Child killers: Mohamed Merah and Sgt. Robert Bales

As much as the loss of innocent life universally provokes grief, horror, and rage, never is this more so than when the victims are children killed in cold calculation by adults.

Even before Mohamed Merah had been tracked down to an apartment in Toulouse, the names and images of some of his victims had been widely publicized.

Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, 30, his two sons, Gabriel, 3, Arye, 6, and Miriam Monsonego, 8.

Such are the typical records of lives cut short — faces with bright shining eyes looking into a future they never reached.

In the first few days after Robert Bales gunned down his sixteen victims, we knew neither his name nor theirs. All we saw was a glimpse of a child’s charred body — a detail from an AFP photograph which showed victims in the back of a pickup truck surrounded by those in grief. The larger photograph was widely published, but few if any outlets drew attention to this gruesome element — a glimpse of a life lost but no record whatsoever of the lives lived.

The charred body of Shatarina, Zahra, Nazia, Masooma, Farida, Palwasha, Nabia, Esmatullah, or Faizullah? We'll never know.

When it comes to Bales’ victims all we have is a list of names without ages.

But are Robert Bales and Mohamed Merah as radically different as is the coverage of their crimes?

Reuters reports:

Merah’s profile is typical of hundreds of second- or third-generation French immigrants from North Africa who have travelled to Afghanistan or Pakistan over the last two decades attracted by militant Islamist groups, security officials say.

Many were radicalised by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which triggered a wave of attacks on Jewish targets in France in the early 2000s, including arson attacks on synagogues. The number of anti-Semitic attacks declined last year, figures published by the Jewish community showed.

But this profile of radicalization does not diverge so far from the portrait of Sergeant Bales since both men were seen by those who knew them as regular guys.

Cedric Lambert, 46, father of an upstairs neighbour, said Merah was friendly and had helped them about 10 months ago to carry a heavy sofa upstairs.

“He was extremely normal,” Lambert said.

A group of four 24-year-old men of similar ethnic background who said they were friends of Merah tried to go to his apartment block on Wednesday to persuade him to surrender but were stopped at a police roadblock.

All told a Reuters reporter he had never talked to them about religion and they had no idea he had been to Afghanistan.

One friend who gave his name as Kamal, a financial adviser at La Banque Postale, said he had known Merah at school and they had done soccer training together after meeting again two years ago.

“He is someone who is very discreet. He is not someone who would brag and go around and say ‘Oh look at my new girlfriend, look how great I am.’ He is very polite and always well-behaved,” Kamal said.

“He never spoke about Islam but he did pray. But we all pray five times a day. There’s nothing strange about that.”

Another friend of Moroccan origin, who gave the pseudonym Danny Dem, said Merah had tried to enlist in the French army but had been rejected. He said he had seen Merah in a city centre nightclub just last week.

Merah did not drink “but I don’t think he is any more religious than I am. I think he has just lost the plot,” Danny Dem said.

A third contemporary, who declined to give his name, said he went to primary school with Merah and they had remained friends.

“He likes football and motor-bikes like any other guy his age,” said the man, dressed in a blue French national soccer shirt. “I didn’t even know he prayed.”

Pamela Geller, from her perch in Manhattan, made this comment while French police attempted to negotiate Merah’s surrender: “Negotiations? He should be shot in the head.”

She also offers this advice: “Jews. please. leave. Europe.”

I wonder whether President Obama would share Geller’s view, given that no one seems to be in any doubt that Merah is the killer? Even if he does, the problem with the administration of instant “justice,” is not simply that it might be of dubious legality but that it undermines a crucial element of criminal investigation: to better understand the motives of the perpetrator.

This isn’t a matter merely of academic interest.

When Merah claims that he was trying to avenge the deaths of Palestinian children killed by Israelis, is he merely parroting the views of radicals by whom he was indoctrinated, or was the Israeli-Palestinian conflict the primary cause of his radicalization? It’s worth knowing the answer and if he gets shot in the head we’ll probably never find out.

As for the idea that the death of four Jews in France — indisputably targets of an anti-semitic attack given that Merah knew perfectly well that these individuals had no role in the killing of Palestinian children — the idea that these deaths should prompt other Jews to flee Europe, begs this question:

If this would be sufficient cause for Jews to flee Europe, haven’t Jews in Israel already been given thousands of similar reasons to flee the Jewish state?

Neither flight nor vengeance offer an intelligent answer to this violence.

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Comments

  1. Abu Mohammed says

    That was another satanist abomination which was set up for certain crime that which was set up to commit.

    Although, the killing of people is meant to encourage of those with satanic beliefs and those who were brainwashed for certain purposes. The facts are always surprising and shocking.

    never surrender to the hatred and never be driven to the loathing.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7t_LxpCY2G8

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uMSf4CAEVLU

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zE_ZHc4Di0E

  2. These pictures are too hard to stomach. How many more people will kill in the name of Allah? It’s not just unfortunate but sickening to see this struggle go on for so many years. I don’t think we’ll ever really see peace in the middle east, at least not in my lifetime. Believe me, the killing of children is never a good thing – not for any reason. Look at the faces of these innocent humans – they did nothing to deserve this pain and suffering for their family.

  3. One salient distinction between the two alleged killers is that one was quickly identified, surrounded and when negotiations appear to have failed, shot dead. In the other case, the suspect was allowed to surrender, given anonymity for six days, and secretly conveyed to safety by a hostile foreign power.

  4. That is a balanced and thoughtful piece — thanks Paul.

    “This isn’t a matter merely of academic interest…was the Israeli-Palestinian conflict the primary cause of his radicalization? It’s worth knowing the answer and if he gets shot in the head we’ll probably never find out.As for the idea that the death of four Jews in France — indisputably targets of an anti-semitic attack given that Merah knew perfectly well that these individuals had no role in the killing of Palestinian children — the idea that these deaths should prompt other Jews to flee Europe, begs this question:
    If this would be sufficient cause for Jews to flee Europe, haven’t Jews in Israel already been given thousands of similar reasons to flee the Jewish state?

    Neither flight nor vengeance offer an intelligent answer to this violence.”

    Finkelstein has made simliar points in his speeches. Though he doesn’t state it bluntly, the inference and underlying implication of many of Finkelstein’s earlier speeches was that Jews should have resisted anti semitism massively, on all fronts, on their home grounds in Europe, rather than occupy Palestine.

  5. The contentious research, literature and documentation compiled by Raul Hilberg and Hannah Arendt ( that made them pariahs in some circles of course ) also asked the same questions and criticised in the same manner.

  6. You’re wrong.

    The interest of getting him alive is not to learn the “primary cause of his radicalization” – how would you anyway ?

    The interest is to learn more about his accomplices, his methods, etc.