"The Holocaust has started again," said the mother of Ilan Halimi, a young French Jew, tortured and murderd in 2006. In the last weeks, three years after his murder, French newspapers were filled with reports of the trial. Halimi was only 23 years old when he was lured by a seventeen year old girl into an apartment of the Paris banlieu, or suburb. There, he was kidnapped by a youth gang, later called "the gang of Barbarians," and kept prisoner for 24 days.
In France, the land of "freedom, equality and fraternity," an anti-Semitic crime was committed. Even though the racist nature of the assassination was clear, the police at first refused to consider the kidnapping a hate crime. It would appear that Europe, overwhelmed by a strange interpretation of politically correctness, did not want to admit that anti-Semitism is indeed still alive. And by not admitting it, Europe seems to be unable to fight this increasing phenomenon.
This is also the reason why the Halimi family criticized the choice to do a closed door trial. Only with a trial open to the public, would it have been possible to show France and the world what anti-Semitism is, to be a lesson for future generations and to alert the society that there is a revival of the stereotypes of the Jew, created by Nazism. Boys and girls, blacks and whites, children of immigrants formed this gang of barbarians and they all had something in common: they hated Jews.
For this gang, a Jew was a symbol of richness and of a community that did not deserve any respect. Initially, the kidnappers asked the Halimi family for a ransom of 450,000 Euros. However, as the days went on, his captors turned increasingly cruel: stripping off his clothes, beating, scratching and cutting him. A burning cigarette was pressed into his forehead. His kidnappers finally poured flammable liquid on him and set him on fire. On February 13, 2006, Halimi was found naked, tied and handcuffed to a tree near a railroad track in the Parisian suburbs. He was still alive but he died on his way to the hospital, without being able to say a word.
During the next few days, the French police arrested 21 persons in connection with the abduction. Most of them were Muslims. The leader of the gang, Youssuf Fofana, who at the time was 25 years old, tried to flee to the Ivory Coast, his parents' country of origin, where he was soon found, arrested and extradited back to France.
When the trial begun last April, to end in July, Fofana immediately gave it a religious tint by telling the court that "Allah would be victorious." He said that he did not have any regret for what he had done, and he defied the court by offending the lawyers. Also, while in custody, Fofana inundated the magistrates with letters filled with anti-Semitic insults. He eventually acknowledged that he was convinced that all "Jews are loaded" and therefore the perfect target from which to ask for a ransom.
Fofana himself, who did not even have a knowledge of Islam (the BBC reported that he was unable to explain the difference between a Sunni and Shia Muslim and could not recite any part of the Koran), appears imbued with that sort of anti-Semitism that is widespread among the communities of Muslim immigrants in the French banlieus. But what is France doing, or Europe, in this regard? Nothing.
Last July, Fofana was found guilty and given a life sentence of a mandatory 22 years, the maximum under French law. After he received the sentence, he still seemed proud of what he had done to a Jew. However, even though Fofana was sentence to life imprisonment, his two most active accomplices received sentences of 15 and 18 years in prison, and others received sentences from 6 months to 9 years. Two people, a man and woman, were acquitted. Under French law, from 2006 to 2009, when a person served three years in jail on good behaviour, the sentence could be reduced by half, despite the crime committed.
According to the Jerusalem Post, the mildness of the sentences for the co-defendants prompted French minister of Justice Michèle Alliot-Marie to protest and, in a swift turnaround, the office of prosecutor Jean-Claude Marin agreed to ask the Court of Appeals to seek longer sentences than those originally handed out. This intervention from the political powers provoked an outcry not only from the defence lawyers but also from the association of barristers and from the union of magistrates.
The judicial system, particularly in continental Europe, is understandably touchy when it comes to receiving criticism, and even more so if it come from political powers. Still, what we see, is that court verdicts are often biased by the political, ideological and personal beliefs of the judges. The problem is now that the institutional turmoil caused by the intervention of Ms Alliot-Marie risks overshadowing the cruelty of the crime. Already some pro-Palestinian groups in France have started to say that those who seek harsher sentences are "confusing justice with vengeance" and that the independence of the Judiciary is in peril.
Far more distressing, however, is that during the different hearings, many participated in the crime in a way or another, even by simply keeping silent. If somebody kidnaps and tortures a person in the apartment next door and you are aware of what's going on, you cannot just turn your head and keep minding your business. Asking for harsher punishments is not mixing justice with vengeance, but rather simply reaffirming the fundamental principles that should govern our living together in a civil society.
In the meantime, French Jews feel abandoned; more and more them are leaving France because, they say, of the heavy climate of the thickening anti-Semitism now prevailing in that country.