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Toulouse, France, Islam

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The French police behaved well. I know that, down at the bar on the corner, there was a lot of talk about the RAID intervention group's methods, the way the siege was drawn out, the brutality of the assault. And I know there are armchair investigators, prophets after the fact, and self-styled tracking experts about the region of Toulouse who are surprised that the future assassin wasn't identified, even neutralized, before he went into action. Since France is a constitutional state and the possibility of committing a crime is not a misdemeanor, except in Philip Dick's Minority Report, we shall not waste time on the second objection. As for the first, it leaves out the fact that the police did all they could, at the risk of their own lives, to spare the perpetrator of the slaughter and decided to fire only at mortal extremes because he left them no other choice. That is the reality. All the rest is just talk, or, sometimes, irresponsibility.

The political class behaved well, with the exception of Marine Le Pen, who made a great "I-told-you-so" fuss on the air, and one extreme Left candidate who brought out the old song and dance about "the national union that plays into the hands of capital and its valets." All the other candidates for the French presidency immediately found the right words to decree a state of democratic exception. National tragedy, said Sarkozy. Suspend the campaign, François Hollande added. And both the one and the other found the happy medium of what was not meant to continue, for that might offer the assassin a sort of posthumous victory, for longer than a sigh, a moment of stupor, a shiver. Even better than the chosen words was the reflex. One judges not only a man, but a country by this type of reaction, by its capacity for revulsion when confronted with an eruption of horror. A moment of grace. The beauty of a commonly-shared sorrow. The prerogative of a great people.

Civil society behaved well. The vastness of the spontaneous demonstration that very evening was moving. School teachers who, the next day, observed the minute of silence in their classrooms, were perfect. The same can be said of Jewish institutions, the CRIF at their head, who, they too, found the right words to express their sorrow, their pity, their reserve. Imams in mourning. Fraternal Arab intellectuals. Associations for which there will never be adequate praise (I'm thinking of SOS-Racisme) for the role they have played for years now, both in anti-racist vigilance and anti-antisemitism, even anti-new forms of anti-Semitism (anti-Zionism in particular) -- they were present too. And what a relief at not having to hear too much the habitual tear-jerker about the difficult childhood of the assassin, growing up in the projects, unemployment that encourages crime -- in short, the eternal argument of the nauseating culture of excuses. At last!

Well, eight days have passed, and where are we? First of all, the investigation. We expect a real investigation that will establish what support the killer benefited from, beyond that of his older brother. Like everyone, I heard the police repeat, in a loop, that this was an "isolated" act, not part of the plan of any "network," the work of an "auto-radicalized" individual. Hmm. As much as I salute their effectiveness in neutralizing the criminal, I nonetheless find this assurance really lightweight. And the truth is that there is, at least, some misunderstanding concerning the actual word. If, by "network," one means "official" affiliation with al-Qaeda, or an al-Qaedist "franchise" in due form, obviously there isn't any network. But network in a new sense, network in the sense that the word has taken on since the death of bin Laden, network in the half-political, half-mafioso sense that from now on is implied in jihadism, of course there had to be one for a man who was apparently without financial resources to procure arms of war, learn how to use them, have several apartments at his disposition -- not to mention the Pakistani tribal zones I am somewhat familiar with and where, I can assure you, it is difficult, when training as a terrorist, to pass for a mere tourist...

And the second task at hand is for us to think about the thing itself. Not to excuse, but to think. And to break the double perverse effect it would have if the utter astonishment of the first hours continued on beyond a reasonable amount of time. It has been said: this man was a monster, a pure aberration, any resemblance with what I called, last week, "vile words" would be fortuitous and void. It's partially true, but it is partially false. For the crime being, like Durkheim's definition of suicide, a "total social act," one cannot escape the prudent but strict identification of all that, on the Internet, for example, or in Front National circles, has contributed for years to the creation of a putrid climate in our country -- favorable, even if it is in other political languages, to the formulation of the worst. Let us have no confusion, it has been said, Islamism is not Islam! And this brainless small-time hoodlum probably wasn't even an Islamist! Once again, it's true, absolutely and vitally true. Except that, if we remain there, we ultimately lose sight of the other truth, symptomatic, in a tragedy of this kind. Symptomatic of what? Of what good authors such as Abdelwahab Meddeb call the "sickness of Islam," and that one day we must, prudently again, resolve to treat without any of the usual cant. France and Islam. Better still: "French ideology" and what one should be able to call "Islamist ideology." For all of us, this is the hardest to hear. And yet it is the crux of the matter -- the double context of this tragedy.