Posted by: sean | November 11, 2005

The good, the bad and the ugly

Today I’d like to look at three very different ways of covering the riots in the French suburbs. I’ll go in the order prescribed by Clint Eastwood.

The Good
On the more assuring side of the coverage of the riots, the New York Times published an op-ed piece by Olivier Roy from the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris. He is a specialist of Islamist movements as well as Central Asia, and while his conclusions are common sense to most people living here in Paris, they are desperately needed in the Anlgophone, and particularly the American, press (thanks to Josh for the link):

The rioting in Paris and other French cities has led to a lot of interpretations and comments, most of them irrelevant. Many see the violence as religiously motivated, the inevitable result of unchecked immigration from Muslim countries; for others the rioters are simply acting out of vengeance at being denied their cultural heritage or a fair share in French society. But the reality is that there is nothing particularly Muslim, or even French, about the violence. Rather, we are witnessing the temporary rising up of one small part of a Western underclass culture that reaches from Paris to London to Los Angeles and beyond. …

Most of the rioters are from the second generation of immigrants, they have French citizenship, and they see themselves more as part of a modern Western urban subculture than of any Arab or African heritage.

Just look at the newspaper photographs: the young men wear the same hooded sweatshirts, listen to similar music and use slang in the same way as their counterparts in Los Angeles or Washington. (It is no accident that in French-dubbed versions of Hollywood films, African-American characters usually speak with the accent heard in the Paris banlieues). …

In the end, we are dealing here with problems found by any culture in which inequities and cultural differences come in conflict with high ideals. Americans, for their part, should take little pleasure in France’s agony – the struggle to integrate an angry underclass is one shared across the Western world.

The Bad
On the bad side and in the blogosphere, I’ve run across a site called Oxblog, in which an Irish student, who came to Paris obstentibly to cover the riots, has decided to don a turtleneck and a leather jacket to blend into his surroundings:

As assiduously as I donned turtleneck and leather jacket to simulate a Frenchman and, it was hoped, a not too out of place banluisard [sic], I still perhaps didn’t quite fit in, whatever diversified portfolio of national identities in which I might traffic, French maghrebian [sic] being decidedly not among them.

I’m not not making this up. You can see the entry for yourself here. Somehow this guy has gotten on a Public Radio International show about blogging, called Open Source.

But before you reassure yourself by remembering that anyone can make a blog, it’s worth taking a look at this Notre Dame and Yale graduate’s bio, in which he explains his “current book projects.” One of them is a book called “In the Way of the Prophet” and is about “Muslim communities in the United States, Britain, and France.”

I’m not really sure whether to laugh or to cry. But then again, maybe this description is as inflated as his claim of being fluent in French: his latest blog entry begins with “ESCUSEZ MONSIEUR, JE CHERCHE RACAILLE,” which ought to be “Excusez-moi, Monsieur, je cherche des racailles” but instead translates to something like, “Escuse sir, I look for gangsta.”

Scanning through his posts will show you that according to him, these riots are the “the handiwork of determined criminal gangs,” instead of teenagers who are turning their hate into the sport of burning things. He also reports that all of Paris is suffering from a sense of malaise, which I suspect has more to do with wanting to slip French words into his account that anything he’s actually seen or heard here. Other mistakes include things like saying that somone has been “assaulting the Marais’s Jews” and mentioning “postgraduate degree holders working as postmen,” the latter of which makes me think that he has a weak spot for hyperbole and alliteration.

But say what you will about this guy, he certainly is ambitious, and I almost feel bad poking fun at him knowing that he was apparently mugged in Aulney-sous-Bois recently. But only almost. That last post’s pun left me feeling fairly pitiless.

And the Ugly
Finally, last night at a friend’s birthday dinner, another friend told me about what she saw on le Zapping, a segment on the French cable channel, Canal +, which shows ridiculous, funny or just plain silly clips found that day on television. Yesterday’s zapping shows American cable news coverage of the riots, in which CNN shows a map of France where Toulouse is in the Alps, Cannes is on the border of Spain and even Paris is not really in its correct place. They then cut to Bill O’Reilly of Fox News, who says that France deserves its “Muslim riots,” mostly because they didn’t support the US in the invasion of Iraq.



  1. hi,

    i enjoyed your good-bad-ugly analysis. it’s a nice member of the aggregation-laud-attack blogs that have formed around these riots (there are lots of bad examples too). I think this is starting at someting that needs to be done.. more below.

    i’ve been following the riots in the traditional media and blogosphere, and i’ve been collecting links on my blog. my feeling is that the right wing bloggers are really having a “Radical Islam” field day. It’s strange that the left-wing isn’t having as much a field day.

    In any case, I feel that a lot of what has been posted about the riots, on every side of the issue, is essentially noise that just hasn’t been cut through yet, and really analyzed.

    I expect that sometime soon someone will put in a concerted effort to mine the blogosphere, in somewhat chrono order of this event, and pull out the tides of thought. Right now, as I read, it really seems more like a shouting match. This isn’t discussion, and there aren’t any gems yet that really bring things together (some people have pointed to juan cole’s blog post as such a gem, but i disagree. i’m looking for something that simultaneously talks about the riots and tries to *understand* the reaction, not lob counterpoints back-and-forth).



  2. I agree that the press coverage in the US, particularly in the blogosphere, has been pretty sensationalist.

    I think that Juan Cole’s piece is a pretty good summary, and I’m relieved that he’s out there to give a voice to reason.

    Otherwise, I’m not really sure what you mean by understanding the reaction to the events. Do you mean the press reaction in the US? If so, I’m not sure that there’s much to understand. There’s an ubiquitous narrative out there that says that Muslims are dangerous extremists. So rather than doing actual research and reporting what’s happening, the press tends to twist the events to fit their pre-packaged narrative. Some because they’re dishonest, most because they’re lazy and uninformed.

  3. […] I lived in Paris, I was annoyed by American coverage of the suburb riots in 2005, which did its best to portray what was clearly a socio-economic […]

  4. […] Minorities – chief, All the Beirut News: “When I lived in Paris, I was annoyed by American coverage of the suburb riots in 2005, which did its best to portray what was clearly a socio-economic […]

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