In France, an Islamic terrorist has likely hijacked the agenda for the remainder of the French presidential race. That terrorist is 23-year-old Mohammed Merah, a Franco-Algerian from Toulouse who was fatally riddled with bullets by French forces last week after a 30-hour standoff and took the television remotes of an entire nation with him.
Because of Merah, an election fought on economic grounds has become dominated almost exclusively by national security. The extreme nationalist National Front party has used the incident to leverage its support of stricter immigration policy. Center-right French President Nicolas Sarkozy wants to crack down on those who visit Internet "hate sites" and who spend ample French holiday time training for jihad overseas. The Socialist candidate has parlayed the situation into an opportunity to regale the electorate with homicide statistics.
Let's back up a bit. According to those who knew him and have been interviewed thus far, Mohammed Merah was a really nice guy -- smart, polite and well-spoken. His pastimes included making various trips to Afghanistan and to the Afghan-Pakistani border for some one-on-one time with jihadists, and stocking up on an international array of heavy artillery in the same way my grandmother collected miniature spoons -- all under the lightly watchful eye of French intelligence services, who claim that they even interviewed him once in the wake of a Club Med Islamic Jihad visit and were unconcerned about his activities because he handed them a USB key with tourist-like photos on it. While America gave Merah the side-eye and slapped him on a no-fly list, French intelligence was seduced by his innocuous photos of the world's foremost terror-tourism destinations.
But then this nice quiet kid assassinated three French soldiers of foreign origin in two separate incidents, followed a few days later by his killing of three kids and a rabbi at a Jewish school. He holed up inside his apartment while a French RAID team waited patiently outside for him, then escaped out a window where his expiration was facilitated. The end.
Except that it's not. Now, everyone wants to know why this happened, and how to prevent it from occurring again. But really, who cares why it happened? What does it really matter what was going on in this guy's head? Doesn't proper execution of security measures negate the need to delve into the sewer of his psyche?
Unlike all the little old ladies groped at airports worldwide, Merah fit a certain profile -- a profile so obvious that I shouldn't need to elaborate on the details. Not that all people of Merah's profile should be subject to undue harassment, but those who fit such a profile and make the same holiday-destination choices really ought to be. How about starting there? And if security services were blindingly dazzled and distracted by his winning personality, or by a slideshow of him making thumbs-up signs in front of various piles of sand, then we have a serious problem.
We're constantly told that everyone must be subjected to scrutiny because terrorism, in adapting to stay ahead of security measures, will evolve to be practiced by those who are a far cry from Merah's profile. Can we maybe focus first on nabbing the guys who fit the profile perfectly? Because evidently, they're still slipping through the cracks. Once that's perfected, then maybe it will be time to move on to protecting the public from scenarios representing an eventual danger in Fantasyland.
Merah had reportedly done jail time for robbery convictions, during which he may have become radicalized when he came into contact with Islamic fanatics. Again, does it really matter if he got his nutty ideas from prison, a comic book, or an imagined image that appeared to him on a slice of burned toast?
The average person with an adequately formed conscience can be bombarded with all sorts of loony ideas and respond with, "Wow, that's whack!" or "Shove it!" -- even people who spend time in jail surrounded by other crazies. I don't care how or where these lunatics end up getting their inspiration. I just expect that should they choose to express their inspiration on a canvas of violence, we can rely on the authorities to deploy their accrued wisdom to pre-empt any damage.
There are two things in Europe that could be seen at night from space until last week: Belgium, and Mohammed Merah's warning signs. We don't need more or bigger laws; we just need people doing their jobs with the ones that already exist.