Exactly one year ago, a killer entered the courtyard of a Jewish school in Toulouse, France, and shot in cold blood a rabbi and three children. He said he had wanted to kill more, and to perpetrate a massacre, but that his gun jammed.
During the previous days, he had shot three French soldiers of Arab origin.
The killer was quickly located, besieged by the police for thirty two hours, then riddled with bullets when he tried to escape.
A few weeks later, his statements to the police during the siege were leaked. They showed that he defined himself as a "soldier of Islam" and that he was trained in Pakistan and Afghanistan by al Qaeda affiliates. He said that he wanted to kill French Arab soldiers because they were "traitors to their religion" and that "all traitors" had to be "eliminated." He also said that he hated "Jews," that Jews had to be "removed form the face of the earth" and that his only regret was that he did not have "the opportunity to kill more Jews." Political leaders and the mainstream media immediately said that these statements did not make sense, and they tried to describe him as a "lone wolf" and a "lost boy" who acted "irrationally." Sociologists explained that he'd had a "hard childhood," and that he'd had to face "French prejudices" all of his life. Radical Islam and hatred of Jews were almost never evoked.
In the months that followed, he became a hero -- almost a legend -- in all French Muslim suburbs. His name, Mohamed Merah, appeared on leaflets and graffiti, and was quoted with praise in rap songs. The number of anti-Semitic attacks increased all over the country: reports show that most perpetrators were young Muslims citing "Mohamed" as an "example" to follow. Two jihadist terrorist cells planning anti-Semitic attacks and assassinations of prominent Jews were dismantled: their members declared after their arrest that they wanted to die as martyrs, and kill Jews, "like Mohamed," who "showed the way." Political leaders and the mainstream media did not speak of leaflets, graffiti, rap songs, anti-Semitic attacks, or references to "Mohamed." They spoke of the dismantling of "terrorist cells" -- as if the cells had no relation to "Mohamed."
The anniversary of the crimes committed by "Mohamed" came, and what happened was not surprising: Reports were broadcast on television concerning "Mohamed," his life and his acts. Pictures of a smiling Mohamed were on the cover of magazines everywhere. Photos were shown of his travels. One of the main French TV channels programmed a "Mohamed Merah Special Evening."
Sociologists were invited. Mohamed's sister, Souad, and his mother, Zoulika, both fully veiled, were interviewed extensively. They said that Mohamed was a "sweet young man" and a "good Muslim," who committed an "inexplicable acts." Mohamed's lawyer said that his client was "depressed." Souad, filmed by a hidden camera a few weeks earlier, stated that, "Mohamed had fought well and bravely," and that "Jews deserved to be killed;" but what she said then, when she thought that nobody was listening, seemed of interest to nobody. Mohamed's elder brother, Abdelghani, published a book, My Brother, this Terrorist, explaining that all his family was radicalized; that he was scared and that he had a "duty to speak," but nobody gave him a chance. His name was not even mentioned.
Once again, radical Islam and hatred of Jews were virtually not evoked. The explanation given by Mohamed Merah, of his decision to kill French soldiers of Arab origin, was totally set aside. The Jewish victims were just evoked as "casualties," and "victims" among others. Mohamed seemed also to be a victim.
The remembrance ceremonies referred to the "victims" in general, and to "terrorism" in general. Although French President François Hollande spoke briefly of "anti-Semitism," he was the only one to do so. "Sadness" was in the air, but it seemed essentially to have no cause and no effect: a "tragedy" had happened, that's all.
When they are in private, the police officials say that there "hundreds of Mohamed Merahs" in France and many Islamist cells, but that they are much more discreet when they are in public.
France intervened militarily against Islamists in northern Mali, but no French political leader ever said that the fight was waged against Islamists: the official word used was "terrorists" -- only "terrorists." Members of the French Council of the Muslim Faith asked the French political leaders to make no reference to Islam; they were obeyed.
French political leaders know perfectly well that there is an Islamist threat in France and that the French army is fighting Islamists in Mali; they are afraid to call things by their name. They fear riots in Muslim suburbs. They know perfectly well that Muslim anti-Semitism is rising in France, but, for the same reason, they are afraid to say it. The mainstream journalists are also scared.
The general atmosphere is impregnated with a submission that dare not speak his name. Those who do not comply and who speak too clearly are vilified, caricatured, excluded. Eventually they submit and they radicalize, and, as many radical Muslims find accomplices, many non-Muslims join soft jihadi movements.
The majority of the population discerns that something is wrong, but cannot find a reliable explanation.
Jews feel threatened, abandoned, and a growing number of them consider exile. Over the last two decades, French Jewish families have gradually withdrawn their children from public schools to protect them against bullying and insults. Today, Jewish schools themselves have become a target. What happened in Toulouse was an unparalleled crime, but every day, Jewish children going to or parting from Jewish schools are assaulted.
Every week, Jewish businesses are subjected to attacks.
The French Jewish community is the largest in Western Europe. Its existence dates back to the early Middle Ages. A decade ago, it had approximately 500,000 members. Last year, its number fell to 400,000, and continues to fall. If the trend does not stop, the Jewish presence in France will, in the medium term, come to an end.
As long as what happens in France also happens in other European countries, what is taking shape could be a shift towards the end of the Jewish presence in Europe. It is impossible to assess the consequences that such an event could have, but one would have to be blind to underestimate its significance.