Commentary Magazine


Topic: Mohammad Merah

Is the West Winning a New Cold War?

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.

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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.

Even worse, officials in a democracy who would call for harsher measures against internal threats would themselves be denounced as undemocratic. There is no easy exit from this “topsy-turvy situation,” especially in a country like France where rights and anti-racism are national obsessions second only to soccer.

What should democracies do? Revel’s first answer is a wake-up call: “don’t do what you are doing now.” And here I must respectfully dissent from Max’s conclusion. Whatever its past successes, France’s handling of Mohammad Merah suggests that it is helpless before the “lone wolves” of Islamic radicalism, who number in the hundreds of thousands. What France is doing about them now is not succeeding.

The second choice (to adapt Revel to the present moment) is to hope that, somehow, someday, the Islamists will voluntarily change their ways and agree to stop murdering Jews and anyone else who resists, simply by virtue of being who they are, the “household of Islam.” This of course is a fond but naive hope.

The third and final option is to accept the fact that the West is at war with Islamism. Among other things, this would entail the recognition that those who enlist with Islamism are the sworn enemies of democracy, who are no longer merely “expressing opinions” and exercising their right to disagree, but are seeking the violent downfall of democracy itself. In Revel’s terms, what is required is a new Cold War — against Islamism this time around.

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Verdict on Toulouse: French Incompetence

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.

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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.

Claude Guéant, the interior minister, defended the French intelligence agency’s failure by saying it follows “a lot of people engaged in radical Islamism. Expressing ideas and manifesting Salafist opinions is not grounds enough for prosecution,” he explained.

Maybe not, but Merah did more than merely express Salafist opinions. A neighbor in Toulouse filed two police complaints after Merah had tried to recruit her son to jihad by showing him Al Qaeda videos of murders and beheadings, Haaretz reported earlier today. A petty criminal who was known to police for his violent streak from childhood, Merah was radicalized in prison, traveled to Pakistan and Afghanistan to receive terrorist training at the hands of Al Qaeda, and returned to France determined to kill.

Even when they had Merah cornered, the French authorities did not appear to know what to do with him. After two gunshots were heard from Merah’s apartment shortly before 1:00 in the morning, Guéant wondered aloud if Merah had killed himself. French commandos waited another ten hours, with no communication from Merah, before assaulting his apartment. A special camera was inserted into the apartment, but Merah could not be found. Finally he fired upon them from the balcony and retreated to his bathroom to await them. When the commandos burst in, Merah emerged from the bathroom, firing ferociously, wounding one officer in the foot. Then he dashed back to the bathroom and flung himself from the window.

A columnist for the Telegraph described Merah as a Nike or “Just Do It” terrorist. “[I]ntelligence experts believe al-Qaeda no longer has the organisational capacity to conduct [spectacular] attacks [like 9/11],” Con Coughlin wrote. “Instead they are focusing their energy on softer targets.” Merah may be among the first of a new wave of “lone wolf” terrorists, experts fear.

That’s one fear. My fear is that French powerlessness — the French inability to stop Merah before he murdered Jews and soldiers, the French incompetence at preventing him from writing the last chapter of his own story, going out in a blaze of gunfire, refusing to be taken alive — will only encourage more Islamist terrorists. Whether France has shown that it cannot protect its Jews remains an open question. What France has abundantly demonstrated, however, is that it cannot prevent known Islamists from carrying out terrorist attacks on French soil, nor capture them alive once they have done so.

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Removing All Traces of Islamist Terror from Toulouse Shootings

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.

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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.

Please don’t tell M. Jay Rosenberg of Media Matters Action Network. He will be badly disappointed at the news. When I first wrote about the Toulouse school shooting on Monday, Rosenberg tweeted:

https://twitter.com/#!/dg_myers

Oops. Oh, well. Rosenberg won’t be alone in trying to cover his tracks. In reporting that “French Police Say They Have Cornered Suspect in School Shooting,” the New York Times earlier today described Merah as a “French national of Algerian descent,” carefully avoiding any mention of his religion. After saying that Merah “told negotiators that he belonged to Al Qaeda,” and after identifying his motives at last (“the attacks were meant to avenge the deaths of Palestinian children and to protest French military deployments abroad”), the Times went on to reveal that Merah “called himself a mujahedeen [sic],” which the newspaper helpfully translated as a “freedom fighter.” (Because, you know, to shoot Jewish schoolchildren in the head at close range is obviously to strike a blow for freedom.)

No further mention was made of Al Qaeda or mujahedeen, and none at all of anti-Semitism or Islamist terror. Instead, the Times found a way, like Rosenberg, to keep talking about rightists. Three times its story mentioned the political right in connection with the murders. Easily the best passage was this:

Muslims [in France] complain widely of feeling vilified by some political elements, on the right in particular, and the anti-immigration far right has been gaining unprecedented popularity in recent months.

Still no mention of Merah’s being a Muslim, by the way. Nor any suggestion that French Jews might complain of feeling targeted for murder.

And so it goes. The campaign by the mainstream media to whitewash Islamist terrorism and pin Jew hatred only on the extreme political right is being conducted even now, even as a self-confessed Islamist terrorist holds French police at bay. In a few hours, of course, Merah will be captured or killed. And the New York Times will have removed all traces of its self-embarrassment again.

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