PARIS – “One must fight both terrorists and the causes of terrorism with the same determination.” That formula, coined ten years ago in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, by leaders as diverse as Javier Solana, then Secretary General of NATO, and US President George W. Bush, is as valid as ever in the aftermath of the recent killing spree in France.
The French state managed to identify and “neutralize” the terrorist in short order, though two key questions linger: Should he have been arrested much earlier, and could he have been taken alive? Now the French state needs to go further. French President Nicolas Sarkozy was right to call Mohammed Merah a “monster.” But Merah was our monster. He was born, raised, and distorted in France, just as the terrorists who attacked the London Underground in July 2005 were products of British society.
It is imperative, not only for France but for the entire world, to understand how a single, lonely man was able to take an entire country hostage for nearly a week. The only way Merah could find meaning in his life seems to have been to murder soldiers and Jewish children. To kill – and in the most coldblooded manner imaginable – was to exist.
Many French initially and secretly hoped that what happened in and around Toulouse would prove to be a repetition of the attacks in and around Oslo in 2011 – that the terrorist would turn out to be the product of the extreme right. Merah claimed to be acting in the name of fundamentalist Islam; in reality, he was the product of a bloody and deviant sect. How can a petty delinquent, a lost child of the French nation, fall prey to terrorist hatred of any variety?