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The French Surrender in Style By: Julia Gorin
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, December 13, 2005

If nothing else, the riots that just ended in France, bringing the country back to its 98 car-burnings-a-day average, should teach the French that perhaps they need to take a different approach to winning Islamic good will. They can no longer rely on being able to give their country and culture away peacefully. But amid all the knocks on the French for not being fighters, they should at least be given credit for the innovative and creative ways they come up with to surrender their way of life. The French don’t just surrender; they surrender in style—using stage and cinema.


I first noticed the cultural overtures France was making to Islam last year when I went to see the French film “Monsieur Ibrahim and the Flowers of the Koran,” based on a semi-autobiographical novel by Eric-Emmanuel Schmidt and starring Omar Sharif as a kindly bodega owner in 1960s Paris, who pretends to not notice that young Momo (short for Moses) is stealing from him. We hear Momo justify the theft in his mind with, “So what—he’s just an old Arab.”


“I am not an Arab,” Ibrahim answers, reading the boy’s mind. “I am a Muslim.” Herewith begins a touching friendship between the wise, generous and endlessly patient old Muslim and the brooding young, godless Jewish boy, who lives with his stingy and emotionally distant father since his slut mother abandoned them when Momo was a baby. Taking an interest in the solitary boy, Ibrahim explains to him why he himself is always so content and at peace in life: “I know what is in my Koran.” He encourages Momo to read it for himself.


After Momo is betrayed by a red-haired Jewish temptress named Myriam, he realizes he can rely only on Ibrahim and the Koran. When Momo’s father loses his job and throws himself under a train, Ibrahim adopts the 13 year-old boy, and the two go on a trip together to Ibrahim’s native Turkey, where Momo experiences the simple beauty of Sufi dancers and prayer time. At one point, Momo’s mother comes back to the apartment looking for her son, and he informs her that she has him mistaken for someone else—that his name is not Moses, but Mohammed. (One wonders if the thoroughly charmed audiences would find it as cuddly if the shopkeeper were a Born-Again who introduces the New Testament to the godless, degenerate Jewish adolescent, who changes his name from Moses to Jesus by the end.) After Ibrahim is in a fatal car accident, he leaves Momo his savings and his store, and the last scene is of a grown-up Momo, tending the store and informing a kid in a yarmulke who is stealing from him that he is not an Arab.


On the heels of Monsieur Ibrahim, I caught the tail end of a broadcast of a Paris National Opera House production of Rossini’s “Barber of Seville.” Although the central characters are supposed to be 18th Century Spanish aristocracy, the female lead Rosina is wearing a head scarf, the Christian Monk Basilio is dressed like an imam, and the male lead Almaviva is in Middle Eastern garb as well. When the young lovers run off into the Seville sunset, the set is an Arabian desert.


Apparently, a place needs only to be inspired by France for the trend to take hold. To wit, the Paris Hotel-Casino in Las Vegas has a “Middle Eastern/European Operations” division, which every few months presents a musical extravaganza called “Arabian Nights,” featuring Arabic pop stars, belly dancing and traditional Lebanese fare.


France is also where a comedian like Dieudonné M'Bala M'Bala was able to rise to stardom. With a fan base of mostly Arab and black young people, the French-Cameroonian humorist did a sketch on national TV in 2003, titled “You Can’t Please Everyone,” in which he dressed as an Orthodox Jew and did a Nazi salute, saying "Isra-heil!" He has also called white Catholics “racist slave owners” and Osama bin Laden the "most important personality in contemporary history” because he “has succeeded in changing the balance of power and the method of fighting” and “that inspires respect." Once the French realized they created a monster and Dieudonnné started seeing performances get cancelled last year, he began performing at his own theatre, to sold-out crowds.


And here we are: an intifadah in France, and Omar Sharif’s life being threatened for his portrayal of Saint Peter in an Italian TV movie this year. The 73-year-old actor got no brownie points for coming out of retirement to play Monsieur Ibrahim, and instead was recently accused on an al Qaeda-affiliated forum of being an infidel “crusader who offends Islam and Muslims,” in a post that was endorsed by numerous respondents and which recommended, “I give you some advice, my brothers, you should kill him.” It’s a good thing they didn’t catch Sharif as Fanny Brice’s husband in “Funny Girl.” That bought him 37 years of life.

What we’re witnessing now in France should serve as a cautionary tale for other Western countries as they bend over backwards to accommodate and even flatter their own restive Muslim populations—whether it’s BBC closing 10 local language radio services in Europe to pay for a new Arabic-language channel, or Nickelodeon sending a 15 year-old all-American girl on an odyssey through Islamic-American life at a private Muslim school and in an Egyptian family's home, fasting and praying toward Mecca and bringing young American audiences back a glowing report.

If France is any indication, it’ll still end in blood, only sooner.

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