The Banlieue Beat: NYT Again Goes to Bat for Persecuted French Muslims With Whitewash

January 22nd, 2016 9:18 AM

With France wracked by Islamic terrorism and anti-Semitic attacks, Thursday’s New York Times offered some valuable public relations on behalf of poor, downtrodden, persecuted Muslim immigrants, with Suzanne Daley, formerly the national editor for the paper, issuing a classic bleeding-heart report that skipped all the problems and came complete with hostile labeling of immigrant critics: “Rap Gives Poor Youths A Voice In France – Artists Confront The Far Right.

It’s part of the Times’ strange, intermittent “banlieue” beat, in which Times reporters whitewash the violence and terrorist sympathies that fester within unassimilated Muslim-dominated ghettos in France, in favor of a tale making them victims of government persecution.

Daley interviewed three French rappers, including Medine, who she found very clever:

In one video, a woman who appears to be wearing a burqa whips around to reveal a nun’s habit -- and a sign reading, “No burqa,” a wry comment on France’s ban on conservative Muslim dress. A cake marked “halal,” when sliced open by a woman dressed to symbolize France, reveals layers in the colors of the national flag, signaling that Muslims can be French, too.

While such satire is often celebrated in France, Médine, a Muslim of Algerian descent, has found himself accused of being a fundamentalist and failing to respect the basic principles of the republic. In contrast to the respect accorded to the irreverent cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo, the satirical newspaper that was the target of a terrorist attack last year, he said, his work is “looked on with the condescension that is reserved for everything coming from the housing projects.”

Daley claimed that artists like Medine “are now clashing perhaps more than ever with the country’s expanding far right and its vituperative denunciation of migrants and relentless hostility toward Muslims.”

But far from receiving a defense of his right to pillory a trend in which small-town officials have barred veiled women from visiting beaches and chaperoning school trips, his work, he said, came under attack.

Daley painted Medine as a victim, using his own unchecked anecdote:

Within weeks of its release last year, “Don’t Laïk” had been viewed more than a million times on YouTube and, Médine said, he and three of his friends were being investigated on tax evasion accusations. The experience, he said, was sort of funny, sort of intimidating.

In typical form after Islamic terrorist attacks, the paper is most worried about an anti-Muslim backlash that never actually arrives:

Like many others, he fears that those who live in the housing projects in the inner suburbs, commonly referred to as banlieues, will feel a backlash from the terrorist attacks in Paris last year. As one measure of the hysteria, some point to the reaction by the director Mathieu Kassovitz to the November attacks, in which 130 people were killed in and around Paris.

Mr. Kassovitz, whose 1995 movie “La Haine” (“Hatred”) is considered a groundbreaking effort to portray the social ills of the housing projects, posted on Twitter that Muslims had to rise up and stop jihadists or, essentially, they deserved what they got. One respondent answered that he could not even get his girlfriend to call him back; how was he supposed to stop the terrorists? Mr. Kassovitz later apologized and took down the post.

She portrayed the rapper as a brave voice under fire:

Still, Médine said, he has no intention of lowering his voice. He said he had just finished a song about what he believed was the irresponsible role of the political elite in fanning tensions throughout the country.

Another rapper pled for sympathy:

If asked, however, Axiom has plenty to say. He calls the situation in the suburbs apartheid. Being unemployed, he said, is “not like a vacation. It is a humiliation. Add to that the humiliation of having your identification papers checked constantly. And the humiliation of not being able to get into a discothèque. And the humiliation of the way that people look at you when that happens.”

All this, he added, and you are “expected to accept it without ever rebelling.”

Only deep into the story does the inconvenient subject of Islamic radicalism come up, though even that was the fault of the French school system, not the Muslim immigrants:

Médine said he wrote first to keep the youth in the housing projects from losing hope and withdrawing from society. But he worried that France is far behind in preventing Muslim fanaticism from taking root.

The French school system, highly structured and unforgiving, has done little to bend to the needs of the children living in the projects, he said. Instead, he said, radical Muslim preachers and other fanatics have gotten a grip on a generation of youth. “It will be very hard to undo that.”

Also on Thursday, reporter Aurelien Breeden wrote from an old refugee camp and strained hard to find parallels between the plight of Jews during World War II and today’s Syrian refugees in “French Memorial Draws Uncomfortable Parallels.” Breeden offered nothing about the assaults by Syrian migrants in Germany and Sweden, and only lame historical blandishments about previous “callous treatment of the desperate and displaced” (an unsubtle hint that France was doing this to Syrian refugees today)..

The site has since been turned into a memorial, which opened in October, at a time when the darker chapters of France’s history echo in the hardships of the hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers who have descended on Europe over the last year.

Breeden heightened dubious parallels between Jewish refugees from World War II and Muslim ones today:

Inaugurating the memorial, Prime Minister Manuel Valls, the son of a Catalan immigrant, said the site would now “say loud and clear what for too long was quietly whispered” about France’s shunting aside and callous treatment of the desperate and displaced.

Yet if France has finally chosen to remember the many thousands who once languished in Rivesaltes, its contemporary debate about whether and how to embrace today’s migrants shows how much of that history remains unresolved.

Indeed, the memorial here draws deliberate and uncomfortable parallels between France’s past and present situation, in places like the northern city of Calais, where thousands of migrants live in a semipermanent shantytown known as the Jungle.


“That doesn’t mean that today’s Syrian is yesterday’s Jew,” said Denis Peschanski, a French historian who has written on France’s wartime internment camps and who heads the scientific committee for the memorial.

Then Breeden went right ahead and compared them anyway:

But he noted that there was a similar urge in France and the rest of Europe to keep refugees out or, when they cannot be kept out, to keep them away.