Le Nouveau Normal

Justin Vaïsse
Justin Vaïsse Former Brookings Expert, Director, Policy Planning Staff - French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs

March 22, 2012

The recent terrorist shootings in France are notable only for their gruesome details. On March 19, Mohamed Merah stopped in front of a Jewish school in Toulouse and shot a rabbi and three children, even chasing a little girl and grabbing her by the hair to lodge a bullet in her head. Four days earlier, he had murdered two French paratroopers of Arab origin at gunpoint and injured a third, of Caribbean origin — continuing a spree that began with the killing of another paratrooper four days earlier. Had he not been identified by the police on March 20, he would have been on his way to kill policemen in Toulouse the next day.

On March 22, the gruesome story came to its inevitable conclusion when French security forces stormed Merah’s apartment, and the man leapt out his window, guns ablaze, and fell to his death.

But let’s not jump to conclusions: The shootings reveal exactly nothing new about global terrorism nor French society — they simply confirm that even the strongest anti-terrorism apparatuses have lapses. Although often targeted, France had seen no major attack materialize on its soil since 1996 (it has suffered, however, various terrorist attacks abroad). And there should be no crowing about a new wave of xenophobia or race crime: Anti-Semitism in France has steadily declined in recent decades, and anti-Semitic acts, which had brutally increased in the first half of the 2000s, have subsided.

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