has generously given her time to translate for VFR the entire Alain Finkielkraut
on Europe 1 television with host Jean-Pierre Elkabach that was broadcast on November 25. Though there are many factual contradictions to be resolved in what some are calling
, in this interview (which I haven’t had time to read carefully yet) Finkielkraut apparently underwent something like a Stalinist renunciation of his previous statements in order to fend off a suit against himself for “incitement to racial hatred” as well as to protect himself and his family from threats on his life. At the same time he resists the interviewer’s politically correct attacks on him and continues to protest the silencing of criticism by means of the racism charge. Yet, just as the conventional left sees the Muslim rioters as victims of discrimination, Finkielkraut, much in the manner of mainstream American conservatives, sees the Muslims as victims of the dominant leftism which prevents them from assimilating, thus subscribing to the illusion that the assimilation of millions of Muslims in Europe (that is, a true assimilation that does not change Europe into something else) is a practical possibility. He ends the interview by saying:
in which Finkielkraut made comments that in America would be seen as little more than standard conservative criticisms of affirmative action, the racial double standard, failure of immigrants to assimilate, and so on.
We are indebted to the reader, whose skill in French translation is evident in this and other translations she has done recently for VFR.
Jean-Pierre Elkabach - When a society is in crisis, an intellectual, especially one who is well-known and influential such as yourself, Alain Finkielkraut, is supposed to take the high ground and calm people’s minds. Your recent statements to foreign newspapers have been judged unacceptable and are creating and will continue to create a scandal. Alain Finkielkraut, greetings.
Alain Finkielkraut - Greetings
Elkabach - What got into you?
Finkielkraut - Uh..Jean-Pierre Elkabach, I seek truth, that is how I perceive my work and sometimes to find the truth I attempt, I rip apart, I feel it is my duty to rip apart the curtain of conventional discourse. I do it at the risk of being wrong, and of arousing unquenchable hatred over the small amount of truth that I uncover. But, that is something entirely different. From the puzzle of quotations in “Le Monde,” there emerges an odious person, unlikable, twisted, whose hand I would not want to shake. They tell me—and here the nightmare begins—that that person is me, I am being told that I inhabit that fictional body, and that I must answer for it before the court of public opinion. So, I want to defend myself. I want to defend myself, but also, sometimes when things like that happen, you want to die.
Elkabach - Don’t exaggerate, you are not naive, you know that you have unleashed a torrent of destruction that is just beginning. What did you say? We’re going to take a few statements, at any rate some quotations and you will comment on them yourself. You said, “ People would like to reduce the riots…to a social dimension, but most of the rioters are blacks or Arabs with a Muslim identity. It was a revolt of an ethnic and religious nature.” Ethnic—that means racial?
Finkielkraut - Listen
Elkabach - You said it.
Finkielkraut - I said it but, Jean-Pierre Elkabach, everybody thinks it’s so because to talk about the ethnicity of the rioters is considered a racist attitude. On the other side of the issue, the unanimous reaction to the riots is the denunciation of discrimination against visible minorities. If it were only about a social uprising in one neighborhood, people would have spoken about unemployment …or the need to modernize the suburbs. They would not have spoken of the struggle against discrimination in hiring or employment. But I do add in the course of the article that one must not make generalizations. If I recognize, like everybody else, the ethnic nature of these revolts, far be it for me to lump together in one shameful category all Frenchmen of African or North African descent; and furthermore let me add that I pity rather than accuse the perpetrators of this great pillage.
Elkabach - Yes. In the riots, what is the role of a certain Islam or of religion since you speak of the “ethnic and religious nature”?
Finkielkraut - OK. On that point no, it is not fair, it is just a vague identity reference. Religion as such is not part of it. It happens that some people in France, especially the young, when speaking of the French, call them “the French,” all the while donning a Muslim identity. They are not the only ones who do it. One of the tragedies of our time is the great national disaffiliation. And in the article I say that some Jews can be tempted to do the same thing: France is useful, but Jewishness is their identity. I reproach those Jews for their lack of consideration and I say to them “no,” and I say to them, in the interview, be consistent in your logic. If France is simply an insurance company and if your identity is elsewhere…
Elkabach - Yes, but since you said that to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, that part was censored. Alain Finkielkraut, you say that there are in France those who hate the Republic, that there is an anti-republican pogrom.
Finkielkraut - Yes. In order to remove any Jewish connotation stemming from the word “pogrom,” I will say rather that there was a great anti-republican pillage. And I say that our compassionate society suffers from a veritable moral apathy in so far as it cannot perceive the stoning of firemen and the arson of schools as a sacrilegious act. What is our relationship with ourselves and with our schools for us to see that simply as a symptom and to treat the perpetrators as victims?
Elkabach - Who influences these perpetrators?
Finkielkraut - Right, well, I’m going to tell you. It is not a reaction to Sarkozy, it is not political, it is a social climate…
Elkabach - But who?
Finkielkraut - Well, the spiritual void in our society that practices…
Elkabach - Who? The schools?
Finkielkraut - No.
Elkabach - The high schools? You said it.
Finkielkraut - Yes.
Elkabach - The videos, the music…
Finkielkraut - The culture of “now,” which has gotten the upper hand over study, over schools where patience and extended efforts are cultivated. Obviously, in a society where everything is based either on utility or instant gratification and consumerism, we create frustrated people who want to grab everything, all at once.
Elkabach - Alain Finkielkraut, agreed. Today, we are trying to understand what you said…
Finkielkraut - Sure…
Elkabach - …what motivates you. You speak of blacks and Arabs.
Finkielkraut - No.
Elkabach - Yes, yes in the interview, such as it was published in France. They are Frenchmen and you know it. Are we to kick them out, even though they are at home here?
Finkielkraut - No.
Elkabach - When Jacques Chirac calls them sons and daughters of the Republic, is he right or wrong?
Finkielkraut - No. He’s right, he’s right. But one must make careful note of such extremely violent hatred and not respond to this hatred by saying that we are hateful people…the great difficulty today is to integrate people who do not like France into a France that does not like herself. But integration of course must be our goal and we missed…
Elkabach - All right, but you the philosopher, as July said, you the intellectual, must you respond to hatred with hatred?
Finkielkraut - No. And I do not respond with hatred, I’m just saying that we missed out on an real opportunity to extend our hand to them. It’s clear that the perpetrators of this pillage are unstructured individuals. What do I mean by unstructured? That means the loss of points of reference, they don’t know good from evil, licit from illicit. We have to establish these points, and affirm them. That would help them.
Elkabach - OK. Let’s proceed in trying to understand what you said because your remarks will come back to you. You lash out at Dieudonné. You call him “the spokesman of the theology of hatred, etc…” He is, you say, “the true patron of anti-Semitism.” Can you confirm that?
Finkielkraut - What I’m now confirming is that the duty to memory, which everybody talks about, is formed as a result of recriminations such as those of Dieudonné.
Elkabach - But why, why can’t you forget about it?
Finkielkraut - Because…
Elkabach - Is that any reason to imitate him and to cultivate—if indeed he cultivates hatred—to cultivate…
Finkielkraut - Jean-Pierre Elkabach, I cultivate no hatred. I repeat that I have no connection to this personage in the puzzle. I, like everybody else, hate that personage.
Elkabach - Which personage? Dieudonné or Finkielkraut?
Finkielkraut - Me!
Elkabach - Finkielkraut.
Finkielkraut - Not Finkielkraut! This fictional person in which … This tunic of Nessus that I’m forced to inhabit. I’m simply saying that today (…) they say we must heal the identity wounds of Africans and those of African descent.
Elkabach - Rightly or wrongly?
Finkielkraut - Yes. But they are stating it improperly, since they say that to treat these identity wounds is to snatch from the Jews some monopoly or other on misfortune. So, we are forced to discuss colonization (…) and slavery using the Shoah as a model. We do this by sacrificing the truth, and thus we cultivate hatred. A so-called competition of victims…Jean-Pierre Elkabach, I am not a victim, I honor the memory of the victims, I wrote “The Imaginary Jew” to protest all identification with the victims. It’s not about…
(Please note—the following paragraph is not clear to me. I just translated the words.)
Elkabach - OK, but today what people read about this personage, don’t get upset over the personage that emerges, who is probably not you but who people think is you since you are not naive, you have no need for Jean-Marie Le Pen to be silent since you are doing the work, and furthermore you gave a gift to Dieudonné and all that he represents, in the form of provocative statements…
Finkielkraut - The gift to Dieudonné is precisely to respond to his reproaches and to examine colonization and slavery as he asks us to, and in this way one cannot speak of Black slave trade except for the Atlantic slave trade, one cannot speak of a specific Western presence in the matter of abolitionism. When someone does speak of it, like Olivier Pétré-Grenouilleau, he is in the same boat as I am. But I’m being accused of something else and I would like to respond. I have spoken, or so people think who read that puzzle about a man who is not me, wantonly and disdainfully about a France that is Black-White-Arab. No! I said that the Marseillaise had been hissed at while France was displaying this fine and great face of a multi-ethnic society. That means that a multi-racial society can also be a multi-racist society. I must add that now France has become Black-Black-Black and that it is the laughing stock of Europe. On that point I want to elaborate.
Elkabach - Yes, yes but you take soccer as an example. I quote, “People keep telling us that the French team is admired because it is Black-White-Arab, but today it is Black-Black-Black which is making all of Europe laugh. It’s true that you have only to apply a little affirmative action in the Blue team for the whites to play better, better, or as well as the blacks.”
Finkielkraut - They would play less well.
Elkabach - All right, go on.
Finkielkraut - I’m getting to it, I’m getting to it. I merely said, what is this, why this French peculiarity, it’s a consequence of colonialism, it’s a post-colonial privilege and the laughter I spoke of, I’ll tell you what it is. I spoke fearlessly, I thought about my father. My father introduced me to soccer in the fifties, he was born in Poland, he was deported from France, he was an immigrant and I am a second-generation immigrant…
Elkabach - Yes, yes, yes, wait a minute, you often say I was born a Pole in France, a second-generation immigrant. Don’t you have a duty, Finkielkraut, to extend your hand and to speak differently!
Finkielkraut - I’m extending my hand to them, I’m extending my hand to them. I’m extending my hand, but first I want to explain. My father saw that the French team was composed of Kissovski, Copa, that is Copachevski, Pieantoni and he use to enjoy saying, “but are there any Frenchmen on this team?” He meant true ethnic Frenchmen, it was an innocent laughter, without meanness that I was trying to echo in this text. I was wrong, I am now stigmatized by this joke. (…) Of course, one must reach out and of course I think of myself as an immigrant also, and what benefits did I have? A tough school that taught me to speak French properly. Today, schools don’t do that.
Elkabach - Alain Finkielkraut, Alain Finkielkraut, if next May 10 becomes a day for remembering slavery, will that shock you?
Finkielkraut - No.
Elkabach - Can we say that Africans fought with the French in two world wars and against Nazism: did they not love France? Don’t the Africans who defend the French language love France? And would not the young French of African or Mahgrebin descent love France even more if we choose a day to honor their grand-parents?
Finkielkraut - Oh of course! But if it is just a pretext for identifying with the victims in order to evade all responsibility or to become an embittered entitlement-seeker, then no. But I think that France is not loved by anyone in France and that is also a big problem.
Elkabach - Let us not cultivate hatred. This morning, Alain Finkielkraut, what do you say to those Frenchmen of African and Mahgrebin descent who have been wounded and insulted by your remarks?
Finkielkraut - I say that I hate the personage created by this puzzle as much as they and that I would not shake his hand. I tell them that I do not think as he does.
Elkabach - But, they don’t give a damn. Now, what do you say to them?
Finkielkraut - I say…
Elkabach - Do you say, “ I withdraw a part of my remarks, if not my analysis…
Finkielkraut - Jean-Pierre Elkabach, I cannot do self-criticism of a construction in which I do not recognize myself. What I merely said was that when I speak of colonialism and of the desire of enlightened philosophers to educate the savages, I am not accountable for the term “savage.” It is completely alien to me.
Elkabach - But Haaretz said it.
Finkielkraut - Yes…
Elkabach - Can I ask a question that is on everybody’s mind? All of these unbelievable remarks, you made them to a foreign newspaper. You say that it is impossible—and I read it in English and in French, not in Hebrew—to speak freely in France, such is the rule of demagoguery. How can you say such a lie?
Finkielkraut - I did not say that one cannot express oneself in France.
Elkabach - It’s not just that you are doing it now, but you are on all the TV shows, you write for The Figaro, in…
Finkielkraut - Look at what happens when keeping in mind the dangers of racist generalizations and proclaiming hatred for those who cultivate a French nationalistic point of view, look at what happens. I’m the victim of a lynching anyway.
Elkabach - Let’s not over-state things…
Finkielkraut - I’m not sure I’m wrong
Elkabach - But who is responsible if you are first…Let’s not over-state this lynching.
Finkielkraut - But you yourself brought it up
Elkabach - No, no, no. Who is responsible? Why did you repeat it a second time since your remarks shocked even those closest to you, and you know it.
Finkielkraut - My remarks only shocked those of my friends who read the puzzle; even if they did not agree those friends who read the article were not shocked. And I beg you to try and understand that I am, despite everything, the victim of a huge misunderstanding, but I must add that the problem in France today concerns a general spiritual void. And the best way to reach out to the rioters is to confront them with their responsibility for these acts; and to consecrate once again, before their eyes, the places of study that they pillaged; to do so for them because the language of the suburbs that they speak with such spitefulness is their worst handicap. We must win back these territories that belong to the Republic and the French language must win out over this other speech, otherwise they will never break out of the suburbs. And I believe that they must break out.
Elkabach - What will you do with regard to Haaretz and the remarks that you do not recognize and which have created this personage of whom you speak. Will you accuse them…
Finkielkraut - No.
Elkabach - …Since you’re going to have MRAP. who’s already voicing disapproval, different associations and organizations, perhaps some lawsuits and uh, have you received any threats?
Finkielkraut - Listen, we shall see, they’re already asking that I be excluded from France-Culture, see what’s happening.
Elkabach - What is the moral and political lesson for Finkielkraut since you have an on-going agenda…
Finkielkraut - The political lesson is that I really must not grant any interviews, especially to newspapers that I do not control, whose translations of my writings I cannot control. The moral lesson is that one must continue, against all obstacles, to face reality because it is an outrageous consolation to take refuge in a compassionate attitude that closely resembles abandoning a person in danger.
Elkabach - OK, that’s fine, but you have said no generalizations and yet in a way you are apologizing to those whom you have offended, yes or no?
Finkielkraut - I offer my apologies to those who have been offended by that person who is not me; I do not have within me any feeling of scorn or hatred towards any group whatsoever and I feel, by mission, in solidarity with new immigrants in France, notably those of the second and third generation.
Elkabach - Thank you, Alain Finkielkraut, the real one, heh, for having chosen Europe 1 to explain yourself.