It would be far too easy to label the murderous actions of Mohammed Merah in southwestern France in early March 2012 as those of an indoctrinated terrorist. He shot three French soldiers dead from the seat of his motorcycle in Montauban. Ironically, like Merah, all three victims were Muslims. He followed up with the murder of three Jewish schoolchildren and a rabbi outside their school in Toulouse.
The young man was obviously troubled, his crimes hideous, and his reasoning confused. At least, that is what we can deduce from media reports quoting conversations he had with negotiators in the last hours of his life. That reasoning represented nothing to do with Islam, the tolerant religion, which he and some claimed he represented.
Since these incidents over three years ago, further violent examples of disaffected individuals have occurred. In many cases the disaffected were the perpetrators. But, this has not always been the case, as evidenced by the public outcry and deadly protests involving African Americans and local police in Baltimore, Maryland, and Ferguson, Missouri.
Further events in London, England, Ottawa, Canada, and once again in France, at the Paris office of political satirist magazine Charlie Hebdo, and the kosher Hyper Cache supermarket, have shown the issue to be not just national, but global in scope.
These actions have left officials, lawmakers and the general public collectively scratching their heads at what is happening to their societies. Adding a further complication is the more recent attraction, and subsequent recruitment of young, arguably middle-class, well-educated, western Muslims to the heinous extremist group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, known as ISIL, or lately, commonly referred to as ISIS.
The conversation in France has begun to focus on marginalized immigrant groups, and their increasingly frustrated, and impatient second, and subsequent French-born generation offspring. Furthermore, some are pointing fingers at right wing political groups, elements of French, and other western societies, which hurt efforts in assimilation and inclusion. The outwardly nationalist, conservative, and protectionist Front National is just such a group.
I remember a conversation I had in the summer of 1995, while I was employed as a regional manager and guide with an adventure tour operator. Our company’s operations were based in Orange, France. Located in the Provence region, the former Roman town for retired legionnaires was a working class, primarily agricultural center, best known for the surrounding Côtes du Rhône wine appellations of Gigondas, Vacqueyras, and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. It was also home to the famed French Foreign Legion’s 1st Armored Foreign Cavalry Regiment. Along with the current crop of Legionnaires, the area was home to many migrant farm workers, primarily from North Africa. And, perhaps ironically, it had just elected a mayor who was a member of the Front National.
Our landlady was a diminutive, always impeccably dressed woman named Madame Gauffier. She was a motherly figure, much like the depiction of the nation she believed in, and loved. When dropping by our combined warehouse and living quarters for a chat, she would often bring a bowl of seasonal fruit for her adopted sons and daughters.
In her perfect “Tours” accent, considered the purest form of the language from the time of the Loire Valley-based French court, she lamented the latest mayoral election result. Succinctly translated, it was the beginning of the end in her eyes, as the views represented by the new mayor, and his Front National party were equivalent to those of “le diable”, the devil.
I have no doubt her feelings were those of the majority of French citizens, those who believed their nation to be the home of human rights as written in the most recent Constitution of the French Fifth Republic. But, this did not stop Jacques Bompard from being elected mayor in 1995. And, it didn’t stop Jean-Marie Le Pen, the Front National’s former leader and Honorary President, from gaining seats in the regional government of Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur, the European Parliament, and winning almost 17% of the vote in the first round of the 2002 French Presidential election.
Today’s Front National, now led by Le Pen’s daughter Marine, would seem to be a much more palatable, even tolerant party than that of her father. Marine Le Pen went so far as to expel her father from the Front National in August of this year, seeking to distance herself, and her party from its far-right cultural roots.
But, as the old proverb states: the apple does not fall far from the tree. The Front National is currently one of the most powerful political forces in France. Even with its softer image, it continues to promote the anti-immigration message of its previous incarnation.
Given current events, namely the heartbreaking refugee crisis that is inundating Europe’s shores, the people of France, and the world would do well to beware the underlying message of staunchly secularist political groups like the Front National. Infused with a lack of empathy, and intolerance, they rely on man-made political borders as a barrier, barriers that are proving increasingly porous.
So, maybe the prevention of future heinous actions by disaffected immigrant generations, like those of Mohammed Merah, begins now. The fortitude, and perseverance of those affected, as well as political decisions, and fate will dictate where the latest wave of human migration land. But, government policies will bring about consequences for these individuals, now, and in the future. I hope we, as citizens, and our governments will do a better job of promoting assimilation, and inclusion. Because, if we support the message of intolerance and social exclusion from those like Jean-Marie Le Pen, it will only result in more unfortunate consequences of our actions, or perhaps more accurately, our inaction.