A gesture to unite all mankind

blumIn the 1930s refugees poured into France, fleeing Hitler’s reign of terror in Germany . Mainly Jews, but also gays, communists, radicals, intellectuals — all those persecuted by the Nazis found a home in France. At least, that is,  until the Germans occupied France in 1940 and set up their puppet Vichy regime.

Yet France, this most deeply democratic country, whose revolution established “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity” for all, has always had its own dark side. During the infamous Dreyfus Affair, which tore the country in two between 1894 – 1906, the dark forces of hatred, intolerance, and barbarism came crawling out from under the rug.  In fact, it was the Dreyfus affair which radicalized the young literary critic Leon Blum, which inspired him to go into politics and fight, as his most famous book is titled, “For all mankind.”

These ugly memories are stirring in France today. The so-called comedian Dieudonne has popularized a downward gesture which, although it bears the innocent name of quenelle, (fish dumpling), looks suspiciously like a reverse nazi salute. Dieudonne rides on a rising tide of anti-Semitism, and French Jews are emigrating in fear. In fact, as an op-ed in the New York Times points out, France today is also rife with many other“anti’s” — against Muslims, immigrants, the European Union… indeed anything that comes from the outside.

In the photo you see Leon Blum in 1936, just elected Prime Minister of France, making the triumphant gesture of the working class, the raised fist of solidarity and support against violence and oppression. You see this gesture in photo after photo from the time. By the thousands, singing and chanting, the people march proudly with upraised fist, defying dictators and oppressors.

But who today can unite not just France but our whole divided world — with the warm humanistic vision of a Leon Blum? Who will raise the fist to resist violence, hatred, and intolerance? Who will fight “for all mankind?”

 

 

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