After last week's killing of three children and a rabbi at a Jewish school in Toulouse, early reports suggested that the murderer was a white, right-wing racist who was targeting minorities. Indeed, one could be excused for getting the impression, from those first accounts, that the authorities and the media wanted him to be a white, right-wing racist – a lone maniac like the guy who mowed down dozens of teenagers in Norway last July. Yet the Toulouse terrorist turned out, like so many perpetrators of unspeakable European atrocities in recent years, to be an Islamic jihadist – a self-declared Mujahideen and member of al-Qaeda who said he was out to avenge the deaths of Palestinian children and the military involvement of France in the Islamic world, and who, if a van had not blocked the path of his scooter, might have succeeded in executing as many young people as Anders Behring Breivik did on the island of Utøya.
If at first many highly placed Frenchmen were eager to attribute the Toulouse murders to right-wing racism, the revelation of Mohamed Merah's identity initiated a rush to dismiss the relevance of the killer's religion and his openly expressed motivations and associations. Nicolas Sarkozy, who was quick tomeet with Jewish and Muslim leaders at the Elysée Palace, was equally quick to tell the French people that "our Muslim counterparts have nothing to do with the crazy motivations of a terrorist." Dalil Boubakeur, rector of the Grand Mosque in Paris, declared that "what happened in Toulouse…had nothing to do with Islam." And in Le Monde, Jean-Yves Camus, an "expert" on radical Islam and the extreme right, insisted that in determining the root cause of the murders, "the impact of the re-Islamization of French Muslims by the conservative currents, that is to say fundamentalists, is less important than the unleashing of a radical anti-Zionism that has gone too far and that does not emanate from our own Muslim compatriots, far from it."