Toulouse Shootings and the Future of French Unity

It is with enormous sadness that I discovered Mohammed Merah’s age: he was born in October, 1988. He is just eight months older than me. He is a millennial who grew up with the same news and the same images from Afghanistan, Israel and the Palestinian territories. Those theatres of war are crucial to the understanding of this young man’s actions, given that he has cited them as his motivation.

French presidential candidates have reacted very differently to the Toulouse events. The extreme right hopeful Marine Le Pen has declared the need to reinstate the death penalty (a practice that was abolished in 1981 and that is compulsory for every member of the European Union); leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon has described Merah’s actions as those of a madman. I believe both candidates to be terribly wrong. Death cannot be fought with more killings, and there is a much more complex conclusions to be drawn than simple madness.

France is now at a crossroads and faces a critical dilemma. Aside from the undeniable fact that these events will dramatically impact the elections due to take pace in a few weeks, the present government and future leaders will be responsible for reassuring the population and steering clear of any discrimination against French Muslims. If they get it wrong, the situation will come to resemble that of the United States and the United Kingdom, where the Muslim population is made to feel like a fifth column in the midst of a counter-insurgency campaign. France must work towards unity, refraining from politicizing the issue and focusing on tackling welfare issues.

French foreign policy must be reassessed. The objectives in Afghanistan need to be clearly explained and perhaps changed, and France, (through the European Union), needs to assert itself on the Middle East peace process in a way that delegitimized America cannot. Sadly, France joins the small number of western countries (along with the US, the UK, Spain and the Netherlands) hit by violent Islamism, and the risk of looking across the Atlantic is enormous.

I believe the issue is neither anti-Semitism nor the war in Afghanistan. The long-term, very difficult task is the need for an inclusive French Republic where all of its citizens are taken into consideration.

Only time will tell whether the choice is made to adopt a different, more effective and more humane strategy. In the meantime, I can only hope that the authorities will make the right decisions, and the French people will abstain from pointing fingers too easily.

Photo Credit: miss france

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Naeem Meer

After graduating from King's College London with a BA in War Studies, Naeem took a year off to work in India, Germany, South Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania and Lebanon. He then completed an MSc in International Public Policy at University College London and is now working for a research company in Kabul. His interests are foreign affairs (the Middle East in particular), the European Union, Islamism and radicalisation.

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