"Je suis Hamas". How the French Left came to love Islamists

As the working class shrank and its remnants began to support the right, the left desperately searched for a new electorate, and found it in the growing population of Muslim suburbs.

As usual, when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict enters a new phase in the Middle East, demonstrations in support of Palestine take to the streets of France, and each time new limits are pushed. During an exceptionally large demonstration on the Place de la République in Paris on the evening of October 19, 2023, a crowd of thousands of Muslim immigrants of the first, second and third generations (but also French activists and left-wing sympathizers) chanted "Allah Akbar!" It is not a national liberation slogan such as "Free Palestine", but a ritual call of a strictly religious nature, which is a symbol of radical Islamism. In the heart of Europe's largest capital, a crowd is chanting the same slogans as the Islamist terrorists. One may rightly feel that the Palestinian issue is only a pretext here.

To understand the complicated relationship of the French Left with the Middle East conflict, we need to go back to 1948, three years after the end of World War II, when two main leftist currents, previously quite distrustful of Zionism as a nationalist trend detached from the class struggle, supported the creation of Israel.

“France, the Left and the Jewish people have a fundamental affinity,” writes Jacques Attali, an intellectual and eminence grise of successive French presidents for over 40 years. “The French, like the Jews and the Left, share a universalist conception of values, believing that what is good for them is good for the world, and all three have brought to the world concepts of universal scope: monotheism, human rights and socialism.” The French Left by all means supported the creation and defense of the Israeli state, which was then in the vanguard of social democratic systems. Significant, for example, is the little-known fact that the Israeli nuclear bomb is practically a gift from France.

Socialists believed it was justified for European Jews who escaped wartime persecution to settle in the Jewish colonies established in British-ruled Palestine. Their sympathy was partly due to the fact that many of the leading activists of the French Left, such as André Blumel, were also active Zionists. It should be remembered that the State of Israel, ruled until 1977 by its sister Labor Party, was a kind of embodiment of the leftist utopia towards which the European Left was looking. Many French socialists, communists and Trotskyists gained their skills in kibbutzim, perceived as a kind of successful socialist experiment, a kind of collective farm with a human face, freed from the Soviet odium of the Gulag and Siberia.

As for the French communists, quite powerful from an electoral point of view until the 1980s, their attitude towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was a derivative of the line imposed by the Soviet Union. Stalin supported the creation of Israel, which he saw as weakening the British mandate in Palestine. Later, he hoped that the Jewish state would be a source of unrest in this strategic region.

The Soviets supported the Jewish state roughly until the Six-Day War in 1967, but Israel's acquisition of new territories and East Jerusalem changed the situation. The US-backed occupier of Palestine has relegated itself to the category of chain dogs of imperialism, and the Palestinians had moved into the category of freedom-fighting nations. The French Communist Party, of course, followed in the footsteps of the Soviets.

Therefore, when in the 1970s the Palestinian issue appeared more intensively in France, it was taken up by the rather extreme left, to the left of the communist party and the socialists.

Two important factors played a major role in the involvement of the far left. First, the Palestinian question, which was considered an extension of the colonial issue, emerged only five years after the Algerian war. One Arab nation that enjoyed the sympathy and support of leftists was replaced by another. Secondly, at the same time the Vietnam War broke out, which quickly grew into a symbolic eschatological conflict and obsession of the Western Left. Israel, an ally of the United States involved in Vietnam, took on some of the odium, lost its moral status as the "homeland of the survivors" (and a kind of political virginity), and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict began to appear as an element of a global puzzle.
MP Danièle Obono in the French Parliament. Photo EPA/TERESA SU
Interestingly, the heralds of the Palestinian cause on the Seine were first Middle Eastern Christians, both right-wing and left-wing.

The former implanted the Palestinian cause on the national right in the name of identity, but also to some extent playing on the note of the "second Christ" crucified by Jews in refugee camps. Gilbert Dawed, a Palestinian Christian, was one of the leaders of the Federation of Nationalist Students at the turn of the 1970s and 1980s. He is the reason why French national-revolutionary activists will continue to wear the keffiyeh for many years, shocking with this element of clothing the classic, national and bourgeois right, including those from the National Front, and introducing cognitive dissonance among the political police and political scientists.

  The latter built an interest in the Palestinian cause in extreme Left in the name of anti-colonialism and national liberation struggle. The forerunners of this line were the progressive post-conciliar Christians and their paper "Témoignage chrétien", but it was especially the strong and popular Maoists who saw it as a strategic opportunity to bypass the Communist Party from the left and reach immigrant workers of Arab origin, as well as a way to alternatively penetrate the working class, almost completely controlled at that time by the iron grip of the communist trade union CGT. Yasser Arafat himself, the founder of the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1964, made two visits to China and gave a pretext for this type of affinity in the political landscape on the Seine.

While the armed struggle as such did not seem to arouse any particular emotions, and posters with Kalashnikov-wielding fedayeen were an inherent element of left-wing propaganda, the terrorism of Palestinian organizations caused some controversy, especially during the attack on Israeli athletes at the Olympics in Munich in 1972. The Palestinians lost the sympathy of part of the French left, but another part of it pressed on. Writer Phillippe Sollers, then a Maoist activist, wrote in the literary quarterly "Tel Quel" that Palestinians have the right to resort to terrorism as victims of torture in Israeli casemates.

On October 15, 1972, Jean-Paul Sartre stated in "The Cause of the People" ("La Causa du Peuple"): "In this war, the only weapon of the Palestinians is terrorism. It is a terrible weapon, but the poor and oppressed have no other.” All in all, it is no wonder that the "suitcase carriers", i.e. left-wing intellectuals who only a decade earlier supported, sometimes actively, the terrorist methods of the Algerian FLN against their own compatriots, were able to find justification for the attacks. We will find a similar pattern two generations later, in 2023, in the form of the affirmation of Hamas and its methods.

After the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, the French Communist Party, following the Kremlin's instructions, started to more actively support the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Its leader Yasser Arafat became a cult idol of leftist youth, like Che Guevara or Fidel Castro. Israel, as an American aircraft carrier in the Middle East, was designated an enemy, a colonial state of apartheid and oppression, especially since after three decades of political domination of the Left, in 1977 the Israeli government, through democratic elections, was formed by the right-wing Likud.

Already then, a division began to appear on the Left, which today has taken an explosive form. Socialists and François Mitterrand vigorously defended Israel's right to exist and encouraged Yasser Arafat to abandon the PLO charter and recognize Israel, which would ultimately allow two states to coexist. Greens and Communists were generally closer to the Palestinians than to Israel, and the pro-Palestinian far left condemned Israel as a state of, massacres and even "extermination". The anti-Zionism of the French left has begun to approach classic anti-Semitism.

However, while supporting the Palestinian cause back then was a part of classic left-wing paradigm of supporting the "progressive" and national liberation resistance movement, today it suddenly turns out that the Left rhymes with Islamism, Hamas and "Allah Akbar" on the streets. How did this change happen?

A new stage began in the 1980s. Previously, the pro-Palestinian Left supported the progressive PLO, but it reached an agreement with Israel that led to the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in Gaza and the East Bank. The remaining Palestinian organizations, the most active in fight against Israel and expressing the "righteous anger of the oppressed", were Islamist, such as the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas. It was necessary for them to tactically close eyes to the religious aspect and promptly hide the Enlightenment principles of secularism.

When political sympathies increasingly turned into political strategies, in accordance with the materialist dialectic, quantity turned into quality and a completely new ideological template emerged, which was often called Islamo-leftism (Islamogauchisme).

The term was first used by the sociologist Pierre-André Taguieff in his 2002 book on the "new Judeophobia". The term was initially purely descriptive and referred to political convergence between fundamentalist Muslims and far-left groups, but quickly became an invective. Cursed and disavowed by leftists themselves, who compared it to the phrase "Judeo-Bolshevism" from the Nazi lexicon, it finally entered the public debate when it was used by Emmanuel Macron's ministers after the murder of Samuel Paty, a teacher who illustrated lessons on freedom of speech with caricatures of Muhammad.

What are the profound reasons for this convergence? In his novel "Submission", Michel Houellebecq defined Islamo-leftism in much funnier and more accurate way: "the desperate attempt by decaying and rotting Marxists in a state of clinical death to escape from the dustbin of history by clinging to the growing forces of Islam."

Starting in the 1980s, the Left, accustomed to intellectual and political domination, had to face the phenomenon of the disappearance of the core of its traditional electorate, i.e. the large-industrial working class. On the one hand, the number of workers decreased because of progressive deindustrialization, and on the other, it turned out that they were much more attached to identity issues than it might seem. The era of the "last stand" and internationalism is over: workers in France today vote en masse for Marine Le Pen (68% in the last presidential election).
So, the Left decided to listen to Bertolt Brecht's ironically given advice to the East German regime after the Berlin Uprising in 1953. "Wouldn't it be a simpler solution if the government dissolved the nation and chose another one?" The left, which was losing support, decided to create an electorate for itself.

This project was put into scholarly words by the think tank Terra Nova in 2011. Since the working class is betraying leftist parties in favor of "fascists", the missing voices can be found among the population of the suburbs of French cities. In this way, the think tank transformed the fate of the inevitable end of the working class into the theory of a broad coalition of minorities, consisting of Muslims, women, LGBT people and young people from suburban districts.

The phenomenon of the outflow of the working class coincided with another trend, namely the massive influx of immigrant populations, mainly of African and Middle Eastern origin, on a scale that gave birth to the Great Replacement Theory. In some regions, the massive ethnic change forced the left to undergo a great ideological change. In order to win the votes of the new electorate, it was necessary to refer to the topics that were important to them.

It must be said openly that the majority of the population of immigrant origin does not integrate with the indigenous population, also in the political aspect. It transfers its own ideological patterns and antagonisms to French territory, the most telling of which is the transplantation of the conflict from the Middle East. What is vital in the population of the French suburbs is not a sense of national community, but ethno-religious solidarity. For them, the Palestinian issue is often a kind of proxy conflict, a façade of rebellion against institutions and authorized Islamism. Even those of them who cannot point to Palestine on a map wear pins with the Palestinian flag and go to pro-Palestinian demonstrations.

Electoral reorientation resulted in a modification of the discourse and, consequently, a modification of the acceptable spectrum of views. The far left has started loving everything it used to burn and burning everything it used to love. Down with secularism, non-religiousness, freedom of speech, neutrality in public space, etc. Jean-Luc Mélenchon has come a long way from condemning the "disgusting and obscene" hijab in 2010 to affirming it and recognizing the demand for a ban on wearing ostentatious religious symbols at school as Islamophobia.

For several years now, there has been an ideological conflict between the universalist Left of the French type and its modern version, photocopying American thought patterns and introducing ethnic issues through the back door, traditionally condemned in the Republican consensus. Following the example of feminists who organize events forbidden for men in the name of equal rights, representatives of Muslims and ethnic minorities organize demonstrations and meetings forbidden for Whites in the name of anti-racism.

The closing of this political trend to people with more classic left-wing, social and protectionist demands, some of whom even joined the National Council, is accompanied by the opening to groups and trends with such exotic ideology as "decolonialists", "natives of the Republic" or simply ordinary anti-White and anti-French racists, such as the Algerian-born activist Houria Bouteldja, not to mention the most radical Islamists. Politicians such as Mélenchon's party activist Danièle Obono, who refuses to sing the national anthem, are supposed to bring the Left the long-awaited Arab-Muslim voters from the suburbs, which is even somewhat successful considering the results of the parliamentary elections in the immigrant suburbs, where Mélenchon's team collects up to 60% in the first round.

The consistently implemented strategy turned out to be almost victorious after a few years, because in the first round of the last presidential elections, Jean-Luc Mélenchon was defeated by Marine Le Pen by only 400,000 votes. He was only 9 votes per electorial commission away from success, i.e. entering the second round and fighting with Emmanuel Macron. This time the 69% of Muslim voters who voted for him was not enough, but next time, who knows?

Ultimately, the events surrounding the refusal to condemn Hamas' actions seem to have sealed the victory of Islamo-leftism and even its hostile takeover of the rule of people’s hearts and minds on the left. A handful of left-wing and far-left intellectuals and politicians, few in number but very influential in the media and the human rights movement, led to the sanctification of Islam in French political life. Eight years after the attack on Charlie Hebdo, the French left is no longer "Charlie". However, a large part of it could say "Je suis Hamas".

– Adam Gwiazda

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

-translated by Maciej Sienkiewicz
Main photo: Demonstration of support for Palestine on October 22, 2023 on Place de la Republique in Paris. Photo EPA/CHRISTOPHE PETIT TESSON Supplier: PAP/EPA
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