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What They're Saying About Islamism in France

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On March 22, 2012, 23-year-old Algerian Islamist gunman Mohamed Merah was killed by police bullets after a 32-hour standoff at his home in Toulouse, France. Reportedly inspired by al-Qaeda, Merah had gone on a killing spree that took the lives of three Jewish children, a teacher and three soldiers. The murders only intensified the debate over extremism in French society, and about what role Islamism plays in the western European country. Here are some of those voices in the debate.

"What must be understood is that the trauma of Montauban and Toulouse is profound for our country, a little – I don't want to compare the horrors – a little like the trauma that followed in the United States and in New York after the September 11, 2001 attacks." -- French President Nicolas Sarkozy

"The identification of the killer only confirms what I've been speaking out against for years -- there's growth of Islamic fundamentalism in our country that the powers-that-be have underestimated. Whole neighbourhoods of the suburbs (of our big cities) have fallen into the clutches of the fundamentalists, weapons are all over the place and foreign funding is pouring in." -- National Front presidential candidate Marine Le Pen

"Muslims like Jews, Jews like Muslims, and condemn all confusion that might be made between the international political situation in the Middle East and the monstrous act that ... has horrified all French." -- Grand Rabbi of France Gilles Bernheim

"These acts are in total contradiction with the foundations of this religion. France's Muslims are offended by this claim of belonging to this religion." -- French Muslim Council head Mohammed Moussaoui

"It is absolutely impossible to confuse this person and the Islamist, jihadist, al-Qaedist movement that he represents, with Islam in France, which is a religion like any other. There are French Muslims among this man's enemies. ...We must avoid all complacency with regard to these movements, which represent a true danger to our republic." -- Richard Prasquier, the head of France's main Jewish organisation, the CRIF

"This was a heavy moment that marks the spirit. Today we feel we have to avoid any political exploitation of this tragedy, any further division between people and ensure that the democratic debate continues. I don't believe it will have any serious political consequences, but we will see in the days to come. This should not be an element in the election campaign. We have to accompany the families in their grief, be present for them and answer their concerns." -- Kader Aris of the Socialist party in Toulouse

“I want to express my heartfelt sympathies to the families and members of the Jewish community in Toulouse, France who have been affected by the horrific murders outside the Jewish High School Ozar Hotorah. I condemn these murders and I urge the French government to aggressively pursue the arrest of those responsible. There was a similar episode days ago against an Imam who was killed in Belgium in an arson attack on a mosque. The murder outside the Jewish school in Toulouse and the death of the Imam in Belgium appear to be religiously based and cannot be tolerated. I call for more solidarity between communities to put an end to this type of violence.” -- U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Senate chairman of the Helsinki Commission

"Our greatest protection from hate-fueled atrocities such as this is practicing acceptance and understanding, and passing these values on to our children. We must continue to foster tolerance and respect through education in order to combat anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry.” -- U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.)

"Any territory we step upon, for these murderers, is occupied territory. We have no place in the world. Anywhere we are is illegitimate." -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, visiting families of the Toulouse victims

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