In France, murder of a Jewish woman ignites debate over the word ‘terrorism’

Source: The Washington Post

 July 23
What happened to Sarah Halimi resembles the plot of a horror film.

In the early hours of April 4, the 65-year-old retired doctor and schoolteacher, an Orthodox Jew, was asleep in the modest apartment in northeastern Paris where she lived alone. Shortly after 4 a.m., a neighbor from the floor below, 27-year-old Kobili Traoré, a Franco-Malian Muslim, is accused of having broken into her flat. Traoré allegedly beat her to death and hurled her body off the balcony into the courtyard below.

In the days that followed, French authorities treated Halimi’s killing as an isolated incident. But Jewish leaders immediately protested, especially after other neighbors testified that they heard Traoré scream “Allahu akbar,” Arabic for “God is great,” while allegedly attacking Halimi, who was the only Jew residing in the building, her family said. Ever since, the “Halimi Affair” has simmered on the margins of public discourse, boiling over last week when President Emmanuel Macron promised — after months of saying nothing — “clarity on the death of Sarah Halimi.”

In a country that has suffered a devastating slew of attacks in recent years, that “clarity” now means far more than the gruesome details of one particular case. At stake is a set of profound questions, as political as they are existential. What makes an act of violence a “terrorist” attack? And who decides what is terrorism and what is merely murder?

Strictly speaking, French law classifies as terrorism any grave act of violence whose individual or collective intent “is to seriously disturb public order through intimidation or terror.”

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