Mohamed Merah was born in Toulouse.
He died in Toulouse.
These are all French issues. Mohamed Merah is a product of modern French society, a symptom of the many terrible problems that that society faces. A society that propels far-right fascist politicians to seriously compete for the presidency, only 67 years after the end of a war where the French themselves fought fascism.
And yet in no way has he been described as a Frenchman gone bad; a product of the French environment. No, he is a Muslim, an Islamist, an Algerian, an Arab.
See, the word ‘terrorist’ cannot be associated with the word ‘French’. Put it next to the others and we’re good.
But isn’t France’s failed attempt at creating a one-size-fits-all homogenous society also partly to blame? Aren’t these attacks also a result of a society that places its poor, deprived ethnic minorities in squalid banlieues, out of sight on the outskirts of the main cities? A society where an unpopular president plays on racist and Islamophobic themes to garner more votes, rather than confront them.
That is the reality of today’s France.
You put people in a corner, and eventually, horribly, they’ll lash out in a terrible manner.
And how exactly are French Muslims being put into a corner? Well, let’s look at some recent examples.
We have Sarkozy’s recent statements on immigration, where he declared that there were ‘too many foreigners in our territory.’ The irony, of course, being that Sarkozy’s father was a Hungarian immigrant, and his own wife, the glamorous Carla Bruni, is Italian. Those who the speech was directed to understood who Sarkozy was attacking. The French far-right don’t care so much about European immigration – it’s the Muslims that are their main concern.
In fact, Sarkozy is trying so hard to win the anti-Islam vote that he is stealing extreme right policies, even when he has previously criticised them. When Marine Le Pen, the leader of the Front National announced that halal meat was invading French society, Sarkozy said that she was whipping up controversy. However, he then went on to announce that halal meat was the “issue that most preoccupies the French.” Well, the ones he’s seeking to get the votes of, anyway.
And of course, there is the ban on Muslims praying in the street. Whilst it is definitely preferable that Muslims not pray on the streets, in many instances they are forced into it, because of a lack of mosques. There are only 4 in France’s second city, Marseille, a city that’s population is 10% Muslim. If the issue of praying on the streets were about public safety and congestion then Sarkozy would seek to rectify this issue of a lack of mosques. Instead, the ban can only be seen as yet another attack on Muslims as elections near.
But isn’t France’s failed attempt at creating a one-size-fits-all homogenous society also partly to blame?
These issues aren’t new. Muslims have lived in France for over 100 years, and the problems remain the same. Muslim resentment of the situation is also longstanding. Whether it’s the riots that rip through France’s cities every so often, or the government’s continued refusal to apologize for the atrocities committed in Algeria during the colonial period; French Muslims are made to feel like the enemy within.
What Mohamed Merah did was a vicious crime, and one that shouldn’t be swept away by simply describing the man as crazy – unlike certain soldiers in Afghanistan. This piece should not be read as a justification for his crimes. However, let’s remember that, even if it has been barely mentioned, Merah killed Muslims too, Muslims who put their lives on the line for liberté, égalité, fraternité. Yet many in modern French society do not see them as equal. They are still the guestworkers, the foreigners, only in France temporarily.
But that does not take away from the reality – the Merah killings are a product of France, and not of Islam.