What are we to make of the recent murder of a Rabbi, his three children at a Jewish religious school in Toulouse and three French soldiers of African and Middle Eastern descent? Does the attack signal a deep structural problem in Europe or was it just the act of a lone-wolf?
Two weeks ago, American media paid little attention to a plot to destroy a synagogue in Milan that was foiled by British, Italian, Sardinian and American intelligence agencies. Originally hatched on Facebook, the plot involved multiple people from various European countries. The prepretrator was one man, but he had contacts across the globe. This was no lone-wolf.
Government agencies foiled the Milan synagogue plot by surveying the attacker’s Facebook page. Surveillance of social media might be a scary thought to some, but in this case it saved countless lives.
Last week, I bemoaned the concentration of executive powers in the United States because it was conducive to egregious abuse. But where do we draw the line? Since September 11th, over forty five jihadist-inspired terror plots have been foiled by government agencies. If five of those attacks had succeeded, would I reconsider my stance on executive power? Would I be willing to give the government increased jurisdiction over my civil liberties for the assurance of protection? It’s a difficult question, and a slippery slope.
National security threats are not neoconservative delusions. They are real potential dangers. The Toulouse shooter, Mohammed Merah, fit the bill perfectly for a Jihadist. Young, unemployed and uneducated, he was radicalized in France and then trained with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Reports state that another eighty French Muslims may have trained with him in the borderlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Just like the Milan suspect, Merah was not alone. al-Qaeda is no monolith, but there is a thriving network of Islamic radicalization in Europe. These organizations scoop up young immigrants and first-generation Arabs and North-Africans, brainwash them and send them to die for their nihilistic political causes.
The economic and political fallout from terrorist attacks are arguably more damaging than the attacks themselves. Merah acknowledged this: before he was killed, he gleefully told French police that he had “brought France to its knees.” By invoking France’s recent ban on Muslim hijabs as a cause for the attack, Merah in effect told the French that if they voted the wrong way, they would pay with their lives–and that Jewish blood would spill the most.
At Mondoweiss, Paul Mutter summarized the underpinnings of this militancy:
This is militant Islamism, which seeks to dismantle societies such as France’s in favor of less pluralistic, more religiously-guided exclusivist ones…Militant Islamism is not legitimate political discourse; it doesn’t just want to express religion in politics, something that happens in France all the time among Catholics and other groups – it wants to make its narrow views on religion the basis for the entire political system. That does not constitute democracy.
It is also interesting to see how the media reflexively framed the Toulouse attack in the context of right-wing exploitation, or as the “scholar” Tariq Ramadan saw it, “into proper perspective.” Rather than look at what Merah said himself, Ramadan characterizes him as “young,” “confused,” and “soft around the edges,” whose motivation “was not politics or religion.” How silly of us! If only we had hugged the fella and invited him for group therapy and some tea. Surely then he would have seen the light. British Labour MP Tony Benn saw the attack as the result of “the terrible and disastrous outcome of the West’s war policies and anti-Muslim racism.”
By this questionable logic, acts of Islamic terror cannot just be acts of Islamic terror–they must be rationalized or dismissed with a wave of a hand, for to take them seriously is to wade into the murky waters of political correctness. We saw the same rationalizations in response to the recent British riots. Young men stealing boomboxes and throwing molotov cocktails into delis suddenly became the unfortunate result of neoliberalism, white racism, Thatcherism and whatever else the Left wanted to imbue onto the riots.
French President Nicholas Sarkozy recently proposed legislation in response to the shootings that would make it a crime to repeatedly view web sites that advocate terrorism and take action against French citizens who travel abroad for training by suspected terror groups. Unsurprisingly, the New York Times thinks this is “far too broad.” Who would repeatedly view terrorist sites besides terrorists? Who would travel to militant camps besides terrorists? As a news item, The Times covered this atrocity in all its horrific detail, and then rejected a rational and level-headed response to murderers in an opinion piece.
As Michael Moynihan brilliantly writes:
If mainstream critics want to minimize the influence and impact of far-right parties, they would be advised to address both Islamophobia and the attendant problems of extremism in immigrant communities. When concerns about Islamist influence are dismissed by mainstream parties as radioactive (and by pundits as subterranean racism), legitimate political issues are ceded to reactionary, opportunistic political parties.
To simply call Merah crazy as many in the media have done deflects attention from how he became crazy. Radical Islamist groups see potential in these young men and then mold them into killers. These organizations are enablers. Merah was no aberration, and he was no lone-wolf. We ignore the power of his movement at our own peril.
Addendum: In response to this article Professor Schubel offered a very thoughtful critique. His response and my counter-response can be found below: