Analysis: A conspiracy of silence

By Jean-Yves Camus, July 16, 2009

On Monday, the French Minister of Justice appealed the sentences given to 14 members of the “Gang of Barbarians”, who in 2006 abducted, tortured and murdered a young Jew, Ilan Halimi.

The jury decided that only two of the 25 convicted had acted out of antisemitic feeling. As a result, most received sentences that were considered too light by the French Jewish institutions and many Jewish citizens.

They are right.

The death of 24-year-old Ilan Halimi, a mobile phone salesman in Paris, is the worst case of anti-Jewish violence in France since 1945.

Halimi was not killed by a lone criminal: in the gang that abducted him and held him hostage for three weeks, each member had his or her own rank, task and responsibility.

Some were under 18, others were young adults.

Some were Muslims, others were not, most hold French citizenship and come from different ethnic backgrounds, including the white lower-middle classes from the suburbs.

However, the jury focused on the personality of the gang’s leader, Youssouf Fofana, a native of the Ivory Coast, who received a life sentence — and gave the rest of them a (relatively) free pass.

Why? First of all, because Fofana is “the man you’ll love to hate”: outspokenly antisemitic, vicious and ruthless, a bearded, self-proclaimed Salafi and supporter of jihad.

Secondly, the jury did not understand that Mr Halimi’s death was the result of the unwillingness of the accomplices to jump off the bandwagon once it became clear that Fofana was willing to kill his victim, regardless of whether the ransom he demanded was paid or not.

If only one of them had called the police, Ilan Halimi would probably be alive.

For this reason, it was not just Mr Halimi’s murderers who were on trial.

It was also a trial for the law of silence which keeps most of the decayed suburbs under the yoke of the gangs.

The fact that the jury did not realise this shows that France may have voted for a Conservative President in 2007, but is still plagued by the worst of liberal values.

Jean-Yves Camus is a professor at the Institut Universitaire

Last updated: 2:26pm, November 8 2010