Last Sunday, a month after two young Muslim men murdered Holocaust survivor Mireille Knoll in the heart of Paris, about 300 French politicians, artists, and academics published an open letter decrying anti-Semitism. They included a challenge to Muslims:
The manifesto calls for verses of the Quran calling for the “murder and punishment of Jews, Christians and disbelievers” to be removed on the grounds that they are “obsolete.” … The letter said that since 2006, “11 Jews [in France] have been assassinated — and some tortured — by radical Islamists because they were Jewish.”
An expurgated Qur’an is necessary, the authors added,
“… so that no believer can rely on a sacred text to commit a crime.”
Among the signatories are ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy and former prime minister Manuel Valls; the actor Gérard Depardieu; the singers Françoise Hardy and Charles Aznavour; and the philosophers Alain Finkielkraut and Pascal Bruckner. Bruckner stressed that the letter isn’t intended
“… to stigmatize but to spur on the goodwill of reformist Muslims.”
Mireille Knoll’s murder galvanized France in part because it came less than a year after the killing of Sarah Halimi, a 65-year-old Jewish woman who was flung from a third-floor window by an Allahu-akbar-yelling assailant. The 2015 siege of a kosher supermarket by the Kouachi brothers, who murdered four Jewish victims in cold blood two days after carrying out the Charlie Hebdo massacre, also left scars on the French psyche.
The Times of Israel notes that
Jews are the target of about a third of France’s recorded hate crimes despite making up only about 0.7 percent of the population.
So how did Muslim groups in France respond to the request to drop anti-Jewish language from the Qur’an? They’re somewhere between taken aback and angry, complaining that their religion is being unfairly “put on trial.” Islamic spokespeople claimed that those who see anti-Semitism in the Qur’an haven’t read the book with sufficient knowledge and perspective.
Other Muslims allowed that their holy tome maybe isn’t as peaceful as they make it out to be, but simply pointed back at Judaism and Christianity in response.
Tareq Oubrou, imam of the Grand Mosque of the southern city of the Bordeaux, [protested] that Islam was not the only religion whose ancient holy texts contain anachronistic passages. “Any number of holy texts are violent, even the Gospel,” Oubrou said.
He’s not wrong, except in the sense that pulling a tu quoque isn’t the most winning way to answer critics.
For my money, the controversial open letter is an appeal that’s overdue — but unfortunately, it’s taken the form of a bit of a cheap trick.
Ethnic and religious hate crimes must be opposed and condemned by all people of good will, and on that score, I can’t fault the motive of the people behind the manifesto. Then again, most Western Muslims don’t exactly advocate or condone the murder of elderly Jewish ladies either.
As for deleting passages from the Qur’an, that can only happen on an individual level, with one Muslim after another choosing to disregard now-disreputable verses (akin to how Thomas Jefferson redacted his Bible). Unlike Catholicism, Islam has no central authority, so creating a revision of the Qur’an that’s accepted and respected among 1.8 billion Muslims is an impossible task. Changing the book means admitting that it’s neither divine nor perfect. That, in and of itself, would be sacrilegious to most Muslims, reducing the chance of success to zero.
In all likelihood, the open-letter writers are well aware of this, and some may be counting on the predictable no-can-do response to accuse Muslims of inaction or intransigence.
The best France can realistically hope for is not a censored Qur’an, but a broad, growing commitment from French Muslims that they’ll ignore and condemn the calls to violence it contains.
(Image via Shutterstock)