Jihad Attacks in Paris: True & False Notes
by Nidra Poller (February 2015)
Excerpts from the PROLOGUE, published on January 20th
When you witness an event like this, an expression of collective opinion and determination on a scale never seen in the nation’s history, you can’t simply dismiss it. Of course you can, you are free to dismiss it. But I don’t. And that’s based on what I saw and heard.
What explains the mobilization of 3.7 million people in France?
Media discourse has changed, government discourse has changed, measures are being taken. Why? In response to the will of the people. The Hollande government did not create this collective movement, it is trying to keep pace with it.
How many hundreds of thousands had never made the connection between jihadis who attack Jews and those who ram shoppers at a Christmas market, attack the London tube, or plot to blow up la Tour Eiffel? The Kouachi brothers and Amedy Coulibaly made the connection for them.
I am still wondering how you can scoff at the millions of French people who stood up to be counted that day (the latest estimate is a total of 4.5 million), and look on Marine Le Pen with such benevolent respect.
We know what the perversions of antiracism have wrought. Is anti-jihad going to play the same tricks?
Adding insight to injury
Glued to the television, the computer, the radio from morning to night, out in the streets, in a state of high alert for three days without pause and then, bound to the aftermath, debates, investigations, declarations, piles of flowers, candles, handwritten messages, and Je Suis Charlie stickers and posters. Soldiers stationed in front of synagogues and Jewish day schools. Tens of thousands of Je Suis Kouachi tweets. Sullen rebellion in certain schools, where some refuse the minute of silence and others articulate alien values: “They insulted the prophet, they got what they deserved.” Picking through the flotsam and jetsam, straining to understand fully and in detail what happened to France and how it spread worldwide.
In French, the bright orange flight data and cockpit voice recorders are called “boîtes noires” [black boxes]. The other night I dreamed I saw dozens of small black wooden boxes floating in the waves. I kept saying “The information is in the boîtes noires, I mean the real black boxes, not those orange things…”
What really happened between the starting gun, when the Kouachi brothers arrived in front of Charlie Hebdo headquarters, and the finish line, when French RAID and GIGN commandos simultaneously killed the Charlie Hebdo mujahidin at a provincial print shop 42 kilometers from Paris and their brother in arms Amedy Coulibaly at the Hyper Cacher grocery store at Porte de Vincennes on the edge of the city? What exactly happened at Montrouge, 10 minutes from Montparnasse? Coulibaly, not yet publicly identified, fatally shot a policewoman in the back and critically wounded a municipal employee who reportedly tried to intervene. We’ve never heard another word about that hero. Why? It was the day after the Charlie Hebdo massacre. Authorities repeatedly insisted that the Montrouge incident had nothing to do with the “terrorist attack” at Charlie Hebdo.
The next day-- Jewish hostages were already in the savage grips of Amedy Coulibaly, four were dead-- the Hyper Cacher murderer was identified as the Montrouge killer. Furthermore, he was a buddy of the Kouachi brothers. They had called each other at least 500 times this year, using cell phones registered in the names of their wives. Infuriating! Not only for the bereaved victims and traumatized survivors, but also for law enforcement. Handcuffed by outdated legislation and a laxist judicial system that releases jihad recruiters halfway through feather light prison terms. Blinded by a combination of inappropriate obstacles and antiquated IT systems that impede the rapid communication of crucial data.
Motorcycle police that stopped Coulibaly and his Islamically wedded wife Hayat Boumedienne on December 30th in a “random check” consulted a data base and saw he was under surveillance for terrorist connections. They informed higher levels, got no response, and let him go. He subsequently drove Hayat to Spain along with the Belhoucine brothers. From there they flew to Istanbul and are believed to be in Syria. How do we reconcile the enormity of snuffed out lives with the mediocrity of bureaucratic slip ups?
Multiple examples come to mind, and it is not just a question of hindsight. Failure to correctly assess the nature of jihad attacks combined with inadequate data processing and sharing has tragic results. Mohamed Merah’s killing spree stretched from the 11th to the 19th of March. The brutal murder of Jews at the Ozar Hatorah school might have been prevented if investigation of the first execution, in Montauban, had been more intelligent. Why did authorities repeatedly deny that the murder of a police rookie on January 8th was an act of “terrorism”? It is now believed that Coulibaly, on his way to commit a massacre in a Jewish day school at Montrouge, took out his rage on the policewoman.
Some call it fate, others explain by divine intervention, luck, or random probability that crucial instant when the thread of a life is snipped…or spared. The imbalance between cause and effect is unbearable. Luz was late for the Charlie Hebdo staff meeting. He was bringing a cake. It was his birthday. François-Michel Saada, who had already bought an apartment in Israel in preparation for retirement and Aliyah, absolutely wanted to buy a chala for shabat. He pleaded his way into the Hyper Cacher as the shutter was closing. And was gunned down by Coulibaly.
What did the hostages see and feel in those interminable hours? What did the victims think in the flash of a second as they saw their colleagues picked off and knew they were next? What is the strategy of special forces? How much do they know about what is going on inside? How do they manage the risks? Why did it take so long to liberate the hostages at the kosher grocery store? There were babies and children and four dead bodies. Most survivors are not talking. Isn’t it, on a very small scale, something like those who returned from the death camps? The horror and the shame. The humiliation. The answer, I dreamed, is in the black boxes. I am not searching for information out of sick curiosity. In fact, I don’t want to know. But I must plow through the mass of repetitions and see what we missed.
Bits and scraps of information were thrown out, picked up, circulated, and uncritically inscribed. The role of the 24/7 news media is appreciated and deplored. Even as we watched events unfold in real time, the question was itching the back of the mind: we’re watching but so are the Kouachi brothers and Coulibaly. Isn’t it dangerous for them to know everything? We can’t see what’s going on inside the print shop, the kosher grocery store, but they can see what’s going on outside. How do you outsmart these guys who are so skilled at the trigger and so bumbling about everything else? They leave tracks everywhere like a dumb dog who runs in from a muddy field and climbs all over the white sofa with his filthy paws, dirties the tile floors, the beds, the doorknobs. The problem is not so much finding their accomplices, jihad networks, and international ramifications; the problem is there are so many of them, so many like them, and not enough investigators to follow them, not enough police to rake them in and maximum security prisons to hold them.
It all happened so fast at the Charlie Hebdo editorial meeting. And it was interminable at the kosher grocery. The Charlie cartoonists and writers, aware of the dangers, had chosen to defend their rights and principles. Customers and employees at the Hyper Cacher might have known they were vaguely in danger in a Jewish store in France but didn’t think they were risking their lives as they shopped for the Sabbath. Charlie Hebdo was “protected.” Editor-in-chief Charb had a full time body guard. Outgunned in a second. Perhaps the protection was flimsy because the threat was underestimated? Jewish sites such as the Centre Rachi and the Jewish museum are protected by fully manned bullet-proof double door security entrances.
Heroes, sweethearts, and Marine Le Pen
Everyone, both heroes and passive victims on flight 93 that crashed in a cornfield in Shanksville Pennsylvania on 9/11, is dead. There are at least 16 surviving Hyper Cacher hostages, and very few accounts so far. A gentleman in his sixties, a civil servant who had spent much of his career in Arab-Muslim countries, told his story to journalist Ruth Elkrief (BFM TV)…with his back turned to the camera. He had dropped into the kosher grocery to buy humus on that fatal Friday. Due to his professional experience, he immediately recognized the sound of a military weapon as Coulibaly burst into the store, guns blazing. This gentleman, let’s call him X, was in the group of customers that ran to the back of the store, rushed down a winding staircase to the cellar, and hid in a cold storage room.
Shortly afterward, someone was sent down by Coulibaly to tell them they had to come upstairs or he would kill everyone. Some obeyed, others stayed where they were. X went upstairs. Three bodies were lying in pools of blood and a fourth man who had just been shot was agonizing. X learned subsequently that the young man had tried to grab Coulibaly’s weapon.
X’s description of Coulibaly’s chilling mixture of savage brutality and something resembling politeness is displayed in the killer’s two-bit shahid film. He resembles a certain type of mujahid featured in DAESH videos--soft punks that grew up in the easy lap of developed democracies, pumped up with poisonous Islamic hatred, and turned into ruthless killers. That combination of soft cheeks and knife sharp eyes is the hallmark of mujahidin of the Western world.
We would call him a crâneur in French, a nobody who thinks he’s hot stuff. Except that Coulibaly had assault weapons and had already killed four men. “He told us his name,” says X, “and explained why he was a fighter.” X adds, “I’m interested in Islam, the true Islam of Avicenna and Averroes.” Coulibaly asked each hostage to declare his name, age, profession, and origin. When X gave his origin as “French” Coulibaly corrected: “Catholic.” And X, who had never before been asked to define himself as Catholic, understood that he might be killed as such. “I felt what it is like to be Jewish.”
X did not mention Lassana Bathily, a young man from Mali--like Coulibaly--who worked at the Hyper Cacher and, reportedly, saved hostages by taking them down to the cellar, showing them into the cold storage rooms, and turning off the refrigeration before slipping out of the building on the freight elevator. None of the hostages followed him out, the story goes, because they thought it was too dangerous. Bathily, who had almost been deported as an illegal immigrant a few years ago, was unanimously hailed as a hero and given French nationality in a solemn state ceremony.
Some sources questioned Bathily’s version of his role. I have no inside information. There are so many nasty rumors and conspiracy theories circulating; I wouldn’t want to accredit anything I can’t verify. However, if two young men died trying to disarm the killer, we should at least be talking about three heroes. The most detailed account of survivors has now been published by Israel Hayom.
Zari Siboni and Andrea Shamak, two Hyper Cacher cashiers, tell the sequence of events in great detail. Zari is the person sent to order the people in the cellar to come upstairs. They do not mention Bathily, at least not in the published account of an extensive interview. I can’t stop wondering why no one else chose to escape via the freight elevator. Another way of saying, “What would I have done?”
The question nagged me. As if I could retrospectively save the hostages by developing a strategy. We have fire drills, the Japanese have earthquake drills, the Thais improved their tsunami alert system, weather forecasters help us reduce risk and damage of exceptional storms… don’t we need to be trained in hostage defense? All I could come up with was an image, a sort of wishful thinking cartoon image of the hostages slipping into one aisle of the Hyper Cacher, silently and simultaneously picking up heavy cans and jars, throwing them at Coulibaly, knocking him senseless.
Then came a knife attack in a Tel Aviv bus. A 14 year-old boy boards the bus, sees the driver fighting back after he is stabbed in the chest, and alerts the passengers. They all run to the back of the bus, the killer pursues them, the boy throws his back pack at the stabber and the bus driver slams on the brakes. The assailant falls, the passengers rush out of the bus, run for their lives, the stabber runs after them, stabbing wherever he can.
There’s a difference between a knife and an assault weapon. But there is something universal about the delicate balance between submitting, in hopes of surviving, and fighting back with desperate courage.
Jeanette Bugrab, an outspoken critic of radical Islam and former minister in the Sarkozy government, suddenly emerged in the media as the grieving companion of Charb. The love story -- brutally terminated by the Kouachi brothers -- between the gorgeous sophisticated highly educated Algerian-origin conservative and the far Left boyish Charb who was a cartoon of himself was a poignant surprise to the uninitiated.
A few days later Charb’s brother tersely denied any sentimental relationship between Charb and Bougrab, and asked her to never mention it again. Paris Match published romantic photos of the couple, she continued to give interviews but agreed to stay away from the rousing funeral ceremony complete with jokes and song. What explains the slap in the face? Is it Leftist political orthodoxy that bridges no romantic exceptions?
MARINE LE PEN
I’m trying to figure out the American infatuation with Marine Le Pen that flared up immediately after the jihad attacks in Paris. Mainstream media profiled her, the WSJ interviewed her, my own knowledgeable friends and colleagues wrote flattering articles about her. Some were so impressed by occasional truths uttered by the president of the Front National that they want her to be president of France! Others scolded me for insisting on her dubious entourage, unsavory electorate (recent polls show they rank third, after the Far Left and Muslims, for anti-Semitic attitudes), questionable alliances, and zigzagging judgments. Besides, she doesn’t have a party ready to govern. Is this a time for amateurs? This American crush on Marine Le Pen reminds me of the French love affair with Obama in 2008!
Does it matter? It matters to me. How can it be so easy to convince intelligent people that you are France’s best hope for countering Islamic aggression, when your close collaborators have connections with Nasrallah, do PR for Bashir al Assad, or dine at the table of Mustapha Tlass? Where is the Front National coming from and where is it going? Marine Le Pen has publicly disowned Aymeric Chauprade, her foreign policy advisor and head of the party’s European parliament delegation, after he circulated a video in which he says we are at war with Muslims, not all Muslims but some Muslims who want to destroy us. This week she is snuggling up to our Far Left/ Greenies coalition and celebrating Szipras’ victory in Greece. If Syriza can make an alliance with the Far Right, join Gaza flotillas and pro-Hamas demonstrations, why couldn’t the Front National hook up with our Chavez wannabe who’d like to unite France with the Maghreb?
I’m just about to wrap up this article when two items hit the press: first, a poll shows Marine Le Pen with a large lead in the hypothetical first round of the 2017 presidential elections and, second, her close collaborator Frédéric Chatillon is under investigation for a variety of financial irregularities connected with the Front National’s 2011 and 2012 campaigns. He’s the one who met with Nasrallah in 2002. Let the polls sing, I predict an implosion of the Front National in the coming year.
Je suis Charlie, Charlie is Israel
????? Charlie Israel ?????
Charlie, written in Hebrew, is an anagram of Israel. Isn’t there some truth to the paradox? Je suis Charlie, meaning I am Israel, targeted for elimination. I am Israel, I have a choice, I can defend myself. I am Israel even if I have been told since the dawn of this century that Israel “got what’s coming to it.” That Israel is the cause of the hatred aimed at it. As if to prove the anagram, calls to boycott French goods are heard in the Islamic world -- new opportunities for BDS. If that weren’t enough, our own prime minister accused us of apartheid in an over the top breast beating confession of society’s responsibility for the disaffection that breeds homegrown jihadis.
Je suis Charlie doesn’t mean I’m a martyr. It doesn’t mean I necessarily want to draw spoofs of Mohammed, missionaries, nuns and politicians. It means I want to be free, free to live and breathe without fearing that someone I offend will shoot me instead of shouting at me. Granted, the je suis Charlies weren’t Je suis Ilan Halimi. Does it mean they don’t give a damn about Jews getting killed because they went to buy groceries? And when they see soldiers guarding Jewish schools aren’t they afraid the jihadis might attack public schools? Je suis Charlie means I’m not going to accept the death penalty meted out by freelancers after we proudly abolished it. Je suis Charlie means I suddenly realize what happens when you get shot with a Kalashnikov. I don’t want Kalashnikovs in the hands of thousands of wild men with French passports who think we deserve to die.
It’s about something more than freedom of speech.
The Will of the People
The will of the people was not expressed with unmistakable clarity. The government did not instantly straighten up and march with utmost determination in the right direction. But we have witnessed a turning point in contemporary history. This is the way societies are transformed and the course of events is irreversibly altered. This mixture of lucidity and deliberate retreat back into confusion is authentic. Our days are filled with hope and exasperation. Purveyors of taqqiya have a field day. But honest Muslim voices that had been stifled are given a hearing. Jihad cells that had been under desultory observation for years are cracked and hauled off to jail. The broken record plays “It has nothing to do with Islam.” And Islam is on everyone’s mind. Attention is focused on the schools, the banlieue, the projects, the unintegrated, unqualified, unemployed pools of potential jihad killers, while studiously ignoring the wide range of candidate’s profiles, including teenage girls from good families, converts, promising young men with college degrees. Little attention was given to the case of the law trainee in one of England’s topmost firms who did a 20- minute YouTube diatribe against the kuffars
But the most poignantly ironic thread, especially but not only for French Jews, is undoubtedly this bit about apartheid. The idea is that certain ethnic populations ae not given the opportunity to become decent law-abiding integrated citizens of the République because they are artificially concentrated in virtual ghettos. The solution, then, is mixité. Mixing. If nobody stops them, this government will use busing and other tricks to keep people from running away from troubled schools and neighborhoods.
Only one third of Jewish children still attend public schools in France. A bit more mixité and it will go down to one tenth. More than half of the Jewish population in France today is Sephardic, essentially refugees from the Maghreb. In the past fifteen years they have been fleeing Muslim-dominated neighborhoods in French cities. And some are fleeing all the way to Israel, the US, and other destinations.
Flight Or Fight
French Aliyah doubled this year and may triple next year. Or become an exodus. It depends.
The French government is a bit scared. “France without the Jews would not be France.” In more ways than one, mon vieux. Remove the lightning rod and your house might go up in flames.
The manager of the Hyper Cacher, who had taken over only four days before the murderous attack, says he’s leaving for Israel. Other hostages or bereaved family members of victims are staying. There is no argument with personal decisions. My grandparents left Europe before the First World War. I left the United States to live somewhere in Africa and ended up in Paris. Staying and leaving both make sense to me personally. I do not think we are in a 1930s configuration where the danger was concentrated in Europe; Jews with foresight escaped to safety. Today the same threat hangs over us, Jews and non-Jews, everywhere. The question that faces us collectively is how to defend ourselves wherever we are.
The Charlie Hebdo lesson is that no matter how much is done to dissuade the citizens of the still free world from defending their precious values, reality prevails. One or two or two hundred big and small incidents can be ignored or misinterpreted but finally reality will prevail. Cockeyed schemes will be concocted to delay the reckoning but reality will knock them over like bowling pins.
The personal answer to the question of staying in France or leaving is by definition correct. The choice that isn’t offered -- as long as we are alive -- is leaving or staying in the world. However we name the destructive force that is on the march, it is everywhere, it has to be confronted everywhere.
January 27, 2015: I followed the entire 70th anniversary ceremony at Auschwitz-Birkenau and then watched hours of debate on a variety of outlets. No, it’s not a hypocritical commemoration exercise organized by a cynical world. It’s a moment of crushing reality.
The ceremony and debates were marked this year by the Paris jihad attacks and the January 11th reaction. How can that momentary flicker be conserved, and fanned to a life-giving flame? You cannot reverse the tide of confusion that unwittingly feeds genocidal hatred unless you can speak to the heart of your fellow citizens. Unless you believe the person you reach out to has a heart.
Nidra Poller also contributes to our community blog, The Iconoclast. To see all her blog posts, please click here.
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