In October of last year, a concerted online agitation by Islamic radicals focused on a suburban schoolteacher named Samuel Paty, who had the temerity to discuss cartoons of Mohammad in the context of a lesson on free speech. The result—Paty’s murder and beheading by the son of Chechen refugees—shocked France deeply. Playing a key role in encouraging antipathy toward Paty, writes Marc Weitzmann, was Abdelhakim Sefrioui. (Free registration required.)
Sefrioui, sixty-one, is an Islamist militant from Morocco who has been in France since the late 1980s and has been well known for his fiery anti-Semitic speeches. In the 2000s he founded a group called the Sheikh Yassin Collective, named for a founder of Hamas.
Several pictures taken in the early 2000s show Sefrioui with the French comedian Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala. Last year, Dieudonné was banned from Facebook, YouTube, and TikTok for anti-Semitic posts, including mockery of Holocaust victims; he has been convicted in France of hate speech. In the early 2000s Dieudonné was instrumental in spreading a certain anti-Semitic, pro-Islamist populism, especially among young followers of his in the working-class [and predominantly Muslim slums known as] banlieues.
For a complex mix of reasons—including the collapse of the Middle East peace process, Islamist propaganda that attributes the Iraq war to a Jewish lobby in Washington, and Dieudonné’s popularity—anti-Semitism has been the leading motivation of these tensions for the past twenty years. . . . “It is because of the Jews,” Chérif Kouachi, one of the Charlie Hebdo gunmen, said after the attacks. At the Hyper Cacher [grocery store massacre that followed], according to survivors, [the perpetrator] said to his hostages, “You are two of the things I hate most: French and Jewish.”
Indeed, writes Weitzmann in his investigation of the growth of Islamist violence in France, anti-Semitism has worked as a sort of gateway drug to Islamism; and the violence of the past five years—from the Charlie Hebdo in 2015 attack to the slaying of a priest last summer—was presaged by many years of brutal attacks on Jews:
It was between 2001 and 2015 that Islamist violence in France germinated. . . . Random acts of brutality included the killing in 2003 of twenty-three-year-old Sébastien Selam by his childhood friend Adel Amastaibou (Amastaibou plunged a knife in Selam’s eye before yelling in the streets, “I killed a Jew!”), or the torture and killing in 2006 of Ilan Halimi, also twenty-three, by a gang, which ultimately involved the complicity of dozens of people. Neither of these murders was committed by Islamists. What they expressed, however, was a blind rage that an Islamist ideology would later be able to shape. By the end of 2014, after fifteen years of rising tension that had included the 2012 killings of Jewish children and French soldiers in Toulouse by Mohamed Merah, the number of anti-Semitic incidents had reached 800 a year, or more than two per day.