By Jane Buckley
On Thursday, December 8th, I sat down at one of many small tables set up in a room in the Whiney Humanities Center to listen to a Yale Program for the Study of Antisemitism (YPSA) seminar entitled “Understanding Muslim-Jewish Conflict in France: A Historical Overview.” Maud Mandel, the speaker, is a Dean at Brown University where she also teaches History and Judaic Studies. Ms. Mandel’s credentials, including her master’s and Ph.D. degrees, her more than ten years as a faculty member at Brown, and her two published books, are complimented by her impressive speaking skills: she was obviously comfortable with public speaking, kept the twenty-five or so audience members engaged throughout the whole speech even without any visual aid, and delivered her information with an evident authority and eagerness to share. Ms. Mandel’s presentation focused on her book Muslims and Jews in France: History of a Conflict, which was published in 2014, and over the course of the talk she walked us through her decision to and process of writing the book, summarizing the content for us.
As stated in the description of her book, Muslims and Jews in France: History of Conflict “traces the global, national, and local origins of the conflict between Muslims and Jews in France, challenging the belief that rising anti-Semitism in France is rooted solely in the unfolding crisis in Israel and Palestine.” Ms. Mandel elucidated on this during her talk, explaining how oftentimes history is retold in too simplistic a fashion, and that her book really focuses on how trends and occurrences in France themselves are just as important to the Muslim-Jew story than simply the conflict in Israel and Palestine.
Ms. Mandel’s book is outlined into three main categories: the decolonization of North Africa, the student uprisings of 1968, and multiculturalism in France in the 1980s. Due to time constraints in our seminar on Thursday, Ms. Mandel only focused on the first and third points. One narrative that she told for us that I found particularly compelling went into detail about what she called “asymmetrical integration,” the difference in how Jews and Muslims were received in France after migrating from Northern Africa as a result of decolonization. According to Ms. Mandel, there was already an established Jewish community in France, meaning that Jews coming from North Africa were, for the most part, welcomed with guaranteed jobs, housing, and other such benefits. Muslims coming from North Africa, on the other hand, were not granted the same security or welcome, leading to an immediate distinction between the two groups. There is a lot more she shared with us on the subject, but ultimately she left on a bit of a pessimistic note, foreseeing more conflict to come.
Overall, the YPSA and Ms. Mandel did a great job of hosting an engaging, interesting, and relevant event. Many Americans feel uncertainty about the future of the diversity of America and about the way different groups interact with each other, and Ms. Mandel’s seminar seemed relevant even though she was focusing on 20th century France. The work of a historian like Maud Mandel allowed me to leave the talk with a forward-looking and constructive perspective about our future. The way she was able to look at different historical events and trends and make calculated theses off of these observations shows that, despite some of the inexplicable things that happen in the world, there are people who are striving to teach us how they happened and how we can learn from them. However, I think it is also important to keep in mind that, while historical analysis of events and trends is important, so is direct action and taking concrete steps to protect people.
Jane Buckley (’20) is a prospective global affairs major in Jonathan Edwards College. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.