The influx of more than 350,000 Middle Eastern refugees arriving into Europe this year has supplanted the sensational Paris murders at Charlie Hebdo magazine and the Hyper Cacher market in January for heart-wrenching drama.
But on Sept. 16, the same day as the French parliament debated the government’s decision to accept 24,000 refugees, the French official assigned to fight ideologically motivated hate landed in Washington for a week of meetings with Americans involved in interfaith work and community organizing.
Gilles Clavreul, the interministerial delegate against anti-Semitism and racism, made stops in New York, Chicago and St. Louis, where he had meetings about the response to the 2014 shooting and riots in Ferguson, Mo. He brought with him a 40-point action plan to mobilize against anti-Semitism and racism that the French government introduced in December — even before the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris by Islamist radicals. His visit was hosted by the American Jewish Committee.
In an interview, Clavreul, 42, once an advisor to French President François Hollande on law enforcement and civil security, spoke about his government’s approach to fighting hate, even as the country contends with the refugee crisis.
He said that French anti-Semitism is experiencing a “convergence of radicalisms” — including traditional right-wing anti-Semitism, plus anti-Semitism on the left and from the Muslim community.
“It makes it much more difficult” to fight, he said. “We have a much more complex picture.”
The situation is exemplified by the “Dieudosphere,” the social media platform of comic Dieudonne M’bala M’bala, who popularized the quenelle salute, which has been interpreted as an inverted Nazi salute and an act of anti-Semitism.
The Dieudonne phenomenon is a mixture of the Internet, humor, the far-left and far-right, according to Clavreul.
In Germany, by contrast, “anti-Semitism is still very traditional. It’s very stereotypical. [German authorities] know a lot about the enemy they’re fighting against.”
Radical Islam in France is changing, too, he said. A full 30 percent of French citizens who join the Islamic State in Syria are converts to Islam, rather than those who were born Muslim.
The 40-point action plan covers four areas: mobilizing France against racism and anti-Semitism; punishing racist and anti-Semitic acts, and defending victims; protecting Internet users from the propagation of hatred; and educating citizens through school and culture, and passing on values.
The first step was improving security. Soldiers and police now protect Jewish institutions. A thousand mosques now receive protection as well.
Clavreul said he aims to negotiate with Internet platforms to curtail hate speech online.
“We’ve also been very careful not to let anti-Islam movements and ideologies take form in France,” he said. It’s unclear whether the influx of refugees from Muslim countries will lead to a rise in attacks. “As of now, the debate [over the situation] remains more or less dignified.”