Commentary Magazine


Topic: Mohammed Merah

Middle East Peace Won’t End Terrorism

Just as there was a certain segment of the intelligentsia which claimed after 9/11 that the U.S. “had it coming,” so too there will no doubt be some who claim that the Jews somehow had it coming because the Toulouse gunman, Mohammed Merah, cited the plight of the Palestinians along with other issues (e.g., the public ban on the veil in France) to justify his murderous rampage. The best riposte to this despicable line of argument comes from none other than Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad who says as Jonathan noted yesterday: “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.”

This will not, of course, silence the anti-Israel lobby which will claim that Israeli “occupation” of the West Bank and Gaza will continue to drive would-be terrorists around the bend until a real Palestinian state is established. The argument, plausible on its face, falls apart at the slightest examination.

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Just as there was a certain segment of the intelligentsia which claimed after 9/11 that the U.S. “had it coming,” so too there will no doubt be some who claim that the Jews somehow had it coming because the Toulouse gunman, Mohammed Merah, cited the plight of the Palestinians along with other issues (e.g., the public ban on the veil in France) to justify his murderous rampage. The best riposte to this despicable line of argument comes from none other than Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad who says as Jonathan noted yesterday: “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.”

This will not, of course, silence the anti-Israel lobby which will claim that Israeli “occupation” of the West Bank and Gaza will continue to drive would-be terrorists around the bend until a real Palestinian state is established. The argument, plausible on its face, falls apart at the slightest examination.


Just imagine that Fayyad and his boss, Palestinian Authority President Mohammed Abbas, had actually reached a “final status” deal with the Israelis. I know: it’s hard to imagine but suspend disbelief for a second. No one knows exactly what such a deal would entail but it’s safe to guess that, to be acceptable to any Israeli government, it would have to maintain Israeli sovereignty over much of Jerusalem and the large settlement blocs in the West Bank which are next to Israel’s pre-1967 boundaries. This would mean incorporating perhaps 5% of the West Bank into Israel proper with possible offsets elsewhere. The settlement would also presumably require Palestinians to recognize Israel’s existence as a Jewish state, to agree to live in peace with Israel, and (hardest to swallow) to renounce any right of return. Moreover Israel would probably insist–and rightly so–that any future Palestinian state be prevented from acquiring certain military capabilities (e.g., no anti-aircraft missiles that could shoot down jetliners landing at Ben Gurion Airport) and that Israel maintain some kind of security presence along the border between Jordan and the West Bank. Whatever happens with the Palestinians, the Golan Heights would remain under Israeli control at least pending a deal with Syria, which at the moment seems impossible to imagine.

Again, there is no realistic prospect of such a deal being done anytime soon; there is, for example, the inconvenient fact that Gaza is under the control of Hamas which won’t recognize Israel’s right to exist. But even if such a deal were done and the “peace processers” were to succeed beyond their wildest dreams—even if that were to occur, does anyone imagine that future Mohammed Merahs would react by saying: “I give up my jihad and am reconciled to the state of Israel. The Jews are now my friends.” The thought is absurd. What the Merahs of the world would say instead is: “An apostate regime of traitors has sold out the Palestinian birthright to avaricious sons of apes and I will never accept this sacrilege. The Jews remain my enemies.” In short what the Merahs object to is the existence of the state of Israel under any conditions, not its existence under its post-1967 borders.

To me this is so obvious that it barely needs saying. Yet a significant portion of the foreign policy establishments in the U.S. and Europe still don’t seem to get it. There is nothing wrong with pressing for a Palestinian-Israeli settlement; a deal, if it is a good one, is in the best long term interests of both sides. But no one would should imagine that any deal will deny extremists the ability to exploit the Palestinian cause to justify their own killer rage at the world in general and Jews in particular.

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The Secret of French Success on Terror

D.G. Myers is right that French authorities bungled badly in the affair of Mohamed Merah who was on a terrorist watch list but was allowed to roam freely. That terrible mistake was obviated somewhat by the swift and massive French response after the terrible shootings at the Jewish day school; Merah was identified and cornered within two days of that attack and stopped before he could kill again.

But whatever the French did wrong in this case — and there is no doubt that a terrible oversight occurred — on the whole French counter-terrorism is a success story. I recommend reading this 2008 article by Reuel Marc Gerecht and Gary Schmitt that calls France “the European country most serious about counterterrorism.” The secret of French success has been their willingness “to grant highly intrusive powers to their internal security service, the Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire (DST), and to their counterterrorist, investigative magistrates, the juges d’instruction” — powers that far exceed any authorities given U.S. government officials even under the Patriot Act. With those powers, French forces have done an impressive job of stopping terrorist plots of which there is no shortage because of the large number of marginalized and aggrieved Muslim immigrants living there. Indeed France’s real mistake is not doing more to assimilate Muslims which ensures a constant supply of plotters; the blame is more on society and government as a whole than on the security forces which are on the whole quite effective.

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D.G. Myers is right that French authorities bungled badly in the affair of Mohamed Merah who was on a terrorist watch list but was allowed to roam freely. That terrible mistake was obviated somewhat by the swift and massive French response after the terrible shootings at the Jewish day school; Merah was identified and cornered within two days of that attack and stopped before he could kill again.

But whatever the French did wrong in this case — and there is no doubt that a terrible oversight occurred — on the whole French counter-terrorism is a success story. I recommend reading this 2008 article by Reuel Marc Gerecht and Gary Schmitt that calls France “the European country most serious about counterterrorism.” The secret of French success has been their willingness “to grant highly intrusive powers to their internal security service, the Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire (DST), and to their counterterrorist, investigative magistrates, the juges d’instruction” — powers that far exceed any authorities given U.S. government officials even under the Patriot Act. With those powers, French forces have done an impressive job of stopping terrorist plots of which there is no shortage because of the large number of marginalized and aggrieved Muslim immigrants living there. Indeed France’s real mistake is not doing more to assimilate Muslims which ensures a constant supply of plotters; the blame is more on society and government as a whole than on the security forces which are on the whole quite effective.

The Toulouse tragedy merely goes to show that any system, no matter how vigilant, cannot prevent all terrorist attacks. As the saying has it, the security forces have to be right all the time; the terrorists have to be right only once. The real test now for the French authorities will be how they conduct their “lessons learned” exercises and what they do to patch the holes uncovered by Mohamed Merah.

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Toulouse Shows Importance of Vigilance

The siege in Toulouse ended with rough justice delivered to Mohammed Merah, the terrorist responsible for murdering three French soldiers, a rabbi, and three Jewish schoolchildren. He died battling the French security forces that stormed his apartment. But the debate over his heinous acts will live for some time. No doubt we will hear many voices raised to counsel against anti-Arab or anti-Muslim bigotry because Merah was of Algerian descent and a follower of al Qaeda’s twisted ideology. And those voices will be absolutely right: Fanatics like Merah are a tiny portion of the world’s billion-plus Muslims and even a tiny portion of Europe’s Muslim population of more than 50 million (excluding Turkey). The vast majority of Muslims are law-abiding and utterly unsympathetic to the siren call of extremism–indeed polls shows that Muslim opinion has turned firmly against Al Qaeda and its ilk over the past decade.

Yet it is undeniable that the most prominent acts of terrorism in the past several decades have been committed by Islamists, whose ideology has displaced Marxism and even nationalism as the primary propellant for terrorism, as it was in the 1960s-1970s. That is no reason to discriminate against Muslims; indeed the best protection against violence is to assimilate Muslim immigrants so that they have a stake in society–something that the U.S. has done notably better than Europe, which is why Europe has to worry about homegrown terrorism more than we do.

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The siege in Toulouse ended with rough justice delivered to Mohammed Merah, the terrorist responsible for murdering three French soldiers, a rabbi, and three Jewish schoolchildren. He died battling the French security forces that stormed his apartment. But the debate over his heinous acts will live for some time. No doubt we will hear many voices raised to counsel against anti-Arab or anti-Muslim bigotry because Merah was of Algerian descent and a follower of al Qaeda’s twisted ideology. And those voices will be absolutely right: Fanatics like Merah are a tiny portion of the world’s billion-plus Muslims and even a tiny portion of Europe’s Muslim population of more than 50 million (excluding Turkey). The vast majority of Muslims are law-abiding and utterly unsympathetic to the siren call of extremism–indeed polls shows that Muslim opinion has turned firmly against Al Qaeda and its ilk over the past decade.

Yet it is undeniable that the most prominent acts of terrorism in the past several decades have been committed by Islamists, whose ideology has displaced Marxism and even nationalism as the primary propellant for terrorism, as it was in the 1960s-1970s. That is no reason to discriminate against Muslims; indeed the best protection against violence is to assimilate Muslim immigrants so that they have a stake in society–something that the U.S. has done notably better than Europe, which is why Europe has to worry about homegrown terrorism more than we do.

But even here the threat is real as seen from incidents such as the foiled Times Square bombing in 2010 or the shootings by Major Nidal Malik Hasan at Fort Hood in 2009. Incidents such as these, along with the Toulouse attacks, reinforce the arguments of analysts such as Marc Sageman who speak of “leaderless jihad” being the wave of the future — i.e., lone-wolf jihadists carrying out atrocities with little if any central direction. The danger is real and yet it is not entirely disconnected from the existence of terrorist sanctuaries, as witness the fact that Merah traveled to Pakistan and Afghanistan allegedly to receive terrorist training or from the fact that Hasan was inspired by the preaching of American-born Al Qaeda Anwar al-Awlaki who found sanctuary in Yemen until he was killed in a U.S. drone strike last year.

The ability of Afghanistan to serve as a training ground for terrorists is strictly limited at the moment because of the presence of more than 100,000 NATO troops: U.S. Special Operations Forces, in particular, will target and kill or capture any substantial gathering of foreign terrorists. Yet it is salutary to remember that in the 1990s under Taliban rule Afghanistan served as a training ground for thousands of jihadist killers; it could play that role again if the U.S. pulls out prematurely because the Taliban and related groups such as the Haqqani Network have done nothing to repudiate Al Qaeda in the intervening years. Indeed some local terrorist groups, such as the Pakistani Taliban, are branching out into international terrorism; it was one of their members who tried to set off the Times Square car bomb.

The answer to this diffuse threat is simple to state but hard to execute: We must remain vigilant both at home and abroad. That means trying to prevent the creation of terrorist sanctuaries in countries such as Afghanistan where it is in our power to do so and to disrupt terrorist sanctuaries that already exist in places like Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. It also means maintaining the vigilant homeland defense policies that were instituted after 9/11, many of which have come under fire from civil libertarians who contend that the threat of terrorism is vastly exaggerated. The New York Police Department, for one, has come under fire lately for its use of undercover officers and informants to infiltrate various Muslim institutions to ferret out possible terrorist plots. Such steps are understandably controversial but they are also necessary if we are to avoid seeing New York turned into Toulouse.

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The Palestinian Excuse for Terror

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad issued a call today to foreign terrorists to stop using the plight of the Palestinians as an excuse for their crimes. In condemning the Toulouse massacre two days after the killings, Fayyad said, “Extremists must stop pretending to stand up for the rights of Palestinian children who only ask for a decent life.” This was in reaction to the news that Mohammed Merah, the arrested suspect in the Toulouse shootings, claimed that the atrocity was done in part to exact revenge on the Jews for their supposedly poor treatment of the Palestinians.

Fayyad is right that “solidarity” with the Palestinians ought not to be used as a reason to commit murder. But as much as that is good advice for those, like Merah, who have links to al Qaeda and other Islamist groups, it would be even better if Fayyad’s own people — including those affiliated with the PA government that he still runs — would heed his plea. Palestinian groups like Hamas (soon to become part of the PA), PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s own Fatah Party, as well as more extreme groups such as Islamic Jihad, have been using their complaints against Israel as justification for crimes just as horrible as those committed in Toulouse for decades.

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Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad issued a call today to foreign terrorists to stop using the plight of the Palestinians as an excuse for their crimes. In condemning the Toulouse massacre two days after the killings, Fayyad said, “Extremists must stop pretending to stand up for the rights of Palestinian children who only ask for a decent life.” This was in reaction to the news that Mohammed Merah, the arrested suspect in the Toulouse shootings, claimed that the atrocity was done in part to exact revenge on the Jews for their supposedly poor treatment of the Palestinians.

Fayyad is right that “solidarity” with the Palestinians ought not to be used as a reason to commit murder. But as much as that is good advice for those, like Merah, who have links to al Qaeda and other Islamist groups, it would be even better if Fayyad’s own people — including those affiliated with the PA government that he still runs — would heed his plea. Palestinian groups like Hamas (soon to become part of the PA), PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s own Fatah Party, as well as more extreme groups such as Islamic Jihad, have been using their complaints against Israel as justification for crimes just as horrible as those committed in Toulouse for decades.

Fayyad condemned the Toulouse shootings as an “attack on innocent lives” and a “cowardly terrorist act.” But how would he describe the missile attacks on Israeli civilians carried out by Palestinians on a regular basis to this very day from Gaza. How would he describe the routine attacks on Jews in the West Bank? And what words can he conjure him to adequately depict the depravity of the campaign of suicide bombings carried out by leaders of the ruling Fatah Party only a few years ago during the second intifada? Were the Jewish infants slaughtered at a Jerusalem pizza restaurant, or the Jewish teens blown up at a Tel Aviv discotheque or those killed in dozens of other incidents less human, less innocent than the children killed in France this week?

The Palestinians more or less invented the modern variant of terrorism in the 1970s and have always justified their policy of trying to murder as many Jewish civilians as possible because of what they say is their plight under Israeli occupation. Though the current leadership of the Palestinian Authority says it opposes terror, it continues to honor terrorists in every way possible including its television broadcasts.

Fayyad is himself one of the rare Palestinian political figures who have never been implicated in terrorism. That’s to his credit but it’s also the reason why he has virtually no constituency among his own people. Were he linked to some murders of Jews, he might not be on the way out of office since Hamas has demanded Fayyad’s ouster as part of the price for joining the PA.

The Palestinians should be worried about the Toulouse attack because it should serve as a reminder to Europeans that their delegitimization of Jewish life and Jewish self-defense in Israel cannot be separated from attacks on Jews elsewhere.  Though the Palestinian issue is merely a pretext for the revival of anti-Semitism, the killings in France could shock some on the continent enough to make them understand that killing Jews anywhere — be it in Toulouse or in the Middle East — is merely a function of that same old hatred that the Palestinians have embraced.

As much as some, such as EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, have tried to draw a slanderous comparison between Israeli self-defense in Gaza and the Toulouse crime, the real analogy is to the actions of the Palestinians. Until the Palestinians renounce their war on Israel and give up violence for good, Salam Fayyad’s statement can be put down as the rankest form of hypocrisy.

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