The news has been full of the news in Toulouse, south-west France, about a fearless terrorist shooting young soldiers and three children from a Jewish school. The military victims were Frenchmen like  the murderer himself, likewise of North African ex-colonial descent. The crime in itself is horrendous, especially the cold-blooded murder of little children.
However the media went wild, fueled by French president Sarkozy’s propaganda machine : Al Qaeda, no less, had attacked France, which supposedly justified the deployment of emergency troops and maximum alerts all over the country to reassure a suitably terrorized population. Much to the glee of the right and far right for whom this has given an unexpected boost in electoral expectations.

The failed capture and subsequent shooting of this supposed Al Qaeda militant was masterfully staged. Minute by minute reports followed each other in the media of how the special police known as ‘Le RAID’ were waiting to catch him alive. Two dozen bullets later, courtesy their prime marksman, the young gunman’s corpse was extracted from the ruins of his building.

On one side we have a 23 year old boy called Mohammed Merah, on the other stands the hero of the day, the Gallic George Clooney look-alike and Sarkozy’s wannabee handsome alter-ego, Arnaud de Hautecloque, a scion of an arch-aristocratic family, backed by an entire battalion supposedly saving France from foreign terrorist attack.

What ‘s the real story ? Has this been France’s mini-version and dress rehearsal for her very own 9/11 as the media (+ Sarkozy and his crowd) have intimated ? Did anybody pause to try and understand how a typically suburban French kid dropped into petty crime, having even refused access to the notorious Foreign Legion, to seek solace with Islamic Fundamentalism ? Like so many others, he presumably went to overcrowded schools, met with indifferent school teachers, equally uncaring social workers, emerged semiliterate, presumably got some kind of minimum state hand-out to make sure that he could neither find work nor afford to idle about. The Sarkozy era has been characterized by major cuts in education, health and social services and massive privatization based on the ominous British model.

What’s in it for kids left out of this process ? Not a shred of respect or incentive in a society based on instant gratification, maximum profit, global capitalism gone wild, institutionalized unemployment and ubiquitous show business. What were the chances of this kid turning into today’s  perverse ideal social model, i.e. a stock-market gambler or an or an entrepreneur, except in the juicy areas of drug dealing and weapons which there are plentiful in French suburbia ? Even narrower are the chances of Merah becoming a professional of some kind because of his lack of decent schooling and the curse of living in a rotten suburb. Such summits are ultimately reserved for the middle-classes who live in the right place, get the right schooling have acquired the fine tuned the bourgeois skills of social ascension on an increasingly slippery slope. Of course suburban kids do manage to break into the system and lead highly successful  and personally satisfying lives, but it’s that much harder for them, deprived as they are of what sociologist Pierre Bourdieu called ‘social capital’.

So, for a minority of these outcasts,  Fundamentalism of every brand, Neo-Nazism and related ideologies  may well provide instant identity, reinstated maximal virility, suitably couched in extreme sexist ethics which systematically crush women. You can be a he-man on the cheap with added excitement because travel and play with heavy weapons is provided by avid recruiters. Had Merah not been to Afghanistan, plenty more destinations would have done, even in Europe. Pick your enemy- that’s easy enough Jews are an ideal  and alas  traditional target as are, in this particular  case, young Muslims who do not toe the extremist line. Next time it could be dissident Africans, gay parents, women’s groups or family planning clinics as in the US, but that may not be necessary in France as the government itself here has cut funding for the latter.
Naturally, not everyone who grows up in an ugly suburb necessarily turns to crime. Such a background does not constitute an alibi or an excuse for committing murder. In brief, before being anything else, Mohammed Merah is a typical casualty of the French society which has failed its promises of Liberté, Egalité Fraternité to its citizens. He went bezerk.And provided ideal fodder for Fundamentalist  militant groups recruiting some of Western society’s  most vulnerable casualties.


Carol Mann