Facing the music

Quite inadvertently, I stumbled onto something that seriously challenged my stereotypes.

I'm still amazed, and I'll try to explain.

According to the New York Times (typical of the media diet Americans have been fed) Nicolas Sarkozy is hated by Muslim youth. So much so that not only did none of them vote for him, but they want to kill him:

"If I could get my hands on Sarkozy, I'd kill him." I had asked Mamadou, a wiry young man wearing gray camouflage pants and a tank top, what he thought of France's former minister of the interior, who is also the right's standard-bearer in this spring's presidential elections. "I'd kill him," he continued and then paused as if savoring the thought. "Then I'd go to prison. And when I got out, I'd be a hero."

We were in Les Bosquets, one of the impoverished housing projects that are scattered across the banlieues, the heavily immigrant working-class suburbs that surround Paris. I asked Mamadou's friend Ahmad if he felt the same way. He said he would not go that far. "I wouldn't kill him, no," he said. "But I hate him. We all hate him."

The Times goes on at length, and nothing about it would have in any way surprised me, nor would it have seemed biased.

Until tonight, when I learned about something that hasn't been being reported: Sarkozy did quite well with the very people who are supposed to hate him:

Although one would be led to believe the opposite from the usual coverage in the media, the support enjoyed by Sarkozy in the banlieues and other troubled urban areas is in fact hardly surprising. One of the most remarkable facts about the 2005 riots, after all, was that the rioters were principally laying waste to their own neighborhoods. The burning cars that became the most enduring symbol of the riots were the cars of their neighbors. Moreover, the 2005 riots and the periodic outbursts of rioting in the banlieues since - including after Sunday's election - represent only the most spectacular aspect of the violence by which the banlieues are wracked. Having evolved, as a result of decades of governmental neglect, into areas largely beyond the reach of the law, the banlieues suffer from endemic criminality - including organized criminality - and gang warfare.

It was clearly this criminal element that Sarkozy had in mind when in June 2005 he famously vowed to "clean up" a particularly violent neighborhood following the fatal shooting in plain daylight of 11-year-old Sidi-Ahmed Hammache. The outrage with which much of the French media greeted the then Interior Minister's remarks, however, quickly made this context - and the boy's shocking death - fade into obscurity. Indeed, the hostility toward Sarkozy theatrically displayed by certain young "banlieusards" appears to have been artificially enflamed by parts of the French media whose hatred - or perhaps fear - of Sarkozy is evidently more profound. The second major episode supposedly "opposing" Sarkozy and the banlieues is yet another case in point.

Thus, on October 25, 2005, French television channels would broadcast a brief clip of Sarkozy being pelted by projectiles in a housing project in the Parisian suburb of Argenteuil and defiantly stating that one would "get rid" of what he called the "racaille": a common French term that means roughly "rabble." Rieff mistakenly places this episode after the outbreak of the riots. In fact, and perhaps not coincidentally, it occurred just two days before. Sarkozy's use of the term "racaille" was widely presented as a provocation. But as the investigations of French media critic Daniel Schneidermann would subsequently show, he was in fact merely responding to a remark by a resident of the housing project who had herself used the term. This context, however, was absent from the news reports. Nonetheless, even from the brief edited clip that was broadcast, it is obvious that Sarkozy is indeed responding to someone else's statement. "You want us to get rid of these rabble for you?" he asks looking up and off camera, "Well, okay, we'll get rid of them for you." (Rieff, incidentally, notes that young persons from the banlieues sometimes refer to themselves by the "inverted" slang version of racaille "caille-ra". He insists, however, that this usage is "rare." A simple search for "caillera" on google.fr shows that he is wrong about this as well.)

(There's a lot more in both articles, of course; I'm just trying to summarize them.)

To explain why this is such a shock, I'll have to back up. I'll start with an admission of sorts. I have liked Mideastern music for years -- long before 9/11. I just like it, especially when I'm feeling depressed, because it's like a drug, and because I don't take drugs but need strong medicine, strong magic, whatever you want to call it, Mideastern music has often given me a fix. It's hard to explain, but it has a way of reminding me that no matter how bad I might think things are, I can't begin to imagine how much worse things could be, and are, and always have been, and yet how life goes on. There's a certain poignant, timeless despair, a dark futility, an ultimate meaninglessness -- accompanied by a sense of endlessly shifting sands. It cheers me up even when it doesn't.

For years, one of my favorite songs (as people who know me and have ridden in my car can confirm) has been "abdel kader." I didn't know it was a hit song, much less a hit in France (a country I don't especially like).

Anyway, one of the stars who performs it in every version of it that you'll find is "Faudel." I never paid attention to where any of these people come from, but as it happens, Faudel is French, and of Algerian descent.

Here's Faudel, performing the song:


OK, so I was pretty much browsing in YouTube for other stuff by Faudel, and I ran into a video titled "Nicolas Sarkozy et Faudel."

Huh? Sarkozy is the right-winger, right? The guy the New York Times tells us is so utterly hated by all young French Algerians.

Watch the video and look carefully for the "hatred":



Faudel loves him, and he campaigned for him.

This surprised me, as it contradicted everything I've read and (I'm now sorry to admit) assumed was true.

What gives here? Why does the Times want to stereotype Sarkozy as a right winger and a racist bigot? Perhaps to tailor the meme to American tastes? Because American tastes demand that all conservatives are bigots, and all bigots are conservative?

Why did it take my innocent YouTube search to reveal a dishonest political agenda?

It makes me wonder what else I'm missing.

(I should keep reminding myself what I should have learned in four years of blogging: never believe anything that hasn't been confirmed.)

UPDATE: Faudel is being denounced for the crime of supporting Sarkozy at a website run by angry Moroccans in Holland. Among other things, his sexuality is attacked:

That gay ass motherfucker off a Faudel is as dumb as Arabs can get.I hope the paparazzi will catch him someday, with his pants on the ground while Sarkozy is behind him.
Sound familiar? The message seems to be along the following lines:

  • 1. All conservatives are racists and bigots
  • 2. Members of minorities who support conservatives are not only traitors, they're gay.
  • White conservatives with minority friends are merely using them as pawns -- which is "tokenism" and (because they're supposed to hate the people they pretend to like) they're guilty of the additional crime of "hypocrisy."

    Those who agree with the above "principles" might consider a career with the Times, Media Matters, or the Hillary Clinton campaign.

    posted by Eric on 06.19.07 at 10:55 PM










    Comments

    You're putting the cart before the horse: the Times wants to be sure to reinforce the meme (largely created by them) that all right-wingers are racist bigots.

    Aaron Davies   ·  June 20, 2007 12:35 AM

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