Does Anti-Semitic Murder Case in France Suggest Larger Trend of Xenophobia in Europe?

July 15, 2009 06:30 PM
by Anita Gutierrez-Folch
The light sentences given to some members of the French “Gang of Barbarians” have led many to wonder if anti-Semitism and other forms of xenophobia are on the rise.

Ilan Halimi Murder Trial Ends

On July 10, 28-year-old Youssouf Fofana, leader of the French “Gang of Barbarians,” was given a life sentence in prison without possibility of parole for 22 years for the 2006 kidnapping, torture and murder of Ilan Halimi, a 23-year-old Jewish cell phone salesman. The other 27 members of the gang received sentences ranging from 18 to 15 years, to as little as six months, according to Time magazine.

As Paul LeGendre, director of the Fighting Discrimination program at Human Rights First, explained to The Huffington Post, Halimi “was held captive for twenty-four days during which he was stabbed and burned with cigarettes and acid before being found naked and handcuffed to a tree.” The murder has become an icon of violent anti-Semitism in France.

Although LeGendre allowed that “some level of justice and accountability was achieved,” he reported that French Justice Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie responded to complaints of insufficient punishment and requested a new trial of 14 of the gang members.

Reactions: Lenient sentencing enrages public and prosecutors

Halimi’s murder caused outrage within the international community, and particularly within human rights groups. Francis Szpiner, the Halimi family lawyer, was not satisfied with the results of the trial, and told reporters that he was “scandalized” by the relatively lenient sentences that the other 26 suspects received.

LeGendre reported that Jewish organizations in France organized a massive protest outside the Ministry of Justice to condemn the lightness of many of the sentences. The criminal justice system can send a clear message “that society will not tolerate these crimes which weaken the sense of physical security felt by victim communities and attack the fundamental values of democratic societies,” LeGendre wrote.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) also spoke up on the issue, explaining that they welcomed the conviction of life imprisonment for the gang’s leader. They regretted, however, that the trial wasn’t open to the public, “since it would have provided a much needed opportunity for a high-profile discussion about the dangers and sometimes deadly consequences of anti-Semitism.”

Related Topic: Germany’s response to “martyr of the headscarf”

The German media was criticized for providing little coverage of the brutal stabbing of Marwa el-Sherbini, a pregnant Muslim woman, earlier in July. El-Sherbini, who was stabbed by the neighbor she was suing in the middle of a German courtroom, has been named the “martyr of the headscarf,” becoming a symbol of “the perceived growth of Islamophobia in the west,” according to The Guardian. Egyptians contend that racist hate crimes against Muslims are often overlooked in the Western world.

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