Last Updated: Thu Mar 29, 2012 08:43 am (KSA) 05:43 am (GMT)

Protecting secularism in France

Randa Takieddine

The crimes of the dead murderer Mohamad Merah in Toulouse have spread fear in the minds of average French citizens. The debate on Islam, extremism and violence has entered all of the campaign discussion on the eve of France's presidential elections. The criminal Merah photographed his crimes as he carried them out. An unknown person distributed a video tape of these horrible crimes against innocent Jewish children and their father, and three soldiers at a train station, to Al-Jazeera, to be broadcast. There has been speculation for the last few days over whether the station would do so, because French President Nicolas Sarkozy asked the emir of Qatar that it not be broadcast. In fact, there is a huge responsibility and moral choice for journalists and the media in taking the decision to not broadcast the barbaric acts, which have nothing to do with Islam, or any struggle for Palestinian children. Here, we should praise the swift condemnation announced by Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister, as soon as Merah said that he was taking revenge for Palestinian children.

According to a cellmate of Merah's, this criminal, who committed misdemeanors such as theft and vandalism, would listen to the calls by some people who profess Islam, while his brother Abdel-Qader is suspected of complicity with him in committing these crimes. It is certainly natural for an ordinary French citizen, proud of his secular state, to be frightened of the extremist climate that is spread by Merah's horrific crimes. Certainly, Marine Le Pen is conducting a political maneuver when she asks, as part of her election campaign, "How many Mohamad Merahs are there in France?" and this is a dangerous maneuver in a society where Merah's crimes have spread fear. But the responsibility of the media and leading websites should avoid stoking this climate. Moreover, it is necessary for the condemnation by responsible Muslim circles to be stronger, and with no shades of gray; it should be ongoing, and stay away from politics and the election campaign. Mohamad Merah's acts have nothing to do with religion, whether Islam or anything else. It is just violence for the sake of violence, and not for any struggle, of any type. They are Nazi-like crimes, characterized by violence and racism.

The French president banned Youssef Qardawi from entering France amid such a climate, and this is a legitimate step. There is no need for him to take part in a conference in France today. Also, it would be a mistake to see people in France associate Merah's crimes and what is taking place in the countries of the Arab spring, from Egypt to Tunisia and Syria. Fear of Islamists coming to power in those countries has spread on the horizon, and it is natural for western countries to be worried. However, they should be alert, and smartly so, in preventing the Arab uprisings from becoming Islamic dictatorships, and set down conditions for assistance and support for these countries based on their protection of democratic life. Those who talk about the fear of Islamists in a post-Assad era in Syria must see that the Syrian regime's acts against its own people are also hateful crimes. They do not protect Syria from Islamists and protect minorities; they are carried out in order to maintain power, and spread fear. Everyone should tread warily when it comes to this dangerous issue, and in western democratic states the secular state should be protected, and politics kept distant from religion.

The writer is a prominent columnist. The article was published in the London-based al-Hayat on Mar. 28, 2012

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