The murders at the Jewish museum in Brussels nearly two weeks ago have heightened concerns about Jewish safety in Europe, as we noted earlier this week. Here are two interesting perspectives on that issue. One involves Islamophobia as a potential factor in the murders, the other is about the Jewish experience in Italy during the Holocaust.
First, at War in Context, Paul Woodward disputes the idea (which I put forward in my piece three days ago) that the alleged Brussels killer was radicalized in Syria; he was radicalized in Europe, and Islamophobia likely played its part, Woodward says.
[B]uried in the Jerusalem Post report is a detail that should have garnered more attention: [alleged killer Mehdi] Nemmouche’s own attorney’s explanation about the radicalization of his client.
Salifa Badaoui said that Nemmouche “was not frequenting the mosque [and] was not talking about religion at all….He became radical only in jail, after falling into minor criminality during his adolescence.” Nemmouche served time in prison in 2009 and 2012.
In other words, if we are to understand the process of radicalization that may have led to the murders in Brussels, we should be giving as much if not more attention to Nemmouche’s experiences in France rather than those in Syria.
Last year, Reuters reported:
“In France, the path to radical Islam often begins with a minor offence that throws a young man into an overcrowded, violent jail and produces a hardened convert ready for jihad.
“With the country on heightened security alert since January when French troops began fighting al Qaeda-linked Islamists in Mali, authorities are increasingly worried about home-grown militants emerging from France’s own jails….”
As petty criminals become radicalized in jail, the society to which they return is inclined to reinforce their experience of alienation and solidify their ideological conclusions.
In 2012, France 24 reported:
“French Muslims have become the target of a marked increase in Islamophobic violence and actions, as well as incendiary statements by politicians, over the last two years, according to a report by a leading anti-racism observatory.
“The number of racist acts against Muslims in France is increasing ‘alarmingly’, according to the country’s National Observatory of Islamophobia, whose president has called for overt Islamophobia to be taken as seriously as anti-Semitism, which is a criminal offence in France.”
The huge success of Le Pen’s National Front in this May’s elections suggests that European leaders have less reason to highlight the threat posed by jihadists returning from Syria than they should fear the huge wave of xenophobia now sweeping the continent.
Now let me turn to a very different piece, which is directly about Jewish safety in Europe. At Communities Digital News, Allan Brownfeld writes about the protection of Italian Jews during the Holocaust, and describes the ways in which Jews found a home in Italy.
The Italian Jews were among the most assimilated in the world, benefiting from the absence of legal and social disadvantages that existed elsewhere. They were engaged in politics, served at high rates in the military and found success in every skilled profession. Cecil Roth, author of “History of the Jews of Italy,” writes that, “After 1870, there was no land in either hemisphere where conditions were or could be better. It was not only that disabilities were removed, as happened elsewhere during these momentous years, but that the Jews were accepted freely, naturally and spontaneously as members of the Italian people, on a perfect footing of equality with their neighbors.”
By 1902, out of 350 senators, there were six Jews. By 1920, there were nineteen Jewish senators. And in 1910, Luigi Luzzatti, a Venetian Jew, became prime minister. There were fifty Jewish generals in the Italian army in World War I. Jews were active across the political spectrum. Until 1938, many Jews were prominent in Mussolini’s Fascist Party, as well as in anti-Fascist groups. As World War II proceeded, Italy’s German allies were perturbed because Italians not only protected Jews on their territory, but when they occupied parts of France, Greece, the Balkans and elsewhere, they protected the local Jewish population….
Even when Mussolini embarked upon his campaign against Italian Jews, the “final solution” embraced by Hitler was not on his agenda. Historian Meir Michaelis wrote in “Mussolini and the Jews,” that although Mussolini “was too much of an Italian to approve of ‘the final solution’…he and his henchmen helped to create the conditions in which the Holocaust became possible.” His record can be contrasted favorably with that of Hitler or Marshal Petain in France, but that is a low standard indeed.
An important book, “It Happened In Italy” [by Elizabeth Bettina] tells the story of how many Italians, from all walks of life, helped save Jews…
In the early 1930s, Hitler was prepared to let Jews emigrate, but other countries were unwilling to receive them. Only Italy, with Mussolini in power, permitted German and Austrian Jews to enter the country without visas. They lived peacefully until, as a result of Italy’s alliance with Germany, foreign Jews were to be interned.
Brownfeld ends hopefully.
The role of Pope Pius II and the Vatican during World War II will continue to be a subject of debate. What cannot be debated, however, are the stories told by Elizabeth Bettina in her book. While some Italians acted badly, participating in the Nazi assault upon Jews, others acted well, and bravely. It is from these that all of us can learn lessons for the future.
I asked Brownfeld just what the political/philosophical lesson is. He wrote to me.
I would say that cultures that do not draw lines between its citizens based on race or religion are the most hopeful. My son is now in Italy at our military base (he is political adviser to the U.S. Army in Italy) in Vicenza. I am a regular visitor and was there in February. I went to several of my grandchildren’s basketball games on the base. The coaches and players were black, white, Hispanic and Asian—a picture of America.
Seeking homogeneity and uniformity in any society often leads to a variety of horrors. We may have many shortcomings in our society, but our vision is the right one.
The same lesson is evident in Woodward’s argument as well.