Well, mostly: there are always exceptions.
“No-one can justify the Toulouse attacks”, said Stop The War Coalition’s Lindsey German, “but…” and, without irony, proceeded to attempt to do precisely that, with the usual litany against Western imperialism. It was, predictably, all our fault.
However, we expect that from the Stoppers. More interestingly, there were a few mainstream voices. On Tuesday while it was still entirely uncertain what had caused the attacks, a Guardian editorial gleefully jumped in:
“Currying votes from the extreme right is a two-edged sword, and Sarkozy could be about to feel its blade.”
Of course, it was all the fault of that nasty Sarkozy. And how conveniently it played to our prejudices to see that it was to see that it was right-wing fascists responsible for the horror. Except that, of course, in this case, they weren’t.
But more generally, the reaction we saw in the liberal-left press was all the more intriguing.
Where was Seumas Milne? Where were Robert Fisk and Simon Jenkins? Not a dicky bird. Metaphorical tumbleweed blew through the left-leaning media following these shocking events.
However, if you think about it, it makes sense. Because even such seasoned defenders of the indefensible would find it difficult to dream up an “it’s the West’s fault” argument for a child-killer.
And, although the body count was relatively small in comparison with, say, the London bombings, somehow there was something more stomach-wrenching about Mohamed Merah, in that he could witness, and revel in, the suffering of his victims. So the reaction of the left commentariat was a deafening silence. Anything but admit that a resurgence of anti-Semitism is a fact, and Islamism increasingly its root cause.
Mohamed Merah was a textbook Islamist extremist who had “made the trip” to Afghanistan. He was trained and nurtured as a hater and killer of Jews. He was not like Anders Brevik, a lone wolf with his own sick ideas; he acted after being radicalised. As some pointed out, this was not France’s Brevik killing, it was its 7/7.
Those few liberal-left commentators who did not keep their silence were reduced to Houdini-like contortions: for example, the Independent attempted to argue that it was indeed like the Brevik massacre, and was all the fault of the nasty racist French. In fact, Merah’s motivations were almost mundane in their predictability: hatred of the West, in the shape of France, combined with a vicious anti-Semitism. Not a 20th century European anti-Semitism, that of white Christians. No, this was taken directly from Islamism, that perversion of Islam which blights the 21st.
And there is an uncomfortable truth in all of this: that something lies deep in the psyche of the European left, which still, despite all logical evidence to the contrary, wants to see these jihadists in Iraq, the Arabian peninsula or Palestine in some degree as freedom fighters. Sticking it to the man: the man in question being the West, the Establishment, the US.
It is a dangerous fantasy, and one which ultimately puts in jeopardy everything we believe in, because those outside our narrow political club do not see things the same way. The disturbing thing is that we can’t see that this kind of coincidence, of a bunch of Jewish-related news stories since the start of the year in the national press, in a country where we’re talking about a tiny proportion of the population. It wasn’t happening ten years ago, or even five. We can’t see that anti-Semitism is back on the agenda in a big way, as I wrote in the New Statesman back in October, and the left is ignoring it. It is periodically linked with the far right, but more often with Islamism.
As Alan A points out in a very fine post at Harry’s Place, we Europeans, particularly on the left, have developed a strange blind spot towards anti-Semitism:
“…particularly but not exclusively among the “progressive” Left, there is a clear determination to ignore the legacy and present danger of anti-Semitism. So much so, that when a Jihadist murderer grabs a little 8 year old Jewish girl by her ponytail, and shoots her in the face, in front of her mother, few are prepared to acknowledge the role that conspiracism, pathological hatred, and murderous intents towards Jews, as Jews, played in that slaughter.”
We can’t see it because we don’t want to. Because, in doing so, we hold a mirror up to ourselves, and the truth is so unpleasant we keep our eyes closed. But there is a choice: we choose either to condone Islamist extremism, or to reject it. There is no in-between, much as we might like there to be.
So, there must still be those of us who don’t think anti-Semitism is a problem for us on the left. But we should also be asking ourselves: how much more evidence do we need?
Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour Party manager who blogs at The Centre Left