Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Life and Death on the Paris RER

The story about the Parisian woman who was accosted on the Paris regional train has caused quite a stir in both America and France. Her story appears to lack merit.

According to her testimony (and that of her traveling companion), she was accosted on the train by six men who appeared to be of North African origins. Rifling through he purse, they found an old address that said she had lived in the 16e arrondisement, which the men regarded as a Jewish neighborhood. They tore her clothes and drew a swastika on her belly and cut her hair with a knife.

But the police have found many reasons to doubt her report. No ticket agent has come forward to say that he or she helped the woman, as she claimed. The cameras do not show such a group of men entering the train. The call that she made to a friend to come pick her up was made at an earlier station than the one where the alleged attack took place. Finally, one witness claims that when the woman entered the train at the Louvres stop, her clothes were already torn.

Moreover, the woman appears inclined toward fabrication. She has made five reports since 1999 claiming she was attacked. None of them held water. Even worse, her own mother admits that her daughter is prone to tell stories. Ouch!

As I have written in other forums, the story of an antisemitic attack in France should call for both concern but also perspective. Antisemitism is on the rise in France. Every few months another Jewish cemetery in Alsace in desecrated. Recently, a Muslim cemetery was vandalized south of Strasbourg. The French, like many Americans, abhor hate crimes laws: they do not believe that the identity (race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.) of victims is an issue, and that all crimes are motivated by hate. Even if this attack were true, it was of limited scope. The violence did not rise to the level of the attacks on Matthew Sheppard or James Byrd. And in its origins, it would have been motivated by misogyny.

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