Critique of the (New) Communitarian Intellectuals

Critique of the (New) Communitarian Intellectuals

By Tariq Ramadan

From, 3 October 2003

The present text, published here exclusively, has been rejected by the journals Le Monde and Libération. This rejection, repeated five times in the case of Le Monde, is more than regrettable: “Muslim communitarianism” alone is attacked but there is resistance to accepting criticism of those intellectuals so dear to the media, who in articles and interviews endlessly serve us with analyses of French society and the international scene that are highly dubious and often biased. Taguieff, Adler, Finkielkraut, Glucksman, Kouchner, BHL, among others, proclaim the truth about the world, the good, the bad, “our allies” … and Israel, always, escapes their selective criticisms.

With the end of the holiday period, things are on the move. One can no longer keep count of the books dealing with anti-semitism or Zionism. For some, a new anti-semitism exists among French youth of immigrant origin (Arab and Muslim), or within the ranks of the anti-globalisation movement, who conceal it behind their critique of Zionism and the Israeli state. On the other hand, the “intolerable blackmail” of Judeophobia is denounced.

We must note a phenomenon that preceded this debate and muddies the facts. For some years (even before the second intifada), French Jewish intellectuals previously considered universalist thinkers began, in both the national and international spheres, to develop analyses increasingly oriented towards a communitarian interest that tends to relativise the defence of universal principles of equality or justice.

The works of Pierre-André Taguieff are very revealing. His pamphlet The New Judeophobia is the prototype of an “erudite” study that disdains scientific criteria. The sociologist has been transformed into a defence attorney for an endangered community whose new enemy, real or potential, is the Arab, the Muslim, whether French or otherwise. Here we do not find any perspective based on a critical analysis of state social policy, of the realities of the banlieue or even of the international scene. The conclusion is clear: the Jewish community in France is faced with a new danger represented by this new population of North African origin who, in concert with the far left, make Judeophobia commonplace and justify it with a completely distorted critique of Israel and an “absolute anti-Zionism”.

Alain Finkielkraut in particular excels in this genre: we were familiar with the thinker involved in great social debates, but now we find that the horizon has shrunk and the philosopher has become a communitarian intellectual. His last work, In the Name of the Other: Reflections on the Coming Anti-Semitism, takes the form of a crude attack on all the anti-semitic currents (anti-globalists, immigrants, media). Finkielkraut indulges in every excess without restraint in order to defend Sharon. The debate is no longer based on universal principles, and even if he claims to be linked to the common European tradition his standpoint reveals a communitarian attitude which distorts the terms of the debate, in France as much as on the subject of Palestine. His denunciation of the “cult of the Other” does not cease, contradictorily, to exacerbate the feeling of otherness of the Jew-victim, and the wall of shame becomes “a simple security fence” which Israel builds unwillingly. Jews or Zionists (those who make a distinction between the two are anti-semites) will never be victims or oppressors as others are.

Alexandre Adler has testified, along with Finkielkraut, in the surreal lawsuit brought against the journalist Daniel Mermet. It is quite astonishing. A close analysis of his writings, however, enlightens us. The reading of the world it presents to us is to be understood above all with regard to his attachment to Israel. He does not conceal this, and in the collection Zionism Explained to Our Friends he contends that it “is becoming increasingly difficult to envisage how a Jewish identity can be conceived which does not include a strong Zionist component”, and further: “A balance will be established between diaspora and Israeli citizenship, around which the new Judaism will develop.” One may recognise the confusion of genres but the lesson can be understood the moment his positions on international politics are analysed, as is the case with certain French Jewish intellectuals, notably when Adler himself recalls that the United States has strengthened its support for Israel, which has in addition established a strategic alliance with India.

The recent war on Iraq has served as a revelation. Intellectuals as different as Bernard Kouchner, André Glucksman or Bernard-Henri Lévy, who took courageous positions over Bosnia, Rwanda and Chechnya, have strangely supported the US-British intervention in Iraq. One might ask why so many of the justifications appear baseless: to eliminate a dictator (why not earlier?), for the democratisation of the country (why not Saudi Arabia?), etc. The United States has certainly acted in the name of its own interests but we know that Israel has supported the intervention and that its military advisers were engaged with the troops, as British journalists participating in the operations have shown (The Independent, 6 June 2003). We also know that the architect of this operation within the Bush administration is Paul Wolfowitz, a notorious Zionist, who has never concealed that the fall of Saddam Hussein would guarantee better security and definite economic advantages for Israel.

In his book The West Against the West, André Glucksman delivers an angry defence speech for the war which passes over Israeli interests with an eloquent silence. Bernard-Henri Lévy, the selective defender of great causes, offers very little criticism of Israel, with which he has never ceased to avow his “solidarity as a Jew and a Frenchman”. His last campaign against Pakistan seemed to emerge out of nowhere, being almost anachronistic. In taking up the abominable and inexcusable murder of Daniel Pearl, he took the opportunity to denounce Pakistan whose enemy, India, should therefore naturally become our friend … Lévy is not of course Sharon’s leading thinker but his analysis reveals a curious similarity with regard to the time of its announcement and its strategic vision: Sharon was about to make a historic visit to India to strengthen economic and military co-operation between the two countries.

Whether on the domestic plane (the fight against anti-semitism) or the international scene (defence of Zionism), we witness the emergence of a new attitude among certain intellectuals who are ominipresent on the media scene. It is legitimate to ask which principles and which interests they primarily defend? We can clearly see that their political position corresponds to communitarian logic, as Jews, as nationalists, as defenders of Israel. Universal principles have disappeared, the bias of identity is plain and skews the debate since all those who dare to denounce this attitude are treated as anti-semites. It is however on this terrain that the dialogue must take place if we are to avoid the impact of perverse communitarianisms.

If it is necessary to demand of Muslim and Arab intellectuals and activists that they condemn in the name of what is right and common universal values terrorism, violence, anti-semitism and the dictatorial Muslim states of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, then we should, no less, expect that Jewish intellectuals denounce in a clear fashion the repressive policy of the Israeli state, its alliances and other dubious methods, and that they should be in the forefront of the fight against the discrimination suffered by Muslim citizens. We recognise with respect the courage of those Jews (not necessarily anti-globalists or from the far left) who have decided to revolt against all injustices and notably against those that are the deed of Jews. With Arabs and Muslims who show the same consistency, they are the light and the hope of the future because more than ever the future needs that requirement and that courage.