Dec 10, 2013
The Nightmare Won’t End in Toulouse
Posted on Mar 21, 2012
By Barry Lando
The horrific chain of seven slayings in Toulouse, France, that has stunned that country could have been lifted directly from a television thriller. In fact, this whole terrible affair has been a nightmare scenario that for decades has haunted authorities in France, Europe and the United States.
And the nightmare is far from over.
Mohammed Merah, a 24-year-old French man of Algerian origin, a few years ago gets involved with a Salafist network in France. According to the little that is known so far, Merah then heads off to Afghanistan where he links up with al-Qaida. In 2007, he is arrested for planting bombs and jailed for three years by the Afghans, but he escapes in a Taliban-led breakout. He is picked up by Pakistani authorities in 2010 and released.
Merah returns to Toulouse where his family lives and bides his time. Then last week with the most deadly aplomb, he kills three French soldiers and four days later rides his stolen motorcycle to the entrance of a Jewish school near his home and methodically shoots down a rabbi and three students.
And, in the age of YouTube and the Internet, to ensure that his gruesome act will someday be witnessed by all, around his neck he wears a video camera.
But the crisis highlighted by Merah is far from over.
The problem, of course, is that Merah is just one of 5 to 6 million people of Muslim descent living in France. A large number reside in shabby banlieues of the country’s major cities, where housing is dilapidated, unemployment high and bitterness rampant.
Meanwhile, the current political storm—about public street prayer, permitting new mosques, banning burkas and controlling halal butchers—that has roiled France has ensured that many Muslims feel even more marginalized.
There is also a considerable burden of history. Incredibly, last night—around the same time that police were planning how to apprehend Merah in Toulouse—my wife and I were watching a gripping movie on French TV depicting the courage of a young Algerian girl brutally tortured by French troops as her country fought a bloody struggle for independence. (Was Merah watching the same flick?)
But what counts far more than colonial history to young French Muslims is the fact that France chose to join NATO and the United States in invading Afghanistan. Thus, Merah’s calculated targeting last week of the French soldiers. Ironically, the three were also of North African origin, but in his Salafist eyes that probably made their “treachery” even more condemnable.
The ghastly, methodical slaughter of the rabbi and three Jewish schoolchildren four days later was—Merah has already told the French police—revenge for the Palestinian children killed by the Israeli army in Gaza.
(Did he realize that, in fact, the four people he killed at the Jewish school were all Israelis?)
The bottom line is that there is no way that knowing these facts anyone can credibly write off these events as another despicable case of anti-Semitism—the same kind of deeply embedded racial hatred that has come down through the ages; the virulence that fueled the Holocaust and the dispatch with which French police rounded up Jews for the Nazis during World War II.
Merah’s anti-Semitism was probably not driven as much by ancient loathing but more by the actions of Israel over the past few decades—the expulsion of the Palestinians, the rampant expansion of West Bank settlements, the invasions of Lebanon, the massive attacks on Gaza, take your pick.
To prove the point, the various upsurges of anti-Semitic attacks in France have corresponded precisely with each upsurge in the bloody conflicts between Israel and the Palestinians.
Whether Israel’s defenders feel the country’s actions are justified or not is almost beside the point: Those actions are regarded as outrageous in the eyes of millions of European Muslims, who watch the graphic coverage on TV and the Internet of all these grisly events including the regular statements of Jewish leaders in France and elsewhere that they fully support Israel’s actions.
As outspoken Israeli commentator Uri Avnery, one of the most acerbic critics of his country’s policies, has pointed out, the irony is that Israel, created as a haven from anti-Semitism for Jews around the world, has instead by its actions become the greatest promoter of anti-Semitism around the world.
So, what to do?
Beef up anti-terrorism efforts even further? It turns out that Merah was already on a “watch list” in the Toulouse region of some 600 people, including Islamic radicals and right-wing bigots. This is how the police, through some keen detective work, finally managed to run him down. He was on that list because Pakistani police had notified French authorities after spotting the young man in 2010.
We can be assured that anti-terrorist units in France and across Europe have infiltrated Salafist groups and have their own watch lists. So why not take action?
Because if there were indeed 600 names in Toulouse, then across France and Europe, we’re talking thousands—perhaps tens of thousands—of such people. There is no way to keep them all under round-the-clock surveillance.
Then expel them all. French citizens? Arrest them.
On what grounds? On whose evidence?
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