Mar 22, 2012
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

French extremism

France 2: Mohammed Merah

Traveling abroad with purposes of training or indoctrination by terrorist groups and reading websites which ‘applaud’ terrorism are about to become crimes in France, if it is up to president Nicolas Sarkozy. His intentions were announced after a French citizen of Algerian origins killed four adults and three children in a shooting rampage in Toulouse before being killed by the police.

The profile of the killer, Mohammed Merah, 23, seems to be of that homegrown terrorist, the loner extremist belonging to disaffected minorities who personify Europe’s darkest fears. And, as it is expected after such horrifying cases, there is the danger of going a little too far to try to prevent the next (inevitable?) attack.

It is hard at this point to know what to believe, but French authorities claim that the killer had been to Afghanistan and Pakistan and had been trained by Al Qaeda in South Waziristan (Pakistan denies it, but frankly, Pakistan has very little credibility right now). An alleged Taliban member (who has even less credibility, but anyway…) added, without giving any names, that “There have been more than 80 French nationals working in different areas of Waziristan, mainly in North Waziristan’s Mirali and Miranshah [to train with Al Qaeda]. Five of them left from here in January 2012.”

Someone who travels to Afghanistan or Pakistan to be trained in an Al Qaeda camp hardly seems up to anything good. That should in the least fall into the category of conspiracy to commit crimes, which in itself punishable. Maybe there is a need for a new law in that regard, because even in less difficult cases, not involving terrorism, conspiracy is considered way to elastic and amorphous.

However, as the US has seen in numerous occasions since 2001, creating laws in the midst of agitated spirits following an attack can lead to gross violations and exaggerations. The idea that surfing through extremist websites is in itself a crime could be one of those exaggerations. There can be several mildly innocent reasons to read such websites. Research. Curiosity. Stupidity. Equating those with terrorist crimes might create more distractions for police forces than actually prevent anything. Monitoring those stupid actions, yes, that makes sense (Merah was, for example, in a no-fly list to the US, which proved right); but making arrests? Based on what?

Sadly for Muslims and others who expect sound and serious policies, the crimes of mr. Merah came about in the middle of the presidential campaign in France. Chances of a real examination of the dangers and consequences of his acts are now hindered by electoral and populist interests.

It all sounds like old news, a cycle we are getting used to. Meanwhile, it continues to be ridiculously easy to acquire guns. Here in the US, for example, there is no end in sight for the practice, no matter how many Virginia Tech incidents we have. So much for creating laws that will actually protect people.

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1 Comment

  • Agree. Why the police in France were so reluctant to arrest him, even though they knew he had been in Al Qaeda training camps, is difficult to understand.

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Founded in 2004, Democracy and Society is a biannual print journal published by the Center for Democracy and Civil Society at Georgetown University. The D&S Blog provides web-only content, including special reports and investigative series, on issues relating to democracy and development.

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