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.
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