Tuesday, November 08, 2005


As I am sure many of you know, France is dealing with the largest eruption of civil unrest in thirty-seven years. For several weeks now Parisians have been burning cars and hurling rocks and make-shift bombs at responding police officers. It appears as though the riots started in response to the accidental deaths of two teenagers who were hiding from police. But, now they seem to be the result of rising tensions over higher unemployment and lower wages in Parisian immigrant populations. Fortunately, the riots are not organized. There is no group leading the riots, and they are not based in any particular ideology.

That is why I am curious about how the media is reporting on these riots. I have been reading in several news sources, and each report has phrases such as: "The rioters are claiming no religous overtones." And most reporters are going so far as to tell us the ethnic background of every interviewee. In yesterday's article in the New York Times, we read that among the interviewees are a two French-Africans, one French-Arabian, an elderly Jewish-Romanian woman, and a Maltese boy.

I found both of these similiarities to be curious. Why would the media need to tell us what an event was not? Why do we need to know the ethnic background of all of the interviewees? The answer might be a bit self-abasing.

See without being so crass as to say it out loud, the media knows that unless we are told otherwise, we will assume that these riots are being carried out by Islamic terrorists calling a Jihad against Paris. The media has picked up on our prejudice and in their attempts to report news accurately, not only do they have to tell us what is going on, they have to tell us what is not going on.

When I first realized that the media was doing this, I thought that the media was being a bit racist in it's coverage of the story. After thinking further however, I realized that the media is telling us something about ourselves. When the American people hear, "bomb", "riot", or "violent protest", we immediately turn our minds toward Muslims. The media knows that we do this, and in response to the racist tendencies of the American mind, the media is dispelling a rumor before it takes off.

I understand that we are not entirely to blame for this. Fanatic Muslims have generated a prejudice within us through their increased terrorist actions. However, I had a bit of a wake up call this morning when I realized that the media was speaking directly to me. Until I was informed otherwise, I, myself, believed that the riots were being sparked by Islamic terrorists. I see myself a person pretty aware of my own prejudices, and I think I try not to indulge in them by any measure, but I was more than a little surpised to find myself confronting a prejudice of which I was unaware. I am glad that the media is working to dispell this prejudice, and for the first time in a long time, I applaud the media for taking what seems to be an ethical step forward by being proactive and working against a prejudice. Even if it is a prejudice which they may have had a strong hand in forming.

I just hope that the introspection is not limited to myself. I hope many of us realize that we have the same prejudice, and I hope we work to destroy it. If we continue to assume that every riot and bombing is carried out by Islamic terrorists, if we assume that the riots in France are about fanatic religion, and not about de facto racism in the French economy, we will fail to learn from the French rioters. Afterall, the American economy is just as unfavorable to immigrants and minorities as is the French economy. Hopefully, America will take a cue from the French rioters. Hopefully we will be a little more proactive about our economic divide than were Mr. Chirac and the rest of the French Government. What is true of ancient history is also true of recent history. If we fail to learn from it, we will be doomed to repeat it.


C. Wess Daniels said...

Thanks Josh - this was both insightful (I didn't know what was going on in France) and I appreciate the critique on the media (and our own interpretations).

Kevin Lewis said...

It is also amazing how long it took for our Media to cover the story. My brother was in Paris for two weeks when this all began, and he was wondering why no one in our family had called to see if he was alright. When I talked to him on Sunday, he asked if I had heard anything about the riots. Sadly, I had not. He was flabbergasted. Something as huge as these riots took about 10 days for the US media to begin coverage. I know a lot of responsibility falls on me for not being informed through better news channels, but it is always a bit disheartening to see how US centric our media can be.