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Anti-Semitism, an unlikely aid to Jewish survival? Plus tales of tribalism in France, Poland

Anti-Semitism, an unlikely aid to Jewish survival? Plus tales of tribalism in France, Poland

Beneath the surface of polite conversation in the Jewish world there exists a disturbing (for me) school of thought that postulates the following: Anti-Semitism has not been all bad for Jews.

Yes, you read that right. Anti-Semitism has not been all bad for Jews because it has helped them survive as a living religious culture, one that otherwise might have disappeared via assimilation had Christians and Muslims, among whom Jews lived as minorities, been nicer about all those complicating theological details and cultural differences.

Or to put it another way, anti-Semitism forced Jews to cooperate among themselves for their physical survival, solidifying their tribal identity and encouraging them to fight to preserve their culture and faith.

I'm reluctant to embrace that proposition -- given the Holocaust, the Inquisition and the assorted pogroms and injustices Jews have endured across the centuries, and to this day. That's a heck of a price to pay for group cohesion.

Yet I can't utterly reject it; I'm too aware of the emphasis on anti-Semitism that Jewish organizations use to rally community solidarity. Yes, and to raise money.

So I wonder whether a similar dynamic is currently at play among French Christians, Roman Catholics in particular, who seem to be experiencing something of a public political revival? And not just French Christians, but also the entire backlash among more conservative religionists against globalization's massive and threatening demographic changes.

That backlash would include Indian Hindus, about whom I wrote last week, white British Christians (even if only culturally so) who backed Brexit and American evangelicals who voted overwhelmingly for President Donald Trump despite strong misgivings about his lifestyle and temperament.

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More secular attacks on burkinis: The New York Times explains why this is not about religion

More secular attacks on burkinis: The New York Times explains why this is not about religion

All week long, there has been a wave of news coverage about the burkini wars (earlier post here) in the very tense land that is postmodern France.

Part of the problem is that public officials are not sure what has been banned. One Muslim woman was sent home from the beach for wearing a long-sleeve T-shirt and pants, with a head scarf, according to The New York Times. Another got in trouble for wearing a "competition bathing suit" with a head cap. There appears to be confusion about whether it's illegal for Muslim women to take a stroll on a beach while wearing the hijab.

Meanwhile, one Muslim voice argued that it's progress that some Muslim women want to go to the beach at all, since a wet burkini still reveals the shape of their bodies. Progress!

In terms of journalism, the good news is that some reporters are beginning to explore what this story says about the links between French colonialism and the nation's aggressive approach to secularism -- which argues that all religious faiths must kneel before the powers of a superior French culture based on secularism, venerating modern saints such as Brigitte Bardot and Roger Vadim. I ticked off a few readers in an earlier post by suggesting this is a clash between Sharia law and a kind of secular Sharia law.

However, one still gets the impression that members of the college of cardinals in the Times newsroom are still clicking their heels together and chanting, "This is not about religion," "This is not about religion," "This is not about religion."

Well, it's hard not to sense a religion ghost in this haunted headline: "Fighting for the ‘Soul of France,’ More Towns Ban a Bathing Suit: The Burkini." The irony, of course, is that Prime Minister Manuel Valls and others have been placed in the uncomfortable position of arguing that their goal is to liberate women, by telling them what they can and cannot do.

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