On Wednesday, as two gunmen fled the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, where they had murdered much of the staff, they encountered a police office named Ahmed Merabet in the street. The gunmen shot Merabet before he could respond, hitting him in the groin. As he fell to the ground and held his arm out in self-defense, one of the attackers asked, "Do you want to kill us?" Merabet, whose final words were caught on camera, answered, "No, it's okay friend." One of gunmen jogged over and, standing above the policeman, shot him in the head.
Merabet's death soon took on special significance. He was of Algerian heritage and, like eight to ten percent of France's population, Muslim. So were his killers, who ostensibly killed on behalf of Islamist extremism and in retaliation for Charlie Hebdo cartoons lampooning Islam. The attacks provoked debate within France and the Western world, as they were perhaps intended to, over the compatibility of Islam with Western values, aggravated preexisting hostility to Muslim immigrants and to Islam, and provoked a series of "reprisal" attacks on French mosques and Muslims.
These were the things weighing on Malek Merabet when, on Sunday morning, he eulogized his brother Ahmed before a small crowd of mourners and, by way of television cameras, much of the world.
His speech was only two minutes, and it did not draw as much attention as the 44 global leaders marching through Paris, yet along with his comments later that day at a press conference, it placed his brother's life and death within that larger context in a way that powerfully rebuked both the terrorists and the Islamophobes. And it reaffirmed something that has been widely forgotten this week: that the values that France stands for, and that Charlie Hebdo sought to champion, are not incompatible with Islam at all, and in fact are upheld by French Muslims like Ahmed Merabet.
Good morning all,
My brother was French, Algerian, and of the Muslim religion. He was very proud of the name Ahmed Merabet, proud to represent the French police, and to defend the values of the [French] Republic: liberty, equality and fraternity.
Through his determination, he had just received his judicial police diploma and was shortly due to leave for work in the field. His colleagues describe him as a man of action who was passionate about his job.
Ahmed, a man of commitment, had the will to take care of his mother and his relatives following the death of his father 20 years ago. A pillar of the family, his responsibilities did not prevent him from being a caring son, a teasing brother, a generous uncle, and a loving companion.
Devastated by this barbaric act, we associate ourselves with the pain of the families of the victims.
I address myself now to all the racists, Islamophobes, and anti-Semites:
One must not confuse extremists with Muslims. Madness has neither color nor religion. I want to make another point: stop painting everybody with the same brush, stop burning mosques or synagogues. You are attacking people. It won't bring back our dead, and it won't appease our families.
Speaking separately at a press conference given by the Merabet family, Malek succinctly addressed what Islam had to do with the Charlie Hebdo attacks: "My brother was Muslim and he was killed by people who pretend to be Muslims. They are terrorists, that's it," he said. "As for my brother's death, it was a waste."
The terrorists want you to imagine that a French-Muslim identity is an a contradiction — an agenda they share with Islamophobes who have since attacked French mosques or who have blamed Islam itself for the attacks. But Ahmed Merabet demonstrated that French-Muslim is an identity that can be worn with special pride, that can and should uphold the ideals of both rather than choosing one or the other. That's the message that Malek has divined from his brother's life and death, and it's one that France and the world need to hear.