A lawyer for France’s Jewish students’ union declared recently that Twitter has agreed to remove dozens of anti-Semitic tweets, in a small victory against hate in France. Published with hashtags such as #UnBonJuif (#AGoodJew) and #UnJuifMort — to suggest that #AGoodJew is #ADeadJew — the bad taste of the messages is astounding. One came with a photograph, published via Twitpic, that showed a pick-up pan full of dust, in an apparent reference to the Nazi crematoriums. Another is more explicit, showing a black and white photo of a starving young person on what appears to be a concentration camp cot. (Le Monde newspaper put together a gallery of some of the worst.)
While the anti-Semitic hashtag controversy has, understandably, garnered plenty of attention in the online universe — #UnBonJuif was the third most tweeted hashtag in France on Oct. 10 — this year has seen high-profile attacks in the real world that are infinitely more troubling.
It wasn’t merely hateful Internet trolling that led to a police crackdown on Oct. 6. Amid a flurry of anti-terror operations around the country, they detained 11 suspected terrorists, later freeing five of them. That day began in dramatic fashion, when authorities killed a 12th man in a raid in the eastern French town of Strasbourg. They believe that the dead man was personally linked to an anti-Jewish grenade attack in a Parisian suburb in September, that he headed a militant group with a list of “Jewish” targets, and that he was likely involved in channeling French citizens abroad to fight alongside radical Islamists.
Paris court prosecutor Franois Molins declared in a statement that “a terrorist attack in our country has been avoided” and that authorities have dismantled the “most dangerous” terrorist group assembled on French territory in more than a decade and a half.
In reality, though, it doesn’t seem to take a large group to inspire horror. The highest-profile attack this year was the work of a young delinquent turned freelance Islamist radical named Mohamed Merah. In March, days after executing three off-duty French soldiers in southwestern France, he drove his motor scooter onto the grounds of a Jewish school in Toulouse and coldly murdered a Franco-Israeli schoolteacher, two of his children and one of their schoolmates. The youngest victim was 4 years old. Merah later claimed in his rantings to police and a journalist that the school attack was in retaliation for the death of Palestinian children at the hands of Israeli forces.
Days later, police cornered the 22-year-old Merah in his apartment and, during a shoot-out, put a bullet in his forehead that launched him off of his balcony and to the street below. Perhaps it should have been the end of Merah’s story, but it wasn’t.
Almost immediately after Merah’s “Natural Born Killers”-like rampage ended, his name began to appear on scrawled ghetto graffiti, including these words insisting that he was a “valiant knight of Islam.” (The author of that graffiti was sentenced to three months in prison for “apologizing for terrorism.”) Immediately after his death, Long Live Mohamed Merah Facebook pages sprang up, with some lauding his anti-establishment ravings. Merah suggested that his murder of three off-duty military men (all ethnic minorities, incidentally) was some sort of resistance against the French State. And Merah, who filmed some of his murders, has inspired an array of video tributes, in some cases strange ones (notice the gun at the end).