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June 8, 2017 6:04 pm

Leading French Intellectual Michel Onfray Joins Demands to Recognize Murder of Sarah Halimi as Antisemitic Hate Crime

avatar by Ben Cohen

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French philosopher Michel Onfray. Photo: screenshot

One of France’s most prominent public intellectuals has denounced the April 4 murder of Sarah Halimi – an orthodox Jewish pensioner who lived in the Paris suburb of Belleville – as an antisemitic crime, calling on the French authorities to recognize that fact by prosecuting the murderer accordingly.

Michel Onfray, a philosopher, told French newspaper Le Point that he rejected the account of Halimi’s murder depicting it as “not an antisemitic crime, not a crime committed by a Muslim fundamentalist.”

Onfray is one of fifteen leading intellectuals who signed a petition demanding that Halimi’s murder be investigated as an antisemitic crime. The petitioners – who also included the Jewish philosopher Alain Finkielkraut and the feminist theorist Elisabeth Badinter – pointed out that the murder took place at the height of France’s presidential campaign. They argued that the reluctance of the authorities to classify it as a hate crime committed by a Muslim was based on fear that doing so would boost the electoral fortunes of Marine Le Pen, the candidate of the far right National Front.

Halimi – a 66 year-old former kindergarten teacher and widow who lived alone – was murdered in the early hours of April 4 by Kada Traore, a 27-year-old immigrant from Mali. After breaking into Halimi’s apartment, Traore attacked Halimi and beat her ferociously. Her screams alerted neighbors who called the police; on arrival, they heard Traore yelling “Allahu Akhbar!” and “Shaitan!” (Arabic for ‘Satan’). Concerned that a terrorist attack was taking place, they called for anti-terror units to be deployed. But by the time these officers arrived at the scene, Halimi had been thrown by Traore from the window of her third-floor apartment to the ground below.

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In the weeks that followed the murder, police enquiries focused on Traore’s mental health rather than his Islamist views, and the possibility remains that he will be deemed mentally unfit to stand trial. Interest in the case on the part of the French media has increased since Le Pen’s defeat by centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron in the May 7 election.

Onfray protested the combination of general silence about the case with the denial of its antisemitic motivation by asking, “How can we kill this poor woman twice?”

“Whenever there is an escalation in terror, there is an escalation in the denial of terror,” Onfray commented.

Traditionally associated with the French left, Onfray’s philosophical work is strongly influenced by anarchism and “hedonism” – which he defined in an interview as “identifying the highest good with your own pleasure and that of others.” An outspoken atheist, among Onfray’s prolific output is the 2007 “Atheist Manifesto: The Case Against Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.”

An uncompromising opponent of theocratic societies, Onfray courted controversy in a 2007 interview, when he said, “I do indeed think a civilization is more worthwhile where little girls are not genitally mutilated, rather than one where their wholeness is destroyed.”

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