Byline: Clive Davis, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Memories of World War II are never far away here. At the end of the track leading to the farmhouse where I have been staying, the graves of a handful of Canadian soldiers are scattered amidst the tombstones in the tiny village cemetery. Off the coast at Arromanches, an attractive little resort near Caen, you can still see what is left of Mulberry, the gigantic harbor created from concrete slabs that were towed across the English Channel during the D-Day landings. A short drive further west, thousands of white marble crosses, arranged with geometrical precision, stand guard at the U.S. cemetery above Omaha Beach.
Visitors are asked not to step off the paths onto the immaculately mown lawns, but some cannot resist the all-too-human instinct to move a few paces closer, to read just one name on one grave. Some of them, you cannot help but notice, bear the Star of David. The past is not another country, not here.
The Star of David has been prominent in all the French newspapers lately, not just because of events in Israel, but because France seems to be undergoing a new wave of anti-Semitism. In the Greater Paris area alone, police have reported 10 to 12 anti-Jewish acts each day since the Easter weekend. In Alsace, in the east of the country, graves in a Jewish cemetery were daubed with swastikas. Over Easter, synagogues were attacked in Lyons, Marseille and Strasbourg. Just a few days ago, in the Paris suburbs, a football team from a Jewish association was attacked by a gang of masked youths carrying iron bars.
France has been here before, of course. Memories of the Vichy regime, not to mention the Dreyfus affair, are never far from the surface. The garrulous Jean-Marie Le Pen, far-right candidate in this month's presidential elections, scored around 12 per cent in the last opinion poll that I saw, just half a dozen points behind Lionel Jospin, the decidedly uncharismatic prime minister and Socialist Party candidate. Magazines pose the question, "Is France antisemitic?" President Jacques Chirac took a break from campaigning: "When a synagogue is burned, France is humiliated. When a Jew is attacked, France is attacked."
But there is a difference this time. This time much of the violence is being perpetrated by young, disaffected North Africans intent on playing out the Middle East conflict on their own streets and housing projects. Absorbing images of the Intifada relayed on the TV news bulletins, they have declared a war of their own, using French Jews as targets.
Conventional wisdom insists that what we are seeing is essentially just another form of vandalism. According to this school of thought, unassimilated young Muslims who have grown up in the suburbs that are hidden away from the tourist version of la belle France are simply indulging in the type of antisocial behavior common to the MTV generation across the West. (The suburbs - "la banlieue" - do not evoke the same rosy glow that we know in America or Britain. In France the word conjures up visions of grey concrete and high-rises.)
Others are less sanguine. Social scientist Pierre-Andre Taguieff, author of a controversial book "La Nouvelle Jude/ophobie" ("The New Judeophobia"), argues that the malaise runs much deeper. He points, first of all, to the findings of a Louis Harris opinion poll last year which posed the question to the population as a whole: "Do the Jews have too much power in France?" In 1991, 20 per cent replied "Yes". By last year the figure had risen to 34 per cent. …