Like Jews across the world, I was shocked, sickened and frightened by the senseless murder of a rabbi and three small children in France last week. With the end of Mohammed Merah’s life came the start of an operation on the psychosis that drove him to murder with such callousness. Analysts and political pundits attempting to establish cause and motive have come up with a range of options. Yet, absent from such analysis of many was the cause of anti-Semitism.
As a British Jew who has moved to the United States, my media diet has somewhat shifted to this new geographical location. Now that I do not read the European press daily, I was first made aware of the issue of the air-brushing of anti-Semitism from Merah’s causes by an excellent article in the Tablet by Michael Moynihan, where he picked through various accounts of peoples explanations of the killings and saw that hatred against the Jews did not feature.
Perhaps the most shocking piece written on the murders came from Oxford Professor and Islamic thinker Tariq Ramadan, who declared that Merah was a young man, “imbued neither with the values of Islam, or driven by racism and anti-Semitism.” He was merely attacking symbols, “the army and Jews.”
His analysis was joined by a piece on France 24 that his trigger was due to the loss of a job or a political act. The Guardian in their editorial worries about the politicization of the incident and the general threats to society of violent extremisms, but never mentions the term anti-Semitism.
The reduction of the French Jewish community to a mere symbol of a Western European society demonstrates a dehumanization of Merah’s victims. How does the slaughter of a religious leader and three small children of a particular minority community merely become a symbol of attacking society in general? Do the victims’ identities mean nothing to these analysts except to demonstrate this was another disaffected immigrant angry at the West and demonstrating that anger in just any way he knew how?
As someone who was once the convener anti-racist, anti-fascist campaign for the National Student Movement in the U.K., I understand the tinder box of inter community violence all too well. The desire for the far-right to have been the perpetrator, the boogie man that we can all agree to hate, is overwhelmingly strong. The last thing we want to do is exacerbate Jewish-Muslim tensions.
Yet this noble desire cannot mask the fact that this man’s victims were not random. They were Jews. His lip service to the Palestinian cause as justification makes him no more a symbol of their movement, as his victims were symbols of Western Society. Merah got it into his head that one should kill Jews; it was something that was correct in his eyes to do. His brother is proud of what he did. Is that also because he lost his job or is disaffected? When will it be allowed to say that these two people hated Jews?
The post-mortem of this terrible act needs to focus on how this understanding - that it was a good idea to gun down Jews - occurred. Mohammad Merah, and his brother it seems, have both been infected by eleminationist anti-Semitism. What is needed alongside the rest of the psychological analysis is finding the cause of the infection and callousing it from Western society. It must be burnt out.
The inabilities of some to even mention anti-Semitism as a cause terrifies me. Call a spade a spade; the victims deserve labeling this an act of anti-Semitism far more than the analysis of rightist politics in France's political discourse.
Perhaps the only positive thing of note has been the reaction of the French Jewish community. After a rabbi and three small children were murdered in France, and declared by the persecutor as an act in the name of the Middle East conflict, there were no riots, nor firebombs lobbed at mosques. During the 2009 War in Gaza there were riots in London, shops smashed and firebombs thrown at synagogues.
The French Jewish community’s silent and powerful protest in arms with other communities in response to such violent provocation demonstrates that even at the pinnacle of rage rioting in the streets of Europe is not justified. So as we think about what lead a man to target Jewish children, let us also recognize the control of a community, a control that we could only hope to emulate if we found ourselves in such circumstances.
Joel Braunold is a Bnei Akiva alumnus and a former staff member of OneVoice Europe who is currently studying at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.