In November, 2003, Sébastien Selam, a popular 23-year old Jewish DJ, known to his fans as DJ LamC, was murdered by an Arab neighbor. His throat was slit twice; his face was atrociously mutilated. The grisly crime was barely reported in the French press, the probable anti-Semitic motive was underplayed or denied, the affair has not been followed by Jewish or mainstream media with the notable exception of Rosenpress.[i]
When Alyssa Lappen reported on the murder for FrontPage Magazine [ii] she had to rely on the sparse information I provided, backed up by her own research and journalistic intuition. Finally, three months later, I was able to contact the mother of the slain DJ. The conversation took place on February 29, 2004 in Madame Selam's apartment in the presence of more than a dozen friends and family members. The conversation recorded here is not an interview--it is an encounter between an inconsolable bereaved mother and a motherly woman who commiserates. There is no pretension to journalistic objectivity. No digging for the facts. The conversation is a monumental understatement. These are the words we exchanged as we skirted the reality that neither could bear to evoke.
Nidra Poller: Madame Selam, welcome. Thank you for accepting to speak to me about this terrible crime. I know how hard it is.
Madame Juliette Selam: Thank you for coming to see me.
N. P.: First, I would like to ask you to tell us in your own way what happened to your son Sébastien.
J. S.: What happened is that evening he had a job, he was going out to go out to work that night, and before that he had gone to do an errand and when he came back here, a neighbor--a young man who knew him, grew up with him, knew our family, who used to come and have meals with us-- Sébastien gave him a helping hand many times, in many ways--he was waiting for him and said he wanted to go along with Sébastien to the garage. My son saw no ill will in this, nothing at all, he was not wary, and when they got into the garage the boy slit his throat, and he went at him, relentlessly, and then he left him lying there and went up to his apartment directly from the garage and said to his mother, "I killed Lam C, I killed a Jew," and his mother called the police. His mother called the police, the police came, they saw the terrible thing that happened in the garage, they tried to save him but it was too late. He was atrociously mutilated. That's it.
N. P.: You have lived in this building for many years?
J. S.: Yes, since 1985.
N. P.: You have always had neighbors of many different origins?
J. S.: Yes, Arabs, Blacks, people of all races.
N. P.: And you got along with everyone in the building?
J. S.: Absolutely. In the whole building I had nothing but good contacts. The only family, that family, is the only family that is racist. I had words in 2001 with the mother of the criminal; he called us dirty Jews, he tore the mezuza off the door, not just mine, other Jewish families too. He slit the throat of a chicken and put it in front of my door. At the time I didn't know what that meant. I filed complaints with the police; many other people in the building also filed complaints, they are on record. The police didn't do anything about it. They didn't do anything. After that there were swastikas in the elevator; all kinds of things. All of that was him and his family, the boy, the one who killed my son. He burned elevator buttons, broke my mailbox, really the whole family.
N. P.: This family still lives in the building?
J. S.: Since the crime, since my son was murdered, the family is still here. I find that absolutely disgraceful to leave people, to leave murderers in the same building as me. So I don't go out because I don't want to see them. Do you think that's right?
N. P.: That is exactly what I was about to ask you.
J. S.: Nothing has been done to get them away from here. The very same day it should have been done--the very day. It wasn't done. They are still here. They are offered different apartments, and they choose! They choose! [iii]
N. P.: And you have been living here as long as the other family? They moved in about the same time as you?
J. S. : That's right.
N. P.: And were they that way from the beginning or was there a change?
J. S.: No, they changed. It started in 2001, the Mother changed. From that point on she started brainwashing her children, she made them a bit...in this context…this context of racism.
N. P.: What is the attitude of the other neighbors? They don't side with the criminal's family?
J.S.: Side with them? It's hard to say whether they take sides with them. Many people are against them, are against what he did, even some of the Arab families, people of the same race.
N. P.: They judge according to their ethical values and not by loyalty to their group? Do they come to see you and express this clearly?
J. S.: Yes, they came, they come to see me, they are shocked.
N. P.: They have the same judgment as you about the murderer's family? The family is made up of a mother and her son.
J. S.: Yes, the same, the same view. The family? It's two girls, two boys, the father and the mother.
N. P.: From what I saw on the [Rosenpress] video, a friend of your son testified to what happened--an Arab friend.
J. S.: He was at the site of the crime when my son was killed, at the entry to the garage. He was going to work with my son that night, he was waiting outside the garage--they were going to the place together. So he waited outside the garage, ten minutes, fifteen, twenty, he didn't see my son come out and then he saw the police drive up That's when he realized something had happened. He was waiting outside for half an hour. He should have gone down there much sooner but he waited a half hour.
N. P.: There wasn't a fight that afternoon between your son and the murderer? I read about it in one of the articles.
J. S.: It wasn't a fight. No, nothing.
N. P.: A misunderstanding?
Laetitia Selam [wife of Sébastien's brother] and J. S: Adil was looking for a pretext.
L. S.: He was looking for a pretext to get to Sébastien. I'm the one who opened the door. But the incident ended because Sébastien found a solution to the problem.There was another person here with us, so that also put a stop to whatever idea he might have had. He went away saying okay, brother, no problem my brother, okay buddy, everything's fine.
N. P.: He was good at hiding his real intentions? He was able to reassure Sébastien to the point that he went into the garage with him that evening?
J. S.: Yes, he didn't see the danger. He didn't have the least. But a half hour earlier Adil had gone upstairs and taken a knife and a fork. His mother saw him open the drawer.
N. P.: They were still friends at that time or had they drifted apart?
J. S.: No they weren't friends. They grew up together here but they weren't friends. They still. My son was always very kind to him, once Adil was ill, he was in the hospital, my son went to visit him, brought him all he needed. But my son had his path in life, it was music, and the other, it was the street. He was peddling drugs.
N. P.: Was he ever arrested for selling dope? Or was he just a small peddler?
J. S.: No, no, no, he wasn't arrested--just the crazy house. Two or three times he was in the psychiatric hospital.
N. P.: Were you born in France?
J. S.: No. I was born in Algeria.
N. P.: When did you leave Algeria? Under what conditions? You were young…you came with your family? Did you have to flee or did you leave calmly?
J. S.: We left in 1956. I came with my family. No, we left in a normal way. Calmly.
N. P.: Then you did your schooling here in France?
J. S.: That's right, everything was normal, no problem.
N. P.: What do you make of the way the case was reported in Le Parisien [iv].Did the journalist come to talk to you?
J. S.: The journalist from Le Parisien? No. Only France Soir.
N. P.: What was the immediate reaction, right after the crime? What was the reaction of the police, the Service de protection de la communauté juive [Jewish security bureau]? I don't have to ask about the media because I read just about everything that was published. How did the police react?
J. S.: The police…I think…I didn't see them that evening, I didn't see anyone, I was in another world, they brought me here, I…
N. P.: Are you kept informed of whatever progress they are making on the case? The police are investigating?
J. S.: Oh yes, they are investigating, they question everyone, the file is growing. They questioned us too; we were heard several times.
N. P.: Did they search the murderer's house immediately after the crime?
J. S.: Not at all. I find that too. They didn't do it that evening. No, they didn't do a search, they didn't take fingerprints from the car, they made a lot of mistakes.
N. P.: No investigation into his contacts? Besides the drug dealing, did they check on his political or religious activities?
J. S.: Now they are investigating all those things, checking all the calls he made on his cell phone.
N. P.: You are represented by a lawyer? You have pressed charges? Is it true that he was immediately placed in a psychiatric hospital?
J. S.: First he was in police custody for a few hours, then he was at Hôtel Dieu [hospital], he was just fine, altogether conscious of what he had done.
N. P.: I heard a story, I don't even remember where I heard it, about a nurse who saw him--maybe it was at Hôtel Dieu-- and said he boasted about killing a Jew.
J. S.: Yes, that's right.
L. S.: Do you want to hear exactly what he said? He said he killed a Jew, it's Allah who wanted him to do it. He had no regrets, no shame, nothing to hide. This is the official statement he made. It's in the file.
N. P.: Does that mean he won't face trial--because he is in the psychiatric hospital?
J. S.: We don't know. We have to wait and see how the affair goes. It takes a long time.
N. P.: Adil was known for peddling drugs, he was a good for nothing. Did he also have a reputation for craziness? Was he violent with other people?
J. S.: I think so, yes.
N. P.: I was told he had tried to kill his uncle in Belgium.
J. S.: Yes that's what I heard, it's true, his uncle in Belgium. His mother too, it seems…tried to throw her out the window.
N. P.: But he wasn't treated for this? Did he get psychiatric help from time to time?
J. S.: Yes, he did have treatment. The mother was supposed to continue the treatment, he was supposed to be followed by a doctor, she didn't do it. So it's her fault that he wasn't being followed. And that's how it is.
N. P.: How is Adil's family acting now?
J. S.: They are fine, just fine. They go out, they do their shopping, hold their heads high, his brother is very arrogant, oh yes they are just fine. I'm the one who is doing badly. They are just fine.
N. P.: You want to stay here in your apartment, don't you? You want them to move out?
J. S.: That's normal isn't it? They are the ones who should leave.
N. P.: And you get no help from Jewish organizations for these problems?
J. S.: No. Not the ones from Algeria and not the Jewish community--nothing
N. P.: Well just wait. The Americans are coming.
J. S.: (smiles) I hope so. I'm counting on them.
N. P.: There is a system of support for victims of crime in France. Are you getting any help from that quarter?
J. S.: No. Nothing at all. Nothing.
N. P.: Excuse me for the next question--I am going to ask you it because I prepared it, but I think I know. Are you satisfied with the reaction of the Jewish community in France?
J. S.: No. No.
N. P.: Did you know that the incident has already been reported in the USA?
J. S.: Almost nothing. We know almost nothing about that.
N. P.: What is the message that you want to communicate to Americans, both Jewish and non-Jewish? Because in the US, non-Jews are also concerned by this case. What can we do to help you?
[General discussion among the people present in the room. What they want, what she wants, is to bring out the truth that the crime was motivated by anti-Semitism. If the truth is told in the U. S. this will rebound in France. The way this incident has been stifled it is as if they killed her son twice. If the American community could mobilize to make the French community and French politicians aware that a terrible crime has been committed and has been hushed up, and that now they must make amends. That is her hope, that the American community will stir up this incident in France.]
N. P.: It is important for that your son's murder be inscribed in the collective memory as an anti-Semitic crime. And that your son's memory be honored first by bringing the truth to light, and then by association with action against anti-Semitism?
J. S.: Yes, yes.
N. P.: And what do you think of the general atmosphere in France today, the future of your family, of futures generations?
J. S.: What can I say about the future? You see, I'm still…I'm still shaken. What I hope for...I think in France today there is a great deal of anti-Semitism. That's what I think. All these things we hear about, all these things we see.
N. P.: Have other victims come to see you, to tell about other incidents?
J. S.: No.
N. P.: In the documents I brought for you today there are long lists of anti-Semitic incidents in France. What you have endured is the worst--the others were working up to it. So you think that the French Jewish community did not even make an effort to face what happened, to analyze it.
J. S.: They hushed it up, that's all. They hushed it up. They didn't come forward. They were afraid. Maybe they are afraid.
N. P.: Do you think the Jews here are afraid that if they ask for too much they will have nothing at all? That the powers that be will leave us directly exposed to our enemies? Or are they afraid that if it is known that an Arab went so far as to kill a Jew, then others will kill Jews? Is it a mentality of "if we don't say anything it will disappear?"
N. P. Is there anyone else who wants to speak?
Friend: I know them, that family. I know that the mother is an anti-Semite, it's sure, she's the one who inculcated her son to hate Jews-- that is for sure, what else can I say. I've known the Selam family for twenty years. I've come here often, I was around--I know the building.
Friend: I confirm what Madame Selam said.
[i] To view the Rosenpress video: www.rosenpresstv.com (/djlamc/index.html) To consult the article in Le Nouvel Observateur: www.nouvelobs.com (/dossiers/p2040/a227628.html)
[ii] Alyssa Lappen, "Ritual Murders of Jews in Paris" www.frontpagemag.com (December 4 2003)
[iii] Apartments in the low-rent building are attributed by the municipality; comparable low-rent apartments are being offered to the murderer's family, and they are free to stay where they are until they receive what they consider to be a satisfactory alternative.
[iv] The article developed a story of rivalry between boyhood friends. The fact that the murderer was Arab and the victim Jewish was mentioned but a possible anti-Semitic motive was dismissed. This version was picked up and reported by Catherine Garson in Actualité Juive, a Jewish weekly newspaper in France: www.actuj.net (journal N° 821)
* See also: Caroline Glick, Jerusalem Post online, 5 December 2003: Who speaks for Israel? And, for a similar case in the US: Andrew Tilghman, Houston Chronicle 12 January 2004, "Saudi pleads guilty to killing Jewish friend in Houston": www.HoustonChronicle.com