By Karina Piser
A manifesto published in the French daily Le Parisien on April 21—signed by some 300 prominent intellectuals and politicians, including former President Nicolas Sarkozy and former Prime Minister Manuel Valls—made a shocking demand. Arguing that the Quran incites violence, it insisted that “the verses of the Quran calling for murder and punishment of Jews, Christians, and nonbelievers be struck to obsolescence by religious authorities,” so that “no believer can refer to a sacred text to commit a crime.”
Although it’s not entirely clear whether “struck to obsolescence” means wholesale deletion of verses, the manifesto was perceived as a call to abrogate Muslims’ holiest text. And although pushing for a theological reform of Islam in France is nothing new—everyone from leading imams to President Emmanuel Macron have made plans to restructure Islam—demanding that scriptural verses be deleted is another thing altogether. In Islam, the Quran is considered divinely revealed; because it’s deemed to be the word of God, altering or deleting any part of the text would be blasphemous.
The manifesto came a month after the grisly murder of Mireille Knoll, an octogenarian Holocaust survivor who was stabbed to death in her apartment in an act authorities are calling an anti-Semitic crime. Last year, Sarah Halimi, a 67-year-old, was beaten to death and thrown out of her window, in the same area where Knoll lived. Her attacker yelled “Allahu Akbar!” as he committed the act; Knoll’s reportedly did the same. It took judicial authorities nearly a year to label Halimi’s death an anti-Semitic crime.
France is home to the largest Jewish community in Europe. Since the early 2000s, French Jews have seen a rise in anti-Semitic acts, and although 2017 saw fewer overall incidents than 2016, those that did occur were more violent in nature. This wave of violence is part of what the manifesto’s signatories call a “new anti-Semitism”—new in that it is perpetrated not by the far right, but by French Muslims. The manifesto denounced what it characterized as the government and media’s refusals to recognize this “Muslim anti-Semitism.” It also labeled as “low-volume ethnic cleansing” the trends that have forced Jewish families to change neighborhoods, leaving suburbs, or banlieues, that are home to significant immigrant populations, and to pull their children from public schools.
The manifesto generated an immediate outcry among Muslims in France and beyond, with critics labeling its usage of the phrase “low-volume ethnic cleansing” hyperbolic and accusing it of homogenizing all Muslims. Days after the manifesto’s release, 30 imams signed a counter-letter in Le Monde. The Observatory for Islamophobia, an organization affiliated with the Egyptian government, described the manifesto as “hateful racism” that proves that “France is not a land that welcomes Islam.” The proposal to abrogate certain verses of the Quran was most controversial of all.
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