A long time ago, as a young man far, far away, I stepped off a train in Marseille, France, with my then girlfriend, a long-haired blonde, both of us wearing down jackets and, of course, backpacks. (I also carried my guitar for accompanying her, something we did quite lucratively in streets, subways, and clubs, thanks to her amazing voice.) I forget where we were coming from or going to, but for the next few days we’d be in Marseille and in need of a cheap hotel.
As we walked along the platform toward the street, a middle-aged woman ran up to me and in a fevered whisper leaned in to ask, “Juif?”—Jew. Naïve as I was, I said “Oui, pourquoi?”
Because, she explained, Marseille was filled with Arabs and, outside of certain areas, not safe for Jews. I laughed—scoffed, actually—as if such a thing could be true so many years after the end of WWII (though not, in retrospect, as many years as it seemed to me at the time). Right on cue, three Arabs in full dress passed.
Aside from a somewhat prominent proboscis, I’d never considered myself particularly “Jewish looking”—and in 21 years my ethnicity had never been either an asset or a burden—so I asked how she’d pegged me as a Jew.
Her eyes widened as she shot me a look that roughly translated to: You idiot. (Indeed, some weeks later we arrived in Morocco, where young Arab men constantly asked me “Juif”? And I, in my still touching naiveté, always answered, with pride, Oui.)
The woman insisted that we follow her to a “safer” part of town, and I insisted it wouldn’t be necessary; we’d be fine anywhere we decided to stay. Besides, I assumed that “safer” meant nicer, and our budget didn’t accommodate nice.
When at last she recognized that I wouldn’t listen to reason, she broke away, throwing up her hands in exasperation. My girlfriend, who didn’t speak French, asked what all the commotion was about. I said it was the ravings of some mad old woman.
Well, I thought of that not-so-mad and not-so-old woman and her ravings this morning when I read this story about a French girl, 16, arrested on her way to join ISIS in Syria. Ponder this terrifying nugget:
Among the youngest French people ICM surveyed — ages 18 to 24 — the favorability rate for Islamic State was even higher: 27%.
I also thought of that woman as I read this story about the precipitous increase in anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic violence across France.
Just as I thought of her when I read this story about rising anti-Semitism all across Europe.
For decades now France has had the third largest Jewish population in the world, behind the U.S. and Israel. But for how long? Jews are history’s canary in the coalmine, and they’re abandoning France in record numbers. Meanwhile France, a frequent battlefield in civilizational wars, is becoming increasingly Islamized. This does not seem like a recipe for ushering in another belle époque.
The last words that woman said to me before hitting the wall of my stubbornness seem unusually prescient: “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
No, I didn’t. But she was old enough to know better—to know that those few, those happy few, years were a holiday from history made fewer by naïve people like me who wanted to believe what we wanted to believe, all evidence to the contrary.
Unlike my naiveté back then, naiveté today is fatal.