The cold-blooded killing of a rabbi and three students at a Jewish school in Toulouse, France yesterday have left the French shocked -- and dismayed. What was driving the killer? No one knows. What is clear is that he went about his grisly work with the cold-blooded aplomb of an executioner, or someone who had once been professional military.
Apparently, he also carried a video camera around his neck. Will we shortly see his victims terrified faces posted on YouTube, in the pages of Paris Match -- or on one of the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of sites that regularly spew racial venom across the Internet. More on that to come.
But first, what brand of venom?
Many commentators have already decided the killer was driven by the same brand of rabid anti-Semitism that fueled the Holocaust. One Italian journalist, a regular columnist for an Israeli newspaper, citing the rising number of anti-Semitic incidents in France and much of Europe, spoke apocalyptically of a new Shoah, warning all Jews to flee not just France but all of Europe for safety in Israel before it is too late.
The problem with the theory that the killer was solely driven by anti-Semitism is that, in two other previous attacks last week, apparently the same assassin shot to death three French paratroopers and seriously wounded another. The soldiers were all Arab or black, and appeared to have been targeted specifically, witnesses said.
In other words, judging by his victims -- Jews, Arabs, blacks -- peoples of other racial origin, who the French right have traditionally regarded as not being truly French, no matter how many generations their families may have lived in this country. It is this sentiment that drove the French police to do much of the dirty work for the Nazi's deportation of Jews in France during World War II.
It is this spirit, unfortunately, that also underlies the mounting resentment in France and across Europe of the continent's growing Islamic population. That resentment is further fueled of course by the fear that, as their inroads on traditional culture increase, they will actually take over Europe.
Indeed, over the past years, violent attacks on Muslim targets in France -- assaults, insults, destruction of mosques and cemeteries, have also seen an alarming increase -- up 34 percent just last year. "France for the French" and "Arabs Out" were slogans recently sprayed across gravestones of Muslim soldiers who had fought for France in World War I.
Such racist sentiments are widespread among all classes in France, as messages approvingly forwarded to myself and my wife by educated, middle-class friends and acquaintances make clear.
Unfortunately, Nicholas Sarkozy himself has played a shameful role in fueling French xenophobia: the view of us and them.
This despite the fact that, he immediately rushed to the site of the slaughter in Toulouse, and spoke movingly of how the slain children were "our children, they are not just your children."
There is no reason to think Sarkozy (son of a Hungarian father and Greek half- Jewish mother ) is not sincere. But since taking office, and increasingly over the past few months, as elections approach, the President has been pandering to the right and virulent anti-immigrant feelings.
He has threatened to suspend France's participation in Europe's 25-country open border agreement, unless other states do more to block illegal immigrants and refugees from entering Europe. He has also, however, attacked legal immigration.
That's for starters. Rather than concentrating on basic issues like providing more jobs for the French, Sarkozy has lately taken on the thorny question of the way French meat is slaughtered.
As the New York Times editorialized just a couple of days before the Toulouse massacre,
In a particularly vile gambit from a man who already brags about banning the burqa in public, Mr. Sarkozy now pledges to protect consumers from unknowingly eating halal meat. He called for legislation requiring meat labels to note the slaughtering methods used. This proposal originally came from Marine Le Pen, presidential candidate of the xenophobic National Front.
Mr. Sarkozy first called it frivolous. Then adopted it.
Five million to six million Muslims now live in France, almost a tenth of the total population. It is cruel to keep family members from joining them and cruel and destructive to subject their religion to mockery. Ms. Le Pen is currently running third in the polls. Regrettably, Mr. Sarkozy has no problem being frivolous or cruel if it means he can peel away some of her voters.
Meanwhile, in Israel while the country's leaders clarion the evils of anti-Semitism, many of their own right-wing supporters are the most rabid of Islamaphobes.
For example, as the New Yorker pointed out a couple of weeks ago, Dov Lior, one of the most important rabbis in the West Bank, extolled Baruch Goldstein -- who, in 1994, machine-gunned twenty-nine Palestinians at the Cave of Patriarchis in Hebron -- as "holier than all the martyrs of the Holocaust."
Lior also endorsed a book that discussed when it is right and proper to murder an Arab, and he and a group of kindred rabbis issued a proclamation proscribing Jews from selling or renting lands to non-Jews.
Figures such as Lior are not speaking from the wilderness. They are central to Benjamin Netanyahu's continued hold on government.
I'll bet that, if it hasn't already happened, that a right-wing Israeli official or editor will cite the vicious Toulouse attack as further justification for Israel to bomb Iran. The argument: imagine what would happened if, instead of being armed with a 45 pistol, the anti-Semite had access to a nuclear weapon. We will not wait again for the world to act!
Another firebomb exploded inside the Al-lman School in the Imam Al-Khoei Islamic Center in Jamaica, Queens. Approximately 80 people were inside the mosque center when two or three Molotov cocktails, at least one made from a Starbucks bottle, were thrown at the building.Those attacks came less than a week after the Council for American Islamic Relations (CAIR) said,
"We are witnessing an unprecedented increase in rhetorical and physical attacks on the American Muslim community and Islam."
It said that mosques have been targeted in arson and attacks and by vandals in more than a dozen states, stretching from California to New York, including the Midwest and southern states
If you have the stomach for it, plunge into the virulent currents of racial hatred that thrive in the Internet. For anti-Semitism, start with the Holocaust Deniers at www.ihr.org. For rabid Islamophobes, some of whom are still regular features on U.S. talk shows, check out http://www.jihadwatch.org/.
Or, you might just examine more closely the kinds of "jokes" and emails you exchange with your own friends. For example, a close, very well-heeled and thoughtful friend of mine, who immigrated to Canada, suggested half-jokingly to me today that the best way to deal with terrorism and Islam, was simply to drop a few bombs "Start off with Mecca" he said.