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.
Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponentsi
X
Henry Ridgwell
July 28, 2015 9:53 PM
A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video Special Olympics Athletes Meet International Friends

The Special Olympics are underway in Los Angeles, California, with athletes from 165 countries participating in an event that gives people with intellectual disabilities the chance to take part in an international competition. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that for athletes and their families, it's also an opportunity to make new friends in an international setting.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Iran Nuclear Pact Wins Few New US Congressional Backers

Later this week, President Barack Obama returns from a trip to Africa to confront a U.S. Congress roiled by the nuclear accord with Iran, an agreement that has received the blessing of the U.N. Security Council. Days of intensive lobbying and testimony by top administration officials have won few new congressional supporters of the pact. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Critics of Japan Defense Policy Focus on Okinawa

In Okinawa, many locals have long complained that Tokyo places an unfair burden on the tiny island by locating most of Japan's U.S. military bases there. As Japan's government moves toward strengthening and expanding the country's defense policies, opponents of those plans are joining local protesters in Okinawa, voicing concern about where the country is headed. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Okinawa.
Video

Video IS Uses Chemical Weapons in Syrian Attack

Islamic State militants have added a new weapon in their arsenal of fear: chemical weapons. VOA Kurdish service reporter Zana Omer was on the scene within hours of a recent attack in Hasakah, Syria, and has details of the subsequent investigation, in this report narrated by Miguel Amaya.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs