Political winners and losers from Toulouse killings
Members of the French RAID special intervention force returning from the siege after Mohammed Merah was shot dead. Photo from BBC.
Here are nine of the different interpretations and conclusions published in English online this week.
1. Sarkozy wins, French intelligence, Muslims lose Kim Willsher, Guardian world;
2. Israel wins, Palestinians lose Uri Avnery, Gush Shalom;
3. Fear connects week of killings Muslims, Jews, Blacks Rabbi Arthur Waskow, OEN;
4. Symbols of French republic attacked Eve Gani, CiF;
5. Multiple identities and national citizenship Rabbi David Meyer, CiF;
6. Face of unity on divided French body Shirli Sitbon, Ha’aretz;
7. Fears of diaspora Jews Noam Sheizaf, +972
8. British ignoring new antisemitism Denis MacShane, Jewish Chronicle
9. Jewish Muslim co-operation only hope Ed Husain, Jewish Chronicle
The 24-year-old petty thief who killed three Jewish children and their teacher had accumulated a lethal arsenal and lived a life at odds with his unemployed status. How could this have happened under the nose of the intelligence services?
Kim Willsher, guardian.co.uk
TOULOUSE—The killing of three Jewish children and a teacher might never have happened, it emerged this weekend, if the Toulouse gunman Mohamed Merah had murdered his original target last Monday. Before being killed in a shootout at his apartment, Merah told police he did not set out to slaughter his victims at a school in the southern French city but had “improvised” after missing a chance to kill a French soldier.
The school murders, following Merah’s previous execution-style killing of three soldiers who served in Afghanistan, have traumatised France ahead of presidential elections.
During a 32-hour siege, he told police that after gunning down the three paratroopers he had already identified another member of the military in Toulouse as his next target. After turning up to kill the man on Monday morning, he discovered his target had left home earlier than expected. On the spur of the moment, Merah turned his high-powered scooter around and headed for a nearby Jewish school. He dismounted and put the scooter on its stand before shooting at point-blank range at three children under the age of ten waiting for a school bus.
It has also been revealed how Merah, who claimed to be linked to an al-Qaida fringe group, had fooled investigators after being summoned to explain visits to Pakistan and Afghanistan in November. The 23-year-old claimed he had gone on holiday to find a bride and showed them tourist snaps he had loaded on to a pen drive to verify his story.
Once released, Merah set about collecting an arsenal of weapons he later used in his killing spree, including three .45 Colt handguns, an Uzi and a pump-action shotgun.
Merah’s older brother Abdelkader, and the brother’s girlfriend, who were arrested on Wednesday, have been transferred to Paris for questioning by France’s specialist anti-terrorist officers. Abdelkader, 29, is said to have denied encouraging Merah to commit the murders, but was reported to have said he was “proud” of his acts. Merah’s mother, who was arrested at the same time, was released yesterday. Police are trying to determine if he had any help in carrying out the murders, which have refocused attention on the threat of radical Muslim terrorists.
Bernard Squarcini, head of France’s intelligence services, said Merah’s story after he was brought in for questioning in November had been convincing, saying he had shown “excellent co-operation, education and courtesy”.
Merah was killed in a hail of fire at his apartment in the south-west French city of Toulouse. He had cut off communication and was hiding in the bathroom, hoping to fool police into thinking he had killed himself. When police entered the flat he burst out firing in all directions. Merah had laid out a series of obstacles, including a washing machine and a large black leather sofa. On the flat’s balcony were materials for making petrol bombs.
The revelations will raise questions about how Merah succeeded in amassing such an arsenal of weapons – and while unemployed and on benefits – without raising the suspicions of the intelligence services who were supposed to have him under surveillance. The investigation will focus on how an unemployed petty thief could afford a €500 (£418) a month flat, as well as a rented garage and two hire cars.
An autopsy showed his body was riddled with 30 bullets. One to the head and a second to the abdomen were said to have been fatal. A total of 300 rounds were fired by Merah and police during the operation to end the siege. French investigators say they have found no evidence that Merah was connected to any al-Qaida group.
The identity of the killer was greeted with dismay among France’s Muslim community. “Up until then, we had been praying, praying that it wasn’t someone with foreign roots, a Muslim,” says Khadija Ba, a French women’s campaigner who was born in Morocco. “When they said his name, our hearts sank. Then we knew once again we would be blamed for the terrible killings; blamed for everything.” She added: “He was a French citizen who slaughtered other French citizens, but all anyone heard was that he was called Mohamed and was a Muslim.”
The killings have also transformed the lead-up to April’s presidential election first round. Before Toulouse, Socialist candidate François Hollande was leading the majority of polls to become the next president of France. The predicted margin between Hollande and incumbent president Nicolas Sarkozy was narrow for the first round on 22 April, but all surveys gave Hollande a clear majority in the second round a fortnight later.
After Toulouse, Super Sarkozy, the “president protector” – as one analyst described him – is back. Crime and security are Sarkozy’s speciality. Last week’s stand-off between police and Merah sparked memories of France’s longest ever siege when in 1993 a man took children hostage at a kindergarten in the wealthy Paris suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine, where Sarkozy was mayor. He persuaded the assailant, who was later shot dead by police, to release several children, and most of France still remembers the photographs of Sarkozy leading them out of the school.
In 2002, when Sarkozy’s predecessor Jacques Chirac was seeking re-election and Sarkozy was his tough-talking interior minister, the assault of an elderly man in Alsace three days before the first round put crime and security at the top of the political agenda and swung the popular vote behind the right. The result saw the right and far right competing in the second-round runoff and the Socialists out of the race. Earlier in March that year, a gunman had burst into a local council meeting at Nanterre just outside Paris and shot dead eight councillors.
On Thursday evening, a few hours after Merah was killed, Tunisian-born Ali and Jamel, like Merah a Frenchman of Algerian origin, were standing outside the drab apartment block where the gunman lived and died.
“Will this change the election? It changes everything 100%,” Ali said. “And it could not have come at a better time for Nicolas Sarkozy. The sad thing is that he was the one dividing the country by turning towards the far right before this happened.”
Thierry de la Cruz, 54, the director of an educative centre, said: “The problem is that Sarkozy is looking for votes from the extreme right by picking up their themes. And now he will find those votes. This plays very much in favour of Sarkozy. He has been playing on people’s fears and those fears have been realised. For those waiting for Hollande to be elected, it’s far from being won now. When we heard that the suspect’s name was Mohamed, well, that was a gift for the right.”
Even before the Toulouse shootings, Sarkozy was rising slowly in the polls. The trend appeared to be continuing after Toulouse, but Frédéric Dabi, of the opinion pollsters IFOP, said it was too early and too “unwise” to make any predictions about its effect on voters.
“No one can say what will happen,” he said. “Early indicators show that voters are still concentrating on economic and social issues. There is nothing to suggest at this moment that this will become an element in the election or will change people’s motivation.” He added: “Before Toulouse the tone of the campaign was already hard, so this might actually calm things. It is too early to say.”
At a gathering of 5,000 people in Toulouse’s Capitole Square on Friday, to show solidarity with the families of the victims and call for unity, the political predictions were mixed. A group of students praised the police and the president’s handling of the tragedy, and criticised other candidates who have been making political mileage out of the affair as “disgusting”. Benjamin Atlan, 22, said: “Everyone has their idea of who will benefit politically from this, but the fact that candidates came here to get votes after the school killing has upset many people. It is not well viewed.”
Social worker Sonia Ruiz, 32, said: “People said the president should not have come here, but he was doing his job, he was being president. In fact he was the only one who should have come here. The campaign will go on. I don’t honestly know what effect this will have.”
Hollande’s team insist their man has risen to the occasion. “The president behaved like the president; François Hollande behaved like the leader of the opposition and behaved with the dignity of a man of state, ” said Kader Aris of the Socialist party in Toulouse.
“This was a heavy moment that marks the spirit. Today we feel we have to avoid any political exploitation of this tragedy, any further division between people and ensure that the democratic debate continues. I don’t believe it will have any serious political consequences, but we will see in the days to come. This should not be an element in the election campaign. We have to accompany the families in their grief, be present for them and answer their concerns.”
In the immediate aftermath of the Toulouse shootings, Nicolas Sarkozy pledged to introduce new legislation making it illegal to look at websites encouraging terrorism and to travel abroad for terrorism training.
Hollande’s team refuse to be drawn into a polemic over the issue. “The right is using security for electoral ends; we will not take part in this. We are not convinced security in itself is a central theme of the election campaign,” said François Rebsamen, in charge of security for the Socialist candidate.
“The French first want solutions regarding employment, spending power, etc. But if we have to talk about security we will do so.”
For Khadija Ba, 40, who has been in France for 40 years, the tragedy of Toulouse has made her feel, once again, that she and her north African friends, and their French-born children and grandchildren, will always be “foreigners” in France. “Mohamed Merah was French. The people he killed were French. He was a Muslim,” she said. “We should not judge a community for the terrible acts of Mohamed Mehar. We should judge a society.”
Today, in Paris, members of the Jewish and Muslim communities will gather to pay their respects to the victims. The talk is of reconciliation, of unity after an extraordinary, terrible week.
The Ghetto Within
By Uri Avnery, Gush Shalom
RACIST HATE crimes are particularly ugly.
If the victims are children, they are even more so.
If they are committed by an Arab against Jewish children, they are also incredibly stupid.
This was demonstrated this week again.
WHEN AN Arab al-Qaeda sympathizer is guilty of shooting three Jewish children and an adult in Toulouse, after killing three non-white French soldiers nearby, he caused not only extreme grief to their families, but also extreme harm to the Palestinian people, whose cause he claims to support.
The world-wide shock found its expression in a demonstration of solidarity with the French Jewish community, and indirectly with the State of Israel.
The French foreign minister flew to Jerusalem, where the Jewish victims were buried. President Nicolas Sarkozy, in the middle of the fight for his political life, appeared everywhere where an ounce of political capital could be extracted from the tragedy. So, even more shamelessly, did Binyamin Netanyahu.
Just when calls for boycotting Israel were heard in many places, this act reminded the world of the ravages of anti-Semitism. One had to be very brave to demand the boycott of the “Jewish State” at such a time. It is easy for advocates of Israel to recall the Nazi battle-cry “Kauft nicht bei Juden!” (“Don’t buy from Jews”).
Lately, Netanyahu has been mentioning the Holocaust in every speech he makes in which he calls for an attack on Iran. He prophesies a Second Holocaust if Iran’s nuclear installations are not bombed to smithereens. This has been criticized inside Israel as cynical exploitation of the Holocaust, but in the atmosphere created by the Toulouse outrage this criticism has been muted.
SOME MAY think that these responses are overreactions. After all, the outrage was committed by a single 24-year old deranged individual. The victims were not only Jews, but also Muslims. Has this act not been blown out of proportion?
Those who say so do not understand the background of the Jewish reaction.
Yeshayahu Leibowitz, an observant Jew, said years ago that the Jewish religion had practically died 200 years ago, and that the only thing that unites all Jews now is the Holocaust. There is much truth in this, but the Holocaust must be understood in this context as the culmination of centuries of persecution.
Almost every Jewish child around the world is brought up on the narrative of Jewish victimhood. “In every generation, they stand up to annihilate us,” says the sacred text that will be read in every Jewish home around the world in two weeks on Passover eve, “They”, as is well understood, are the “goyim”, all goyim.
Jews, according to our generally accepted narrative, have been persecuted everywhere, all the time, with few exceptions. Jews had to be ready to be attacked in every place at any moment. It is a continuous story of massacres, mass expulsions, the butchery of the Crusaders, the Spanish inquisition, the Russian and Ukrainian pogroms. The Holocaust was only one link in that chain, and probably not the last one.
In Jewish historiography, the story of victimhood doesn’t even start with European Christian Jew-hatred, but goes back to the (mythical) story of Israelite slavery in Egypt, the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Babylonians and again by the Romans. A few weeks ago the jolly feast of Purim was celebrated, in memory of the Biblical (and mythical) story of the plan to annihilate all Jews in Persia, today’s Iran, which was foiled by a pretty and unscrupulous young woman named Esther. (In the end, it was the Jews who killed all their enemies, women and children included.)
The narrative of unending victimhood is so deeply embedded in the conscious and unconscious mind of every Jew, that the smallest incident triggers an orgy of self-pity that may seem quite out of proportion. Every Jew knows that we have to stand together against an antagonistic world, that the attack on one Jew is an attack against all, that a pogrom in far-away Kishinev must arouse the Jews of England, that an attack on Jews in Toulouse must arouse the Jews in Israel.
What the assassin of Toulouse has succeeded in doing by his disgusting act is to bind French – and world – Jewry even tighter to the State of Israel. Already these ties have become very close in the last few years. A large proportion of French Jews are immigrants from North Africa who chose to go to France instead of Israel, and are therefore fiercer Israeli nationalists then most Israelis. They invest money and buy houses in Israel. In the month of August, one hears more French than Hebrew on Tel Aviv’s sea shore. Now many of them may decide to come to Israel for good.
Like every anti-Semitic act, this one in Toulouse contributes to the strength of Israel, and especially to the strength of the Israeli anti-Arab right.
I BELIEVE that the Palestinian Prime Minister, Salam Fayad, was quite sincere when he condemned the outrage, and especially the declaration attributed to the assassin, that he wanted to avenge the death of children in Gaza. No one should utter the name of Palestine when carrying out such a dastardly act, he said.
I was reminded of my late friend, Issam Sartawi, the Palestinian “terrorist” who became an outstanding peace activist and was murdered for it. He once told me that a French anti-Semitic leader came to his office in Paris and offered an alliance. “I threw him out,” he told me, “I know that the anti-Semites are the greatest enemies of the Palestinian people”
As has been pointed out many times, modern Zionism is the step-daughter of modern European anti-Semitism. Indeed, the name “Zionism” was invented only a few years after the term “anti-Semitism” was coined by a German ideologue.
Without anti-Semitism, which engulfed Europe from the “Black Hundreds” in Czarist Russia to the Dreyfus affair in republican France, Jews would have yearned for Zion comfortably for another 2000 years. It was anti-Semitism, with the threat of dreadful things to come, that drove them out and lent credibility to the idea that Jews must have a state of their own, where they would be masters of their own fate.
The original Zionists did not intend to build a state that would be a kind of General Staff for World Jewry. Indeed, they thought that there would be no World Jewry. In their vision, all the Jews would congregate in Palestine, and the Jewish Diaspora would disappear. That’s what Theodor Herzl wrote, and that’s what David Ben-Gurion and Vladimir Jabotinsky believed.
If they had had their way, there would have been no anti-Semitic murders in Toulouse, because there would have been no Jews in Toulouse.
Ben Gurion was narrowly restrained from telling American Jewish Zionists what he thought of them. He held them in utter contempt. A Zionist, he believed, had no business to be anywhere but in Zion. If he had listened to Binyamin Netanyahu sucking up to the thousands of Jewish “leaders” in the AIPAC conference, he would have thrown up. And understandably, because these Jews, who were clapping and jumping up and down like mad, egging Netanyahu on to start a disastrous war against Iran, then went back to their comfortable homes and lucrative occupations in America.
Their English-speaking children attend colleges and dream about future riches while their contemporaries in Israel go to the army and worry about what would happen to their defenseless families if the promised war with Iran really comes about. How not to vomit?
BY THE way, the symbiosis between American politicians and the Zionist lobby produced another weird curiosity this week. The US Congress unanimously adopted a law that makes it easy for Israelis to immigrate to the US for good. All we have to do now is to buy a small business in America – say a little delicatessen shop in a corner of Brooklyn, for half the price of an apartment in Jerusalem – to automatically become American residents, and eventually citizens.
Can one imagine a more anti-Zionist act than this plot to empty Israel? All out of love for Israel and Jewish votes?
The Israeli media applauded, of course, this astounding new evidence of American friendship for Israel.
So here we have a murderous anti-Semite in Toulouse driving the Jews towards Israel, and a cravenly Zionist US Congress enticing the Israelis back into “exile”.
WHEN ISRAEL was founded, we thought that that was the end of Jewish victimhood, and especially of the mentality of Jewish victimhood.
Here we were, Hebrews of a new kind, able to defend ourselves, with all the strength of a sovereign state.
Cry-baby victimhood belonged to the despised and detested Diaspora, to the dispersed and defenseless Jewish communities.
But victimhood has come back with a vengeance, both as an all-purpose political ploy and as a mental attitude. The Iranian nukes, real or imagined, give it a big boost. As long as Israel is in a state of fear, the Second Holocaust mentality will not loosen its grip.
From day to day, Israel becomes more Jewish and less Israeli. As has been said, it is easier to get the Jews out of the ghetto than to get the ghetto out of the Jews. Especially in a permanent war.
So in the end we come to the same conclusion as in all other matters: Peace is the Answer.
Killing Jews, Killing Muslims, Killing Blacks
By Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Op-Ed news.com
— A Frenchman kills a Jewish family and several French soldiers (some of them Muslims) who had served the French government’s interests by using violence against Muslim societies.
— An American soldier kills several Muslim families in Afghanistan, the second Muslim country in which he has been ordered into four tours of violence.
— An armed Euro-American kills an unarmed African-American for looking suspicious inside a gated community in Florida.
Three utterly different news items? Merely, as a Secretary of Defense once euphemistically said, “Stuff happens”? Just dots, no connections?
I don’t think so. For one thing, I think all three killers were operating within a framework of what seemed like legitimate violence. Even though there was widespread condemnation of their acts, afterwards.
Afterwards. But what about Beforehand?
The Florida killer was operating under a basic American cultural “rule” (once felt by almost all white Americans, then by a majority, and still by a large proportion of them): The lives of black folk are far less valuable than the lives of white folk.
The Florida killer said he felt fearful. And Fear in a white person is far more urgent to end than Life in a black person is important to save.
Why did he feel afraid? Because the domination of other human beings, the willingness to enslave one class of them, lynch them, segregate them, impoverish them, imprison them, can only be undergirded by coming to believe that this class of them are dangerous. The oppression — which benefits the oppressor — precedes and gives rise to the Fear.
You can overcome fear by connecting, communing, with the people you fear. (But then how can you keep the benefits you get by oppressing them?) Or you can overcome fear by being willing to suffer and die for a principle. Or you can overcome fear by being willing to kill.
In France, a marginalized Frenchman put meaning in his life by enlisting in a one-man army. An army to avenge all the killings of Muslims by the French and Israeli armies. Anyone wearing a French uniform, and anyone wearing not only an Israeli uniform but the “uniform” of Orthodox Judaism, was dangerous. Even their tiny children.
He might have overcome his fear of these “dangerous” people by connecting, communing with them, trying to affirm his own humanity so that they would be more likely to affirm his. Or he might have overcome his fear by risking suffering and even death, directly and nonviolently challenging the governments he saw as dangerous and frightening. Or he could overcome his fear by killing.
And the third killer, an American soldier. He had been taught, not only in the brain but with every muscle and blood vessel in his body, that his job, and more than that his moral task, his sworn duty, is to kill Iraqis and Afghans. And certainly he fears them. They have damaged his brain, distorted his life.
He could have transcended his fear by trying to connect, to commune, with the Afghans he feared, whom he had been ordered to kill. If his officers had prevented his doing that, he could have transcended his fear by putting his freedom, maybe even his life, on the line by nonviolently challenging them. Saying the fourth tour of duty was too much. Laying down his machine-gun. Demanding to be discharged, to be able to make love with his wife and parent his children.
Or he could transcend his fear by killing.
No wonder the Army that had taught him to kill brought him home after he killed, lest he be tried by the Afghans whose community he had shattered. After all, that same Army has time after time killed civilians, murdered wedding parties, broken the brains and bones of children — claiming all the while these dead were merely “collateral damage.” That same Army has taught such fear and hatred of Islam that its soldiers could piss on the bodies of dead human beings because they were Muslim, they could casually burn the book that to Muslims is the very Word of God.
So one soldier went beyond the Army’s expectations. If they were honest, they might give him a medal. Not the Medal of Honor, not the Medal of Courage, but the Medal of Fear Transcended.
In every one of our traditions, religious and secular, there are streaks of blood. In the Torah, proclaiming genocide against the Midianites. In the Gospels, pouring contempt upon the Jews. In the Quran, calling not only for the inner jihad, the struggle against arrogance and idolatry, but on occasion for jihads of blood against some communities. In the Declaration of Independence, with its denunciation of “the merciless Indian savages” who were the indigenous peoples of this land.
Let us not turn our rage, our fear, and then our violence against those “others” who have such bloody streaks amidst their wisdom, while pretending there are no such streaks amidst our own.
Let us instead remember that these streaks are only streaks in the many fabrics woven of connection and community, woven of a “decent respect to the opinions of Humankind.” A fabric woven by all human cultures and by all the life-forms of our planet. A fabric of fringes, where every thing we call our “own” as if we own it came into being only through the Inter-breathing of all life.
Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Ph. D., founded (in 1983) and directs The Shalom Center , a prophetic voice in Jewish, multireligious, and American life that brings Jewish and other spiritual thought and practice to bear on seeking peace, pursuing justice, healing the earth, and celebrating community. He edits and writes for its weekly on-line Shalom Report.
French Jews and Muslims have come together to mourn, breaking easy links between their people and Israeli policies or jihadism
Eve Gani, Comment is Free, guardian.co.uk
We were in a state of shock that Monday, early in the morning, when we discovered that our children’s lives had been snatched by a cold-hearted killer who had poured his hate and his bullets into the heart of a Jewish school.
Then the anguish came, with all the questions that followed about who the killer was and the possibility he might kill again. Given who the victims were – Muslims in Montauban, Jews in Toulouse – we realised very quickly there was a message of racist, antisemitic hate, but also, because of the two institutions that were hit, the army on the one hand, the school on the other, it was clear that these were also attacks on the institutions and symbols of the republic. Nicolas Sarkozy met Jewish and Muslim leaders at the Elysée twice in 24 hours, concerned the nation should not be torn apart by the actions of a single man or group representing the most barbaric of all criminals.
This event marks a particular turning-point in the history of antisemitism in France. First, there’s the modus operandi: never before has a murderer attacked schoolchildren. And the motivation for what the suspect did, the link he made between what he did and the death of “Palestinian children” shows the hatred of Israel which is spreading among some groups in France, leading to abominable antisemitic crimes. And when it’s a school, it’s a matter of assassination and antisemitism. An assassination, not a shooting, because the aim was to kill and terrorise a whole community. And antisemitic because it was children who were killed, simply because they were Jewish, with this link between “Jew” and “Israel”, and “Israel” and “criminal”. The criminal that morning was the man who shot Jewish children.
It’s also a terrible thing for Muslims in France. The French army binds everyone who serves in it to the republic’s principles of equality amongst citizens and meritocracy. When it came to debating national identity, the army paid homage to the values of courage and commitment to France. This tradition goes back a long way, because Muslims were already fighting on the front in the first world war. We can also understand why Mohammed Moussaoui, chairman of the French council of Muslims (CFCM), said, when he arrived at the Elysée on Wednesday, that Muslims in France were “offended” that the suspect behind the killings in Montauban and Toulouse claimed to be acting in the name of Islam.
“These acts are totally against the foundations of our religion,” said Moussaoui, standing alongside the chairman of the French Jewish council (Crif), Richard Prasquier. In this crisis situation, Prasquier stressed to him the importance of dialogue between Jews and Muslims with these words: “Our coming together shows a wonderful thing: there is absolutely no reason to link this person and the Islamist movement.” He added: “This man’s enemies include the Muslims of France, after all … Having said that, we need to avoid being complacent about these movements, which represent a real danger to our republic.”
After these atrocious deeds, we want to salute the common front our political class is making against these awful deeds. We would like to thank France for the courage it has shown in dealing with this crisis, and we hope people will admit after this tragedy that raging against Israel kills in France, and Islam in France is not jihadism. Today, the whole of France is mourning its children, and will never give an inch on these two subjects.
Don’t let Toulouse blow out the flame of French diversity
The Jews and Muslims of France must not retreat behind the wall of a one-dimensional identity. That way, only hatred triumphs
David Meyer, cif, guardian
Many years ago, as a young Jewish boy in Paris, and on the verge of becoming an adult in the eyes of Judaism, I sat with my community for Friday night prayers. The Friday night prayers are a time for reflection on the week and a time of joy as the Sabbath is welcomed into our lives. This night was different and on this night, 3 October 1980, mysynagogue on Rue Copernic became a terrorist target. It was my first encounter with antisemitism and threw me into an unknown world where such violence was possible. Through the eyes of the 13-year-old boy that I was, I remember the blood, the chaos and the bodies of the dead on the street. Those images have never left me.
And yet I also remember feeling part of a greater picture, one of compassion and one of humanity. Following this tragedy, more than a million people descended on to the streets of Paris to express their shock and horror. The presence of so many was comforting.
But then the tide turned, and compassion and solidarity were replaced by confusion. With a few words the then prime minister, Raymond Barre, changed everything. His words of condolences were marred by adistinction between the Jewish victims that died and the truly “innocent” victims who were not Jewish but simply had the misfortune to be walking past the synagogue at the time of the bomb blast. As a Jew, I immediately understood that, for some, I was not as “innocent” as others.
The tragedy in Toulouse this week has brought these conflicting memories back into my mind. The bloodbath that took place at the entrance of the Jewish school still has the potential to generate not only solidarity and compassion of the kind we have seen in the past few days, but also division, suspicion and hatred. The news continues to unfold as I write, but if a jihadi is indeed responsible, many will see in the identity of the suspect a definite proof of the never-ending antagonism between Jews and Muslims.
In the middle of a heated presidential campaign, politicians and their supporters will inevitably point the finger at the political and religious identity of the killer, questioning the place of Islam and Muslims in the country. Others will no doubt focus on the much publicised “return” of the four bodies in Israel for burial. One can already hear the unspoken question: were these murdered Jews not “French enough” to be buried in France where they lived? I fear a surge of islamophobia and anti-Semitism, raising doubts on the place of both Jews and Arabs in French society.
Yet there is also potential for a real thrust of solidarity and social cohesion on the horizon, because beyond the shared tears the tragedy of Toulouse confronts France with the complex “multiple identities” notion that it has ignored for too long. Let us look again at the picture through that prism. If the news reports are correct, the presumed killer is a French national, a Muslim certainly, but a French citizen. His first victims, more then a week ago, were three French paratroopers. Two of them were Muslims. All of them served in Afghanistan. His victims at the school were Jews, some carrying dual Israeli citizenship. Such is the reality that France will have to face if it seeks to emerge from this tragedy stronger and more united.
Facing the multiple nature of one’s identity within the framework of a shared national citizenship is not easy and it has never been. Judaism, many centuries ago, used the image of the flames of candles to illustrate the survival of the Jewish people as well as the difficulty of defining one’s identity in a plural world, at the festival of Hanukah. This was a time when not only did Jewish and Greek culture influence each other, but also when Jews feared for their future amid constant antisemitism. For the rabbis, just as the flame needs the oxygen of the outside world to burn and to shine, so do we. Without the oxygen that our relationships with the outside world provide, we cannot survive in any meaningful way. This image was daring, as in fearful times the natural tendency is to retreat behind our own walls. Yet behind the barricades, the flames will soon lack the oxygen they need.
The image of the flame should not be restricted to Judaism. It could, indeed, be used today by any nation currently facing the challenge of pluralism where cultures and traditions often mingle in an atmosphere of fear and violence. Retreating behind the walls of a simple one-dimensional identity is nothing but a trap. The false sense of security it provides will only lead to a desperate lack of oxygen. Jews and Muslims in France today are at a crossroads. The Toulouse tragedy could tempt both communities into retreating behind the boundaries of their respective communities. France as a nation could also be tempted to evade the complex makeup of its diverse population, seeking refuge behind an illusory French traditional identity.
If we all make what I can only believe would be the wrong choice, the tragedy of Toulouse and the hatred it represents will be the only winner. We must choose the fragile image of the flames over the secure image of community walls, which is nothing but an illusion.
David Meyer is a rabbi in Brussels and a professor of rabbinic literature at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome
The unease between communities is one of the reasons CRIF dropped out of Sunday’s planned march against intolerance.
By Shirli Sitbon, Ha’aretz
Several Muslim and Jewish leaders appeared united on French television after the attack in Toulouse, but officials within the Jewish community have no illusions: French Jews and Muslims are deeply divided.
“Don’t tell me French Muslims appreciate Jews – 50 percent of them hate Jews,” Rabbi Michel Sarfati told Haaretz on Thursday. The rabbi created the Jewish-Muslim friendship group and has traveled across France for several years preaching moderation.
Many hate Jews because extremist imams denigrate Jews in their sermons. They say we’re Israel’s puppets. Moderate Muslims try to fight this hatred, but they’re being threatened, and they get no support from the state.”
The killing in Toulouse has not improved relations between the communities.
One of the Muslim moderates is Dalil Boubakeur, mufti of the Great Mosque of Paris, who was received together with Richard Prasquier, president of CRIF, the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions, and France’s chief rabbi at the Elysee Palace on Tuesday.
Boubaker promised Muslims would pray for all the killer’s victims, like the Jews did after the school massacre. Many Muslims, in the same spirit, showed solidarity with the Jewish community. But on the whole, there is a feeling the killings only worsened the gap between the communities.
“Look at the Internet forums – some extremist leaders criticize the Jews for getting sympathy after the killing,” said Sarfati.
Another member of the Jewish-Muslim friendship association was alarmed by Muslims who admire the killer. “To them Mohamed Merah is a hero. Unfortunately, that view isn’t as rare as you’d think,” he said.
The unease between communities is one of the reasons CRIF dropped out of Sunday’s planned march against intolerance.
The group said it would take part in it at first, but on Tuesday when it was revealed the killer was an Islamist all associations dropped out of the rally, for different reasons.
“The killer has been located – there’s no reason to march now,” Prasquier said on French television on Wednesday night.
But CRIF sources said the group fears clashes between “communities.” Some refer to frictions between young Jewish militants from the Jewish Defense League and Muslim militants from the northern suburbs around Paris.
The march will take place, notwithstanding. Anti-racist groups and the Jewish student organization, which pulled out of it first, have changed their mind.
“There are tensions, of course. People were murdered – it’s only natural that tensions arise,” Benjamin Abtan from the European anti-racist group and SOS Racisme told Haaretz, “but that’s precisely why we have to demonstrate against hatred. We have to show that we’re united.”
CRIF sources say they fear the march will be exploited politically. On one side anti-racist and left-wing groups will say the killing is the far-right’s fault.
“Instead of criticizing anti-Semitism and terror they will focus on racism and Le Pen,” said Sammy Gohzlan, who head the Jewish communities in suburbs north of Paris. “I don’t think it’s a bad thing to criticize Le Pen, but they’re diverging from the real problem: anti-Semitism and terror.”
The far-right could also exploit the rally and criticize Islamism, Islam and immigration.
Rabbi Sarfati believes that’s precisely why CRIF won’t take part in the rally. “It’s all politics,” says the rabbi, who believes French President Nicolas Sarkozy asked CRIF to cancel the march. “Before they went into the Elysee on Tuesday they were for the demonstration, when they came out, it was canceled! Sarkozy probably told them to cancel because a march would be good for Le Pen and therefore bad for him.”
The rabbi says that if the rally is on he’ll take part in it, no matter what. “I’ll demonstrate against Islamism. French authorities have ignored the problem, which is threatening our society,” he said.
Thoughts following the terror attack in France.
Noam Sheizaf, +972
I lived in France in 2003, and I still remember grafitti on the Metro walls linking Israel, the Jews and the conflict in one big anti-Semitic mess. There is no denying that relations worldwide between Jews and Muslims are affected by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (they are also influenced by local socio-economical factors, and other issues); yet I don’t like those who try to establish their arguments regarding the conflict in those terms. It takes really sick logic to even hold Israel partly responsible for hate crimes against Jews.
It was therefore encouraging to see prominent Arab voices denounce the killing clearly and unequivocally. For example, in an op-ed in the important Arab paper Dar-al-Hayat:
Is it a violent Islam that kills children and innocents and claims to be Islamic? Such barbaric acts are against religion, and human values. Those who commit such crimes in the name of Islam are murderous infidels… No normal person could commit such a crime. If the murderer is an Islamic extremist, he wants to see discord in a country that has secular laws, and respects all religions.
And here is Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad:
It is time for these criminals to stop marketing their terrorist acts in the name of Palestine and to stop pretending to stand up for the rights of Palestinian children who only ask for a decent life.
Such messages – natural and expected as they should be – bring hope in a sad week.
I also didn’t appreciate the political use of the Toulouse murder by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – who tried again to delegitimize any criticism of Israel because it may influence distorted minds like that of the French killer. Norway’s Anders Breivik, who killed 78 people, mostly kids, quoted neo-conservative and Zionist writers. Does that fact in and of itself prove anything about Zionism or about neo-conservatism?
When I lived in Paris, my grandfather, a French citizen all his life, had already passed away, but his 90-year-old brother was still alive. The family lived in Argenteuil, a working class suburb that saw many North African families move in over the years. They felt threatened. I didn’t. Ten years earlier, when I visited my grandfather on my own, I took the wrong bus to his house on the way back from Paris one night and lost my way. I was 17. By the time my grandfather found me and picked me up, from a pay phone near a supermarket 10 miles away, he was totally panicked. I thought he was overreacting.
Having lived all my life in Israel, I don’t think I have much sense of the existential fear that Jews carry with them, which is different from Israeli anxiety over security issues. I am shocked and angered by the murder in Toulouse just like everyone else, but I have learned that such events don’t shake my world the way they do that of my Jewish friends and relatives abroad (especially the French ones). For me, this was another reminder of my need to be more sensitive to the unique circumstances of Jewish life in the diaspora.
Tragedy in Toulouse shows Jew-hatred is alive and well
By Denis MacShane, Jewish Chronicle
Is it possible, finally, for the British establishment to get its head out of the sand and admit that 21st century hatred of Jews is real? The Jew-killer of Toulouse who allegedly took the time to film the children he shot in cold blood, claimed he did so because of Israel’s policies towards Palestinians.
The Palestinian Authority was quick to condemn the slaughter and make the obvious point that it was no help to the Palestinian cause. But across the Arab world and among followers of Islamist or Salafist ideologies the rhetoric of antisemitism is growing stronger.
This week, President Ahmadinejad returned to one of his favorite themes when he told German channel ZDF that Israeli statehood “was a colonialist plan that resulted from a lie”. It is this language that justifies the atrocity in Toulouse, along with the earlier killings of two Muslim French soldiers, apparently on the grounds that France fights in Afghanistan. For good measure a man claiming to the presumed killer told a French journalist that his deeds were also to protest against the ban on burkas adopted by the democratic parliament in France.
It would be too easy to dismiss the killer as insane. He appeared calm and rational when he talked about his crime. He is said to have been in Pakistan and Afghanistan and to have described himself as a Mujahedeen. The descendants of the men who were armed by the West and Saudi Arabia in the 1980s to attack Afghani troops and their Soviet advisers are still there being trained in camps in Pakistan. As with the July 7 bombers, the terrorist threat we still face is based here in Europe. Islamist ideology, with its constant focus on eliminating Israel, needs antisemitism as a set of beliefs that justify violence.
Al Jazeera’s English channel is watched by many and the reports and interviews that come from its Knightbridge studios conform to good journalism standards. But Al Jazeera in Arabic is openly anti-Jewish, celebrating Hizbollah and other outfits dedicated to Israel’s destruction.
The rise of Islamist and Salafist activists in Egypt and Tunisia is opening a door to a more public political antisemitism. The French weekly, Nouvel Observateur, recently reported that Tunisia’s university minister had denounced the decree permitting equal rights for women in Tunisia, dating from the 1960s, as the work of Jews.
But if Holocaust-denial is now passé for European politicians (sadly the biggest political beneficiary of the Toulouse tragedy may be the far right Marine Le Pen, with her fanatical Islamophobia) denial of antisemitism is now mainstream politics. Celebrations of the Third Reich or the disgraceful commemoration of the Waffen SS in Latvia last week are dismissed as foolish japes or unimportant, marginal politics.
Ken Livingstone is rightly condemned for his approach to Sheikh Qaradawi,the theologian of suicide bombing aimed at Jews in Israel. But Qaradawi was allowed into Britain four times to preach his anti-Jewish poison before 1997 under the benevolent eye of the then Home Secretary, Michael Howard, and his special adviser, one David Cameron.
There is little media or political concern when the National Union of Journalists or the University and College Union back boycotts of Jewish journalists or Israeli academics. The NUJ or UCU would never dream of boycotting Saudi Arabia or China, where human rights and core freedoms are ruthlessly suppressed. But when it comes to Jews in Israel, the double-standard of contemporary antisemitism prevails.
Will the Toulouse massacre wake the antisemitism deniers in politics and the media? Probably not. Sadly, it will be easier to use the background of the alleged killer to drum up more xenophobic hate against European Muslims, despite the fact that, to Islamists, Muslims who serve their nation loyally in uniform are also victims of hate and violence.
Even as Ahmadinejad repeats his hate against Israel, the voices of appeasement make themselves heard. It is easier to describe Gaza as a “prison camp” than speak the truth that whatever its policy failures, Israel is the only rule of law, free media democracy in the region. Those who try and draw attention to contemporary antisemitism often feel that they cry wolf and nobody listens. The killings in Toulouse show that anti-Jewish ideology may have mutated but it remains the oldest, most deadly hate.
Denis MacShane is MP for Rotherham. He is updating his 2008 book “Globalising Hatred. The new anti-semitism” (Weidenfeld)
Jews and Muslims must show unity against jihadists
By Ed Husain, Jewish Chronicle
God forbid that the recent killer of Jewish children and a rabbi in France be a Muslim or of Arab descent,” I tweeted a day before the French authorities named Mohamed Merah as the prime suspect in last week’s terrorist atrocity. People on Twitter responded to me saying: “He also killed Muslims”. And yes, he did – but it does not take away from the severity of the killer’s antisemitism that led to him target Ozar Hatorah school and killing Rabbi Jonathan Sandler and the blessed children he was trying to protect.
What was their crime? Miriam Monsonego, aged 7, was killed in cold blood as the murderer grabbed her by her hair to shoot her in the head. She was the headmaster’s daughter. Rabbi Sandler’s two sons, Gabriel and Arieh, aged four and five, were killed too.
I remember their names because I am a father of two young daughters, aged two and four – I can imagine no greater torment in life than to lose our children, and worse, to have them killed before our eyes. My sympathies and prayers are with the parents and Jewish communities globally who continue to suffer at the hands of butchers who take antisemitism to its logical conclusion.
The self-proclaimed al-Qaeda jihadist who committed these heinous acts did not only hate Jews. He and his ilk equally abhor their fellow Muslims who are integrated, pluralist, and do not harbour Jew-hatred. Merah slaughtered Jewish children, but before that he also killed proud French Muslims who served in their nation’s armed forces: Sergeant Imad Ibn Ziaten, Corporal Abed Chennouf, Private Mohamed Legouad.
The cancer that is takfiri thinking – the jihadist declaration that people like me or other normal Muslims are not Muslims because we do not share their extremism – underpins this terrorist violence. It is a fact that al-Qaeda has killed more Muslims in Iraq, Pakistan and elsewhere than it has non-Muslims. To the violent Salafist jihadi, the majority of Muslims are misguided, deviant and a barrier to creating their dream of a global caliphate.
In these testing times, it is vital that Jews and Muslims demonstrate togetherness against the common enemy. Mahmoud Abbas, for all his faults, was swift to demand that terrorists stop using the Palestinian cause to justify their evil. French-Muslim leaders have rallied around Jewish communities. What starts as refusing to honour the dead at Holocaust Memorial Day, leads to dehumanising Jewish and other deaths, and then to producing men like Mohamed Merah who in cold blood kill children and other innocents.
Ed Husain is author of ‘The Islamist’ and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations