French President Nicholas Sarkozy is eager to play hero ahead of the forthcoming presidential elections in April and (the run-off) May. The Socialist candidate - in a head-to-head contest - leads but there is also the insurgent far-right, nativist candidate (the National Front). Prior to running for the head office, Sarkozy served as Interior Ministry where he sought to brandish a reputation for toughness - a "zero tolerance"approach of heavy-handed policing in urban enclaves populated largely by North African immigrants and their offspring.
Such was his approach that he once visited a Parisian banlieue and declared his intent to hose down the "rascals". Perhaps in recognition that urban crime is due to pervasive un-and underemployment which is in large measure a consequence of racist hiring practices in France, (A French study once found that an identical resumes with a French name like Jean was several times more likely to get a call back than one with a clear Arab name like Karim. This mirrors similar studies on "white" and "black" names in the U.S.) Sarkozy did champion an affirmative action program but it was dismissed by both the left and the right as an affront to France's supposedly egalitarian nature. Since assuming the president he has done little to address underlying socioeconomic concerns, prefer instead the policing track alongside vapid ostensible dialogues about "French identity".
The recent tragic shooting at a French Jewish school - where a rabbi and three students were killed - follows the perpetrator's initial crime gunning down three soldiers on leave from base. The culprit has been identified as a militant Islamist acting in the name of al Qeada with allegedly past training in Afghanistan who claims that his shootings are in response to France's presence in Afghanistan, Israeli killing of Palestinian children and the nation's ban of the niqab (full-face veil).
In order to preempt any far-right challenge on national security, Sarkozy has quickly labeled the incident a terrorist act and spoke with resolve about bring the gunman to justice. All that is fine and well, of course, and it may be cynical to suggest electioneering but...cynical I am.
What was troubling about Sarkozy's comments after the final police showdown where the gunman surrendered and identified as a French-Algerian national is the president's words to the effect that he is committed to avoiding any outbreak in animosity between the nation's Muslim and Jewish communities - both the largest in Europe.
This is odd for several reasons. First, why assume that French Jews will randomly act indiscriminately against their Muslim neighbors because a Muslim committed a crime anymore than Muslims would attack Jews in response to, say, Israeli brutality against and killing of Palestinians?
But, more importantly, the aforementioned three soldiers are: Imad Ibn Ziaten, 30, Abel Chennouf, 25, and Mohamed Legouade, 23.
This was a missed opportunity to underline common suffering instead of always resorting to a politicized and contemporary binary between Arab (Muslim) and Jew. But why bother when you can play the savoir of the nation?
Does Sarkozy instead to protect the Muslim community from retailing against its own as well?