News

Analysts Assess Motives in French Shootings

Al Pessin

It came as a terrible shock to the tight-knit Jewish community in southwestern France.

Just days after nearby shootings of French soldiers of North African and Caribbean descent, a gunman pulled up on a motorcycle and opened fire on a rabbi, his two young sons and a little girl outside a Jewish school.

The incident led many people, including experts, to assume the perpetrator was a right-wing extremist opposed to immigration and minority groups, a viewpoint that has garnered popularity in Europe over recent decades and entered the mainstream political rhetoric of several countries.

The tone of this year's French presidential elections --  with strident statements on immigration and minority groups -- led to speculation that the political atmosphere had sparked the violence.

But analysts such as Marat Shterin, a sociologist and extremism expert at King’s College London, considered another scenario: that a seemingly contradictory form of radicalism -- Islamic militancy -- was behind the shootings.

“I find it quite remarkable that the two versions of the event were considered plausible, although ... the right-wing sort of theory was even more plausible in the eyes of most people," he says.

In retrospect, he adds, the theory of right-wing violence should not have been so prominent because its French advocates have legitimate outlets to circulate their views.

"You’ve got a very peculiar situation in which, in my view, right-wing violence is less likely in France but right-wing extremism is considered quite legitimate," says Shterin. "In my view, in countries where right-wing views are expressed openly, it’s less likely that they will be also expressed violently."

A common target

The shooting at the Jewish school was particularly troubling to so many people because three of its victims were young children. But the attack was also part of a pattern of strikes on Jewish targets in France.

According to Matthew Goodwin of the University of Nottingham, the shooter's specific ideological orientation -- assuming the killings were politically motivated -- may not have helped police target a suspect.

"One of the strange and also worrying factors about anti-Semitism is that it does cross the divide between politically-inspired extremists, such as those on the far right but also radical, violent Islamists who have particular grievances over issues around the Middle East and so on," he says.

The alleged shooter, Mohammed Merah, who was killed in a gun battle following a 30-hour standoff with police early Thursday, was a French citizen of Algerian descent who claimed to follow al-Qaida’s North African branch.

Authorities say he apparently targeted soldiers to retaliate for French Army activities in Islamic countries, perhaps choosing ethnic Arab paratroopers because he viewed them as traitors. Authorities think he may have gone to the Jewish school out of anger over Israeli policies.

Whatever the motives, his actions have triggered widespread mourning and solidarity among various ethnic and religious communities in France and elsewhere, and some soul-searching about how an open society can guard against the excesses of militant ideologies, regardless of their origins.

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Cha Cha Cohen
March 26, 2012 2:13 AM
Every mishap occur on this earth, the blame goes squarely on the politicians, no one can deny it! Just think honestly!

by: Godwin
March 23, 2012 6:42 AM
Muslims live in isolation. When Khamenei rose to address Iranians, religious police takes count of everyone from every country. Anyone not seen to worship him becomes enemy of god. This cowardly servitude in which the muslim grows up with inferiority complex. breeds extremism. In Nigeria education opens their eyes and to escape extinction, they invent boko haram. Islam is truly doomed! WHY THEY HATE WESTERN EDUCATION!

by: Anonymous
March 23, 2012 1:18 AM
Its not the religion, its the man against the religion. Dont steriotype us as muslims.

by: H.Ahonen
March 22, 2012 6:31 PM
This is a case of murderous insanity, not religious militancy. I doubt these murderers have any deep religious feelings, they simply cloak their murders with religious slogans in order to hide their stupidity and lack of answers to any human problems. They are losers trying to make history = pathetic!

by: Gab
March 22, 2012 6:08 PM
Why is it that Muslims can't stop the slaughter perpetrated by Islamic terrorists? The answer is very simple: denial. Muslims never blame Muslims for what Muslims do. "Authorities think Mohammed may have gone to the Jewish school out of anger over Israeli policies." How typical! Muslims are the main victims of terrorists, both directly (most terrorist attacks are carried out in Islamic countries) and indirectly (the economies of their countries are the ones that suffer the most.

by: jobardu
March 22, 2012 3:53 PM
Holy Anders Breivik Batman. Breivik was called a right wing nut and the media blamed conservatives and religious Christians for causing the slaughter. Now a Muslim, for the thousandth time, slaughters a bunch of people and the media refuses to acknowledge his or religion. Shameless, shallow, hypocritical

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs