Wednesday 25 January 2017 will go down as a
sad day in the annals of the French Republic. It was the day when
France’s freedom of thought and expression went on trial: one of
France’s leading historians, Georges Bensoussan, 64, was hauled up
before a criminal court accused of ‘incitement to hatred.’ Lyn Julius explains in The Times of Israel:
Georges Bensoussan, target of ‘intellectual terrorism’
against him was the Collective Against Islamophobia in France, together
with various other ‘anti-racism’ groups. The hearing went on for a
gruelling 12 hours. At the end, a weary Bensoussan announced: ‘for the
first time in my life I am having thoughts of leaving the country.’
The drama had begun 18 months earlier. During a TV discussion broadcast on 10 October 2015, Repliques,Bensoussan
commented that France could not hope to integrate its Maghrebi
immigrants unless it recognised that these immigrants imbibe
antisemitism ‘with their mother’s milk’.
Georges Bensoussan, the son of Moroccan Jews,
is one of France’s leading historians and editorial director at the
Holocaust Memorial in Paris. The author of an 800-page volume on the
uprooting of Jews from Arab countries, Juifs en pays Arabes: le grand deracinement 1850-1975,
he claims that he was merely paraphrasing the words of a ‘brave’
Algerian sociologist, Smain Laachar. “Everyone knows it but nobody will
say it,” Laachar had declared of Arab/Muslim antisemitism.
Laachar has since denied having said or
written this ‘ignominy’. He said it was outrageous for Bensoussan to
have claimed that antisemitism was transmitted by blood. To accusations
that he is ‘essentialising’ against all Arabs,Bensoussan has countered that Arab antisemitism was not transmitted biologically but culturally:
Every Arab family knows it. It
would be monumental hypocrisy not to see that such antisemitism begins
at home… People are being selectively indignant. In France today, a
section of young French youth of Maghrebi extraction is having trouble
integrating and the old prejudices in North African Muslim culture are
being revived — conspiracy theories centered around the Jew, aggravated
by the fact that the Jewish community has been successful in France.
Bensoussan has charged his critics with
‘intellectual terrorism’. So-called human rights and anti-racist groups
had been co-opted in the Islamist struggle to intimidate those who swim
against the tide of political correctness. It was notable that the
journalist Mohamed Sifaoui, who had, in the past, inveighed against
Islamism had, on this occasion, turned devil’s advocate. He reproached
Bensoussan of ignoring the positive aspects of Arab-Jewish interaction.
Instead of building bridges, the historian was tearing them down.
But Bensoussan has his prominent supporters. Alain Finkielkraut, presenter of Repliques, was a witness. Written testimony from Boualem Sansal, the outspoken Algerian author of An unfinished business, was read out.
Some have likened the Bensoussan trial to that
of Galileo, whose discovery that the earth revolves round the sun put
him on a collision course with established orthodoxy. It is a
carbon-copy of the barely-reported case brought against the philosopher
Pascal Bruckner in 2015. Bruckner had called for a file to be opened on
certain groups he claimed were collaborators with Islamist terrorism. He
Even if Bensoussan wins the case — the verdict
will be announced in March — anyone who states politically-unpalatable
fact clearly runs the risk of falling foul of the ‘thought police’.
Freedom of expression all too easily can become ‘hate speech’ in France
today. The Bensoussan case is another attempt to shut down debate. It’s not the first. And it probably won’t be the last.