Yesterday’s news that French police searching for drug contraband on a bus had captured Mehdi Nemmouche, the alleged Brussels Jewish museum attacker who murdered an Israeli couple and a French volunteer, raised a host of troubling issues. The one the media gobbled up was the fear that jihadis fighting in Syria would return to their native or host countries and wreak havoc as agents of Al Qaeda. But there were other disturbing implications which I’ll address later.
Nemmouche is a French-Muslim, born in a northern French slum. The NY Times coverage reports on his personal history:
Mr. Nemmouche was born in Roubaix, an impoverished industrial city in northeastern France near the border with Belgium…
A former lawyer for Mr. Nemmouche, Soulifa Badaoui, said that he had been moved “from foster home to foster home” as a child, and became homeless at age 17.
“He was not a young man anchored in crime,” Ms. Badaoui told the French television station BFMTV. “He was a young man with difficulties of a personal sort,” she said, but also “endearing,” “respectful” and “sharp-minded.”
He had been convicted seven times, on several occasions for driving without a license but also for violent robbery, and began a series of imprisonments in 2001, according to François Molins, the state prosecutor in Paris. Mr. Nemmouche appeared to have become radicalized during his time in prison; during his final stay, a five-year sentence, “he distinguished himself by his extremist proselytism,” Mr. Molins told reporters on Sunday, and fell in with other “radicalized Islamists.”
When he left prison, he almost immediately left France and turned up in Syria in 2013. There he fought alongside ISIS, an Islamist extremist militia formerly allied with Al Qaeda.
In March, he left Syria and, via a circuitous route designed to hide his tracks, ended up in Frankfurt. Since he was on a terror watch list, the German police reported to their French colleagues that he had returned to Europe. Then, last week he turned up in Brussels armed with a handgun, which he used to kill the Rivas, and a Kalashnikov, which he used to kill the museum volunteer and wound another visitor.
Before we knew anything about the attacker, journalists speculated that he might be a professional agent or hit man who attacked the Rivas because of their association with Israeli intelligence. But now that the alleged killer has a face and history, we know that this is the work not of a state or even a militia like Hezbollah, but of the shadowy network of jihadis fighting against the Assad regime.
These new developments will dovetail nicely with Bibi Netanyahu’s racist, Islamophobic agenda which proclaims the Muslims of the world (specially those in his neck of the woods) to be terrorists bent on destroying Israel first, and western civilization next. It allows him to paint Israel, like the Christians who confronted the Ottoman Turks in the Battle of Vienna, as the last line of defense against the onrushing Islamist horde.
Equally as useful to Bibi, is the Islamist conflation of Israelis and Jews. By attacking Diaspora Jewish targets with no direct connection to Israel, the jihadis allow Israel to warn that the former don’t aim solely to attack Israel, but all Jews. That puts Islam on a collison course with Judaism. The invocation of religious holy war is an especially profitable nostrum for Israel’s ultra-nationalists. It does wonders in rallying the world’s sympathy and attention on Israel’s behalf.
Before I go farther, I must say that this is a heinous terror attack which should be prosecuted to fullest extent. It indicates that Islamist ideology makes a brutal, tragic error in confusing Israelis with Jews. In this case, anti-Israelism does become anti-Semitism.
That being said, Israel does not get off scot-free. In fact, Netanyahu contributes to the world’s confusion about Zionism by regularly declaring that he and Israel are the leaders of the Jewish people. That there is no difference between Israel and Jews. He repeatedly has claimed (falsely) that Iran aims to destroy “the Jewish people.”
While the jihadi attacks on Diaspora Jews are inexcusable in any context, it’s not surprising that Muslims violently opposed to Israel’s killings of their fellow Palestinian Muslims, would understand the issue precisely as Bibi articulates it.
To lay this crime at the footstep of radical Islam and leave it at that would be misleading. There is a reason why so many Muslims hate Israel. At a time when U.S. involvement in the Middle East is declining, as we have left Iraq and plan on exiting Afghanistan, Israel remains. It is seen as a U.S. proxy in the region. Of all the Islamist’s perceived enemies, Israel is one of the leading killers of Muslims in the world. Israel steals Palestinian land. It prevents the founding of a Palestinian state. It also fights regular wars with its Muslim neighbors in Lebanon, Gaza and elsewhere. The tentacles of Israeli intelligence reach as far as Iran, where the Mossad works stealthily against yet another Muslim regime.
Since we’re talking about terror, what else can we call an Israeli soldier murdering two Palestinian boys in cold blood with no accountability for the crime? If a young, disaffected French-Muslim watches video of this brutal killing, what is he supposed to think? If Israel and the rest of the world won’t make the murderer pay the price, then from their point of view, let them strike a blow for their murdered brethren.
No matter how deluded and hateful the ideology of Al Qaeda, there is no question that Israel’s policies make for a heady mix that fuels jihadism. Similar to the Brussels attack, was the 2010 attack in Toulouse by another lone jihadi gunman, who murdered three French soldiers and three Jews outside the local Jewish day school. The terrorist in this case was another disaffected youth who spent a miserable childhood in the slums and became radicalized on the way to martyrdom.
The media stampede in the form of blaring headlines trumpeting a resurgence of European anti-Semitism and a flood of Jewish refugees seeking safety in the Jewish homeland is not only misleading, it’s downright wrong. There is no serious resurgence of anti-Semitism. There are pockets of European Muslims who’re exploited and driven to hate by their masters who harvest the lessons learned by Israeli outrages in Occupied Palestine.
Oh and please, if you believe in the plague of Euro anti-Semitism on no account inform anyone you know about acts of lovingkindness like this one in which Bradford’s Muslim community saved the local synagogue. You wouldn’t want to spoil to image of Islam as a religion of unyielding hate. H/t Jeff Siddiqui.
There is no more anti-Semitism in Europe than there is Islamophobia in Israel. Just as Jews are killed by jihadis in Europe, so Palestinians are murdered by Israeli settlers acting de facto on behalf of the Israeli state; and by IDF soldiers killing officially in the name of the state. Contrary to the fear-mongering message of the media, Jews are not safer in Israel than in the Diaspora. Israel, by its own policies, makes life more dangerous for its own citizens and Jews everywhere.
This is an unpleasant and unpopular thought in certain Jewish circles. But the unpopularity of an idea has nothing to do with its truth. No less a figure than Gen. David Petraeus, testifying before Congress, said the festering nature of the Israeli-Arab conflict is one of the leading contributors to radical Islamism. He was right. The plain truth of the matter is that when this decades-long war ends, such terror attacks against Israel and Diaspora Jews will end. The notion, propounded by extremists like Pam Geller and Israel’s extremist leaders, that Islam professes eternal hatred for Judaism is false historically and false today. This is a toxic proposition. One that must be fought with vigilance.
A broader issue is how the Syrian civil war threatens to destabilize those western nations to whom the jihadis will return. U.S. intelligence officials believe that scores of them will be returning from Syria to the U.S., where they may plan and execute attacks on U.S. soil. In this sense, jihadism becomes more than an Israeli phenomenon. It becomes a concern of all western nations that might be targeted.
But it would be a mistake for us to join in lockstep with Israel (as Bibi would prefer), seeing it as the vanguard in the fight against world Islamism. Israel is a separate issue fueled by a set of unique circumstances. To the extent that we embrace it as our ally and brother in combat, the jihadis will see all the west aligned against them. We must not lose sight of the fact that Israeli policies raise legitimate grievances in the Muslim world; just as they should (but often don’t) in the entire world community.
Further, Israeli policies in Syria itself have fueled the civil war there. From Israel’s perspective, Assad’s leading allies are Iran and Hezbollah, two of its strongest adversaries in the region. Therefore, Israel has bombed Assad’s weapons facilities and even sent IDF commandos into Syria to train and liaise with rebel forces in the Golan. No matter how noxious the Al Qaeda linked forces fighting Assad may be, Israel has played an equally inflammatory role there. So let’s remember that Israel is teaching all sides in the conflict its own lessons about the use of force in Israel’s interests.
Malcolm X said famously and notoriously after the assassination of John F. Kennedy that “the chickens have come home to roost.” He meant that the violence of white society, so often taken out on African-Americans, had felled a white man this time. White Americans were deeply offended by this statement. But, again, an unpopular statement is often a true one. Similarly, the notion that Israel is a match that helps ignite an Islamist conflagration in the Middle East and beyond, is a statement with the ring of truth.