David Pryce-Jones, senior editor of National Review, has also written for the Daily Telegraph, Financial Times and the Spectator, while contributing frequently to such publications as The Times of London, Wall Street Journal, Commentary, and The New Republic. Pryce-Jones was educated at Oxford and has taught at universities in California and Iowa. He has authored nine novels and a dozen books of non-fiction. The latter treat such themes as Middle Eastern politics and culture, the fall of the Soviet Union, and literary biography and criticism. For more biographical information, see http://www.davidpryce-jones.com. Mr. Pryce-Jones addressed the Middle East Forum in New York on November 2, 2006.
The Middle East Forum presented the eminent author David Pryce-Jones to discuss his new book, Betrayal: France, the Arabs, and the Jews (Encounter, 2006). The goal in this study, he explained, was to "examine the very strange behavior of the French" in their policy toward Arabs and Jews since the nineteenth century. His narrative centers on the latter half of the twentieth century, but with a look at its roots in France's past.
Mr. Pryce-Jones pointed out a paradox in French left: As authors of the Rights of Man and creators of the slogan Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité (Liberty, Equality, Fraternity), the French left a legacy of democratic ideals to the West. So why is it, he asks, that in international crises throughout the last three or four decades, "the French have obstructed every major Western initiative and policy, and although they declare themselves to be acting in the name of peace, they are in fact encouraging, at best confusion, and at worst, war, and violence."
In Mr. Pryce-Jones's view, the West is locked in a serious confrontation with Islam, in which deep historic forces are at play. The fragmentation of the Muslim world, including strife between Sunni and Sh'ia and among groups within those sects, is cause for the eventual defeat of Islam. He believes that the West can win the struggle, but only if it stays united. He suggests that the French are "fragmenting us and nullifying our efforts."
Two themes are woven throughout Betrayal: the French conceptions of the Muslims and the Jews. The phrase "la France est une puissance musulmane" (France is a Muslim power), which came into common usage during the reign of Napoleon III and was repeated generation after generation by the French regime, sparked Mr. Pryce-Jones's interest in French foreign policy. This ran contrary to centuries of France billing itself as a Christian power and basing its policies upon protecting the Christians in the Holy Land, then part of the Ottoman Empire. The idea of France as a Muslim power, Mr. Pryce-Jones argues, is "a fantasy – France is not a Muslim power and cannot be a Muslim power. It is a mirage that France can take advantage of Arabs and the Muslims and incorporate them into its imperial designs." He suggests that the French borrowed the phrase from the British, who at the same period thought of Britain as a Muslim power through its colonization of India. The British knew, however, that they were not a Muslim power, and that they were actually ruling the Indians.
The French conception of the Jews, Mr. Pryce-Jones points out, derives from the French Revolution. Quoting the Conte de Clermont-Tonnerre's famous saying to the General Assembly, ‘To the Jews as individuals everything, to the Jews as a nation nothing', he notes that the French attitude toward the Jews is defined by what the French think they ought to be, not by how Jews define themselves. Mr. Pryce-Jones has documented centuries of "astonishing anti-Jewish animus" in the archives of the Quai d'Orsay. The tenor of the bias against the Jews is that they cannot act independently; they are the pawns of a hostile external power which varies along with the circumstances, be it the British, the Germans, or the Russians.
Therefore, the rise of Zionism in the nineteenth century is a shock to the French, who suddenly discover that the Jews have agency. The French do everything they can to stifle Zionism, inventing conspiracy theories blaming the Jews. The French sought to impede the creation of the Jewish state, and later opposed Israeli foreign policy. Mr. Pryce-Jones traces this "extraordinarily fantastic interpretation of what's going on in the Arab world and in the Jewish world" among generations of French diplomats, who "believe rubbish" despite their being among the most sophisticated people in the world.
Mr. Pryce-Jones centers his account on the split in French foreign policy circles during a brief period in the 1950s when French and Israeli interests coincided. Arab nationalism threatened the French position in North Africa and Israel during the Suez crisis. But while the French Ministry of Defense supported Israel, the Quai d'Orsay did all it could to stop the ministry's arms sales and pro-Israel attitude. By 1958, when Charles De Gaulle came back to office, he adopted the Quai's viewpoint and French foreign policy reverted to its anti-Israel position. By 1967, the French were outright opponents of Israel.
The French supported Qaddafi, even selling him arms when they had sanctions against Israel, but he was too unstable a figure on which to base policy. So they chose Saddam Hussein and Yasir Arafat, who as Mr. Pryce-Jones points out, "are the two pillars of French foreign policy. Both Hussein and Arafat run strictly counter to every value France has produced … they are a couple of bloodstained tyrants. They've done nothing but damage to their own people and yet France has given Saddam Hussein every opportunity," hosting him in France, selling Iraq billions of arms he used against his own people, and funding the Osirak nuclear plant which the Israelis had to destroy in 1981. But when Iran sponsored terrorist attacks in France to protest France's support of Iraq, Mr. Pryce-Jones explained, the French were surprised, thinking they had an understanding with the Iranians not to retaliate while they supported Iraq.
Mr. Pryce-Jones emphasizes France's disturbing role in bringing about the Iranian Revolution, which he calls the "most important revolution in modern times". France received Khomeini in 1978, when it was clear he was planning an insurrection against the shah, and provided him lines of communication through which to mobilize demonstrations. This is the most dramatic example of the French penchant for harboring Islamic extremists, Mr. Pryce-Jones points out, noting that they granted a safe haven to Haj Amin el-Husseini, the mufti of Jerusalem, returning him to the Middle East when he was wanted as a war criminal in 1945. He concludes that "twice now the world has been handicapped by French-harbored monsters – Haj Amin and Khomeini – who were fascists."
Mr. Pryce-Jones discussed the immigration of Muslims and Arabs into France, which began after WWII and accelerated greatly after French rights and welfare benefits were granted them in 1974. Today, Muslims constitute 10 percent of the French population, not including illegal immigrants. The problem, Mr. Pryce-Jones points out, is that the Muslim population is not assimilated because the French government makes little effort to integrate it, and Muslims live with 60-70 percent unemployment in slummy suburbs with drug and crime problems. They live in a society apart from the French, factors that contributed to the rioting and violence in France in late 2005.
It is "safe to say that the French state lost control of these people, to the Muslim street" which to the Jews of France is a serious matter. Some Jewish reactions are reminiscent of the 1930s, with the chief rabbi cautioning Jews not to wear their yarmulkes in the street. The French state is critical of Israel, but "does everything appeasing and surrendering to Arabs." The two themes – France as a "puissance musulmane" and no nationality for the Jews – have collided, and as Mr. Pryce-Jones notes, the French government has refused to stand by its Jewish population.
Iran, which threatens genocide and death to Americans and Jews, will present "a test of our whole civilization," says Mr. Pryce-Jones. France is once again blocking U.S. efforts, choosing to appease a genocidal state. During the July 2006 fighting in the Middle East, France stopped short of siding with Hizbullah, but justified it and criticized Israel.
"To understand how France got into this muddle is the purpose of Betrayal, how they have taken this position that the Jews are not a nation, must never be a nation, while incorporating Muslims into their nation." The problem, argues Mr. Pryce-Jones, is that the French "believe their own fairy tale."
Summary account by Mimi Stillman.