Friday, 1 August 2008

Echoes in the beating of Rudy Haddad

Hate, Op-Ed by Nidra Poller in the WSJ (via JTA)

"The brutal mob beating of a Jewish teenager in full view of witnesses at the end of a summer afternoon marks an ominous development in the hate crimes that have plagued France since the fall of 2000. Previously, Paris's worst anti-Semitic crimes were committed behind closed doors: In 2003, Sébastien Selam was murdered and mutilated by a Muslim neighbor in the underground parking lot of their building. In 2005, Ilan Halimi was tortured to death by Youssouf Fofana and his "Gang of Barbarians" in a housing project in the banlieue.

As if to camouflage the horror of a brazen aggression, French media framed 17-year-old Rudy Haddad's beating in an incongruous narrative of turf battles between Jewish gangs and African and Maghrebi gangs. Confused accounts of the June 21 fights that ended with the attack against Rudy -- portrayed as a tough guy with a police record -- curiously recall the "cycle of violence" treatment of the Arab-Israeli conflict, where Palestinian terror attacks and Israeli efforts to prevent them are judged as morally equivalent. In Rudy's case, officials and reporters contravened the customary self-imposed gag rule and immediately pinned an ethno-religious label on the "youths" who, according to witnesses, bashed Rudy's skull, broke his ribs, jumped up and down on his inert body with all their might shouting "dirty Jew," and left him in a coma. But every account ended with a line about "intercommunitarian strife" that placed half the blame on the victim. The exact nature of these Jewish gangs was left in the dark; no one would imagine they were stealing motor scooters, beating up Muslims and taunting imams. (...)

A quick look at the neighborhood demographics puts a serious crimp into the "Jewish gang" story. The 19th district, where Paris's largest Jewish population is nonetheless heavily outnumbered by Muslims, has the city's highest rate of reported anti-Semitic incidents -- many more are believed to go unreported because of fear of reprisals -- and worst overall crime rate. An Islamist cell, the "19th Arrondissement Iraq Connection," was spawned on the fringes of the neighborhood's infamous extremist mosque; its members used to work out in the Buttes Chaumont park. The cell's members were recently sentenced to long prison terms for recruiting jihadis to fight in Iraq.

Jewish teenagers I met in the neighborhood said they are constantly harassed by Muslim bullies, particularly on the Sabbath. This fits the pattern of a wave of violence against Jews that began in the fall of 2000 and persists, with ups and downs, to this day. Synagogue burning is now out, but deep-seated hatred of Jews remains endemic in large sectors of the Muslim community. Many families send their children to Jewish day school to avoid harassment. Yahoud (Arabic for Jew), Juif and the slang word feuj are commonplace insults. Many Sephardic Jews -- like Rudy Haddad's grandparents -- had to flee their native North African countries. Then they fled the banlieue when Muslims made life there unbearable. Many are emigrating to Israel, Canada or the U.S. (...)

In France, where racial, religious, national or ethnic breakdown of population statistics is forbidden, and where applying such labels to criminals is taboo, the term "youth" is used to hide the identity of thugs, even when their identity is visible in TV footage. The taboo was exceptionally lifted in Rudy's case to sustain the narrative of intercommunitarian strife. The fortuitous discovery -- or invention -- of Jewish gangs imposed a corresponding African and Maghrebi label.

Since tough laws and improved police work have not put a stop to the harassment of Jews, some young Jewish men are trying to defend themselves. Much was made of Rudy's "police record." In fact, his "record" consisted of an attempt to defend a friend who'd been knocked to the ground by a group of Muslims who came to break up a Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony in honor of kidnapped Israeli soldiers. Rudy fought them off with his motorcycle helmet, which became in legal terms an "arm by destination."

No one denies the possible existence of Jewish delinquents, but it is dishonest to put a "West Side Story" twist onto the 19th-arrondissement strife, as if Jews were muscling into Muslim territory, harassing peaceful citizens, chasing them out of schools, breaking the windows of halal butcher shops, dealing drugs, and attacking police. There is a qualitative difference between Muslims seething with Jew hatred who gang up to stomp, bash and slash Jews, and young Jewish men trying to defend themselves.

The Rudy Haddad story leaped back onto the front pages on July 10 with the arrest of seven "youths" who turned out to be in their mid- to late 20s. Two have been arraigned and jailed: an African, identified as Sekou M., and a North African, Foued O. The latter, who is a career air force corporal, is accused of bashing Rudy's head with a crutch. Another African, Boubacar C., suspected of involvement in the machete attack, has been charged and released while awaiting trial. The implication of husky, mature men in the attacks that raged that day and culminated in the savage beating of a Jewish teen further undermines the narrative of mere squabbles among youngsters."

Brutal attack on French youth reignites anger in Jewish community, by Devorah Lauter, JTA
Mother of French beating victim: 'They wanted to kill my son', by Devorah Lauter, JTA
Paris' 19th Arrondissement: 'Gang Wars' or Anti-Semitic Attacks?, by John Rosenthal, WPR
Not-So-Young 'Youth': French Airman Implicated in Anti-Semitic Attack, by John Rosenthal, WPR
The Murder of Ilan Halimi, by Nidra Poller, WSJ

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