A year ago, the Muslim French leader Dalil Boubakeur suggested turning empty churches into mosques. It is the first time in France that something similar happened to a synagogue. “History teaches us that these transformations are rarely innocent,” said Bertrand Dutheil de La Rochère, an assistant to Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front party.
Last year, at the famous Biennale artistic festival in Venice, Swiss artist Christian Büchel took the ancient Catholic Church of Santa Maria della Misericordia and converted it into a mosque. The church had not been used for Christian worship for more than forty years. Büchel decorated the baroque walls with Arabic writing, covered the floor with a prayer rug, and hid the crucifix behind a prayer niche indicating the direction of Mecca, the holy city of Islam. It was a provocation.
But everywhere else in Europe, the practice of Islam really is outstripping Christianity, while Jews are leaving — not only France but the old continent — en masse.
In January, Zvi Ammar, the president of the Marseille Israelite Consistory, recommended that Jews that stop wearing a kippah (skullcap) when out in the street. Too many anti-Semitic incidents have cast fear into the hearts of Marseille’s 70,000 Jews, who make up a tenth of the city’s population. 500 Jews already left the city in 2015. A few days ago, Mr. Ammar announced another attempt at appeasement: the conversion of a historic synagogue into a mosque.
The synagogue Or Torah [“light of the Torah”] was bought by the Muslim organization Al Badr for 400,000 euros ($456,000). The synagogue was empty, due to rampant anti-Semitism in Marseille, while the nearby mosque, run by Al Badr, was unable to handle the overcrowding every Friday, with the faithful forced to pray in the street (a quarter of the inhabitants of Marseille are Muslim). Muslims in Marseille already have 73 mosques.
A year ago, the Muslim French leader Dalil Boubakeur suggested turning empty churches into mosques. It is the first time in France that something similar happened to a synagogue. “History teaches us that these transformations are rarely innocent,” said Bertrand Dutheil de La Rochère, an assistant to Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front party. He appeared to be comparing the fate of the synagogue to that of the Hagia Sophia Basilica, which became a mosque in Constantinople (now Istanbul) in 1453, after its capture by the Muslim Ottoman Turks.
What should we do?” Zvi Ammar asked this author.
“Security concerns had already pushed the Jews out of the city’s center. We could no longer live in a Muslim area, so the synagogue was empty. Thousands of synagogues in the Arab-Islamic world, from Libya to Morocco, from Iraq to Tunisia, have been converted into mosques. The only difference is that in France, Muslims cannot expropriate a synagogue; they have to pay for it.”
What a sad consolation.
Zvi Ammar, however, is right: not only is the Middle East full of synagogues turned into Islamic sites, but also of churches converted into mosques, such as the Umayyad in Damascus, the Ibn Tulun in Cairo and the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. In Hebron and on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, Muslim conquerors built their sites atop the Jewish ones.
A few years ago, Niall Ferguson, the brilliant contemporary historian, wrote about Europe’s future as “the creeping Islamicization of a decadent Christendom.” It is easy to find images of the decay of Europe’s Christianity and the growth of Islam in the heart of the old continent. Every traveler in any modern European city can notice the new mosques being built alongside abandoned and secularized churches, some converted into museums.
The most crucial moment in Michel Houellebecq’s novel, Submission, is when the novel’s protagonist, a Sorbonne professor searching for a conversion experience, visits a Christian shrine, only to find himself unmoved. This is a reality in France.