By STEVEN ERLANGER
PARIS — The Jewish school in Toulouse that was terrorized by an unknown gunman on a motorbike will reopen on Wednesday as a statement of courage and continuity. The hundreds of mourners who filled the stone courtyard of the palatial redbrick town hall there on Tuesday morning, joining others across the country in a moment of silence, will return grimly to their daily lives.
But the political debate around the shootings, and whether the deaths of an instructor and three young children were somehow inspired by anti-immigrant political talk, is likely to continue — both as a weapon in the presidential campaign and as a more general soul-searching about the nature of France.
No one is suggesting that the French presidential campaign inspired a serial killer to put a bullet in the head of an 8-year-old Jewish girl. The candidates largely suspended their campaigning and uniformly condemned the killings, as well as the murders of three French soldiers — two Muslims and a black man — apparently by the same man.
But in a period of economic anxiety, high unemployment and concerns about the war in Afghanistan and radical Islam, the far right in Europe has made considerable gains, even in essentially liberal democratic countries like Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands and France.
And in the middle of a long and heated presidential campaign, with President Nicolas Sarkozy trying to win back disaffected supporters who have drifted to the far-right National Front party, the shootings at Toulouse have raised new questions about the tone and tenor of the debate here about what it is to be French.
A debate on the role of immigration, assimilation, halal butchering, street prayers, the full veil and other elements of cultural difference is inevitably about French identity — and the nature of tolerance and intolerance. ...
I like Steven Erlanger, the NYT's French correspondent, especially his distaste for Bernard Henri-Levy (here and here). But when you jump the gun due to wishful thinking, somebody needs to call you on it.
I try not to jump the gun because I don't like being wrong. I don't mind when readers comes up with better interpretations than mine. In fact, I like it. But for a big newspaper to get something flat wrong because of bias that they couldn't wait to see if their expectation is confirmed ought to be embarrassing.
From the BBC on Wednesday morning:
Police hunting a gunman suspected of killing seven people in southern France have surrounded a flat in Toulouse.
The man, named as Mohammed Merah, 24, a Frenchman of Algerian origin, has said he belongs to al-Qaeda and acted to "avenge Palestinian children".
Police are negotiating with the man, who is still said to be armed but says he may give himself up this afternoon.
Two police officers were injured in exchanges of fire during the raid and there are reports of a fresh blast.
The suspect's brother is under arrest.
The suspect's mother, who is Algerian, has been brought to the scene, but Interior Minister Claude Gueant, who is in attendance, said she had refused to become involved as "she had little influence on him".
The minister said the suspect had made several visits to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Mr Gueant, at the scene, said the suspect had shot at the door when police arrived
"He claims to be a mujahideen and to belong to al-Qaeda," Mr Gueant said.
"He wanted revenge for the Palestinian children and he also wanted to take revenge on the French army because of its foreign interventions."
The man shot at the door after police arrived, Mr Gueant said, injuring one officer in the knee and "lightly injuring" another.
French media have linked the suspect to a group called Forsane Alizza (Knights of Pride) that was banned by Mr Gueant in January.
They also say the suspect had earlier been arrested in Kandahar, Afghanistan, for unspecified, but not terrorist-related, criminal acts and also has a criminal record in France.
The BBC's Hugh Schofield in Paris says investigators report that the suspect was identified because of an e-mail message sent to his first victim about buying a scooter.
The message, sent from the suspect's brother's account, set up an appointment at which the soldier was killed, sources told AFP.
The man had also sought out a garage in Toulouse to have his Yamaha scooter repainted after the first two attacks. A scooter was used in all the attacks.