From the Sydney Morning Herald, March 29, 2012, by Paul Sheehan:
"Mohammed Merah did not kill without distinction. He was highly specific. He wanted to kill Muslim soldiers in the French army. He wanted to kill Jews. His killings were premeditated."...On March 20, after Europe was rocked by a string of murders in France, The New York Times ran a prominent story which inferred the killings were a byproduct of anti-immigrant sentiment: For the Times, the greatest threat to social cohesion in France is the far right, not the demographic challenge presented by an increasingly disaffected, de-assimilating, rapidly growing minority of 5 million Muslims.
''The political debate around the shootings, and whether the deaths were somehow inspired by anti-immigrant talk, is likely to continue - both as a weapon in the presidential campaign and as a more general soul-searching about the nature of France … In a period of economic anxiety, high unemployment and concerns about the war in Afghanistan and radical Islam, the far right in Europe has made considerable gains.''
Even after it was revealed that the killer was a Muslim who supported al-Qaeda, progressives went into overdrive to dissociate the violence from Islam. The most egregious example appeared on the ABC website, by Tariq Ramadan, a professor of Islamic studies at Oxford. He set new lows in rationalising bigotry:
''Twenty-three year old Mohamed Merah was a familiar face within and beyond his neighbourhood. People describe him as quiet, easy-going, nothing at all like an 'extremist jihadi Salafist' ready to kill for a religious or political cause …What a load of reprehensible drivel.
''Religion was not Mohammed Merah's problem; nor is politics. A French citizen frustrated at being unable to find his place, to give his life dignity and meaning in his own country, he would find two political causes through which he could articulate his distress: Afghanistan and Palestine. He attacks symbols like the army, and kills Jews, Christians and Muslims without distinction. His political thought is that of a young man adrift, imbued neither with the values of Islam, or driven by racism and anti-Semitism.''
Mohammed Merah did not kill without distinction. He was highly specific. He wanted to kill Muslim soldiers in the French army. He wanted to kill Jews. His killings were premeditated. He filmed the murders as he did them, a tactic frequently used and advocated by al-Qaeda. He had a history of crime and a collection of weapons. He told police he had travelled to Afghanistan and Pakistan to train as a jihad fighter. He had been on a watch list of Muslim extremists, one reason the police found him quite quickly. When they approached he opened fire.
His film of the shootings was mailed to the al-Jazeera TV network for dissemination. The footage depicted all seven murders, taken with a camera slung from the gunman's neck. The film had been dubbed with verses from the Koran invoking jihad and the greatness of Islam.
Merah's mother is married to the father of Sabri Essid, a member of an underground network that recruited fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq. He was convicted on terrorism charges in France in 2009. Merah's brother, Abdelkader, was also investigated but not charged. He has now been charged with complicity in the seven murders by his brother.
The more we learn about this story, the more sinister it becomes.
During Merah's time in prison he studied the Koran. The French prison system has become a fertile recruitment ground for radical Islam. Merah had also formed a connection with Forsane Alizza, Arabic for ''knights of honour'', which had 2000 followers on Facebook before it was banned in January by the French Interior Ministry for inciting racial hatred.
Forsane Alizza is one of several linked groups in Europe, notably Shariah4UK and Sharia4Belgium, with others in the Netherlands, Germany, Spain and Scandinavia. According to the Pew Research Centre in the US, about 100 million Muslims express support for al-Qaeda and thousands are in Europe.
In contrast, support for race war among the far right in Europe is minuscule. The killing rampage by a far-right gunman in Norway last year revealed no connections to a wider movement.
The primary objective of Forsane Alizza, according to its website, is to ''support the mujahideen everywhere''. The group disavows democracy. It agitates for sharia in Europe. Its principal targets are the French military, especially Muslims in the military, and Jews. These are exactly the targets Mohammed Merah selected. But Professor Ramadan portrayed him as a frustrated, adrift, distressed, non-racist, non-political, non-religious Frenchman. A murderer of children becomes a victim.
Speaking of rationalisations for bigotry, tonight a debate will be held at the University of Sydney featuring a speaker from Hizb ut-Tahrir. The group is banned in many countries for advocating jihad.