by GEW Editor-in-Chief


The crisis in Gaza between Hamas and Israel has taken centre stage in the big theatre of world politics, where states play their parts with calculated actions and scripted statements. However, its reverberations can be felt well beyond the borders of the Middle East, particularly in France’s boulevards and lanes. Let us explore the complicated tapestry of emotions, politics, and cultural tensions that this faraway struggle has unravelled in the heart of Europe via the prism of Voltaire, a champion of enlightenment and reason.


At the Crossroads


France is at a crossroads, with its complex fabric of cultures, religions, and histories. The country’s considerable Muslim population, many of whom support the Palestinian cause, is pitted against a sizable Jewish community, which is concerned for its safety in the face of escalating hostility towards Israel. Thus, for the French, the Gaza issue is more than just a distant geopolitical event; it is a mirror reflecting deep-seated anxieties, fears, and divisions.

The echoes of Gaza’s explosions may be heard in the intense conversations of French cafes and the streets’ silent tensions. Fears of the crisis sparking bloodshed within French borders have inadvertently created food for radicalisation mills. The conflict’s shadows remain huge, threatening to widen the chasms between communities, fueling Islamophobia on the one hand and bolstering far-right propaganda on the other.

Political schisms have emerged, with parties scrutinised for their positions on Israel’s activities. The political landscape, once a beacon of unity and brotherhood, now resembles a shattered mirror, with each shard reflecting a different point of view, a different allegiance. Though laudable in meaning, President Macron’s plea for unity faces the Herculean task of bridging these gaps. Whether fair or not, labelling France as a “go-to-kill-Arabs” backer – which many now think or say – adds another degree of complication to Macron’s challenge.

In the words of Voltaire, “Can reason and enlightenment prevail in such turbulent times?” Will France, with its revolutionary tradition of liberty, equality, and fraternity, be able to navigate these turbulent seas and emerge as a light of hope and unity? But France is no longer a revolutionary country. For many French people, like Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s La France insoumise (LFI), Macron’s regime has given up on the three republican principles born in 1789.

In the Annals of History


France has often been a crucible where ideas, both radical and conservative, have fought and crystallised throughout history. The current situation, with the Gaza crisis throwing a long shadow, is reminiscent of previous trials that challenged societal fabric and proved the nation’s mettle. The French Revolution, the Dreyfus Affair, and the Algerian War are just a few examples of times when France faced internal conflicts and emerged stronger and more united.

The streets of Paris, Marseille, and Lyon, which have seen several protests and demonstrations, are once again reverberating with furious voices. Some express solidarity with the Palestinians, while others defend Israel’s continuous war on Gaza in terms of “self-defence” as if self-defence compels you to destroy houses, schools, and hospitals and kill as many people as possible. Despite these difficulties, the silent majority yearns for peace and understanding. They are the people who believe in the French ideal of ‘vivre ensemble’ (living together) and hope that the country may rise beyond divided discourse.

The media, both domestic and international, is crucial in moulding perceptions. In the information age, where news travels faster than light, journalists must respect the ideals of fairness, accuracy, and objectivity, which, unfortunately, is not always the case. Sensationalism and partiality can stoke the embers of hostility, making reconciliation even more difficult.

Furthermore, the significance of education cannot be overstated. Schools and universities must lead in encouraging dialogue, tolerance, and understanding among the youth. According to Voltaire, “Prejudices are what fools use for reason.” By educating young minds about the nuances of Middle East issues and encouraging critical thinking, objectivity, and fairness, France may expect to raise a sympathetic, educated, and reasonable generation.

The Gaza crisis is a litmus test for the world’s leaders and diplomats, but it is also a litmus test for humanity itself. It calls us to rise above our prejudices, to value logic over emotion, and to advocate for the goals of peace, understanding, and cooperation.

 While essentially a confrontation between the Palestinians and Israel’s 75-year-long brutal occupation, the Gaza crisis has global consequences. It is an opportunity for France to reflect, reaffirm its devotion to its essential principles, and demonstrate its resilience. As the country faces this dilemma, one can only hope that the spirit of Voltaire, with his steadfast faith in reason and enlightenment, will guide it.

The plight of the Palestinian people under the Israeli occupation, still supported by the Western governments and the unfair and unethical media, presenting Israel always as the victim in the conflict, is a reminder of Voltaire when he said:

“And Pangloss sometimes used to say to Candide: All events are linked in the best of all possible worlds; for finally, if you had not been expelled from a beautiful castle with great kicks in the behind for the love of Miss Cunégonde, if you had not been put in the Inquisition, if you had not run to America on foot, if you had not given a good sword blow to the baron, if you had not lost all your sheep from the good land of Eldorado, you would not be eating candied citrons and pistachios here. That is well said,” replied Candide, “but we must cultivate our garden.”

Hichem Karoui

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