Merah, text and context
When a terrorist group makes a claim after an attack, we need not always accept what they say. Ignoring them, however, is often the worst approach. That is, moreover, the temptation, so unacceptable is this way of making a claim or a protest, whether it stems from an understandable desire to soften pain or grief, or from a wish to avoid a contentious issue, or from a spirit of pure contrariness, so unacceptable is this way of making a claim or a protest.
From the 11 to the 22 March, right in the middle of the election campaign, twelve days of violence shook France. They starkly forced issues of national security to the centre of political debate, to the exclusion of all others.
Mohamed Merah, the new Khaled Kelkal, was a young Frenchman of Algerian origin. His angelic good looks set him on a course to enjoy life. In Toulouse and Montauban, he is said to have killed three French soldiers of North African origin, severely wounded a French soldier of West Indian origin, and then killed a man and three children, all of them practicing Jews. It seems he intended to do this and then to die as a warrior for Islam, exposing himself police fire. These murders unleashed a wave of demonstrations against racism and anti-Semitism. They embodied the idea that there are supposedly some “civilizations” which are inferior or superior to others. They might have had similar lively demonstrations on other occasions. For example, when certain declarations were made which could have been seen as nourishing this very idea and which might have spurred weak or distorted spirits to take direct action.
The appropriate moment was at the time of grief or emotion, or when violence had been legitimately rejected, or a time of visceral reaction. These actual demonstrations were not the time to mention the claims attributed to Merah, which were not essentially racial or religious. They were different in this sense from those of his mirror image on the extreme right, Anders Behring Breivik, another young man of angelic beauty, though more Nordic, who had taken the lives of 77 “multiculturalists” on 22 June 2011 in Norway. It is possible and desirable now, bearing in mind the memory of the victims and the grief of their loved ones, to propose a more considered reaction, whose aim would be understanding, followed by the prevention of such a thing happening again. We have no ambition to be exhaustive, but we discuss the context of these murders, simply because there is one, without any question of justifying or approving them, since they are murders.
By killing Jewish people, he was aiming at the State of Israel
The motives said to have been put forward by Merah, following a murder spree ostensibly marked by mindlessness, were anti-colonialist more than racial or religious. There is an obvious anti-Jewish element in them, but if he killed practicing Jews, it was not just because the victims were Jews, but rather that, being practicing Jews, it was supposed that they unquestionably supported the policies of the State of Israel with regard to the Palestinians (More notably, this comes out in the remarks he is supposed to have made about Palestinian children).
This supposition is itself racist because it suggests that in an entire group of people, every one of its members supports the acts carried out by some of its members or by their real or indeed supposed representatives. This is a false generalization, even though it is fair to point out that in fact the State of Israel freely claims to be the representative of the Jewish people, using a broad reading of Resolution 118 of the General Assembly of the United Nations, which, on 29 November 1947, authorized the partition of Palestine into a “Jewish state” and an “Arab state. It also refers to the fact that the term “Israel” designated the Jewish people before it was used as the name of a State. Meanwhile, not all members of the people in question are willing to being so represented. The French Jewish Union for Peace (UJFP), under the inspiration notably by Mireille Fanon-Mendès France, is one of the rare voices to bring up the geopolitical context of the Merah affair. It delivers a message which is by no means usually expected of a Jewish organization, when, for example, it writes, on 25 March: “Our anger is great in the face of self-proclaimed representatives of French Jews who remain silent at every murder of Palestinian children committed by the “most democratic army in the world” [supposedly the Israeli army, “Tsahal”], who remain silent even here [in France] when whole groups of men, women and children are stigmatized, arrested, locked up or expelled. Finally, who keep silent in the face of racist and xenophobic speeches from the very highest representatives of the [French] State. Those who call themselves “the guardians of the memory” are manipulating it in support of a criminal policy.”
Confounding different things is how you get racism. It is a bit like saying the Rroma is a delinquent people because some Rroma people happen to be delinquents. It leads to collective punishments of civilian populations, as used by terrorism, in spite of the essential principle of justice being that you are condemned for what you have actually done. What had Gabriel Sandler, Arieh Sandler and Myriam Monsonego (aged respectively four, five and seven) done that Merah should kill them with “infinite pleasure”, as he is supposed to have said? Nothing, obviously.
If he has rivaled the average Nazi, in sadism and, probably, in level of mental pathology, Merah distinguished himself by not having the killing of Jewish people as a goal in itself. This is different from the average Nazi who considered the Jewish people and even Jewishness as an evil and a danger in itself. If Merah has killed Jewish people, it was to put pressure on the State of Israel in the context of the colonial war which it is waging against the Palestinian people. It seems that, in the course of his interviews with the press or with police personnel trying to get him to give himself up, he never put forward an argument linked solely to the Jewishness of his victims. Some Muslim terrorists evoke a supposed “Jewish treachery” by picking up on certain anti-Jewish passages in the Koran at the expense of more pro-Jewish texts. Merah did not.
Nevertheless, SOS Racisme [one of the most famous antiracist French organization] called for a demonstration on 25 March in favor of a “republic united against racism, anti-semitism and [Islamic] terrorism”. This is a laudable aim, but which makes a choice among the issues on the table. Islam has not, unlike Christianity, exterminated millions of Jews, but has, on the contrary offered them protection. Europe owes its modernity to it. There would be no mathematics or Greek thought without its work of preservation, enrichment and transmission between the fall of Rome and the Renaissance. So how can Islam be implicated in the murderous delirium and perversity of an isolated, shattered young man, who became a Muslim only latterly, and picked and chose what he wanted from it? On top of that, this young man does not seem to have justified his acts intrinsically on the basis of his faith, but, on the contrary, he used two arguments you might call secular. These related to the war conducted by France in Afghanistan and the deaths of Palestinian children under the apartheid regime inflicted on the Palestinian people by the State of Israel. These arguments do not justify any murder but that does not prevent us examining their intrinsic pertinence. While the presence of the French army in Afghanistan relies on a resolution of the United Nations and a vote in [French] Parliament – though this resolution is beginning to be a bit aged (2001), and the “usefulness” of this presence is debatable – the presence of the Israeli army, followed by its colonies in the West Bank and Gaza is condemned by several United Nations resolutions, supported by France, over nearly fifty years.
The Palestinian issue in the Petrol War
What is more, the regime of apartheid and colonization put in place by the State of Israel in the Occupied Territories effectively provokes the killing of Palestinian children. This goes well beyond the classic case of 12 year old Mohamed Al-Durah, struck down on the 30 of September 2000. At least eight more were killed in 2010, and more than 300 between December 2008 and January 2009, at the time of “Operation Cast Lead”. They were killed by bullet or missile, by lack of drinking water, or lack of care, by excessive delays imposed on ambulances as on other vehicles at crossing points which lead to hospitals... without counting the case of torture of children and adolescents by the Israeli Army (also portrayed as the “most moral in the world”). Apart from its happening in a geographical context, with links to their basic texts, this situation has little to do with Islam, or any other religion, for at least three reasons.
1. It is not Judaism which today permits the maintenance of a State of Israel (which has six million Jewish inhabitants, while its more immediate neighbors, with all of whom it has been at war, count 118 million inhabitants). The vital need of American capitalism to have control over a permanent military base in the middle of the oil fields, confronting Stalin in the past, against China nowadays, but also against Europe also and these Arab-Muslim masses. Judaism has absolutely no need of a State of Israel. On the contrary, it derives its moral vigor from its attachment to the Book and to its attachment to the Book of its Exile. As to the Shoah and Zionist aspirations which preceded it which it has revivified, their nature is not religious but rather racial and nationalist. They were presented opportunistically in 1947 as motivations for the creation of the State of Israel, and it is by opportunism that they are so presented today.
2. It is not Islam that legitimizes Palestinian resistance to the policy of apartheid and colonialism carried out by the State of Israel in the West Bank and Jordan. It is the right of peoples to self-determination.
3. It is not Jewish fundamentalism which underpins the policy mentioned but the necessity to keep the Palestinian wound open in order to prevent the emergence of a democracy out of tune with the surrounding Arab-Muslim dictatorships. These were installed all around it (with the exception of Turkey which has no petrol and is the old colonial power in the Arab world) with the objective of guaranteeing the free flow of petrol, and associated backhanders, to the United States, because they considered that a Palestinian State could not be anything but democratic. Democracy, even a partial one like that of Israel, is contagious, and the Palestinian people have the pluralist press of Israel and the Israeli Parliamentary debates constantly under their noses, a few hundred meters away.
So the State of Israel is illegally occupying, using violence and its army, and dozens of settlements protected by millions of soldiers, areas which do not belong to it and which are already occupied. The State of Israel diverts the waters and agricultural lands of the legitimate inhabitants of these lands. The State of Israel hinders their freedom of movement by imposing military checkpoints, where the conditions for getting through are a matter of chance and the treatment frightening and humiliating. The regime put in place by the State of Israel is not a religious one. It is political, military, indeed militarist, exploitative – in a word, colonialist. It undermines the “Two State solution” which seems to be – even today, but for how long? – the most desirable one for constructing a long term peace. It nourishes a legitimate resentment and inevitable neuroses among Arab/Muslim populations internationally. It crystallizes a violence that is, while being unacceptable, does not entirely avoid being understandable. UJFP writes again, “The criminal policy practiced by Israel with regard to the entire Palestinian people, in defiance of international law, puts the peace and cohesion of all societies in danger, our own in particular.”
The fanaticism of certain Jewish zealot is at work in these region, more numerous and harmful than Mohammed Merah. We might mention the name of Baruch Goldstein, a doctor who had a curious interpretation of the Hippocratic Oath, as he executed twenty-nine Muslims at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron on 25 February 1994. And also that of Yigal Amir, who executed Yitzhak Rabin on 4 November 1995 after weeks of hateful propaganda nourished by the Likud Party, now in power in Israel. There are, too, murders committed in the name of the Muslim religion in reaction to this regime. Nevertheless, these terrorist acts – of which there is no question of approving, although the grave of Baruch Goldstein has an edifying inscriptions stating “To Saint Baruch Goldstein, who gave his life for the Jewish people, the Torah and the nation of Israel – have a marginal influence on the long term tendencies of contemporary history, which is much more influenced by the energetic engagements, military and financial linked to that which is the basis of the capitalist economic system and of Western civilization since the First World War, namely petrol.
Marginal, but not a nullity. They need to use an ideological deception, though it be religious, to hide the biggest looting linked to the biggest wastage in human history, which sees Western countries being suffocated by pollution from badly used petrol derivatives while their elites so help themselves with this business to so much wealth that they don’t know what to do with it while the Arab masses, the legitimate holders, experience hunger and only see the fruits of this from afar, with a glimpse of celebrity magazines which reveal the pranks of their leaders in the luxury goods shops of Paris. They are too at at the mercy of frontiers drawn up by Western powers at the end of the two official world wars. These latter could be analyzed as simple battles in a war started in the 20th Century, which may not be finished yet but may also be a move in the game of the events of 11 September 2001 and in the conflicts in the Iraq and Afghan conflicts. The War for Petrol, a hundred years war.
SOS Racisme once again sets out its call to mobilize “These acts of barbarity, which aim to stir up fear and chaos, are trying the disrupt social cohesion in our society and to test our attachment to republican values”. Nevertheless, Merah’s aim was not to stir up “fear and chaos” (such a reading derives from the authorities’ argument according to which there is nothing to be understood about his acts, which would lead paradoxically to us being plunged into fear and chaos) but it was to get France to leave Afghanistan and the Israelis to quit the Occupied Territories (a reading that comes from remarks attributed to Merah). The issue raised in the first place by this murderous escapade is not that of racism or “anti-Semitism” (a badly chosen term, as the descendents of Sem, son of Noah, ancestor of Abraham, are according to tradition just as much Arabs as Jews) but it is a question of colonialism.
Why has this got to do with a gay activist? First of all, this activist is not only homosexual but also black, Jewish and more broadly, human and “nothing human is a stranger to me” (“humani nihil a me alienum”, Terence, a Berber writer, 163 before the Christian era). Moreover, a completely comprehensive activism against homophobia must lead us to take account of its common root in the totality of mechanisms of domination and in particular the one being exercised in regard to the Palestinian people. Finally, this activist took part in a conference given in Paris on 20 March by Haneen Maikey and Ramzy Kumsieh, two Palestinian activists in an organization called “Al-Qaws for Sexual & Gender Diversity in Palestinian Society” and in the campaign “Palestinian Queers for Boycoot, Disinvestment and Sanctions) which opened his eyes to the desire of the State of Israel to avoid all public debate relating to its Palestinian policy, particularly its practicing of “pinkwashing” , that is transforming a debate favorable to LGBTX (lesbians, gays, bi- and trans-sexuals and intersex, indeterminates and queers) for purposes that is foreign to it. Isn’t the inconvenient thing about this desire that it leaves the field clear for certain people to take direct action? When you stifle a word, does it not surge up elsewhere and in another form, first of all among the weaker spirits and the most destructured?
Although French, Mohammed Merah was of Algerian origin you give too much honor to the most cowardly of these murders, on 19 March, by giving a particular importance to their date, which was the fiftieth anniversary of the cease-fire following the Evian accords. These documents are often cited but less often read, which is a mistake, but in an instant put law in place of armed exchanges and put an end, officially, to the war in Algeria.
On the other hand, you could give such an importance to the attitude of France, which refused, without using Merah’s murderous epic as a reason for its decision, to commemorate this fiftieth anniversary. Instead it preferred a State silence about this war and all that comes with it: the ghettoization by the State of North African populations in France; State torture during eight years with the backing of successive governments whether of the right or of the left, in a climate, it is true, of “permanent” coup d’état; the betrayal by the State of the Harkis, whom France had ordered to be ruthless in their actions, and whom De Gaulle left with their families in the hands of the North Africans, for after all they were only North Africans, who massacred them over eight years; State genocide during the time of the conquest of Algeria in the 19th Century and other State genocides, more recent, more secret still, in Madagascar and the Cameroon, by the French army, in more recent years after the Second World War; State crimes committed by the French army in Algeria and then in Latin America up until the 1980’s – which would chant the support of the [French] Fifth Republic to the dictatorships of Argentina or Chile, to whom the French military, legally commissioned with this aim by the French State, “homeland of human rights”, gave courses in torture and assassination on the basis of know-how gained in the Kasbah?
With the electoral campaign in full swing, these subjects will be smothered just like the Israeli state violence in the West Bank and Gaza. They will talk until we are fed up with it, about a “monster”, which he is, but also about being “mad”, or “incomprehensible” which he is only in part. Humanity has invented debate so that we can keep violence within the province of words. To prevent discussion here or elsewhere would be to accept the resurgence of this violence in the world of the flesh, here or somewhere else. To say this is not to condone, but, while we condemn it, we want to understand so we can better prevent it in future.
Translated by E. C. (2-9 April 2012)
Please do check the reference links in the original version in French here.