Tibéhirine - Case Reopened
Nicolas Sarkozy has ordered the case of the 1996 murder and beheading of seven Cistercian monks in Tibéhirine, Algeria to be re-opened. I have already posted two articles on this event: the first one, drawn from Le Monde, commemorated the 10th anniversary of their deaths which were assumed to have been caused by the GIA (Armed Islamic Group), a terrorist organization then at war with the Algerian government; the second, based on several sources, gave an update on new evidence that the crime had been an error committed by the regular Algerian army, who then beheaded them in an attempt to make it look as if the GIA had done the deed.
(In addition to my previous posts, there is a review of this material at the blog of Dom Donald, Abbot Emeritus of Nunraw, Scotland. There is also a very short synopsis at Wikipedia. A Google search revealed that several books have been written on the subject of these brutal murders.)
A thick veil of secrecy shrouding the entire affair had led to all manner of speculation. Many felt that the French government had covered up the "error" so as not to incriminate the Algerian government with whom it wanted to reestablish friendly relations; others felt it had never been an error at all, but a deliberate act by the GIA. Still others saw a more complex web of intrigue in which the GIA was actually an instrument of the Algerian services, not necessarily an adversary, and that the murders had been committed by the combined forces of the GIA and the regular Algerian army. The degree of guilt and/or motives of the French authorities themselves has never been clarified. What is certain is that the French did not open a criminal investigation at the time of the murders, even though that would have been the normal and expected procedure.
In this opaque world of Franco-Algerian relations, where no one person seems to hold the key to the elucidation of the murders, Sarkozy's move is welcome. But it is not at all certain that the truth will ever be known. There is a new examining magistrate: Marc Trévidic, who is said to be extremely focused and persevering in his work, and some new testimony, but the investigation will not be completed in a day or a week or a month. This could take many months or years. Examining magistrates, by nature, analyze every detail, sift through all information time and time again, question all witnesses and interested parties, issue letters rogatory, and must not be rushed. Like our special investigators, they are also expected to be impartial politically, but in cases of terrorism and anti-terrorism, it is hard to imagine anyone being totally immune to political implications.
Le Figaro, as it is wont to do, has a series of articles and interviews on Tibéhirine. As of today (July 31) there are 14 separate articles. While it is not feasible to do justice to all of them, here is one editorial by Le Figaro editor Alexis Brézet:
Their death, unlike that of the "King of Pop", was not followed by media-driven and obligatory world-wide mourning. For them, no golden coffin or torrents of televised tears, no grandiose ceremony in Mondovision. Their heritage is not weighed in millions of dollars: they were rich only in their faith and their poverty. And yet, thirteen years later, the savage killings of Brothers Christian, Luc, Christophe, Michel, Célestin, Paul and Bruno continue to arouse a painful echo in the hearts of men of good will. The martyrdom of the monks of Tibéhirine, guilty of having wanted to bear witness of the Gospels through prayer and fraternity with the Algerian people, remains for millions of Christians and non-Christians, on both sides of the Mediterranean, a cause for scandal made even more acute due to the disturbing halo of mystery that envelopes the circumstances of their disappearance.
One must read the testimony - precise and moving - of Father Armand Veilleux, former prosecutor for the Cistercians (...) From the detailed narrative by the one who represented the brothers, one impression emerges: that the truth, swallowed up in the networks of rivalries between intelligence services, judicial indulgence, diplomatic compromises and political deals, has been through the years, voluntarily abandoned. As if the shadow of a State lie was floating over this tragic affair.
Were the seven monks kidnapped and murdered by a GIA commando, as the official version affirms? Was this group itself, as a second version supported by certain witnesses maintains, an "instrument" of the Algerian government (or perhaps a clan within the government power structure) that sought to turn international public opinion against the "Islamist peril" by means of this monstrous act? Did the monks, according to a third version based on the deposition of a French officer that Le Figaro published this week, fall from the bullets of Algerian soldiers during a clean-up operation ("ratissage") that turned out badly? Did the same Algerian military sponsor or perpetrate the murder of the bishop of Oran, Monsignor Claverie who happened to be a little too interested in the issue? Did the French authorities keep silent about what they knew out of a desire to treat the Algerians with kid gloves, given that the collaboration of the Algerian services was deemed indispensable in the dismantling of terrorist networks operating on our territory? Or did they prefer not to know? These and other questions will perhaps have answers when the classified material is opened. (...)
Obviously, on the Algerian side, the affair will not fail to create some difficulties. Quick to demand of France demonstrations of an eternal repentance (but would they do this if our country, out of cowardice, had not encouraged them to do it for such a longtime?) Abdelaziz Bouteflicka is hardly willing for certain secret compromises to resurface, compromises made with Islamists, that have taken on the appearances of a veritable and troubling "historic compromise". Any more than he would like to see the attention of Europeans drawn to the fate of the Christians of Algeria, victims, amidst general indifference, of a veritable campaign of persecution. We can expect - and this has already already begun - violent attacks against the "spirit of revenge" of the "colonial power". (...)
Note: He is saying that Bouteflicka does not want bad publicity, but Bouteflicka is as much a murderer as any so-called Islamist of the GIA. This is one of the potential fallacies in the whole story of the monks: that the GIA was a terrorist organization at war with the Algerian government which was not a terrorist organization, but a duly elected group of men of quality engaged in building their nation. In fact, it may be that both GIA and the government were equally brutal, and equally anti-Christian, and the word "Islamist", if not "terrorist" applies equally to both.
Another arguable point in the editorial is the notion that Bouteflicka does not want the Europeans to know the fate of the Christians. But if the Europeans are so indifferent, as he rightly points out, why would they care about the fate of Christians? They may appear to care about the monks, and cry crocodile tears over the monks, because of all the publicity the case has generated, but do they care about all the other cases that have remained hidden? Of course Bouteflicka has to try to appear as an innocent victim of French colonial terrorism, hence his unwillingness to confront the crimes of his own country. But European opinion is so pre-programmed it is difficult to imagine they would find him guilty to the point of closing the borders of Europe and repatriating to North Africa the millions of Maghrebins now settled in Europe.
Revenge? No word was more alien to the monks' vocabulary than that one. Two years before a death that he had offered in advance as a sacrifice, Christian de Chergé, prior of the community, in a very moving testament, had already forgiven his assassins. But forgiveness is not oblivion. It assumes the existence of facts: for the martyred monks who died in the name of truth, nothing can justify burying them in a shroud of lies, .
Note on Christian de Chergé:
One of the seven monks killed was Christian de Chergé, born in Colmar and raised in Algiers where his father was commander of the 67th artillery regiment of Africa. He returned to Algeria in 1959, as a young officer, and always remembered having his life saved, during an ambush, thanks to a Muslim who risked his life to save him. He arrived at the monastery of Tibéhirine in 1971. He studied Arab language and culture in Rome for two years, and having become the prior of the Tibéhirine community, promoted an ever more pronounced orientation towards an Islamo-Christian dialogue. He had a profound knowledge of and great esteem for Islam and Arabic culture. (Source: Marie de Nazareth)
Two years before his death in 1994, Christian de Chergé left a will to his youngest brother, in which he apparently foresaw his own death, forgave his killers, and reaffirmed his own faith.
This story of the monks of Tibéhirine provides perhaps a clue as to the feelings of sympathy towards Muslims that we often find so inexplicable among Catholics, especially the clergy, and their refusal to condemn outright the influx of Islamic culture in Europe: they see, as their task and their duty, the conversion of Muslims to Christianity and, concomitant with this rather quixotic ideal, they are willing to sacrifice themselves to do it, just as Jesus sacrificed himself to save Man. They pursue the Islamo-Christian dialogue in the belief that eventually Muslims will see the light and convert. Certainly a few may, but most will not. Is it, therefore, right for the Church to regard Muslims as potential converts, welcome on Western soil, rather than as enemies of Christianity who should be confined to their own lands, where they are free to practice their faith but not free to undermine European political and cultural traditions and institutions?
In addition, as we all know, the Muslims have the SAME mission: to convert us to their faith. They are succeeding to a surprising degree, as Europeans (including Americans, especially blacks) having renounced any loyalty to Western culture, convert to this more basic and violent cult that is easy to understand and so widely admired today throughout the decadent West, at least among the ruling elite, including purveyors of public opinion and educators.
The above are some thoughts I had while reading through this material. They are not meant as any definitive statement on Christian motives, and certainly not meant as a criticism of these monks. But I find this willingness to sacrifice oneself and this feeling of forgiveness towards one's killers to be, as I said, quixotic. I think I prefer the point of view of the traditional Catholics like bishop Lefebvre, founder of the SSPX, who recognized an implacable enemy that posed a real threat to Christian civilization. How far should Christians go in their mission?
Yet, men who become missionaries are committed. They even expect to be killed, in the same way Jesus knew he would be betrayed and killed. Should Western governments attempt to stop Christian missionaries, or at least refuse to step in and help them when they are taken hostage?
Having said all that, it will be interesting to see what comes to light in this investigation, what the role of the French government has been through the years, and what ultimately France has to gain by protecting the Algerians instead of helping the Cistercians.
BTW, this editorial did not please all readers who saw it as a typical example of French chauvinism and the refusal to accept responsibility for the crimes of French colonialism. I certainly do not agree with that. These murders took place long after the colonial period. If anything it is an example of Algerian brutality against perfectly innocent men whose only crime is being Christian and French.
Note: Throughout, I maintained the French spelling of Tibéhirine, but Tibhirine is the usual English spelling.
Below, an illustration borrowed from Dom Donald's blog.