We’re always told that the Vast Majority of Muslims abhors and rejects violent jihad. Yet again and again we see stories like this one. Apparently Les Izards is full of misunderstanders of Islam. “Neighborhood Is Torn Over a Killer’s Legacy,” by Scott Sayare in the New York Times, December 19 (thanks to Block Ness):
TOULOUSE, France “” In the spring, shortly after her son’s murder, Latifa Ibn Ziaten took a taxi to Les Izards, a hard-up immigrant neighborhood here, hoping to understand. She approached a group of young men to ask, “Do you know Mohammed Merah?”
Mr. Merah, a 23-year-old French-Algerian who claimed to have ties to Al Qaeda, had killed Ms. Ibn Ziaten’s son Imad, a sergeant in the French Army, with a gunshot to the head. Before dying in a police raid in March, Mr. Merah admitted that killing and those of two other soldiers, a rabbi and three Jewish children. He spent much of his short life in Les Izards.
“Mohammed Merah, you know, he’s a hero, he’s a martyr of Islam,” the men said, Ms. Ibn Ziaten recalled. “You haven’t seen what it’s like to live here?” they continued, gesturing toward their neighborhood of beige housing projects and gravelly concrete. “At least he showed the French what power is.”
She then told the men who she was; one began to cry, she said. A man took her hand, and she worried he meant to hit her.
“I”m sorry, we”re sorry, madame,” he said. They told her of feeling unwanted. “We”re never listened to, here in the projects,” one of them said. “For them, we”re just trash.” They insisted the police would not have killed Mr. Merah had he not been Arab.
“These youth, they feel humiliated,” said Ms. Ibn Ziaten, herself an immigrant from Morocco. They are treated as North Africans in France, she said, and as French in North Africa. “They don’t know where their place is,” she said. Nor did Mr. Merah.
“He took what was dearest to me; he took my son, my friend, my prince,” Ms. Ibn Ziaten said. “But he was a victim of society.”
Other residents of this depressed place say the same, though most do not celebrate Mr. Merah’s crimes. He committed the unconscionable, they say, but he was one of them, shaped by the same forces of rejection and discrimination that they say they know and resent. They understand, to a degree, and they will not denounce him.
To much of France, Mr. Merah was a terrorist, a determined killer who reviled this country, who set out for Afghanistan and Pakistan for training in jihad. In Les Izards he was, and remains, simply Mohammed. The gap between those images, both true but neither complete, seems only to have deepened the sense of alienation in the neighborhood.
“We”re still a bit in shock,” said FrÃ©dÃ©ric Mercadal, 37, who heads the local soccer club and knew Mr. Merah well. He had his troubles, Mr. Mercadal said, and was frequently childish and needy. But he could also be “courteous and kind,” even “filled with joie de vivre.”
This is invariably a feature of stories about jihad murderers. They’re all decent fellows.
Like Mr. Merah, many local youths identify with the Palestinian cause, said Younouss Zeroual, 17, whose closely trimmed black hair peaks in a meticulous ridge. During his standoff with the police, Mr. Merah told negotiators that he had targeted soldiers who were fighting Muslims in Afghanistan “” like Ms. Ibn Ziaten’s son “” and then chose to shoot Jews, when a separate target failed to appear, to avenge Palestinian deaths.
“Everyone says he was wrong,” Mr. Zeroual said. “But they understand the message he wanted to get across.”
Still, Mr. Zeroual said he believed Mr. Merah was perhaps framed by the government. As an Arab, he had “the look of a criminal” in the eyes of the state, Mr. Zeroual said. Witness descriptions of the killer did not match Mr. Merah, he said.
Lakhdar Chadli, 25, who used to play soccer with Mr. Merah, added, “We didn’t see his body.”
There is ambivalence, even pride, in his crimes. Some young men seem to enjoy the horror they can provoke by calling him a hero, residents and social workers said. Some surely believe he is.
“We”re trying not to talk about it, to move on to something else,” said a local social worker, requesting that his name be withheld. When he has tried to engage young people about Mr. Merah, they have responded only by calling him a “god.” “You can’t have a real exchange.”
In his violence, Mr. Merah has left the area feeling under siege, too, residents say, from the police and the news media, which descended en masse after the killings, and from politicians who have made Les Izards a watchword for violence and hate. In response, there has been a sort of closing of ranks. Residents discuss Mr. Merah among themselves, they say, but consider it a betrayal to discuss him with outsiders.
“I think the neighborhood has had enough of being stigmatized,” said Martine Croquette, a deputy mayor in Toulouse….
The victims! Oh, the poor victims!
The neighborhood is small, with about 4,000 residents, mostly Arabs from North Africa or their children. Many are observant Muslims. About half the youths are unemployed.
Residents “know they”re marginalized, they know people don’t give a damn about them,” said a local businessman and Muslim organizer, requesting anonymity for fear of local reaction. Children are urged into vocational schools instead of universities, he said. Young men say they are turned away from nightclubs because they are Arab.
Yeah, nobody gives a damn about them. That’s why they’re only getting $25 million (read on).
Residents complain that when potential employers see their postal code, 31200, they are immediately disqualified. Many young men here “go bad in reaction,” said a local woman, a retired nurse, who asked not to be quoted by name. Some turn to the drug trade, others to Islam, though the few radical currents that exist in Toulouse have little hold here, residents say.
There are occasional concerts, though, a weekly open-air market, the library. “It’s the projects,” the woman said, but the neighborhood can also be “pleasant to live in.”
Meanwhile, French authorities are affirming that terrorism works by forking over the jizya in response to the jihad murders:
The killings have accelerated plans for an urban renovation program here, an investment of about $25 million from the City of Toulouse. The central government recently designated the area for additional law enforcement resources, though many residents do not feel kindly toward the police.
Two days after police commandos killed Mr. Merah in a raid in March, a gray Peugeot sedan rolled to a stop before a cluster of young men in Les Izards. A plainclothes police officer in the passenger seat held his hands to the window, residents recalled, gesturing in celebration of his colleagues” bloody handiwork: 1-0.
The officer, despised in the neighborhood since well before that episode, still patrols there.
Oh, the poor victims!