Max Boot believes that France is a success at counter-terrorism, despite “bungling” the case of Mohammad Merah. “Indeed France’s real mistake is not doing more to assimilate Muslims which ensures a constant supply of plotters,” Max writes; “the blame is more on society and government as a whole than on the security forces which are on the whole quite effective.”
Perhaps he is right. I am reminded, though, of something that Jean-François Revel wrote for COMMENTARY nearly three decades ago. The philosopher and former Résistance fighter who succeeded Raymond Aron as France’s most trenchant political commentator, Revel warned that Western democracies have a susceptibility to internal threats written into their genetic code. A democratic state can mobilize against external enemies, but:
can defend itself from within only very feebly; its internal enemy has an easy time of it because he exploits the right to disagree that is inherent in democracy. His aim of destroying democracy itself, of actively seeking an absolute monopoly of power, is shrewdly hidden behind the citizen’s legitimate right to oppose and criticize the system. Paradoxically, democracy offers those seeking to abolish it a unique opportunity to work against it legally.
Mohammad Merah, the self-confessed murderer of Jewish schoolchildren and French soldiers, died while jumping from his bathroom window in a torrent of police gunfire around 11:30 this morning in Toulouse. “This man doesn’t interest me,” Nicole Yardeni, the president of the regional Council of Jews, scoffed after the 32-hour siege had finally ended. “He is only an instrument of death.” But the French press seemed plenty interested. “Itinerary of a killer,” Le Parisien headlined its story over a front-page photo of a smirking Merah. “End of the road for a killer,” L’Humanite trumpeted. “Trajectory of hatred,” Libération blared.
Perhaps it was well that the French had become interested in Merah at last. Although he was on a Direction Centrale du Renseignement Intérieur “watch list” since 2008, no one was apparently watching him.
How could the same man gun down three French soliders in the city of Toulouse — two of them Muslim, the other North African — and then attack children at a Jewish school? Something just didn’t add up. There was “no clear motive” for the attacks, the New York Times said in an early draft of its story on the shooting at Collège et Lycée Ozar Hatorah on Monday. In later versions, after an outcry of disbelief, this was self-protectively revised to read: “Speculation over the motives for the killings ranged from anger at Muslims fighting in Afghanistan — the unit of three of the soldiers has been deployed there — and anti-Semitism, to a hatred of immigrants.”
Wrong. The alleged gunman, who reportedly has claimed all three French shootings, is a 24-year-old Muslim named Mohammad Merah.