Text size

The DJ's story

On the last night of his life, Sebastien Sellam was in a dark mood, as if his heart was trying to tell him something. In the afternoon, he had closeted himself in the state-of-the-art studio he had fixed up in the modest apartment he shared with his mother. He had work to do on the music he was playing that night at Queen, a trendy nightclub on the Champs Elysee.

Sellam, 23, had become an item on the Paris nightclub scene. His friends said that he was head and shoulders above the hundreds of DJs playing the clubs. Wherever he was, hundreds of young people would come to dance. He had a rare gift for finding the exact musical mix that drove dancers wild. His fans said that they could only look on with amazement as his fingers spun the disks.

On that fateful day, while he was still closed in his studio, there was a knock at the door. Laetitia Sellam, his sister-in-law, opened it. There stood Adel Boumedienne, their neighbor from the second floor.

"Do you remember me?" he asked.

"Of course I do," Laetitia replied.

A few minutes before, when she came into the building, Laetitia had noticed Adel, leaning against the banister. She said hello; he nodded in her direction and even smiled. She knew about Adel and his family from the stories Sebastien had told her. They had immigrated from Morocco in the fifties and had experienced the hardships of immigrants' lives in their adopted country. Adel and Sebastien had been friends, inseparable since childhood.

When she had seen him near the elevator a few minutes before, Laetitia said she noticed that Adel had a strange look. "I can't explain it," she recalled, "but I felt like something was wrong with him. He was looking at me oddly."

Now, as he stood in the doorway, Laetitia saw that the odd look had been replaced with a look of horror.

"I want to talk to Seb," Adel demanded loudly.

"Seb is busy," Laetitia answered firmly. "He's getting his music ready for tonight."

The family called him Seb, because Sebastien sounded too long and serious. His friends and fans knew him as Lam C, a nickname he had taken on. Lam C was actually his last name backwards, and it fit the hottest DJ in Paris like a glove. The year before the tragedy, he had produced two disks under his new name. He had begun to introduce himself as Lam C everywhere, but Adel always insisted on calling him Seb, like he had since they were kids playing in the yard.

Over the last few years their ways had parted, but Adel still saw himself as close to his Jewish friend and considered him a member of the family.

As Adel stood in the doorway of his friend's apartment, he heard music coming from Sebastien's room. Suddenly, he called out to Sebastien over Laetitia's protests, asking for the return of a necklace Seb had borrowed some time before. Laetitia did not know what he was talking about, but the harshness of his tone frightened her.

Hearing the shouting, Sebastien came out of his room and headed for the door. The two friends slapped each others' hands in greeting. Adel repeated his demand and Sebastien promised the necklace would be returned soon. Then, he returned to his music room and closed the door.

As Adel was on his way back to his own flat, he passed a tall, dark young man coming out of the elevator. It was one of Sebastien's assistants who had come to work with him. A few hours later, the young man, whom everybody called Chinois ("Chinese," in French), would relate that Adel had stopped him before he went into Sebastien's flat. "He said to me, `Why do you work with Jews?'" Chinois told police investigators. "Adel also said you have to be careful of Jews because they might work black magic on you. I asked him why he was talking like that. He said that the Jews were responsible for the troubles of the Muslims."

Chinois told police that Adel had given the mezuzah on the doorpost of the Sellam family's flat a hate-filled look, and told him he should stay away from the Jews. "He told me that they were very rich because they were stealing money from the French."

The immigrants

After he went into Seb's apartment, Chinois told him and Laetitia about "the very strange things," as he called them, that Adel had told him. Sebastien didn't think they were important, but Laetitia was frightened. She called her husband St�phane and told him about Adel's outburst.

"I want you to come to the flat," she told him.

"I'll be right there," St�phane calmed her.

On the way to the Sellam home, St�phane called his younger brother. "I called him because Laetitia had me in a panic," St�phane, 28, recalled. "But Seb said not to take Adel seriously."

St�phane also knew Adel and his family, but he wasn't close to them. A friendly nod was the extent of St�phane's relationship with Adel, seven years his junior. "Still, he was our neighbor and studied with Seb in school," St�phane said.

But over the previous two years, a change had come over building 5 on rue Louis Blanc. St�phane noticed that when he went to visit his mother, many of the neighbors had stopped smiling at him. The Jewish neighbors told him that they had also begun to get the cold shoulder from their Muslim neighbors. St�phane could not recall that his being Jewish had been of any special interest to his Muslim neighbors in the past, but he talked it over with his mother Juliette, and asked her to take care of herself.

One day Juliette called him so frightened that she could hardly speak. When St�phane climbed the steps to her flat, he found a slaughtered chicken hanging on the door. The police were brought in quickly. "It's because we're Jews," Juliette told the police angrily. One of the investigators asked if she suspected anyone in particular. "It's probably just mischievous kids from the building," another officer concluded. A little while later, a neighbor woman in the building told Juliette that her son had said Adel had done it.

A few days later, Juliette was shocked to discover that the mezuzah had been pried out of the doorpost and thrown on the floor. She lodged a complaint with the police, but once again, had no answer when they asked her who she thought might have done it. With nowhere else to turn, she decided to ask the advice of the downstairs neighbor, who was Jewish. When she opened her door to go downstairs, she was horrified at what she saw. A huge swastika had been painted on the wall in the hallway. Above it, in big letters, the words "Death to Jews." On a nearby wall, the words "The Jews are pigs," were scrawled.

"I'll tell you the truth," Juliette said, weeping at the memory of that day. "We always lived in peace with our neighbors. No one ever bothered us and we always felt like family. Since the problems between the Israelis and the Palestinians have started up again, we've started to feel like something is wrong. Our Muslim neighbors don't look at us with the same eyes. I saw hatred in their eyes, as if I and my two sons killed the Palestinians. `What do you want me to do,' I told them, `It's not me.' But for them, it's the same. The Jews of France and the Jews of Israel."

Juliette first came to live in the neighborhood in the eighties, a short time after it was built. The government built the tenements back then for North African immigrants who had come to France with nothing but the shirts on their backs and lacking any professional training. Juliette felt lucky when she received a notice from the Paris municipality that her family was eligible to move to the new quarter. Rent was minimal, set according to a detailed assessment of the tenants' socioeconomic status. All the neighbors in building 5 came from similar backgrounds; 30 out of 36 families had emigrated from North Africa in the fifties or the sixties.

Juliette left Morocco in 1956 right after independence from the French. Her husband, Gerard, left Algeria right after it received independence. The Boumediennes also left Morocco in the sixties. Two families, like millions of others, who immigrated to France in the hope of integrating.

The arrival of France's newest citizens was the beginning of a revolutionary new wrinkle in the fabric of French life after World War II. Many of the "new French" sought to fit in with the locals. They registered their children in French schools and did their shopping at the big chains. They spent their leisure time in all the popular places. "It was the dream of those immigrants," said Toufiq, a radio journalist for France Internationale, whose parents had immigrated from Algeria to France during those same years. The immigrants so badly wanted to be like the native-born, he said, that they did not allow their children to speak Arabic and insisted on behavior that was totally French.

When Toufiq finished high school, his parents sent him as far away as Strasbourg to study journalism among native-born French. "My parents wanted to turn me into a Frenchman and through me, to fulfill their dream. They invested everything in me so that I would succeed and so that my children would be like their French friends."

But all too quickly, the North African immigrants discovered that they were not wanted, that their culture was alien and their Frenchness conditional. Landlords refused to rent them apartments in areas that were purely French, and they had trouble finding work. Some French parents would not allow their children to bring their immigrant friends home after school. The immigrants had left their homeland to find a new life. But reality in their adopted country let them down.

More...