It was a week of unprecedented violence, of crimes against the Republic. The army, a school, soldiers, children, a teacher, Muslims, Jews, a Christian -- all suffered under the bullets of a killer.
For a week of tension, all eyes were fixed on a frightening young man. Neighbors described him as affable, while the foreign intelligence services regarded him as alarming. He imposed upon France his will to kill and incite madness.
In this week of so-called half-masting of the presidential campaign, public speaking actually took over. With only 30 days to go until the first round of ballots is cast, this drama could not have unfolded without political consequences.
It was a week of round-the-clock coverage, with live news channels required to keep their antenna ready to comment on the news -- news that didn't come. A week of shrinks providing unwelcome analysis, discussing the psychology of a man they did not know. A week of questions, some sound, others less so. Some whose answers were needed, others not.
There is the controversy raised by the intervention of French special forces operatives, which we as journalists don't even fully understand. We heard it all: it should have come earlier, they should have sent stun grenades, they should have shot him in the legs, should have taken him alive. Mossad says it wouldn't have done this; neither would the CIA. I feel unable to have an opinion. The special operations forces would have been criticized even more had they reacted any faster, for now allowing even the slightest chance of taking Mohammed Merah alive. I say let the police and judicial investigations run their course. There are more important things to me at the moment.
More interesting are the questions about surveillance, which they say could have easily thwarted Mohammed Merah. Perhaps this is easier said after the fact, when secret files suddenly seem full of notes regarding dormant terrorists. François Fillon has reason to remind us that in a state of law, we should be concerned only with those who have committed a crime. A pity, moreover, that this is not always the case, and that sometimes suspicion is enough for the police to challenge the suburban youth!
Very justified, in any case, are discussions concerting the behavior of our politicians throughout the week and their positioning in the coming month.
There were excesses on all sides: Bayrou too quickly linked the tragedies of Toulouse to "a sick society and its divisions," implicitly accusing the head of state of accentuating them. Holland gave way to say that "in a society where violence is present, nothing can be tolerated at the top of the state: neither vulgarity nor ease."
Copé had the audacity to hold a press briefing at the moment of the special operations raid, all while criticizing the opposition for not respecting the "time of mourning." Sarkozy, in a move to get the most attention, spoke anxiously to the middle-school students, putting them at further risk for trauma after the already shocking tragedy had taken place. Mélenchon, not wanting to lose the rhythm of his campaign, said he would continue at any cost with a "spirit of resistance." (What kind of resistance? And resistance to what?)
Marine Le Pen, who was very quiet at first until we knew the killer's identity, felt liberated, when it was made public, to denounce the "laxity" that reigns in France against "the rise of Muslim fundamentalism."
In short, each stayed true to point. But how might this tragedy affect the upcoming presidential election, which is now only a month away?
For Nicolas Sarkozy, it can only be positive: 74 percent of French people think that the president had an attitude that was well-suited to respond to the Toulouse tragedy. And indeed, feeling comfortable in his presidency again, he regained a seriousness that has been sorely lacking in this campaign. Now that he has even gained the support of the centrist Jean-Louis Borloo, Sarkozy can claim a cause of national unity more than ever. Who indeed could reproach him for having been out on all fronts last week when it was his role as president to do so? Who could even blame any of the candidates for pretending to "suspend" their campaigns while being constantly present on all the cameras?
The question is now whether the cursor of the presidential campaign has moved permanently (or only temporarily) from unemployment and economic issues to security, an issue that is always a handicap to the left. Or, conversely, will Francois Hollande succeed in bringing the debate back to economics and social development and to a five-year review of the incumbent?
Another way to approach the subject is to ask what implications this tragedy has had on the psychology of French citizens. Was it merely a horrible tragedy committed by a rogue and monstrous individual, or is it a sign that the country is at risk? Is this an isolated act for them or a fundamental attack on our security?
This analysis depends on the judgment that voters will make on the actions taken immediately following the event: the emergency improvisation of legislation to address the emotional shock and the announcement of a battery of measures a mere hour and a half after the death of Mohammed Merah -- will this impress the French? No doubt some of them think this now-classic Sarkozy move -- a drama followed immediately by a law -- is not necessarily a good method of government...
Will they instead find it necessary that he take his time, leaving the issue unresolved in the near future? That he should make a dispassionate assessment of existing legal measures and, after a thorough review, see if some other, complementary law might be needed? Or will they think like Sarkozy, who said of Holland that he merely knows indignation and how to "procrastinate, hesitate, dodge, finesse, refuse to pass laws"?
What answers will our candidates offer? It's now or never to weigh their stature.
Le Monde's Rome correspondent, Philippe Ridet, formerly a political reporter who followed Nicolas Sarkozy's 2007 campaign, has returned for a moment to examine the Nicolas of 2012. In Le Monde's M magazine, he delivers a fascinating story in which he describes a Sarkozy who has evolved from a state of adolescence to that of a young man. Does that mean that we should expect to see him enter adulthood in 2017? It would seem so upon reading Ridet report that Sarkozy is confident of victory because "Holland sucks." To be fair, the Socialist candidate's response that "that term always refers to the person using it" looks very much like an "I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I?" argument being fought on a playground.
So the voters may decide based on the candidate's maturity rather than his platforms.
I prefer to conclude with what HuffPost France columnist Marc Dugain wrote here just a few days ago about an ideal president of the French Republic: "Let him think of the world, far, far beyond the term of his own mandate, and let him examine closely the issue of reclaiming the destiny of our nation and its individuals." We have 30 days to realize this dream.
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