The streets in Paris were full of support for the victims of terror in January 2015. An estimated 1.6 million came out along with leaders of over 40 countries to memorialize the 17 victims, with signs that included “I am Charlie”, “I am the police” and “I am Jewish” to show solidarity with the murdered people.
The unity march was highly unusual compared to the reaction to terrorism that has plagued Europe for the past decade. There were no million person-marches or signs of support when:
- A Muslim man killed four people in Brussels May 24, 2014 at the Jewish Museum.
- Two Muslim men hacked British officer Lee Rigby to death in London May 22, 2013.
- Islamic radicals shot and killed a rabbi and three children at point blank range, as well as three French soldiers in Toulouse March 19, 2012.
- Two bombs targeted Christmas shoppers in Stockholm December 11, 2010 in response to the drawing of the Islamic prophet Mohammed.
- Twenty Muslim men tortured and killed a man for being Jewish in France March 2006.
- Four bombings killed 52 and injured 700 in London July 7, 2005.
- Theo Van Gogh was killed for his movie about Islam in Amsterdam November 2, 2004.
- Ten bombs killed 191 and injured 1800 in Madrid March 11, 2004.
The past victims included people killed for their use of free speech. They also included law enforcement officers and Jews. More people were killed at some of the attacks than were killed in the Charlie Hebdo and kosher supermarket attacks. So why was there the unique outpouring of support in Europe in 2015? Why didn’t anyone wear a pin “JeSuisMiriam” for the 8-year old girl that was shot in the head in France in 2012?
Looking at the recent protests in many European cities could lead one to conclude that the momentum of anti-immigrant groups and political parties have gained strength and popularity. The rise may stem from the number of terrorist attacks in Europe as well as the number of Islamic immigrants which has ballooned to 20 million in Europe due to the “Arab Spring” producing asylum seekers from throughout the Middle East/ North Africa region.
But why would world leaders show up now?
There was perhaps another factor at play which has to do with a more fundamental human characteristic: selfishness.
People and nations react when they feel that their interests are being attacked. While they may sympathize with murdered victims everywhere, they take action when they feel that the terrorism strikes a selfish or personal nerve.
Witness the killings and abduction in Nigeria by the radical Islamist group Boko Haram. While there were murderous groups all over the world, including nearby in Sudan, there were barely any popular protests. However, when the US first lady Michelle Obama witnessed the abduction of over 200 black girls, she saw victims that looked like her own daughters and launched a “BringBack Our Girls” campaign which went viral. I do not doubt her sincerity or concern for other victims of terror including the 1400 girls who were raped by Muslim men for over 13 years in England. But it took a terrorist action that struck “close to home” against victims that resembled her own family for her to take action.
When three teenage boys were abducted in Israel a month after the Boko Haram abductions, Jews around the world and Israelis started their own hashtag campaign of #BringBackOurBoys and #EyalGiladNaftali. Israelis were obviously concerned about the Nigerian girls kidnapped by Boko Haram too – indeed Israel was one of only four countries that actually sent support to find the missing girls. But world Jewry acted much more actively when it was three teenaged Jewish boys that were abducted.
In Iraq, the Islamic State/ ISIS was busy wiping out entire cities, killing thousands of Christians, Yazidis and fellow Muslims. However, it took a video of the beheading of American journalists to get America to take action against the Jihadist group. Stated differently, while Americans may have been appalled at knowing that thousands of innocents were being slaughtered in Iraq, the atrocities were viewed as distant. It took the attack on a single man to bring the conflict close-to-home, and therefore worthy of a response.
And so it was with the various attacks in Europe. While the French were likely sad about the killings of Jews over the past decade, they viewed it as a Jewish problem. The majority of French could consider those attacks as targeted against a small community that was not their problem or a threat to themselves. Jews make up 0.2% of the world’s population and 0.8% of France’s population. The French may have felt pity for 8-year old Jewish girl Miriam, but they were not Miriam; no “JeSuisMiriam” placards.
Similarly, the Europeans were likely incensed over the decade-long attacks on policemen and servicemen too. But most Europeans were not in the military. They were angry, but they were not the military. Their military was fighting wars far away.
The large scale attacks in London and Madrid were similar to the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. Each nation was harmed as an entity, not just the immediate victims.
Yet the French did not march in Spain; the Germans did not march in England; and the Dutch did not march in the USA.
Lastly, free speech had been attacked before. The murder of Theo van Gogh, bombings in Stockholm (which didn’t murder anyone) and protests against the Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, in 2005 all stemmed from Muslims protesting the press’s postings of images of their prophet Mohammed. But the limited scale of those attacks compared to the Charlie Hebdo strike awakened a different sensibility in millions of Parisians and leaders of the western world that prize freedom of the press and speech. (Other countries that do not have freedom of speech and press attended the march as well, including Turkey and Saudi Arabia, to place a fig leaf over their extremist Muslim ideology, lack of freedoms and desire to ingratiate themselves with the western world). The attack on free speech spoke to the people and leaders, as a personal attack on their way of life.
When terrorism became personal, people and countries responded with actions. When terrorism seemed remote and someone else’s problem, there was inaction.
Thanks for the Inclusion
So nations, people, papers and celebrities wore the “JeSuisCharlie” to stand by the victims, and to protest the assault on their own basic freedoms. Some people extended a courtesy to the other victims of the attacks, even though they did not represent a personal attack, wearing “JeSuisPolice” and “JeSuisJuif” alongside their primary banner.
The Jews of France were happy to be included in the memorial of the anti-Semitic attack and appreciated the condemnation of the French government against the attack on their community. But the Jews of France also recall the lack of outrage at the various murders in the recent past of Jews being killed for being Jews.
In France and most of the world, Jews do not get starring roles in the rage on behalf of victims. However, the world will consider Jewish loss once they have expressed outrage for an attack on themselves. Like the five people in the background who stand behind the principal star who receives a trophy at an awards show, Jews were happy to be recognized, even if no one really saw them.
The recognition is a step forward and better than the long history of being ignored. But everyone knows that such acknowledgement is similar to non-Jews wishing Jews “Happy Chanuka” because it comes at the same time as Christmas. Chanuka is a minor holiday compared to Shavuot and Sukkot which are unknown to non-Jews. When was the last time any non-Jew wished someone a “Happy Purim”? It doesn’t happen because it is not connected to something that they care about personally, like Christmas.
Today’s war on terrorism will continue to be waged when nations see their interests being threatened. The outpouring of emotion will also be rooted in selfish preservation.
While it may have been called a “unity march”, the Jews of Europe have already been educated about their place in society.
Paris march: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-30765824
Stockholm bombing: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2010_Stockholm_bombings
Copenhagen plot: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/December_2010_Copenhagen_terror_plot
Torture of French Jew: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/05/international/europe/05france.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
Killing of Theo van Gogh: http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2004/11/gogh-n10.html
Lee Rigby: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-26357007
Je Suis Juif: http://edition.cnn.com/2015/01/13/world/french-jews/
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