsewhere in Europe is directed against Arabs and Muslims. The fact is, therefore, the woman's lie is not a separate issue. Not when a young mother, or any other young man or woman, can provoke such paroxysms of anger and anxiety in a country— indeed, several countries — if she chooses her subject right. Not given the media, sensationalism and the mysterious way things become news. If the woman had reported that she had been attacked, without mentioning Muslims, Arabs and Jews, her story would not have sent such tremors through a society that was shaken not so much by the brutality of the alleged attack, but by who did it and why.

When we take into account that the woman was not Jewish and that she had no political or celebrity- seeking motives for lying, but that her reasons were purely personal, we begin to realise the full magnitude of the plight of Arabs and Muslims in the West. These minorities are now no more than obvious props in the fiction a depressed consumer created to vent her anger. Marie had purchased a car from a friend of her boyfriend but could not afford her monthly instalment, so she invented a tale of assault and theft, rather than having others think of her as irresponsible. But a mere theft was not good enough, because such things happen every day. She therefore felt that she had to be more convincing, and the “most believable” lie she could think of was that because she “looked Jewish” she was attacked by Arabs who thought she was Jewish.

What a fertile imagination! The tragedy is that the racist twist was purely an embellishment; what mattered to her was her car. She had not deliberately set out to incite hatred against a people whose barbarity she took for granted, just as she automatically presumed that Jews would be the natural victims of that barbarity. She also instinctively knew how broadly her assumptions were shared and how easily, therefore, people would believe her story. Perhaps, too, she assumed that this all was so much in the natural order of things that no one would give it a second thought. That's how successful the brainwashing against Arabs and Muslims in Europe has become. In all events, it just so happened that Marie's invented attack took place on the same day that an official report was released, stating that incidents of violence against Jews in France were higher in the first half of this year than in the same period last year.

Amidst the rush to condemn the alleged assault a prominent Zionist activist in France was far from comforted by the scope and fervour of the campaign against anti-Semitism and the “train of hatred”.

“I fear that after this assault, non-Jews will once again blame us for their problems because they are attacked on the assumption that they are Jews.”

The Arabs in Europe are really dangling and twisting in the wind. How are they to deal with these layers upon layers of racial attitudes and politics?

As for Sharon's appeal to French Jews to immigrate to Israel, this was the only official statement that had nothing to do with the non-existent assault, the lie and the apology. Such things are immaterial matters to Sharon. Sharon belongs to that generation of founding Zionist ideologues in Israel who want Jews of the diaspora to feel guilty for not having emigrated to Israel. This generation regards anti- Semitism not as a danger but as a natural given, and it regards the prosperity and well-being of Jews elsewhere in the world as a danger to Israel and Zionism. What is surprising about Sharon's appeal, then, is that it actually came as a surprise.

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