4/21/12 It looks like I got that one right ahead of nearly all commentators.
In less than two weeks, there were several murders by a stranger (or maybe strangers) in the same small area of southwestern France. The victims were a seemingly disparate group: There were three soldiers and more recently, a teacher and three children from a Jewish school. Based on pictures from many surveillance camera, and, on more recent ballistic tests, the French police says it thinks the two sets of crimes have the same perpetrator.
The crimes happen in a hot pre-election period when the two main parties – one of which will have its candidate become president for five years – are losing voters. Pres. Sarkozy’s right of center formation and its main adversary, the French Socialist Party, are both losing voters to the rightist, nationalistic Front National. The Front National used to be frankly racist and anti-Semitic.
The party’s new leadership, headed by the daughter of its founder, has explicitly, unambiguously denounced those aspects of the party’s past. This denunciation has made the party much more acceptable to angry decent people from both Sarkozy’s party and from the Socialist Party and, especially for the latter, as you might guess.
So, don’t be surprised if the French media – which is no more saintly than ours – comes to a tacit agreement that the assassin must be a member or a follower of the Front National. Such an agreement would be a blessing for both major parties, obviously. And this speculation may turn out to be correct. I am not denying that it’s a possibility.
There is another speculation (still a speculation) that is at least as intriguing. The last set of victims were Jews. Two of the first three military victims had Muslims names. Now, a technical note is in order: Almost all French Muslims come from Black Africa or from North Africa. Muslims from North Africa are mostly white but people who have practice can often guess from appearance and demeanor alone what French people have origins in North Africa and are therefore, presumably, Muslims.
Now, a violent jihadist would be interested in murdering Jews because that is the jihadists’ custom. A violent jihadist would also be interested in murdering fellow Muslims who serve in the French armed forces. He might want to do it to punish them (the French still have several thousand men in Afghanistan though not for long), or to intimidate young French Muslims from joining the armed forces (which they presently do in large numbers.)
I think the near future will tell us soon which speculation is correct, or maybe there is a third explanation but I doubt it. In the meantime, keep in mind that pointing the finger at the third largest party in France is in the interest of the two largest parties.
And, in case you are curious, the answer is “No,” I am not a supporter of the Front National. If I voted in the French elections, I would not vote for any of its candidates, at any level. The main reason is that that party has a strong isolationist economic platform.
Update: The perpetrator was a Muslim, presumably a jihadist because there is no sign he was trying to steal anything or to extract revenge from his victims.