On Sunday, the story that was front and center on the main page of the website of Le Monde -- France's purported newspaper of record -- was a nearly perfect example of how to go about attacking critics of Islam. Headlined "Why Islamophobia is Gaining Ground," the article, written by Frédéric Joignot, begins by noting that Marine Le Pen, the daughter and successor of the fascist anti-Semite Jean-Marie Le Pen, "came first or second in 116 constituencies out of 577, exceeding 25% in 59 of them." Her chief cause: the struggle against Muslim immigration. As is usual in such articles, Joignot professes to be puzzled by this extraordinary level of support for a politician running on the issue of Islam. How could this be? How could so many Frenchmen have voted for a candidate whose #1 issue is Muslim immigration? What on earth were they thinking of?
For some of us, the answer is obvious: voters in France, like voters across Europe, are sincerely concerned about Muslim immigration, and neither Sarkozy nor Hollande addressed the issue to their satisfaction. But for Joignot and many other members of the fourth estate, the whole point is to pretend that the answer for these voters' curious preoccupations lies elsewhere. In such articles, it is verboten to actually examine the issue of Islam objectively; one needs to strike a tone which communicates the notion that any professed concern about Muslim immigration into Europe is, on its face, ridiculous, ugly, and racist.
Hence Joignot tells us that the success in France of what he calls "the extreme right" -- a right that rejects, or pretends to reject, "xenophobia, racism, and anti-Semitism" even as it makes Muslim immigration its principal issue -- is part of a continent-wide phenomenon that includes the inroads made by "the Danish People's Party, the Dutch Freedom Party, the Austrian FPÖ and BZÖ, the True Finns, the Norwegian Progress Party, the Flemish Vlaams Belang, Law and Justice in Poland, Ataka in Bulgaria, the Northern League in Italy, the Sweden Democrats, [and] the Central Democratic Union (UDC) in Switzerland." This list is a preposterous mishmash, implying an equation between classical liberal parties and genuinely fascist ones. That's another must in these articles, by the way: throw all parties to the right of (say) Le Monde in the same basket, and label them all as extremists.
Next step: quote an "expert" or two. Joignot drags in Jean-Yves Camus, a "specialist in the far right," who instructs us that we are witnessing the emergence of a "radicalized new right." Also quoted is "Austrian political scientist" Anton Pelinka, who tells us that all the parties listed above "demagogically…denounce Muslim immigration to rally the losers of globalization." In other words, according to Pelinka, the voters who are drawn to these European parties by their positions on Muslim immigration aren't really motivated, deep down, by the issue of Islam. No: these are people who are frustrated because, thanks to globalization, they're going through rough economic times -- and they're blaming their suffering not on the capitalists who are genuinely responsible for globalization, and thus for their financial woes, but on Muslims, who are, needless to say, innocent bystanders who are being unfairly victimized.
Breathtaking condescension toward voters is an important element of these kinds of articles. You've got to send the message -- without ever providing the slightest bit of evidence, of course -- that voters who are concerned about Islam are ignorant bigots who are being exploited by cynical politicians. The possibility that either these politicians or these voters have legitimate concerns about Islam, based on their own experiences and observations, can never be so much as hinted at.
The "most radical" of all the European politicians on the "extreme right," says Joignot, is Geert Wilders, "who considers Islam not a religion but a 'fascist ideology,' homophobic and profoundly sexist." (Yep, that sounds like a far-right radical all right: concerned about fascism and sexism and homophobia.) Needless to say, Islam is fascistic and homophobic and profoundly sexist; but Joignot mentions Wilders's bluntness about this uncomfortable fact as if the absurdity of such a position were self-evident. This is another standard element of these articles: cite a purely factual statement about some unconscionable, terrible, beastly aspect of Islam, and then act as if its very beastliness is evidence that the statement cannot possibly be true -- and that it is therefore not Islam but the critic of Islam that must, in fact, be extreme.
Joignot serves up plenty more in this vein, noting, for instance, that a number of writers -- he names Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Bernard Lewis, Daniel Pipes, Robert Spencer, Melanie Phillips, Mark Steyn, and me (what an honor, incidentally, to be named in such company!) -- depict "a conquering, authoritarian Islam invading Europe." Joignot sneers at Oriana Fallaci, calls Christopher Caldwell's book Reflections on the Revolution in Europe "the bible of the New Right," and cites Caldwell's alarming demographic predictions about Europe only to dismiss them with a wave of the hand: "a number of studies from different countries dispute these figures…..All the predictions of a Muslim-majority Europe ('Eurabia') are unfounded." The mathematical illiteracy of supposedly educated people never ceases to amaze.
Also included in Joignot's piece is something that is now a de rigueur element of such articles: the claim that the writings of these critics of Islam led directly to the mass murders committed by Anders Behring Breivik in Norway last July. (Interestingly, while Joignot paints the bloodthirsty Breivik as a disciple of writers none of whom have advocated violence, he depicts Mohamed Merah, whose child murders in Toulouse a few months ago were in perfect accord with the directives of his own favorite book, as a psychiatric case, a "lone wolf," and not a jihadist.)
Joignot further quotes anthropologist Malek Chebel, who complains that "Caldwell and Le Pen are silent on the thousands of educated Muslims, executives, doctors, engineers, political activists and trade union, students" -- as if being any of these things and being a jihadist (violent or stealth) were mutually exclusive. Joignot quotes more from Chebel: "Most Muslim countries in the Asian region…live out a peaceful Islam….I also see examples everywhere of harmonious modernization." In a world of Twitter and Skype, Chebel insists, bullies and demagogues can no longer gain power. What to say about words so totally unhinged from present reality?
But this is precisely Joignot's argument: that "a vast majority" of young Muslims in Europe "want to promote an open Islam." To the extent that Joignot acknowledges the grim reality of Islam in Europe, it is to blame it on others or to focus on its alleged "exploitation" by the supposedly dark forces of the "extreme right." If there is Islamic violence in Europe, for example, it's because "young Muslims" are reacting to "unemployment, racism, and poverty." Yes, perhaps Islam is rough on gays and women, but what matters is that "the way in which women and homosexuals are treated by some Muslims -- homophobia wins in the suburbs -- is…exploited by the extreme right." "Exploited"! Thus does Joignot cavalierly dismiss the seriousness of Islam's treatment of women and gays. (He doesn't even dare, I guess, to mention its treatment of Jews.)
I didn't know who Frédéric Joignot is, so I looked him up: he's the author of a bunch of novels, essay collections, plays, and screenplays; for several years before becoming a reporter at Le Monde in 2002, he was the cultural editor of the far-left newspaper Libération. This, I've discovered, is a not uncommon career trajectory for journalists in Europe: start out at some far-left (or even explicitly Communist) rag, and work your way up to the "newspaper of record" -- all the while keeping your ideology perfectly intact.
As is often the case, the only cheering thing about Joignot's article was the reader comments. The first two said pretty much all that needed to be said. The first pointed out that if "Islamophobia" is gaining ground, it's "because Islam is gaining ground." And the second read, in part: "it is the religion of Islam that is truly phobic: afraid of female seduction, afraid of alcohol, pork, the representation of the human body, etc." How striking that, when it comes to reporting on Islam nowadays, it's almost always left to the readers to supply the obvious truths around which the so-called journalists have been so desperately dancing.