Muzzling Critics of Islamism: France in the 21st Century
The latest case against Georges Bensoussan, an expert on European cultural history, tries to stifle the discussion about Islamic anti-Semitism
The Collective against Islamophobia in France (CCIF) was set up in November 2003 by Samy Debah, a former preacher of Tablighi Jaamat, the global Sunni Islamic revivalist movement, after the French parliament banned the hijab in schools.
The association claims to be non-denominational and dedicated to combating “all actions or words directed at an individual linked in a real or supposed manner to Islam.”
Although it denies being associated with any political, religious or ideological groups, spokesman Marwan Muhammad has shared platforms with radical Islamists such as Imam Hassen Bounamcha and Salafist preachers Nader Abou Anas and Rachid Abou Houdeyfa.
Campaigning under the slogan “Islamophobia is not an opinion, it’s a crime,” the group’s principal mission is to file criminal lawsuits against “Islamophobes” and they regularly sue journalists who write on the subject of political Islam.
They secured a conviction against secular website Riposte Laïque and recently filed a complaint against Laurence Rossignol, minister for the family, children and women’s rights for criticizing Muslim women who wear the burka.
In October 2015, Ivan Rioufol, senior journalist at the Figaronewspaper, was acquitted by the Paris Criminal Court in a defamation case brought by the CCIF.
The acquittal was not necessarily a defeat since their strategy is to muzzle critics of political Islam using the threat of lengthy and costly lawsuits.
In 2016, the CCIF filed a complaint for incitement to racial hatred against Georges Bensoussan, an expert on 19th and 20th century European cultural history.
Bensoussan was a high-value target for the CCIF due to a book he edited in 2002 called The Lost Territories of the French Republic, a collection of essays that documented the wave of violence, Islamism and anti-Semitism sweeping through schools in the suburbs of French cities.
The book was attacked as racist by the French left-wing intelligentsia, who would later become the fellow travelers of lobby groups such as the CCIF. Bensoussan described the reaction to the book as intellectual totalitarianism.
In a 2015 interview on Radio France, Bensoussan made two statements that provided the CCIF with the ammunition they needed to take him to court. During the interview, Bensoussan referred to a TV documentary by Algerian sociologist Smaïn Laacher whom he paraphrased as saying that “in Arab families in France… anti-Semitism is breast-fed to children.”
Laacher denied having uttered the words “breast-fed,” a term which Bensoussan was using as a metaphor to indicate that anti-Semitism was an attitude transmitted to children by their parents.
In that sense, Bensoussan’s summary of Laacher’s viewpoint was true in a figurative, though not in a literal sense.
Here is the exact quotation by Saacher that Bensoussan was referring to:
This anti-Semitism is already present in the household… and almost naturally deposited on the tongue… one of the insults that parents use against their children when they want to chastise them is to call them Jews… All Arab families know that. It is a monumental hypocrisy not to see that this anti-Semitism is primarily domestic…
The second statement made by Bensoussan linked anti-Semitism to the growth of Islamic radicalism:
Today we are in the presence of a population within the French nation who are causing a number of core democratic values to be rolled back… There will be no integration so long as we do not rid ourselves of this deep-rooted anti-Semitism that is shrouded in silence.
The CCIF immediately seized this opportunity to attack Bensoussan, describing his statements as Islamophobic. They encouraged their supporters to complain to the CSA, the French media watchdog, and on December 15, 2016, the CSA issued a warning to Radio France describing Bensoussan’s statements as “likely to encourage discriminatory behavior.”
The CCIF also filed a criminal complaint for hate speech against Bensoussan who will stand trial on the charges on January 25, 2017.
Whatever the outcome of this trial, it will not change the fact that France is now a fractured nation, as Bensoussan has described:
A section of the French population, born in France to parents themselves born in France, feel that they do not belong here. While many are second-generation French, some teenagers in junior-high school and high school, as well as some adults, have no hesitation in asserting that France is not their country and add that their country is Algeria, or Tunisia and so on…
People seek to hide, minimize or deny this fact. In the long history of French immigration, this failure of a third generation is unprecedented. Some historians of immigration rightly observe that there have always been problems of integration, even for immigrants from Europe.
But for the first time in our history we are seeing a process of de-integration, even de-assimilation. That is why it is not just the Republic that is being called into question, but the French nation itself.
If Bensoussan is convicted of hate-speech on January 25, it will be a case of France shooting the messenger bearing the news of its self-destruction.