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.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs