On Toulouse shootings, Sydney Morning Herald editorial writers fail to read their own coverage

On Toulouse shootings

The Sydney Morning Herald editorialised this morning on the possible identity of the Toulouse shooter and pondered what group he may have been affiliated to. Curiously, these questions seem to have been answered just three pages earlier.

…As to whether he [the shooter] is a deranged loner or a fanatical terrorist acting for some group is unclear.  While this week’s school attack was an atrocity against Jews, anti-Semitism alone does not seem to account for last week’s murders in which the paratrooper victims were dark-skinned, hailing from either Muslim North Africa or the West Indies. One notion is that the gunman thought he was striking a blow for the Palestinian cause – French paratroops have served in Afghanistan. 

… There are other, plausible, but equally discomforting theories. One is that the culprit could be a former soldier who has grievances or cracked under pressure, in the same way as the American staff sergeant who slaughtered 16 civilians in Afghanistan last week appears to have done. Another is that the killer is indeed a neo-Nazi, a ruthless, driven racist, the wide scope of whose rage encompasses not just Jews but any other ethnic or religious minority which catches his eye.  

Incidentally, it seems strange that attacking French paratroops who served in Afghanistan is described as “striking a blow for the Palestinian cause”. This is an idea that al-Qaeda’s acolytes would agree with, as they believe themselves to be struggling against the “Zio-Crusader alliance” and see Western intervention in Afghanistan and Jewish sovereignty in Israel as components of the Jewish/Christian plot to destroy Islam. While it is unlikely that the Herald was consciously adopting this viewpoint, there are not many other rational reasons to link the two.

Furthermore, under the al-Qaeda narrative, for a Muslim to serve in the French army is akin to apostacy and therefore punishable by death. The Herald, like most of the French media, do not seem to have considered this as a possible motivation for an Islamist terrorist to attack the dark-skinned French troops.

Meanwhile, as mentioned before, many of the questions raised in the editorial — printed on page 10 of the paper — were answered in the ‘World’ section on page 7:

TOULOUSE: A pre-dawn police raid on a home in Toulouse erupted into a gunfight yesterday with a gunman who claims connections to al-Qaeda and is suspected of killing three Jewish schoolchildren, a rabbi and three paratroopers … Merah, a French national of Algerian descent, told police the killings at the Jewish school this week and the fatal shooting of three French paratroopers last week were to avenge the deaths of Palestinian children and a protest against French involvement in the Afghanistan war. …  Merah had travelled to Pakistan and Afghanistan and described himself as a mujahideen, or Islamic fighter.

So he at least claimed to be “a fanatical terrorist acting for some group” (al-Qaeda no less), he was indeed aiming to “strike a blow for the Palestinian cause” and he was not a neo-Nazi.

The final paragraph of the editorial was also problematic, making reference to Anders Breivik from last year’s attacks in Norway (who was indeed a deranged loner) and then writing:

But the answer does not lie in panic or paranoid overreaction. We are much more likely to be hit by a passing car than by a crazed gunman. Yet perhaps we should be more vigilant. Doctors, police and the armed services, in particular, need to watch out for signs of mental stress. They can turn ugly.

This response is indicative of a very unhelpful mentality towards Islamist terrorism that seems to pervade certain circles in the West. Jonathan Tobin commented on this trend yesterday — before the killer was known — and while he was referring to “liberal Jews” in particular, his words could well apply to non-Jewish sources, such as the Herald:

[I]f we are discussing what Jews and other civilized persons should be worrying most about today, the idea that there is any comparison between the danger posed by the scattered bands of neo-Nazi extremists and that of Islamism is not a serious proposition. The neo-Nazis are a nasty bunch and capable of violence. But Islamist terror has at its command, terrorist armies, control of sovereign territories (Gaza, Lebanon and a major state such as Iran) as well as the resources to finance a nuclear weapons project. While the persistence of Nazism, even in its current truncated form is upsetting and makes us wonder whether Western civilization really is in trouble, Islamism is a real threat, not a symbolic one.

… For many, … raising the question of Islamist hate for Jews – something that is the source of the rising tide of anti-Semitic agitation around the globe – is somehow in bad taste if not evidence of the dread charge of Islamophobia. They are so conditioned to believe that Muslim distaste for Israel’s actions is the reason for enmity that they ignore the vicious stream of Jew-hatred coming out of the Middle East and prefer to worry about an altogether mythical post 9/11 backlash against Muslims.

Instead, they prefer to dwell on the far less potent danger posed by the tiny groups of Hitler-lovers who are generally too weak and isolated to do anything more than disturb the peace. While such groups are despicable and deserve the attention of law enforcement, to focus on them is to re-fight the last war.

There is something deeply troubling about this tendency amongst certain commentators in the West of trying their hardest to avoid focusing on Islamist hatred or blaming clearly antisemitic attacks on the Jew-hatred that motivates them. It is probably a result of the fallout from the last decade’s “War on Terror”, whereby any demonisation of Islamist terrorists is seen as akin to the Bush administration’s justification for the Iraq war and those who opposed this war are averse to using its rhetoric. This “don’t talk about ideological motivations for terrorism” response does no favours to anyone.

There is a very real and very grave threat from those who preach a particularly warped and violent ideology, rooted in one extreme interpretation of Islam and distinct from the islamic mainstream. As we saw this week, their followers are driven to commit some of the most inhuman acts imaginable, such as chasing after an eight-year-old girl, grabbing her in order to press a gun to her head and then pulling the trigger; her only crime being her membership of the Jewish people. By doing their utmost to pretend that this problem is not real, these commentators are only ensuring that it will continue to grow.

Daniel Meyerowitz-Katz