Even worse than it seems
I've only been following the Paris riots, which started a week and a half ago and have spread throughout France, as much as the mainstream media has found it necessary to report - which is to say, not much at all. Most of what I've learned came from bloggers (as usual), but even there I haven't really done any mouse-work to explore the issue in detail.
Last night, as part of my usual Sunday routine after finishing my print "Tracks" column for the Leader, I jumped over to Mark SteynOnline to see what the best in the column biz was writing about. Turned out, the French riots were central to this piece. Mark, always clever and sharp, noted the mainstream media avoids any mention of the ethnic and religious background of the rioters: North African Muslim.
I had no doubt he was correct in this assessment - as of Thursday or Friday, when he probably wrote the column. But I had faith that journalistic integrity would eventually triumph in the newsrooms of the mainstream media and that an investigation into "root causes" was well underway. Discussion of a crucial characteristic in any probing look at the rioters - their faith - would force that aspect to be addressed in a routine "backgrounder" paragraph close to the top in nearly every story printed or delivered.
Boy was I wrong!
Today, when I saw on my AOL news screen that rioting in France had "intensified," I figured it was time to do some catching up and read a few full stories on the violence. I opened today's New York Times report written by Craig S. Smith.
The first online page doesn't mention "African" until the 10th paragraph, when it quotes a "French-African" unemployed man who says "this is just the beginning" of the violence. In the following paragraph, we are told the riots were initially sparked by the deaths of two teenagers, one Mauritanian and one Tunisian, which exposed "longstanding anger among many immigrant families here over joblessness and discrimination." Thus, we are led to believe, the widespread riots are similar in nature to those America has occasionally experienced, with divisions on racial and economic lines - kind of like Toledo on the Seine.
You would be mistaken to think religion doesn't come up at all in the article - although its first appearance is on the second online page, 20 paragraphs into the story. You'd also be mistaken to think the religion referred to is Islam.
"The attack angered people in the neighborhood, which includes the old Jewish quarter and is still a center of Jewish life in the city."
So, according to the Times, a Jewish neighborhood is upset that it's being dragged into the maelstrom. Their religion is relevant to the story - more so than that of the attackers. Indeed, the Jewish experience is central to the key quote:
"We escaped from Romania with nothing and came here and worked our fingers to the bone and never asked for anything, never complained," said Liliane Zump, a woman in her 70's, shaking with fury on the street outside the scarred building."
What's the deal with these young French immigrants men anyway? Are they Nazis? Are they Communists? Why would they target a Jewish neighborhood? Joblessness and discrimination are certainly difficult circumstances for a community to face, but why should the rioters take out their frustrations outside their area on a Jewish neighborhood, rather than government offices or French Bourgeoisie homes? What drives their anti-semitism?
Please, New York Times, do tell.
Instead, we get another full paragraph description of the immigrant community's employment situation - and a note that arson "has become a feature of life in the working-class suburbs." Not sure how the rioters can be both "jobless" and "working-class," but I'll leave that to the Times' editors to explain.
Only in the 23rd paragraph does the Times first offer up a clue to the "root causes" of violence. The first member of the community quoted back in paragraph 10 had a name which seemed African but carried no other easy markers of religion or ethnicity: Moussa Diallo. The young boy found in paragraph 23, however, has a name whose lineage many will recognize: Mohamed Hammouti.
Hmmm. Ya know, I've heard that name somewhere before.
With the introduction of the above 15-year-old, the Times suddenly begins leaking out relevant details fast and furious, creating a very different picture of the violence than the first 22 paragraphs drew.
Thus, we learn of an "escalation" in attacks the last few days, the "level of destruction has grown sharply," and along with gunfire, people in high rises are tossing "improvised explosives at national riot police officers patrolling below."
Hey, wait a minute - this sounds more like an insurrection than a spontaneous riot. Oh, there's more:
The police discovered what they described as a firebomb factory in a building in Évry, south of Paris, in which about 150 bombs were being constructed, a third of them ready to use.
A firebomb factory? Do spur-of-the-moment rioters furious over unemployment and discrimination typically build and use improvised explosive devices and start production in bomb factories?
Many politicians have warned that the unrest may be coalescing into an organized movement, citing Internet chatter that is urging other poor neighborhoods across France to join in.
Let's see here ... organization, widespread attacks and destruction, use of bombs, targeting Jews. I'm sorry, I have to say it: This sounds like militant Islamism of the al Qaeda/Iraq insurgency/Palestinian terror group variety.
The Times isn't buying it:
Though a majority of the youths committing the acts are Muslim, and of African or North African origin, the mayhem has yet to take on any ideological or religious overtones. Youths in the neighborhoods say second-generation Portuguese immigrants and even some children of native French have taken part.
"Youths in the neighborhoods say" - you mean the rioters? Sounds like a good source for an objective look at the makeup of the insurrection. No mention whether those "second-generation Portuguese immigrants" or children of native French - who I'm sure number in the many handfuls compared to the thousands of insurgents - happen to be militant Muslims too.
We get the usual paragraph noting the "most influential Islamic group" has condemned the attacks. Unfortunately, the militant Islamists rarely listen to the "most influential Islamic groups," and sometimes even attack them.
As a final attempt to excuse the organized, bomb-making insurrection as youthful anger gone too far, we learn that a cabinet minister's "slur" against the rioters - Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkosky called them "dregs" - is fueling the anger and mistrust of these wholesome if misguided youngsters against the arrogant white establishment. To counter Sarkosky's Neanderthal, law-and-order approach, the poet-prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, has a multicultural diplomatic plan to feel the pain of the riotous mobs - emotionally, rather than physically, he hopes. Both men also plan to run for president of France in the next election.
The Times closes the story with a stern warning:
If the damage escalates and sympathy for the rioters begins to fray, Mr. Sarkozy could well emerge the politically stronger of the two.
"Sympathy for the rioters"? If that is an accurate reflection of majority French sentiment, and not merely an admission by the Times editorial board of its own leanings, the Fifth Republic is in very deep trouble indeed.
Meanwhile, I am forced to wonder when the Times and the rest of the mainstream media will finally break down and admit the more-than-coincidental similarities between France's drama and that seen in the London subways, Madrid, the Netherlands, Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, Algeria, Sudan, Lebanon, India and a hundred other points on the map. Will it take an official declaration of "intifada"? Will it take an Osama tape approving the French insurgency? Will it take Aljazeera's accusations of a "massacre" when the first serious French attempt to stop the violence finally comes? Will it take the assassination of a top French official? A roadside bombing? A public stoning? A televised beheading? Fallen policemen dragged through the streets then hung from the Eiffel Tower?
What will it take to burn through the mainstream media's self-imposed blindfold?
UPDATE: Amir Taheri, writing in the New York Post Friday (I discovered the link in the comments to Clive Davis' posts on the riots), made no bones about identifying the rioters, their goals or even their relationship to the Muslim Brotherhood, the ideological mother of many of today's well-known terror groups.