Suspected French terrorist Mohammed Merah, is dead. His victims, including three Jewish schoolchildren – Aryeh Sandler (age 6), Gavriel Sandler (age 4), Miriam Monsonego (age 8), a rabbi and father of two of them (30 year old Yonatan Sandler) — and three French paratroopers, all Muslim, have all been buried. Nothing however, should be put to rest.
In fact, even as politicians and community leaders on all sides share their conclusions, prescriptions and “take-away” lessons from these events, we need to be asking more questions before rushing to answers. And before we do either, people need to mourn. In fact, how we mourn these events will show whether we view the loss of life, especially innocent life, as more than a political issue, or not.
Relatives react during the Mohamed Legouad’s funeral in the Grand Mosque of Lyon, central France, Thursday, March 22, 2012. Mohamed Legouad, 24, a French paratrooper, was killed in Montauban by the suspected French Islamic extremist Mohammad Merah, France’s chief suspect in the shooting of three Jewish schoolchildren, a rabbi, and three French paratroopers in three separate incidents.
There is the almost impossible, but truly necessary, task of not totally demonizing the murderer. I am supporter of the death penalty. Were he alive, I would work to see this murderer go to the top of the list. But in the spirit of Talmudic tradition, I would still be challenged to see him as a human being – one, who no matter how guilty, leaves behind people who loved him. In fact, that awareness is one of the things which separates our culture from that of the terrorists.
The people of France, all people, but especially Jews and Muslims, must see that that the entire nation mourns the death of innocents –that whatever one’s faith or politics, what occurred is a national tragedy. President Sarkozy has said as much, and Foreign Minister Alain Juppe’s presence on the plane which carried the murdered students and their teacher/father to Israel for burial, were good starts. More must be done.
Jewish citizens must be reassured that this is not the beginning of an ugly new chapter for Jews in France – one in which Jewish blood is cheaper than that of other French citizens, and Muslim citizens must be reassured on two fronts: 1) That these events do not mark all Muslims either as terrorists or terrorist sympathizers, and 2) That political correctness will not get in the way of seeking out those who use Islam as cover and justification for their murderous intent.
The Muslim community needs to mourn the loss of three young soldiers who, like the Jewish victims who died simply because they were Jewish, may have been targeted precisely because they were Muslim. The fact is, terrorists inspired by Islam, murder far more Muslims they do either Christians or Jews. This is a moment to show how that fact tears at the heart of the global Muslim community, and what that community is doing to address it meaningfully.
Mourning sheds light not only on those being mourned, but on those observing their loss. Will we allow rage to drive out all compassion? Will we join together to both offer security and demand accountability? Will we engage in the kind of soul-searching which helps the future to be better than the present?
These are the questions before us all, albeit in different ways, regardless of nationality or religion. How we respond makes all the difference in the world. The coming days and weeks will tell.