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Buenos Aires, Argentina


A difficult future
- Anger and historic hurt may not vanish, but a start could be made Sunanda K. Datta-Ray
Of all the global grandees who attended last Sunday's street theatre in
Paris, Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas should have had least difficulty
in understanding the fierce passions behind the tragedy they mourned. Indian
and Vietnamese ambivalence towards yesterday's enemy is reflected in the
Filipino slogan, "Yankee Go Home - And Take Me With You!" Japan's former
adversary is its closest friend today. Jews and Arabs never forget. Jews
have triumphed over fate without surrendering an unforgiving memory: Adolf
Eichmann, the Holocaust organizer, was hunted down and hanged 17 years after
World War II. The Muslim's less focused but no less rankling sense of
injustice explodes in one bloodbath after another and will continue to
plague the world until past wrongs are addressed.
None of this can excuse the brutal killing of 17 men and women in the
Charlie Hebdooffice and a kosher supermarket. But Netanyahu's reiteration of
Israel's Law of Return was more than an invitation to 550,000 French Jews
who haven't forgotten the Dreyfus affair 121 years ago. Resonating with
echoes of Emile Zola's J'accuse, it held the tacit threat of compounding
Muslim grievances by gobbling up even more of the Palestinian West Bank to
house an expanding population. Abbas can't afford to be as forthright. He
isn't president of a "Republic of Palestine" but of an amorphous entity
called the Palestine Authority over which he exercises limited authority.
Even that grace and favour job can be snatched away if he displeases
Netanyahu or, worse, his three hard-Right rivals (two ministers, Avigdor
Lieberman and Naftali Bennett, and Eli Yishai, leader of Israel's new Haredi
party) who were also in Paris. It seems Israel's prime minister accompanied
the trio rather than the other way round.
Not that Abbas, whose doctoral dissertation at Damascus University was
titled, "The Other Side: The Secret Relationship Between Nazism and
Zionism", should be underestimated. According to Abu Daoud, who planned the
1972 Munich Olympic Games hostage-taking which ended with the murder of 11
Israeli athletes and coaches and a West German policeman, Abbas funded the
operation though without knowing what the money would be used for.
Predictably, Hamas, which cocks a snook at the Palestine Authority from its
Gaza stronghold, accuses Abbas of "hypocrisy and political juggling" for
going to Paris where pictures showed him standing only a few feet from
Cherif and Said Kouachi, the Algerian-origin brothers, were more
straightforward in their enmity. Like many Algerians, Cherif fought for Iraq
when George W. Bush attacked Saddam Hussain. "Bush, an honourable man, might
have made a good president - without Iraq," says the British writer,
Alastair Horne. "His fault was to heed too often the voices of the Zionist
lobby in Washington. Never before has the Israeli tail wagged the American
dog quite so vigorously; the results threaten to prove as disastrous for
Israel as for the Western alliance." The Kouachis' French-born but
ethnically Malian associate, Amedy Coulibaly, who led the supermarket
attack, unapologetically supports the "Islamic State of Iraq and greater
There is always a context. Every contemporary conflict emerges from the
shadows of the past. The millions of Palestinians who were uprooted and
evicted in what they call the Nakba (Catastrophe) are still trying to regain
a homeland. The Jordanian army's butchery of Palestinians during the 1970
"Black September" recreated the Nakba. "The Nakba lives on in them: in their
conflicted political ideology, in their second-class citizenship, in their
awkward place as a minority in an ethnically conceived state, and in all the
ways these play out in their daily lives", writes the English-Canadian
historian, Jo Roberts, of Palestinians who remain in Israel.
France's five million Algerians (out of six-and-a-half million Muslims) also
feel like second-class citizens in the land of Liberty, Equality and
Fraternity. Most are poor. None can forget France invaded their country and
occupied and exploited it for 132 years. Algerians were reduced to a subject
race while the colonists lived comfortably in the small French towns and
chateaux they built all over the colony. They even converted mosques into
churches during the early 19th-century Roman Catholic revival and tried to
convert local Muslims. When the war of independence broke out in 1954, the
government's bombs and booby traps, assassinations, torture and executions
provoked Albert Camus's anguished protest. It took six years of vicious
struggle to drive the French soldiers, paratroopers, Foreign Legionnaires -
including German ex-Nazis - and paramilitary police, out of Algeria.
Even then, what Horne called "a savage war of peace" didn't end for the
ordinary victims of history, Algerian and French alike. Those colonists who
refused to accept Algerian independence formed the terrorist Organisation
Armée Secrète. They tried to persuade French troops to mutiny and even
threatened to take over Paris. Although Algeria's ruling National Liberation
Front (for years the only permitted party) promised to protect French
citizens who stayed back, there were mass killings in Oran and more than a
million French men, women and children returned to France. With them went
thousands of Algerians who had served in the French army. The FLN would have
slaughtered them if they had remained.
In October 1961 - only five months before the official ceasefire -the French
authorities banned an Algerian independence rally in Paris. When 30,000
Algerians staged it nevertheless scarcely a mile from Charlie Hebdo' s
present office, the police attacked the marchers with exceptional ferocity.
About 600 were murdered, some beaten to death in police barracks and others
thrown into the Seine river. Maurice Papon, the police chief who directed
the attack, was convicted 37 years later of deporting hundreds of Jews to
certain death in German concentration camps during France's Vichy regime.
Meanwhile, he had risen high in politics to become a minister under Valery
Giscard d'Estaing. It was another satirical magazine, Le Canard Enchaine
that exposed Papon's indiscriminate criminality.
History repeated itself between 1991 and 2002 when Algeria was torn apart by
the struggle between the FLN and Islamist rebels. Torture, disappearances
and village massacres were again resumed. France quietly supported a
dictatorship whose military leaders were suspected of salting away millions
of dollars in Swiss banks. Back from fighting Soviet troops in Afghanistan,
Algerian jihadists joined the rebels in the mountains, killing some of the
few remaining French citizens, or went to fight for the so-called caliphate
like Coulibaly. All Muslims, not just fanatics like them, would have found
the Charlie Hebdo cartoons as offensive as earlier material in Danish and
German publications. They couldn't accept it as impartial "fun", certainly
not after reports that Charlie Hebdo sacked a journalist for anti-Semitism.
What of the future? Nearly four million people grieved for the dead and
celebrated the fundamental principles on which the French republic - indeed,
any liberal modern state - is founded. Slogans like " Je suis Charlie" (I am
Charlie), "I am Ahmed" (the Muslim police officer who died during the
Charlie Hebdo attack), "I am Muslim", "I am Jewish", "I am Black" and "I am
a cop" vigorously reaffirmed diversity. But there is little reason for
hoping that Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and racism have been exorcized for
all time. The politicians whose staginess transformed Paris into "the
capital of the world" should know there is no such thing as a final solution
in the continuum of history. They should know, too, that the Jew's ability
now to shape his destiny threatens the peace as dangerously as Islamist
There is no quick solution to either challenge. But a start can be made by
removing a major grievance. A sovereign Palestinian republic free of Jewish
settlements won't immediately vanquish al-Qaida and the "Islamic State of
Iraq and greater Syria". But Muslim anger will not even begin to be assuaged
unless an independent Palestinian homeland is conceded.

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