The Sarah Halimi Affair and the Taboo on the “New” Anti-Semitism

The following essay was originally published in French at Le Figaro Vox on July 14, 2017, and is published here by permission. Translated by Russell A. Berman.

In the night of April 4, 2017, in Paris, Sarah Halimi, a 65-year-old Jewish woman, was savagely killed. Her murderer, Kobili Traoré, a radicalized Muslim with a Malian background and a long police record, assaulted her for forty minutes, first in her living room and then on her balcony. He shouted “Allah Akbar,” while degrading his victim, called her a “fat whore” and a “shaitan” (a demon in Arabic). From their windows and later from the courtyard, several neighbors heard and then witnessed, in disgust, the massacre. In Noémie Halioua’s excellent article in Causeur, she reports the testimony of one of them: “First I was woken by the moans of a creature in suffering. It was torture. First, I thought it was an animal or a baby. But then, lifting the blinds and opening the window, I recognized that it was a woman moaning as she was being beaten. With each blow, I heard a moan; she did not even have the strength to cry out anymore.” Kobili Traoré strikes her so hard that his fist is swollen. When he sees the light of the police flashlights in the courtyard, he yells, “watch out, there is a woman here about to commit suicide,” as he seizes his victim, still alive, by her wrists and throws her over the banister of her balcony. Sarah Halimi lays in the courtyard, dead, covered in blood.

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Insufficient Secularization

The process of secularization is insufficient if, voided of its original pathos, it leads to any form of sacralization of the immanence. Secularism becomes insufficient, if not harmful, in the same way as religious fundamentalism, if it becomes an obstacle to building pluralistic coexistence. Therefore, secularism should acknowledge the emergence of religious challenges. Religion has found, in the crisis of reason (metaphysical, scientific, and political), an opportunity not only to be present in the public sphere, but also to demand the right to equal treatment—appealing to the same democratic principles of secularism—and the right to political participation. Secularism cannot respond to these challenges with another form of “enlightened fundamentalism.”

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Secularism, Fundamentalism, and Culture

As an occasional feature on TELOSscope, we highlight a past Telos article whose critical insights continue to illuminate our thinking and challenge our assumptions. Today, Michael Millerman looks at Frederik Stjernfelt’s “Secularism is Fundamentalism! The Background to a Problematic Claim,” from Telos 148 (Fall 2009). Frederik Stjernfelt and Jens-Martin Eriksen’s The Democratic Contradictions of Multiculturalism is also available from Telos Press in our online store.

What Leo Strauss demonstrated in his studies on the foundations and crisis of liberalism—an achievement that continues to bring both honor and infamy to his name—recurs in the guise of an unsolved problem in both the popular press and in learned company as a debate over the question of whether secularism is what it ostensibly opposes: a rigid fundamentalism. In these circles, the question is provoked less by purely theoretical considerations than by such utterances in the public sphere as are bound to infuriate a sect’s opponents, or confirm them in their suspicions: the Christian American Family Association‘s director of issues analysis refers to “secular fundamentalists” as “the American Taliban”; Quebec Cardinal Marc Oullet, who had a chance to become Rome’s new Pope, complains of “secular fundamentalism” and the “dictatorship of relativism” when defending the Catholic faith; the inquisitor Simon Blackburn quips that a recent book by an established and respected philosopher, who questions the materialistic atheism of the day, ought to be blacklisted as prohibited reading.

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