Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Mohammed Merah: a sordid trail which leads from from terrorism to a reality which France ignores..

Mohammed Merah
The name of Mohammed Merah first hit the world's press in March of this year when the self-styled terrorist became the prime suspect in the killing of three off-duty French soldiers and four Jewish children and staff at a Jewish school in southern France.

He would be shot and killed by a police sniper in his hometown of Toulouse after a 30-hour siege and a shootout.

His story would normally have ended there and his name would eventually have been forgotten by all but his family and those of his victims but it was not to be. Since the killing of Merah the French press has continued to focus on his family, largely at their demand, and their drip-feed of revelations have given a horrifying insight into how Merah became a killer. The wildly differing reactions of various members of his family after the killings have painted a somber picture of their lives and they offer a revealing insight to she spread of Islamist/Salafist tendencies in France. They are also a tragic testimony to the harsh realities of life within France's Muslim community.

Many details of Merah's past became known soon after his death. He was brought up by his divorced mother in a climate of violence, he had "a violent profile from childhood and behavioural troubles", and he had been arrested and jailed several times for relatively minor offences. He once tried to commit suicide by hanging and French intelligence agency the DCRI had been tailing him for three years because of his connections to radical Islamic groups.

His older brother Abdelkader was also followed by intelligence agencies and he was arrested shortly after his death. Abdelkader now faces preliminary charges of 'complicity in murder and conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism in connection' with Mohammed's killing spree.

Shortly after that their father began legal action for 'murder with aggravating circumstances' against the police units who were involved in the siege and killing of his son. Press rumours began to speculate upon the possible existence of a sharp differences of opinion on Merah's actions within the Muslim community.

The affair had just begun to disappear from the front pages when a major development instantly propulsed it back into the spotlight. Mohammed Merah has a second brother, Abdelghani, and he recently announced the upcoming release of a book in which he relates his side of the story. Called 'My Brother the Terrorist', it makes for chilling reading.

He firmly condemns his brother Mohammed for his actions and goes on to allege that his family played a major role in Mohammed becoming an Islamic radical before denouncing "the hate, the racism and the antisemitism" which he claims were omnipresent within the family. He criticises the "indecency" demonstrated by his father when he accused the police of wrongdoing and  relates how Abdelkader insulted his girlfriend because she was Jewish and told him to "leave your dirty Jewish girlfriend." Abdelghani did not do so however and his enraged brother stabbed him seven times. Abdelghani also accuses Abdelkader of being instrumental in Mohammed's conversion to radical Islam.

He accuses his sister Souad of having similar tendencies and that she had told him several times that she was "proud of Mohammed and the crimes he committed", adding that she was proud that he had had the courage to become a Moujahidin.

The book was a bombshell and Souad in particular was outraged by it. Which is why she met with him and other members of the family in a park - where they thought they would not be seen - to discuss it. But they were seen, by a television crew from French TV station M6. They secretly filmed the whole scene and Abdelghani carried a microphone which recorded the conversation, although precise details of how this operation was mounted remain sketchy.

Souad was heard to say "I think well of Bin Laden and at least the Salafists are actually doing something." She goes on to say "I detest the Jews, all those who are massacring Muslims."

This led to more major headlines of course, and a Parisian judge immediately ordered the opening of a preliminary inquiry in view of charging her with 'apologism for terrorist acts.'

Abdelghani Merah has subsequently revealed that he has received "threats" from his family and that his mother has threatened to commit suicide in front of his own child if he allows the book to be published.

That is the sad and tawdry tale of the Merah affair so far, more shall surely follow, and there are major lessons to be learned from it.

Moderate Muslim clerics and the vast majority of the Muslim community deplored Mohammed Merah's actions, just as they deplored his father's decision to begin legal action against the police and have deplored Souad's opinions. They are also worried that the constant drip of insights into how Salafism spreads amongst Muslims will reflect badly on the Muslim community as a whole.

But their sentiments, if understandable, are misplaced. A large majority of French citizens know full well that the vast majority of French Muslims and the wider Muslim immigrant community are totally opposed to terrorism in the name of Islam, that they categorically oppose Salifism and radical Islam in all its forms, and that they wish to lead peaceful lives.

The irony of the situation is that the very fact that members of Merah's family are washing their dirty laundry in public should be seized upon as an opportunity to better understand not only how Salifism recruits in France, but also as a pointer to what should be done by French society to prevent Muslim children being brought up to hate and despise others to the point of wanting to kill them.

The truth is out in the open now and it is up to French society to face up to its implications as well as its duty to better integrate its Muslim communities. Terrorists deserve no quarter and intelligence efforts to track them and stop them acting should be intensified, but - and more importantly - it is time that France offered its Muslims the possibility of a better future.

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