Originally posted October 1, 2014.
Christopher Caldwell outlines the problem of radical Islam in Europe here.
In two separate incidents in March, Mohammed Merah, a French-born French citizen who thought he was waging jihad, ambushed four soldiers around Toulouse, killing three of them. A week later, he shot dead three children arriving for morning classes at a nearby Jewish school, along with a young rabbi who was father to two of them. The children were aged eight, six, and three. Merah recorded the killings on a micro-camera mounted around his neck and sent the footage to Al Jazeera, which did not air it. Shortly before he died by gunfire, Merah told the soldiers who had surrounded his apartment that he regretted not having done more of what he did.
These were crazy deeds, and one can argue about what role insanity played in them, but something else needs to be candidly acknowledged: the killer was not a lone wolf. He had a measure of community support and a great deal of family support. His brother Abdelkader professed himself “proud” of his relation to the murderer. His mother refused to convince her son to surrender to police. His father threatened to file a wrongful-death suit against the French state. The contemporary culture of politicized Islam, as deracinated Internet-surfers understand it, is what Merah believed he was fighting for. He was upset about French laws that limit the wearing of the Muslim veil among schoolgirls. Someone had whipped him into a frenzy over Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.
France has been sickened, but not surprised, by the killings. They had an antecedent. In 1995, Khaled Kelkal, an Algerian-born petty criminal in the Lyon suburbs who had discovered radical Islam in jail, murdered a Parisian imam whose positions on the Algerian war were a bit moderate for his taste. Kelkal then set off a bomb in the Saint-Michel RER station, killing eight people. He detonated a car bomb in front of a Jewish school in Villeurbanne, outside Lyon, timed for the moment the children were scheduled to emerge. (A bloodbath was averted only because of a delay in the day’s dismissal.) He planted a bomb on a high-speed rail track that would have killed dozens or hundreds had it detonated. But it did not, and the police got Kelkal’s fingerprints. When he was killed by police in a shoot-out that was partly captured on television, there were riots in several immigrant neighborhoods around Lyon.
ALL WESTERN EUROPEAN countries have some version of this problem, which involves immigration, Islam, dissent from established European culture, and organized violence. Although it has been temporarily overshadowed by budgetary and currency woes, it is Europe’s most significant chronic problem. What to do about it depends on where one thinks the problem lies.