A Sunday Long Read

Posted: November 15, 2015 by watsonthethird in Current Events, Terrorism
Tags: , , ,

In the wake of the tragedy in Paris, this long article, “The Other France,” by George Packer (from August) in The New Yorker is worth a read. The issue of Islamist extremism is complex, and despite the rhetoric of conservative thought leaders and Republican presidential candidates, it will sadly not be easily or quickly solved. (Another article by David Ignatius at The Atlantic traces the history of ISIS and is worth a read as well.)

The opening paragraphs of Packer’s article:

Fouad Ben Ahmed never paid much attention to Charlie Hebdo. He found the satirical magazine to be vulgar and not funny, and to him it seemed fixated on Islam, but he didn’t think that its contributors did real harm. One of its cartoonists, Stéphane Charbonnier, also drew for Le Petit Quotidien, a children’s paper to which Ben Ahmed subscribed for his two kids. On January 7th, upon hearing that two French brothers with Algerian names, Saïd and Chérif Kouachi, had executed twelve people at the Charlie Hebdo offices—including Charbonnier—in revenge for covers caricaturing Muhammad, Ben Ahmed wrote on Facebook, “My French heart bleeds, my Muslim soul weeps. Nothing, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING, can justify these barbaric acts. Don’t talk to me about media or politicians who would play such-and-such a game, because there’s no excuse for barbarism. #JeSuisCharlie.”

That night, Ben Ahmed left his house, in the suburbs outside Paris, and went into the city to join tens of thousands of people at a vigil. He is of Algerian and Tunisian descent, with dark skin, and a few white extremists spat threats at him, but Ben Ahmed ignored them—France was his country, too. On January 11th, he joined the one and a half million citizens who marched in unity from the Place de la République.

Ben Ahmed’s Facebook page became a forum for others, mostly French Muslims, to discuss the attacks. Many expressed simple grief and outrage; a few aired conspiracy theories, suggesting a plot to stigmatize Muslims. “Let the investigators shed light on this massacre,” Ben Ahmed advised. One woman wrote, “I fear for the Muslims of France. The narrow-minded or frightened are going to dig in their heels and make an amalgame”—conflate terrorists with all Muslims. Ben Ahmed agreed: “Our country is going to be more divided.” He defended his use of #JeSuisCharlie, arguing that critiques of Charlie’s content, however legitimate before the attack, had no place afterward. “If we have a debate on the editorial line, it’s like saying, ‘Yes—but,’ ” he later told me. “In these conditions, that is unthinkable.”

Ben Ahmed, who is thirty-nine, works as a liaison between residents and the local government in Bondy—a suburb, northeast of Paris, in an area called Department 93. For decades a bastion of the old working class and the Communist Party, the 93 is now known for its residents of Arab and African origin. To many Parisians, the 93 signifies decayed housing projects, crime, unemployment, and Muslims. France has all kinds of suburbs, but the word for them, banlieues, has become pejorative, meaning slums dominated by immigrants. Inside the banlieues are the cités: colossal concrete housing projects built during the postwar decades, in the Brutalist style of Le Corbusier. Conceived as utopias for workers, they have become concentrations of poverty and social isolation. The cités and their occupants are the subject of anxious and angry discussion in France. Two recent books by the eminent political scientist Gilles Kepel, “Banlieue de la République” and “Quatre-vingt-treize” (“Ninety-three”), are studies in industrial decline and growing segregation by group identity. There’s a French pejorative for that, too: communautarisme.

After the Charlie massacre—and after a third terrorist, Amedy Coulibaly, gunned down a black policewoman outside a Jewish school and four Jews at a kosher supermarket—there was a widespread feeling, in France and elsewhere, that the killings were somehow related to the banlieues. But an exact connection is not easy to establish. Although these alienated communities are increasingly prone to anti-Semitism, the profiles of French jihadists don’t track closely with class; many have come from bourgeois families. The sense of exclusion in the banlieues is an acute problem that the republic has neglected for decades, but more jobs and better housing won’t put an end to French jihadism.

Ben Ahmed has lived in the 93 his entire life. A few years ago, he and his wife, Carolina, and their two children moved into a small house near Charles de Gaulle Airport. They wanted to be near a private school that the children attend, because most public schools in the 93 are overcrowded and chaotic, and staffed by younger, less qualified teachers. Ben Ahmed spent his teens in one of the toughest suburbs, Bobigny, in a notorious cité called l’Abreuvoir. During his twenties and early thirties, Ben Ahmed was employed by the Bobigny government as a community organizer, working with troubled youth—some of them his friends and neighbors, many just out of prison or headed there. His authority on life in the cités exceeds that of any scholar.

After the attacks, Ben Ahmed wrote an open letter to President François Hollande titled “All Partly Responsible, but Not Guilty.” He identified himself as a banlieue resident who had often “seen death a few metres from me.” He wrote about the problems of joblessness, discrimination, and collective withdrawal from society. He recalled that, in October, 2001, a soccer game in Paris between France and Algeria—the first such match since Algerian independence, in 1962—had to be called off when thousands of French youths of North African origin booed the “Marseillaise” and invaded the field, some chanting, “Bin Laden, bin Laden!” The French public responded with righteous revulsion. “The problem was before our eyes,” Ben Ahmed wrote. “But instead of asking good questions, we chose stigmatization, refusal of the other.” He went on, “The split was born on that day, the feeling of rejection expressed by the political class, when we could have asked other questions: What’s wrong? What’s the problem?”

  1. can anyone confirm for me what that bitch of a woman quoted was actually satire. It said it in the quote. GOd she is a terrible terrible person.

  2. Easily confused- she posted about a satire and tried to make it out as fact. I do not care anymore. I am a much happier person than her with a real family, friends and activities which do not involve blog posting.

    • Jake, I would venture to say that almost everyone is a happier person than her. It’s good to hear from you from time to time. Now back to the real family, friends and activities, eh? 🙂

    • tiredoflibbs says:

      No she posted satire. It is plain as the nose on your face. Obviously, English is not your first language. If you believe that she tried to pass it off as fact, then you’ll believe anything obame says….. Oh wait….. You do.

  3. they are so pathetic over there. I asked them a simple questions- what would you do about mass shootings and like most republican idiots they have no solution to anything. That is honestly why the republicans are going to get killed this year in the election, they have no ideas except get rid of Obama care and stop planned parenthood and cut taxes. Hopefully Hillary comes out strong and proposes something on gun control. The candidate that has a chance to win- i will give 10k to whoever attacks the NRA

  4. Paul Ryan: “You have to also remember, there are law-abiding citizens whose rights we don’t want to trample upon. People are saying, you know this no-fly list, don’t let a person who’s on a no-fly list get a gun. Well, there are people who are arbitrarily place on this things. Sometimes people are put on there by mistake. And we would deprive them of their Constitutionally-protected due process rights. So we have to make sure that we’re not violating a person’s civil liberties or their rights, while we make sure that we prosecute and enforce the laws.”

    Too bad Republicans don’t share the same concern for potentially trampling people’s Constitutionally-protected voting rights.

  5. rustybrown2014 says:

    Boy, that Stuart sure suffers fools more sanguinely than I do. I’m not sure if that’s a blessing or a curse, but you have to give him points for civility, patience, and graciousness–in other words, he’ll be banned from that blog any time now!

    Also, I’m devastated that my posts are being deleted. To make matters worse, I’m being mocked by that poster boy for maturity, Tired, whom I deeply resect. I simply don’t know how I’ll live with myself after his heartless taunting. Prey for me.

    • rustybrown2014 says:

      Whoops! Should be “respect”. Funny Freudian slip!

    • My favorite was the other day when Amazona challenged Stuart to answer a bunch of questions she posed. Stuart patiently answered them all, then posed a set of questions for Amazona to answer. We’re still waiting. So typical.

      • rustybrown2014 says:

        But she’s answered those questions many, many times before and provided copious links that have debunked all of our tired old talking points already, don’t you remember? Yeah, neither does anybody else.

    • And don’t you just love her reliance on anecdotal evidence. Either she blithely states statistics that are flat out wrong, or she brings up some anecdote to “prove” her point. She just spouted a classic:

      When I lived in Wyoming I was interested in finding different ways to generate revenue, and I had read a lot about goats eating noxious weeds, so one year during the National Western Stock Show I made a point of attending during the days goats were being shown. I talked to a lot of exhibitors about the economics of raising meat goats, and when one exhibitor told me goat sales went up sharply at the beginning of September a couple of other exhibitors chimed in and said yes, that is when they would sell the most goats. The reason was the large number of Muslims getting ready to celebrate 9/11. Whether this is true or not, some of the top goat breeders in the Western United States (not a lot of people haul livestock to the Mile High City in January) believe it to be true, based on their own experiences.

      • rustybrown2014 says:

        Yep. Don’t know if you saw my clarification of my post to her (the one they all found so “funny”) before it was deleted, but here it is for posterity. Of course it exposes the lunacy of her thinking and they don’t have an answer to it, so they make it disappear. Just another day at the office for them. To Ama:

        “You’re completely missing my point: There SHOULD be police reports, footage, written articles and the like documenting celebrations in the US, but there aren’t. For clarity I should have said “the LACK OF data from that time–police reports, written accounts, video footage, etc.”

        One can’t prove a negative. As someone who purports to be logical, you should know this. You’re the one making the claim of fact; you should be able to back it up with evidence. So why do you think there’s this glaring lack of evidence when we should expect abundant sources documenting such a startling occurrence? As for the qualifier “widespread”, that’s exactly what we’re talking about, not a few random knuckleheads who may have celebrated 911. And yes, with the lack of ANY corroborating evidence where we should expect an abundance, I do indeed dismiss random anecdotal evidence just as any logical person should. By your standards of anecdotal accounts, we should all believe in alien abduction; I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts I can find you more personal accounts about that than people who claim to have seen large celebrations of 911 on US soil.

        Which leads us to the tinfoil hat quip. That’s an “attack”? Really? You and Cluster have said things equally derogatory in these last few threads alone. Same old story Ama, you dish it out all day long then whine like hell when you get a smattering of the same.”

  6. I just found the irony that they would hold their nose and vote for Trump the most ironic. you have a real life fascist(nazi) in the republican party that is freakin crazy. Of course she would hold her nose and vote for Trump. This is one of the worst human beens around and the closest thing we have ever come to Hitler. I never compared Bush to Hitler or anyone but Trump is scary. They have no backbone. The gun issue is ridiculous. The republicans are very good at doing nothing and praying. I wish there was a real gun debate in this country and not some lunatics from NRA saying it is a tool

  7. lol. According to Cluster, “Cruz is so flippin smart that often he talks above his audience.”

    See? He’s so smart that no one even knows how smart he is! We can’t appreciate his smartness because we are not in his class. (Evidently Cluster _does_ realize his smartness because Cluster is special.)

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