Paris attacks court asks relatives of dead terrorists to explain what went wrong
There is a problem. Now that the families of the deceased terrorists and other accused are giving evidence at the Paris attacks trial, the court is faced with the emotional dilemma of fathers, brothers, sisters who must condemn the barbarous acts of their dead relatives, without loving the individuals responsible for the barbarity any less.
The question was repeated a dozen times: what caused perfectly normal French or Belgian youngsters to turn into cold-blooded murderers?
The obvious fact that there is no single, simple answer to such a question has done nothing to limit the enthusiasm with which it is asked.
The court, as the ultimate bastion of the legal apparatus which guarantees the security of our entire society, would like to find someone to blame, some clear failure which can be rectified so that events like the 2015 massacres will never happen again.
It is, of course and unfortunately, a waste of time.
Fathers and sons
Azdyne Amimour, the father of the Bataclan killer, Samy Amimour, blamed unidentified "third parties" for his son's slow drift into radical Islam.
He attended the mosque favoured by his son. He listened to the preaching. He heard nothing objectionable.
The court tried hard to make him admit that his frequent absences from the family home had turned his son into some kind of Freudian victim, searching for the lost father. Very down-to-earth, Azdyne Amimour wasn't buying it.
Whatever his lapses as a parent, this man took the risk of traveling to the Syrian war zone in an effort to bring his son back.
Given the interpersonal silence that seems to have dominated the Amimour household, his failure was predictable. But at least he tried.
And, if he couldn't help with the big question, he told three anecdotes which might suggest an answer.
Stories from the other side
When he arrived in the Syrian zone controlled by Islamic State, Samy Amimour's father was asked his name and then separated by armed guards from the rest of the group with which he had crossed the border from Turkey. He thought he was going to be killed.
In fact, he was taken to a room where an IS "officer" greeted him with open arms and the assurance that "your son is a hero"!
Earlier, during the crossing from Turkey, he spoke to a veiled woman whose age he reckoned to be "no more than 20". She was carrying an infant and a suitcase. He gave her a hand. She proudly told Azdyne Amimour that her husband had been selected to take part in a suicide attack.
"She was delighted," Amimour told the court. "That gave me cold chills."
And then there was the curious individual, an injured IS fighter in bed in the makeshift hospital in which Samy Amimour sometimes worked.
Azdyne Amimour said the fighter was lying there, wrapped in the wires and packets of what was obviously . . . the father of the man who blew himself up on the stage of the Bataclan hesitated briefly . . . a suicide vest.
"I told him he should take that off," the father testified. "But he pushed my hand away, saying 'don't touch me. You never know. You have to be ready'."
Someone has observed that the liberal mind can understand everything except conviction. That may suggest why the question so often repeated in the special criminal court these last few days is the wrong one.
Or, perhaps, why we are not hearing the answer.
The trial continues.
Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morningSubscribe