There was a big uproar in France during the past few weeks caused by the horrifying murder of Ilan Halimi, a 23 year old Jewish shop clerk, by a gang of hoodlums who called themselves, very aptly, â€œThe Barbariansâ€.
Halimi was abducted by the gang on January 21st. On Monday 13th he was found naked, gagged and handcuffed, his body bearing burn marks and showing signs of torture, near the railway station of Sainte-GeneviÃ¨ve-des-Bois. Soon after he died.
Since his abduction Halimiâ€™s family had been engaged in negotiating a ransom to be paid for his release. The initial sum appears to have been 450,000 euros.
French newspaper LibÃ©ration reports that there have been four more, failed, attempts at abduction by the same gang since December. Halimi had been found, according to the same article in LibÃ©ration, with his face covered, reminiscent of the infamous photos of prisoners from the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
Yesterday Youssouf Fofana, the head of the Barbarians, or the Brain as he calls himself, was returned to France from the Ivory Coast, where he had gone into hiding. Fofana is a black Frenchman of Ivorian descent. He is now facing a life sentence, with the aggravating circumstance that his victim belonged to an ethnic/religious minority. In short, he could be accused of anti-semitism as well. Fofana already had a criminal record before he and his Barbarians abducted Halimi. He is also accused of having distorted money in 2004 and 2005 from other people.
Was it mere coincidence that Fofanaâ€™s gang chose a Jewish victim? Clearly not, since he himself has already stated that he did it for the money and that Jewish people were known to have â€œloads of cashâ€.
I know one could reasonably argue that the argument â€œJews have loads of cashâ€ is anti-semitic, but what about all those non-Jewish millionaires that live in fear of having their children abducted because, they too, have â€œloads of cashâ€? Or any other people suspected of being rich, like those The Barbarians tried to distort money from earlier?
Halimi was definitely the victim of a prejudice, or rather an old clichÃ©, but not a prejudice concerning race or religion per se. There was no ideology involved in this heinous crime and there appears to have been no targeted ethnic hate either. It was in a disgustingly simple and vulgar way a matter of â€œcashâ€.
Halimi died because he belonged to a group of people who are thought to be rich. If the tired, old clichÃ© of â€˜rich Jewsâ€™ had not existed, Halimi would probably be still alive today. What haunts me is the brutal inanity of that clichÃ©. There are thousands of similar clichÃ©s about thousands of different people. Could it be that each and every one of them contains a seed of violence? Or is the clichÃ© in question, about Jews being rich, in some ways still more lethal than others?
Technical update: I have corrected some factual pre-coffee errors.