France Jewish school shooting - Reuters - 19.3.2012
Youths attending a Paris march following a shooting attack at a Jewish school in Toulouse holding a banner reading: "In France we kill Blacks, Jews and Arabs," March 19, 2012. Photo by Reuters
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So France is a country where, in 2012, in the country’s third largest city, one can shoot at a Jewish school and kill children, point blank.

We must hope that the investigation will clarify the circumstances of this tragedy, the identity of the killer, and his motive.

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But whatever the possible motive, whatever we may learn about how the shooting that took place before the gates and then, as I understand it, inside the Ozar Hatorah lycée-collège played out, whatever link may be established with the mysterious murders of soldiers, last week, in Toulouse and in Montauban, the fact remains—and it is monstrous: French children, Jewish and French or, if one prefers, sovereignly French but guilty of having been born Jewish, were coldly gunned down, in broad daylight, on the territory of the Republic.

And then this corollary which is nearly as unbearable: we have returned to the dark times when we must "direct the prefects to reinforce surveillance around all confessional sites in France, and particularly around Jewish schools."

These are the terms of the French Ministry of the Interior’s communiqué Claude Guéant released a few minutes after the tragedy. It was inevitable, this communiqué. It was the very least the authorities, dismayed as we all were by the horror of the situation and taking the appropriate emergency measures, could do. But at the same time, these words make our blood run cold.

And one trembles with shame and rage at the idea that, once again, we’re here, where we were after the attacks in the rue Copernic and in the rue des Rosiers and after the outburst of anti-Semitic acts at the beginning of the 2000s: pray, reflect, die, or simply study, under “reinforced police protection” and in the shelter of reconstituted “perimeters of security”—what an outrage!

Confronted with this abomination, then, and given the very specific moment at which this catastrophe has occurred, only one reaction is possible.

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I mean, while the campaign for presidential elections is in full swing and even, apparently, in its final phase, there is only one response that measures up to the event.

Of course, indignation and fear.

And yes, verbal condemnation, strong words, the symbolic appearances that are being announced this Monday morning, as I write these lines.

Of course, the beau geste of candidate Hollande who, in homage to the victims, decided to unilaterally suspend his campaign and to devote the coming hours to a great moment of collective reflexion and mourning.

Of course, the none less noble reaction of candidate Sarkozy, who speaks of a "national tragedy" and decrees, for his part, a moment of silence in all French schools in memory of these three children, aged 3, 6, and 8, and their teachers, massacred in cold blood by a professional killer.

And of course, if one insists, the usual speculation concerning the political climate, the lifting of taboos, the free expression of vile words that, in return for mediation that should not be neglected in the heated emotion of the moment, are like a sort of a permit to kill - here for a child murderer, there for a serial killer of soldiers.

But also a common action, or better still, an act of communion in which all republican candidates - and I do mean republican - forget for the moment all that opposes them and cry out with one voice (and, if possible, without political ulterior motives), their categorical rejection of anti-Semitism and its always-criminal consequences.

A little over twenty years ago, the entire political class, all families together with the exception of the National Front, was capable of marching behind President François Mitterrand to condemn the profanation of 34 Jewish graves at a cemetery in Carpentras.

Today, we need an equivalent of that demonstration, with Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande in the lead, in grieving Toulouse, at the Place Capitole, this landmark of national memory where General De Gaulle came, on September 16, 1945, to preach the unity of the country to the people of the maquis, FFI, FTP, and survivors of the International Brigades of the Spanish Civil War. A great, solemn meeting, all political forces attending, to come to say, without nuance, that all of France is being attacked and must take a united stand when its children, whatever they may be and whatever, I repeat, the profile of the killer or his reasons, are massacred like this.

A word of advice to the pyromaniacs of the defense of "national identity," perceived as a closed entity, nervous and jittery, feeding on resentment and hatred: it is the social contract that is the victim of assassination in a bloodbath of this kind; it is the very foundation of our common existence that vacillates and gives way when such madness explodes.

There can be no worse blow to French culture, to the soul of our country, its history and when all is said and done, to its grandeur than racism and, today, anti-Semitism.