Now that French anti-terror police have fatally shot Mohammed Merah, the French-born Algerian jihadist suspected in the murders of three French paratroopers, three Jewish children and a rabbi, it's worth commending their refusal to go along with the international media’s speculative and politically correct witch-hunt for a fictional "far-right" killer.
After a prolonged 33-hour siege on Merah’s apartment hideout, the police finally felled Merah with a bullet to the head. But that decisive resolution would have been highly unlikely had they deferred to the media consensus and gone after what reports in the French and foreign press emphatically suggested was a "right-wing assassin," or "a marksman with far-right views," perhaps one who had taken "inspiration from Anders Behring Breivik," the Norwegian ultra-nationalist and mass murderer who killed 77 people.
In keeping with its ideologically preferred suspect, one popular press theory was that the Toulouse murderer was one of the neo-Nazi soldiers dismissed from the French army in 2008 after being photographed giving the Nazi salute behind a Swastika-emblazoned flag. "The French army has people in its ranks who may be tempted by extremism,” one French daily mused darkly. Before long, tabloids were blaring about a "hunt for Nazi soldiers."
Even after French police had interrogated the soldiers and cleared them of suspicion, speculation persisted that the killer must have been a right-wing extremist rather than, as the evidence suggested, an Islamist. The French press in particular fanned that theory, suggesting that "Islamophobia" was driving the killer. After asking whether Islamophobia as well as anti-Semitism could have been a motive in the killings, Le Figaro answered its own question with a definitive "no doubt."
The press even found a quick culprit in President Nicolas Sarkozy. Fingers were instantly pointed at Sarkozy’s comments earlier this month that France had too many foreigners and was not integrating them properly into society. Sarkozy's statement touched off a firestorm, but it was by no means baseless. Destructive waves of riots by Muslim youth of North African origin in 2005 and again in 2010 revealed that France's immigrant enclaves were hotbeds of extremism and separatism, where residents had little connection to and a violent resentment of French society at large.
Nonetheless, the press insisted that it was Sarkozy who was to blame for creating a so-called "climate of intolerance" toward Muslims. The barely concealed subtext was that Sarkozy himself might have contributed to the emergence of the murderer in Toulouse -- a charge reminiscent of the left-wing smear that “violent rhetoric” from the Tea Party had inspired the deranged Arizona assassin Jared Lee Loughner.
It's a measure of the media's commitment to the “Islamophobia” narrative that it did not abandon it even after police revealed that their prime suspect was a Muslim. Even after revealing Merah's Algerian identity -- though not, pointedly, the fact that he was a Muslim -- the New York Times lamented that French "Muslims complain widely of feeling vilified by some political elements, on the right in particular" and warned that "the anti-immigration far right has been gaining unprecedented popularity in recent months." The police had their man, but the Times had its story, and it was sticking with it.
No doubt part of the confusion stemmed from the killer’s supposedly inconsistent motive. What could explain the motivation of a murderer who sought to kill in cold blood both Muslim soldiers and Jewish children? Yet, as Front Page reported, on inspection these motives were not so contradictory. Anti-Semitism is of course a well-documented feature of Islamist ideology. But even a minimal acquaintance with the history of the Islamic world shows that Muslims have never balked at killing their co-religionists. Recently leaked correspondence between Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda's American born media strategist Adam Gadahn shows that the terrorist organization has even started feeling guilty about killing so many Muslims in places like Iraq, so much so it has attributed its recent setbacks to "the tragedy of tolerating the spilling of [Muslim] blood."
Nor is it surprising that this should happen in France. Religious radicalism is now a major force in France’s Muslim immigrant-populated suburbs, as the eruptions of violence in the past decade attest. It’s precisely that discontent that the media-savvy bin Laden tried to harness in recent years. On two separate occasions, the al-Qaeda chieftain instructed his followers to attack France, both for banning the burqa in public places and for sending troops to Afghanistan. "The same way you threaten our security, we are threatening your security,” bin Laden declared in an October 2010 message.
Mohammed Merah seemed to be carrying out those instructions when he killed the three Muslim paratroopers, whose unit had recently served in Afghanistan. Echoing bin Laden, Merah declared, "You kill my brothers, I kill you!" when he shot the first paratrooper. After killing the other two paratroopers just days later, Merah called out “Allahu Akbar.” The press may have ruled out a Muslim extremist because the victims were Muslims, but Merah’s words make clear that he saw no contradiction between his faith and killing Muslim soldiers when al-Qaeda’s cause of killing “Jews and crusaders” commanded it.
It's true of course that there was no way to know immediately that the Toulouse killer was a Muslim radical and an al-Qaeda sympathizer. But the media's near-unanimous refusal even to entertain the possibility, and to float instead a wrongheaded theory about right-wing extremism, stands as a grim indictment of its unwillingness to acknowledge uncomfortable realities about Islam.
Fortunately, French police did not seem distracted by such illusions. From the very beginning of their investigation into the Toulouse murders, the police focused on a government watch list of suspected French Islamists who had visited Afghanistan and Pakistan. That focus ultimately led them to Merah, who had traveled to the Taliban stronghold of Waziristan in Pakistan where he reportedly received al-Qaeda training.
There is little consolation in the horrific murders that have shocked France and the world, including Jews and Muslims alike. But if there is a small measure of relief, it is that French police did not bow to media wisdom and steer their investigation on a misdirected course that might have left a monstrous killer on the loose.