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Nov 05, 2005

Flight From Reality


It was an exquisite image on the front of the NYT yesterday marking the end of Ramadan.  The photo was taken in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan.  What I couldn't understand -- and found quite ironic -- however, is why the Times shied away from one of the most dramatic and troubling stories taking place at the intersection of the Western and Muslim worlds.

The International Herald Tribune, a sister paper of the Times had the story, accompanied by two prominent images, on their front page yesterday.  Here in America, however, the nine days of intense rioting in Paris by African and Muslim immigrants and their French-born children seems to have gone virtually unnoticed.  The Times did run a schematic story on page A3, and a brief editorial.  But between Friday's edition of The Times, The Washington Post and The L.A. Times, only the latter placed the story on the front page.

(I'm just hoping this comment looks a lot less relevant alongside Saturday morning's papers.)

(image: Tomas Munita/A.P. Afghanistan.  November 4, 2005.  The New York Times. p. A1.)


It's not being reported because it can't be blamed on President Bush, an attitude that is not completely unknown around here.

Looking at this picture with my Western bias, I'm reminded of the old lady who fed birds on the steps of St. Paul's Cathedral in Mary Poppins. Old and poor, she is relegated to the church steps, marginalized by the wealth and power the church represents. The elderly man here is looking away from the mosque (which is as beautiful and imposing as St. Paul's) and instead turns his attention and care to the birds (pigeons, turtledoves?), the disregarded scavengers of urban spaces. I'm also reminded of the image of St. Francis feeding the birds. The story of St. Francis has a connection with Islam:

"When violence and hatred erupted with the Crusades, Francis traveled East where, armed with only his honesty and faith, he won the respect of a powerful Caliph. Having shed all traces of his youthful arrogance, he was open to the other culture, so that when he returned to Europe the Muslim call to prayer echoed in his ears. Eventually his urgings that Christians might similarly signal the faithful to turn to daily prayer led to the tradition we now know as the Angelus."

Hasn't that guy heard of bird flu?

Perhaps the NYT is now erring on the side of caution these days? Or maybe the Times is just completely lost.

It will be reported widely,

just as soon as bush needs another distraction.

Well, I'm just sort of grateful that I get to see a beautiful and peaceful picture relating to Islam...tomorrow we will see carnage again, I'm sure

My family has a picture of me standing in Trafalger Square surrounded by pigeons. It looks much like this. As I look at this picture, I see both this picture taken in Afghanistan yesterday and, in my mind's eye, the one of me taken in 1997. For just one moment, the wall between Muslim "them" and Western "me" evaporated. *sigh* So solipsistic!

Your question about the lack of American coverage of the French riots is well-observed. Perhaps we haven't seen more from the Paris riots because we have been taken unawares. This immigrant unrest is a French domestic issue, and the US media doesn't attend to the domestic issues of other nations. Other nations have problems?? The FRENCH have problems? Taking photographs of French citizens rioting in France would require Americans to see the world through the eyes of someone else.

Americans see the world as really, truly only about us, so I anticipate that the initial impulse of the media will be to use the French experience to illustrate something about us, our experiences with riots. Perhaps we will see photos of immigrants in America, illustrating how good life is for them here.

There have been smaller, not so serious, riots in Denmark, too, btw.

The BAG said:

...the nine days of intense rioting in Paris by African and Muslim immigrants and their French-born children seems to have gone virtually unnoticed...

Au contraire, mon ami. At the time of this comment, the Revolution is a front page post at:

This is the 21st Century: newspaper and ink is such old news.

Nice picture..

I assumed you were talking about coverage by the New York Times. It is strange, since there are so many interesting angles besides just the fact of the riots themselves - e.g., putting them in context with recent fires in buildings housing immigrants/refugees and the ban on hijab (headscarf) in the French schools, and the political rivalry between the Interior Minister and the Prime Minister (both of whom want to be the next President. Then there's the Interior Minister himself, Sarkozy, who is supposedly very popular, but not among these people of Muslim/Arab/African origin. (And whose marriage, from beginning to end, provides plenty of juicy gossip.)

They must have felt that there was nothing about France that was interesting enough...

The 1968 student revolt in Paris had some roots in the (Algerian) immigrant community as well. However, at that time the students were joined by French workers, and the ensuing labor strike shut the country down and shook the government. One of the prominent leaders of the revolt was a French-born German citizen/student, Daniel Cohen-Bendit, who has gone on to a political life in Germany.

The issues of immigration/assimilation seem to be different in Europe today than in earlier times when perhaps the Muslim religion was less dominant than the issue of worker's rights and housing policy, although housing policy, social welfare and education seem to be major factors for Muslims, not just in Paris but Berlin, Amsterdam and other major cities.

The picture universalizes the simplicity of "feeding the birds" (no matter the bird flu), but life is not simple at the ever-widening interface of cultures/nations. Europe is the vanguard for the increasing complexities that underly the needs/demands of immigration/immigrant communities and national(ist) priorities.

Republicans in the US Congress are considering changes to US policy that has allowed US-born children of immigrants to automatically have US citizenship. Meanwhile agribusiness in Arizona and California are coping with the reality that workers may not be in abundant supply to harvest the crops later this month. Maybe we will have "revolts" in Phoenix and Los Angeles.

It will be a mix of border vigilantes, agribusinessmen and immigrants. A hot combination indeed.

Are you aware of Sarkozy's early comment at the beginning of the riots, he called them racaille (scum). Sounds politically insensitive or an evocative (right wing or racist?) invitation to 'bring it on'. What disaffected young person would not take this response negatively, at the very least vicariously enjoy, encourage or perhaps even support those committed to acting out violently?

You must remember that pigeons are bred for food in the Middle East. It is popularly believed that the dark breast meat is very good in the winter months, and the new birds hatched in the spring are now ready to eat - just like ducks in more northern zones.

Happy coincidence of Eid feasts this year.

jt, I did hear that; that was part of his "law and order" routine to appeal to the right wing voters, but it seems to have provoked more violence (not surprisingly, as you pointed out). Some of the residents of these neighborhoods are saying that this unrest isn't going to stop until he's gone. I'm not all that familiar with the situation in France, but I already disliked him because he came out so strongly for banning the hijab in schools...

It seems that he would be the choice of the Bush administration to be the next French president. And some of the neocons have recently been turning their attention to Europe, saying that they have to get tougher and build up their militaries, etc. So there are a lot of interesting factors here.

Also, I mentioned before to MonsieurGonzo that I assumed these children of immigrants were mostly citizens, but I did read somewhere later that even if the parents came from former French colonies and became citizens, their children born in France didn't automatically get citizenship.

Some of the most depressing public housing I've ever seen is in France. I visited the city of Nantes, which is, I believe the fifth largest city. I happened to ride near a public housing project in the city that was teeming with African Muslims. The architecture of these projects can only be referred to as NeoFascist: big concrete blocks 10 or so stories high. France's other big problem of course is its lackluster economy which the immigrants don't get much of a chance to operate in outside of menial labor liking collecting money in the bathrooms for keeping them clean. The French are as racist as any of us, and we are as racist as the French.

so many birds! one bird for every Iraqi soul liberated to heaven by the Anglo-American occupation?

Burn, Baby, Burn

the insurgents in France, young Muslim males (now we become aware that they are, in the main 2nd and 3rd-generation born -in- France peoples) yeah: Where The Hell Do You THINK I'm comin' From, Bitch?

Being called "immigrants" pisses them off, for one thing (they were born in France; French, thus) an' being called "hyphenated-French" as in Latin-American, Asian-American, Afro-American, yadda yadda...

...yeah, that also pisses them off, an' that's part of the problem, man. They're NOT FRENCH ~ regardless of show me your papers, Boy and all that rot.

and yeah, the French-French are very ethno-racist. The French have been selling their precious culture for a living ever since everything went to hell here and was, for all intents and purposes frozen in beautiful stone after WWI.

otoh, Paris is like a big, Black Hole : sucking in culture and all else not tied down, from the sublime to the ridiculous ~ from all over everywhere; where it disappears yet re-appears again in a zillion little shops and cash-only back-rooms... all this stuff keeps getting packed more and more densely...

...some day it's gonna blow !

Good point about the "immigrants" label...

A while ago, I saw a report of some study done where they sent out identical resumes, but put Arab/Muslim names (and addresses from the places we're hearing about now, I guess) on some and typical French names on others. There was a HUGE difference in the way the employers reacted.

But from what I gather, France tries to pretend like everyone's the same, so they don't officially recognize religious and racial differences, which means that they don't acknowledge the problems. (And the government argues that if girls don't wear hijab, the they won't be discriminated against for being Muslim - as if no one will notice that they're of Arab origin and have Arab names!)

According to the BBC (French Muslims face job discrimination:), there are "no black or Arab TV presenters, and all MPs from mainland France are white".

But now, officials are promising to do something about the deprivation in these areas. People appealing for calm are saying that there are problems, but the rioting isn't the way to bring attention to them, and that seems reasonable. But it seems that maybe this WAS the only way to get something done... time will tell, I guess.

Tear-gassing people while they are praying or calling them names always brings out the best in them.

France does seem to be having a Rodney King Verdict Moment. What I can't get over is how completely ineffectual the government is. Since fotonique posted the "13 Cars Torched" headlines only two days ago, the number of torched cars has escalated to a whopping 764, with no sign of slowing, despite the feeble threats of arrests, judgment, and punishment. The rioters have nothing to lose (being judged, punished, and imprisoned already) except their lives, and rioting seems to be working quite successfully. I don't see this as coming to a resolution anytime soon, and it certainly won't have a happy ending. Watching this amazing event unfold must be what it was like for the rest of the world to watch us deal with the aftermath of Katrina.

Regarding France's inability to quell the riots thus far, the New York Times has chosen an interesting photo of Jacques Chirac* to accompany their article, First Death Is Reported in Paris Riots as Arson Increases.

*The caption for the NYT's image popup reads:

French President Jacques Chirac awaits the arrival of Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga for a meeting at the Paris Elysee Palace.

That is a interesting picture of Jacques Chirac. He has no intention of venturing out of his secure location, does he?

....the young immigrant-descended rioters began to show signs of organising via mobile phone and internet sites. Their target is interior minister Nicholas Sarkozy, whose hard-line rhetoric has become the focus for much of the anger that has set the socially ignored suburbs alight each night.
" Now we are the ones chasing you with a hose," declared one weblog referring to Sarkozy's promise to cleans the streets of scum. With insurance companies estimating the damage at more than 4.6 million pounds so far, France braced itself for another night of destruction.

from: Rioters Offer a Price for Calm

One good way to water down this situation deal with Sarkozy in one form or another.

The street version of 'Shock and Awe' with low tech communication systems and a few boxes of matches. Here we have a much cheaper and longer running series of pyro-techniques. Wonder what Rumsfeld thinks of this, compared to the opening night fireworks in Baghdad.

JTFBC said:

The street version of 'Shock and Awe' with low tech communication systems and a few boxes of matches...Wonder what Rumsfeld thinks of this...

Cell phones and weblogs are not so low tech, but this situation gives a whole new meaning to the term flash mob.

The United States is probably all eyes and ears regarding how the French ultimately settle things down. One point of interest—should the riots continue—might be French efforts to monitor their Internet and telephone networks for rioters' calls to action.

Would Madame care for some nicely-aged Frenchelon with her flambé?

My concept and understanding of high tech are 1.5 million dollar cruise missiles x 40 fired with pin point accuracy from distant ships and subs, the curtain raiser on Baghdad. This followed by $45 million dollar F 117 stealth fighters unloading 2 x 2000 lb pound bombs each was the encore to that opening night of barbarism, brutality and madness. The military experts who compared the arsenals of the U.S. and Iraq put the difference in capabilities at 250-1.!!! When a .50 bullet brings down a 27 million dollar Blackhawk Coba killing machine I call that a low tech response.
The French will have no more success with high tech monitoring than the US military are having in Iraq.
When all is said and done we will either be forced to abandon the killing fields or resolve our desires for unfettered privilege and power in some other manner, or suffer greater humiliation as a consequence of unparalleled ignorance, arrogrance and hubris. Iraq has a population of about 25 million, with over 100,000 killed, if the US with a population of 300 million suffered the same proportion what do you think the response to the deaths of 1,600,000 Americans would be. Consider that in all theatres of WW II there were 292,131 U.S combatants and 6,000 U.S civilians killed for a total of 298,131.
Would you care, fotonique for a donut with your coffee, while you ponder these stats and technologies, will you have cream and sugar or do you like your coffee black?

I'm blaming it on the caffeine, but the 1,600,000 number should read 1,200,000. Thank heavens my elementary mathematics teacher passed away a number of years ago.

JTFBC said:

The French will have no more success with high tech monitoring than the US military are having in Iraq.

Maybe not. High-tech communication networks are much more developed in Europe than in Iraq, making them easier to monitor. The drawbacks would be their increased complexity (the bigger the net, the more holes you have) and a greater number of tech-savvy users.

Nevertheless, the French are making the attempt. Excerpts from today's Reuters article, French youths turn to Web, cellphones to plan riots:

Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin has diverted resources to monitoring blogs -- short for Web logs -- in an effort to anticipate the movements of the protesters, who have set fire to thousands of cars since the unrest began on October 27.

...tracking rioters' blogs is a big task for the security services, already stretched by the violence on the ground.

"This is a new dimension to take into consideration," said Internet security expert Solange Ghernaouti-Helie.

"To do the tracking on the Internet to identify the people involved is without doubt possible. But it requires considerable surveillance and analysis resources," she said.

Don't be surprised if U.S. intelligence services are helping them out. Many ISP attorneys could be pretty busy right now, too.

Free access to information is a two-edged sword, and it can also be swung by tech-savvy politicos:

The political establishment is also harnessing technology to amass and organize support.

The ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) has tapped into intense Web traffic searching for information on the unrest to try to rally support for the tough line taken against rioters by Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, the party's president.

Since the weekend, searches on Google for words such as "riots" or "burned cars" in French have thrown up a link to a UMP site where readers are invited to put their names to a petition supporting Sarkozy's policy of "firmness."

Here are the Google France search results for "émeutes" (riots): note the paid UMP link at the top, which goes to their page featuring a Nicolas Sarkozy banner.

It may be just another tactic in the Information Wars, but it also raises some interesting questions about Google's advertising policies.

When I learned that computers between various US intelligence agencies can't communicate with one another...
When I consider GIGO, (old acronym) garbage in garbage out, tends to overwhelm human capacity for time sensitive or desired material...
When I watch young hackers entering the most sensitive of critical information centers...
When google says it will take 300 years to collect all data (whatever that means)...
When the bank teller can't help "because the computer is down"...
When technology is thought of as almost superior to having 'boots on the ground' or tracking rioters' when surveillance equipment is considered to be = to 100, 1000, 10,000 or perhaps 100,000 in following or predicting potential action...
When I see that technology cannot over come human turf wars...
When its potential is elevated to religious and cosmic proportions has Silicon Valley become the new Vatican...
I am a neophyte in this info world so I appreciated fotonique your tours and questions. Without being paranoid I think more information has already been collected on us than we might imagine, and this is not a comforting thought.
Naturally The Empire aka USA will work with the French, the google advertising question is intriguing.
It is my belief however that no matter how powerful the corporate, military or governmental institution information collecting systems are they cannot in the long run deliver the security they desire. The street youth in Paris if they are determined will develop ingenious ways to short circuit the authorities and if necessary abandon tech toys for they have nothing but time on their hands and on their side.
Check out the song: Follow the drinking gourd (Google)see I don't even know how to get you there. It demonstrates that what one person hears and enjoys(Owner)is not what is heard and directed to another person (slave). This little song has provided a template and unexpected insights for me into the nature of a number of things and events, including the riots in France...low tech vs high tech.

Bin Laden supposedly has abandoned any form of communication except human messengers, and all of their high-tech tools can't find him.

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