Toulouse La Rose in the Shadow of Death

March 11, Toulouse: parachutist Imad Ibn Zlaten, 30 years old, is shot dead by a lone gunman on a motor scooter.

March 15, Montauban: parachutists Abel Chennouf, 25, and Mohamed Legouade 23, are shot dead by a lone gunman on a motor scooter. The critically wounded survivor, parachutist Loïc Liber, may be tetraplegiac.

March 19, Toulouse, Ozar Hatorah day school: Rabbi Yonathan Sandler, 30, his sons Aryeh, 6, and Gabriel, 3, and Miriam Monsonego, 7, are shot dead by a lone gunman on a motor scooter. Brian Aaron Bijaoui, 15, critically wounded as he protected other pupils, left the hospital on April 12th to continue a long convalescence at home in Nice.

March 22, Toulouse: murderer Mohamed Merah is killed in a shootout with the RAID commandos.

The state of alert in southwest France is subsequently lowered. As if Merah were a one-time phenomenon.    

How do we close the gap?  How do we connect the public mind to the massive evidence of 21st-century jihad strategy revealed since 9/11?  Democratic societies cannot defend citizens against Islamic jihad without popular consensus -- the informed will of the people.

The jihad assassination in Toulouse and Montauban of three soldiers, a rabbi, and several Jewish children shocked French society.  Could this be the tipping point, where a European country begins to push back against Islamization?  Or is it, as many jihad-savvy commentators have concluded, a flash in the pan?

Ordinary citizens were revolted by the brutal replay of a not-so-distant past, memorialized by plaques on the façades of French schools from which Jewish children were deported and exterminated en masse.  Was the emotion provoked by the cold-blooded execution of Jewish children a relegation of French Jews to their image as martyrs of the Shoah?  Was the subsequent government crackdown on French jihadis an opportunistic ploy to grab votes from the Front National, just weeks before the presidential elections?  Did the media manage to quickly dry its tears, push the anti-Semitic motivation of Merah's killing spree into the background, and wipe away traces of a connection between murder and Islam? 

If we understand that a mentality of resistance against jihad will never emerge in one magical sweep, I think we can formulate a strategy based on the slow, painful, awkward prise de conscience provoked by dramatic incidents such as Merah's fiendish killing spree.  Compared to earlier Islamic murders of French Jews -- Sébastien Selam in 2003, Ilan Halimi in 2006 -- Merah's crime was more honestly perceived and characterized as brutally anti-Semitic.  How can the precious few who clearly understand the sources and mechanisms of modern jihad close the gap between their mastery of the issues and the widespread confusion that prevails in our societies?   

The question is not "Do the Toulouse-Montauban executions mark the tipping point?," but "How can those executions serve as the tipping point?"  The very misconceptions displayed in public discourse, press coverage, spontaneous reactions, and defensive operations present opportunities to clarify the nature of the war being waged against the free world.

Misled by initial reports pointing to a far-right killer of Muslims (Abel Chennouf was in fact Catholic), blacks (Loïc Liber is Guadeloupian), and Jews, French society rose up in a sacred union against the twin evils of racism and anti-Semitism.  When the Muslim identity of the killer was revealed, it was too late to backpedal.  We witnessed a rare moment of authenticity in the media.  Journalists dropped their guard.  The killer was called a "jihadist," not an" activist."  Ordinarily docile news-speakers wanted to know why the murder of the Jewish children had not been prevented.  Why did it take the police so long to filter, analyze, and act on the evidence?  Merah, who was connected via the IP of his mother's computer to the hundreds of people who answered Ibn Zlaten's ad for the sale of his motor scooter, posed as a buyer, killed the parachutist, and stole the scooter.  The same weapon was used four days later to shoot three soldiers in Montauban.  The list of suspects was again narrowed, but no one took a closer look at Mohamed Merah, recently questioned by internal security about his trip to Afghanistan last fall.  "Tourism," he reportedly replied.  How does a 23 year-old jobless delinquent on welfare afford such exotic globetrotting?  And still have enough left to buy over $27,000 worth of arms?

Merah's brother Abdelkader, known to anti-terrorist investigators as a recruiter of French jihadis to fight in Iraq, had been under surveillance for years.  Journalists who customarily defend the supposed victims of overzealous policing were asking what kind of surveillance lets these dangerous jihadis come and go, stockpile weapons, and hatch mass murder plots.  During the 30-hour standoff, Merah insisted that his brother had nothing to do with the affair.  The older brother, outwardly Salafist and sporting a docile companion in niqab, was said to disapprove of Mohamed's dissolute ways.  This, too, was swallowed and repeated.

Until the police revealed that the brothers spent three hours together the night before the Ozar Hatorah killings, and Abdelkader, now charged as an accomplice and behind bars, was present at the school shortly before the murders.  Mohamed, who thought he would be able to kill Jews, soldiers, policemen, and internal security officers for weeks or months or forever, had gone to a motorcycle concession where he was known by face and name to ask how to disconnect the geolocalization device on a motor scooter.  Apparently he didn't know that he and his brother could be localized by their cell phones!

However one might wish for a divine flash of unanimous lucidity, in reality, human beings progress painfully and awkwardly by infinite small steps.  Every discrepancy, every misconception revealed at every level in the official handling and media coverage of this horrible crime can be used to shed light on its profound sources. 

Self-styled Muslim leaders, spokesmen, and men on the street scrambled to deny the link among Islam, jihad, and the Toulouse/Montauban killings. They warned of a terrible backlash "like in the US after 9/11."  stop signs were placed at every intersection, from your corner newscaster to the chief rabbi of France: "don't 'amalgamate' this crime with Islam."  This quaint alchemy did not succeed in turning Islamic jihad into the gold of a religion of peace.

Likewise, attempts from various quarters to recycle the grab bag of sociological interpretations -- poverty, discrimination, unequal opportunity -- fell flat.  Maître Christian Etelin, the lawyer who had defended Merah during his seven-year criminal career, made a spectacle of himself, as can be seen by the proliferation of YouTube videos of his media interventions.  His client, he said, had become less violent, more polite, and admittedly more religious, but he had shown no signs of "fanaticism" after his trip to Afghanistan.  By contrast, a young man who associated with Merah on a daily basis for two years of vocational training in car body repairs describes (story in French) an unscrupulous, reckless, hot-tempered, tyrannical showoff and notorious motorcycle and car thief.

While Mohamed Merah, holed up in the apartment where he would make his last stand, reportedly told negotiators that he was proud of bringing France to its knees, found infinite pleasure in killing his victims, and regretted only not having killed more Jews at the school, his lawyer swore that Merah so loved his country that he had tried to join the army!  He was rejected because of his criminal record.  (How nasty of them.)  He tried to join the Foreign Legion, and they wouldn't have him, either.  (What else could the young man do but join al-Qaeda and kill Muslim traitors and Jewish children?)

How do we make intelligent use of the ignorance revealed in real time and down to the finish line by journalists and the "experts" they invited to comment on the case as it dramatically unfolded?  These are the people who systematically hold up the shield of "objectivity" to rebuff objections to their stubbornly skewed Middle East reporting that fans Jew-hatred.  Thinking aloud, they supposed that Merah's homicidal impulses couldn't be attributed to Islam because he ran around with women, hung out in night clubs, and did not wear a long beard and a short djellaba or assiduously attend a mosque.  Followed to its logical conclusion, this would mean that Muslims who dress the part and spend long hours in mosques could be plotting right at this moment to kill French soldiers, Jews, and whomever else their religion designates as the enemy.  And what if both cases are plausible?

Downcast moderate Muslim "leaders" who appeared arm in arm with rabbis at tear-drenched ceremonies for the victims condemned Merah.  Murder, they proclaimed, is not Islamic, and a ruthless killer like Merah excludes himself from the Muslim community.  The majority of victims of these fanatics, they add, are Muslim.  Though this is statistically correct, it is not true.  Muslims are victims of constant internecine warfare; Jews are targeted for extermination.  We have just seen how easy it is to find soldiers of Allah willing to do their part.  No matter how many Muslims are quantitatively eliminated, genocide of the Jewish people is qualitatively superior.

When Muslims who profess moderation and strive for ecumenical harmony deny that the obligation to wage jihad is established in the Koran and confirmed by all accepted schools of interpretation, they deflect the awareness that could one day dismantle the ideology and break the hold of Islam on vast populations converted by force over the centuries.  Jihad has been conducted with seduction, deception, and violence since the days of the founding "prophet."  It is pursued worldwide this day and hour by mujahidin inspired by that pure tradition.  Jihad is the prime mover of the fake Arab springtime, a repetition-compulsion of ingrained tyranny, desperate revolt, and reassertion of traditional Islamic values inscribed in sharia, the system that our contemporary domestic Salafists are attempting to impose in France.

How can we fail to bridge the gap when it is so narrow?  Commentators shocked by the murder of three French soldiers blurted: "We expect them to risk their lives on the battlefield, not outside their base in Toulouse or Montauban."  But they did die on the battlefield!  Jihadis fight them in Afghanistan and in the southwest of France.  And on their base at Fort Hood.  A three-year-old Jewish boy standing with his father in front of a school is targeted by the same ideology as a French soldier of North African origin.  Jews, engulfed since September 2000 in endless waves of anti-Semitic attacks, have been trying to alert their fellow citizens to a common cause.  They were shouted down with accusations of Israeli atrocities against Palestinians.  Merah's claim that he was avenging the massacre of Palestinian children in Gaza carried little weight this time around: the blood libel has been drowned in gallons of real blood from the killing fields in Syria.

France 2 Jerusalem correspondent Charles Enderlin, producer of the al Dura hoax that kicked off the current round of genocidal Jew-hatred, visibly squirmed when the question was raised during his report from the Givat Shaul cemetery where Merah's Jewish victims were buried.  Asked if the killer was influenced by images of Palestinian casualties, Enderlin -- as usual -- sidestepped the question and took a swat at his fellow Israelis.  Artificially casual, he replied that the killing was no big thing for Israelis.  They're used to this kind of attack.  He said local TV stations broadcasted a few brief images of the funeral and went on to other news.  So, the "moderates" told us the jihad killings had nothing to do with Islam, and the father of the al Dura hoax assured us that blood libel had nothing to do with enflaming and justifying the murder of Jews.

And the father who abandoned his family when Mohamed Merah was six years old made big noises about suing the RAID commandos for killing his son.  The media took it half-seriously, with visits to a makeshift cemetery in the dirt poor village where the father planned to bury his martyred son. An older brother and a young cousin dismissed the entire affair with dirt-poor reasoning: "he was only 23 years-old, he couldn't have traveled to Afghanistan and done all those things."  Merah père's lawyer, in hijab, claims to have video proof (story in French) that he was manipulated by secret services and then liquidated.  But the only authentic videos are the ones filmed by the killer as he perpetrated his evil deeds.

Caught short by the sudden refusal of the Algerian government to allow burial, Toulouse's Socialist mayor Pierre Cohen reluctantly accepted a hasty ceremony in a cemetery near the Toulouse airport, where dozens of sympathizers with their faces wrapped mujahidin-style dug an allegedly unmarked grave.  Abdallah Zekri, southwest regional representative of the Central Mosque of Paris, presided over the ceremony.  Zekri, who is president of the Observatoire contre l'Islamophobie, publicly tore up his French I.D. card last year in protest against the UMP (governing party) debate on Islam and laicité.

The murders in Toulouse and Montauban are ripping apart the fragile arrangement between France and the Muslim representatives brought together somewhat artificially by then-Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy in the hopes of creating an umbrella organization (mirror image of the CRIF?) with which the nation would conduct a harmonious living-together dialogue.  Today, less than two weeks before the first round of presidential elections, President/candidate Sarkozy is taking a firm stand against Islamic extremism, preachers of jihad and anti-Semitism, and aspiring jihadis who drink at the fountain of terrorist websites and get combat training in Waziristan.

Nidra Poller is an associate fellow of the Middle East Forum.