At Tablet, French writer Marc Weitzmann explains what is behind the attack at the Jewish Museum in Brussels on Saturday that killed a visiting Israeli couple, a French volunteer at the museum, and a Belgian museum employee. Weitzmann is a well-known novelist, literary critic, screenwriter, and polemicist who has alienated many of his Parisian colleagues with his support for Israel, and previously the U.S.-led war in Iraq. His valuable article here lays bare the roots of Europe’s new anti-Semitism, establishing a genealogy of the massacre beginning with Dieudonné M’Bala M’bala, “the notorious anti-Semitic French comedian.”
Supporters of Dieudonné, explains Weitzmann, include a broad-range of European society. “Young adults of both sexes,” writes Weitzmann,
some coming, as expected, from immigrant working-class backgrounds, and also many white middle-class youth. There were low-ranking teachers, third-world militants, extreme right-wing fighters, regular leftists, and moderate socialists. There were militant Muslims, militant Christians, and republican souverainistes.
Most, though, had no recognizable political affiliation at all. They were freelance computer engineers, technicians, accountants, café waiters, part-time designers, would-be journalists, and what-not, who despised the indifference of the right but were even more revolted by the promises and the lies of the socialist left and by the French “elites” as a whole. It was a crowd infuriated by unemployment, or embittered by poorly paid jobs that were not to their taste. Why couldn’t they get the life they saw on their computers? Why were the best smartphones and cars and clothes out of their reach? What had happened to the France they had grown up in? Who had stolen the richness of the country in the first place?
A crowd of adults, yes, but equipped with the collective emotional brain, and the historical memory, of a betrayed little child, now magically united at the appearance of “Dieudo”—their “outlaw,” their anti-system clown on stage for his new show Le Mur. He was making them laugh together with his sympathetic references to Pétain, the chief of the collaboration with the Nazis between 1940 and 1944. He was doing his funny anti-Jewish “jokes,” like “I pissed on the wailing wall,” “the Holocaust cost us an arm.”
The French intellectual classes, as Weitzmann shows, are divided. Some have called out Dieudonné and his followers, while others “seem caught between indignation and ridicule.” Paying attention to “such ridiculous figures as Dieudonné,” writes Weitzmann, “seems at best a humiliating and very boring waste of time. Serious people want serious enemies—and French intellectuals are serious people. Unfortunately for them, though, as Chaplin demonstrated a long time ago, maturity and seriousness are not exactly what comes to mind when one watches and hears Adolf Hitler speak in public. And if the 20th century has taught us a lesson, it is that childishness and ridicule are not the opposite of danger; they can be warning signs that the danger is much greater than we are willing to admit.”