This is Paris

On the cluelessness of Fox News and its treatment of the terrorist attacks in the french capital.

A view of Paris from the Parc de Belleville in the 20th Arrondissement. © Lucas Janin / http://www.lucasjanin.com

These past few months in Paris have been a roller-coaster ride of terror and hope, of doubt and certainty, of anger and love. The events that unfolded from a heinous crime in a newspaper’s meeting room to the formidable popular momentum that brought all of France to its feet on a solemn January Sunday left us, Parisians, Frenchmen and -women, citizens of the world, with a bittersweet aftertaste. We learned that we could all stand united and strong against hate, horror and extremism, but it cost us dearly.

In the wake of the attacks and the democratic and peaceful impulse it gave the people of France, we, as a nation, were immensely moved by the rest of the world’s response to the horror that was unraveling in the streets of Paris. There were words and statements from political figures, but mostly, and more importantly, from news groups and newspapers, TV stations, journalists from around the globe. Forgotten were the French-bashing columns, gone the harsh headlines and sneering comments about our country. The whole news community was at our side, suffusing us with its unwavering support and cries for liberty. I don’t think I’m wrong when I say that the people of France will forever be grateful for that immediate and resolute response.

Parisians flood the streets between Rue Du Faubourg Saint-Martin and Place de la République on the Unity March following the terror attacks. 11 January 2015

Our answer to this tragedy, the way we as a country decided to cope with it, was with unity and pride. In a time that could have seen all the values we, as a nation, cherish in our hearts, Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité became even more defining of our society than it was 6 days before. I have no idea if that feeling of togetherness will endure and for how long, but for now, we are holding on dearly to it. We want to cope with what we’re living through with dignity and truthfulness, and more importantly, without stigmatizing any of our communities. That is, to say, exactly the contrary of what Fox News Networks is doing in the following “news” segment :

http://video.foxnews.com/v/3981380177001

I have lived in Paris for most of my adult life. Whenever someone asks me where I’m from (my name doesn’t sound “français d’origine”), I’m always tempted to answer “Paris”, because this city is as much part of my identity as are my nationality (French), my origins (Tunisian) and my religion (Muslim). Over the years I have moved 8 times within the limits of Paris. Hopping from arrondissement (the 20 numbered districts of Paris) to arrondissement, I studied in the 16th, and lived in the 15th, 6th, 9th, 17th, 18th, 10th and, most recently, settled down in the 20th, a few blocks away from Porte de Vincennes and Porte de Montreuil. As with any big city, Paris has its difficult neighborhoods, those few streets where one would feel uneasy walking alone in the middle of the night. Those kind of streets can be found in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dallas, London, Roma, Milan, Barcelona, or any medium-sized city in the world. Some of these blocks are called ZUS — Sensitive Urban Zones, so-called because they’re part of a nationwide plan of prioritized security, education and urban amelioration efforts. Not because, as a few journalists and editors on Fox News seem to think, the “government has abandoned them”.

Apart from the usual delinquency found in any poor part of any urban center on the planet, the tableau portrayed by Fox News and “Warzone expert” Nolan Peterson, and the deceiving name the network has coined for the occasion (“No-Go Zones”) seems like a complete fabrication of what’s really going on there.

Let’s take a look at this map, aired numerous times on Fox News in the past few days:

Those red circled parts of the city contain the districts of Porte Saint-Denis, Porte Saint-Martin, Belleville, Ménilmontant and La Goutte d’Or, among others. Many of those are supposed to be (and I’m quoting) “governed by Islamic Sharia law”, and “off-limits to non-Muslims”.

I lived and worked in all of those districts. All of them.

A terrasse at Le Chateau d’Eau, a lively neighborhood café on the corner of Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis and Rue du Chateau d’Eau. © http://www.jeanmiaille.fr/

Take Porte Saint-Denis and the Rue Du Faubourg Saint-Denis that leads to it. This street and its surroundings are home to much of Paris’s new culinary scene. There you’ll find Richer, L’Office and 52 Faubourg, the three restaurants run by Charles Compagnon’s team, Vivant and Vivant Cave formerly of Pierre Jancou fame. You can find all these eateries’ adresses in any up do date guide to Paris. Lonely Planet doesn’t usually send its reader to lawless islamist-ridden parts of the world, but hey, maybe Fox News knows better. A block away, on the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Martin, sits the headquarters of BETC, one of the world’s leading ad agencies. In the vicinity, you can also find Turkish soup parlors, Kebab spots, Indian restaurants and eco-friendly coffee shops not unlike the ones you’d find on every street of Williamsburg or Brooklyn: it’s one of the most cosmopolitan parts of Paris. On any day or evening of the week, thousands of Parisians walk these streets, dine at these restaurants, drink at the incredible array of bars and shop at the dozens of stores in the area, including Julhes, one of the city’s most ancient wine sellers. Doesn’t sound much like downtown Mosul, does it?

A view of the BETC roof during an event at the agency, rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis.

Next are Belleville and Ménilmontant. Historical home of the Pied-Noir population of Paris (French citizens from colonial North Africa who came back to the “motherland” after those nations won back their independence) it is now widely known as Paris’ second Chinatown (the first one being in the 13th Arrondissement).

A view of the terrace of Aux Folies, Rue de Belleville. © Paris En Scène

There you’ll find Jewish and Muslim shops, butchers, grocery stores as well as Café Chérie, Aux Folies, La Bellevilloise and La Maroquinerie, which are among Paris’ most famous bars and concert venues. There, you’ll also find my favorite place to eat a “Casse-Croûte Tunisien”, Chez René et Gabin, a kosher restaurant founded in 1988. A few meters farther up, lies Le Baratin, Paris’s top-chef’s favorite place to eat when they’re off-duty and Le Chapeau Melon, providers of hearty and fine French cuisine, where the Poitrine de Cochon (Pork Belly) is fantastic. Philippe Pinoteau, co-owner of Le Baratin, with his wife Raquel Carena, spearheaded the Vins Naturels movement and helped put organic wine on the map. Once again, hardly a place one would say is “under Sharia law”.

A concert at La Friche En Cloque in La Goutte d’Or. © Eve Dufaud

Farther to the northwest of those two previous supposedly “No-Go Zones”, you’ll find Barbes-Rochechouart and La Goutte d’Or, where the Paris City Hall recently helped reopen and rehabilitate one of the city’s oldest and most prestigious movie theatres, Le Louxor. This week, it is showing J.C. Chandor’s A Most Violent Year, Mike Leigh’s Mr Turner and, ironically, Abderrahmane Sissako’s Timbuktu, a deeply moving drama depicting and condemning the exactions of jihadist terrorists and fighters in Mali. A few meters away, on the other side of the elevated Métro, is the Centre Musical Fleury Barbara, a cultural center that hosts concerts and photographs exhibitions. La Goutte d’Or is also the home of La Friche En Cloque, a community center that hosts concerts, and other cultural events. A few years ago Martin Parr spent a few months in residency in the area and produced “Goutte D’or” a series of pictures showing all the communities of the neighbourhood (Muslims, Christians, Hindus) living together in peace. A few of my friends, from every social, racial and religious background, live there with their families. Artists, bankers, ad agency copywriters that are perfectly happy with the cosmopolitan aspect of their neighborhood.

Parisians strolling about Menilmontant.

Those are only a few examples of the hundreds of ways the report Fox News and its “experts” have been giving on the situation has been false and misleading. And they’re not restricted to these few neighborhoods. All around the city, those “ghettos” Nolan Peterson quickly generalizes into lawless slums, those towns of Pantin, Montreuil, Montrouge, Les Lilas, Ivry, Saint-Ouen, Clichy, Asnières and others, are nothing like the depiction made of them in these alarming and fear-mongering segments. Of course, parts of those areas face high unemployment, violence and crime, and yes, those areas are inhabited by a large number of the Muslim population of Paris and its region. Of course this situation is what made easy for Islamist radicals to recruit and brainwash the Kouachi Brothers and Amedy Coulibaly into committing these atrocities. But saying these parts are abandoned to the laws of Sharia and the Islamists is as stupid and ignorant as saying that half of Baltimore has been abandoned to drug dealers and gang members.

I can’t begin to understand how someone who’s supposed to be a journalist and to have actually been here, in Paris, could agree to draw such a dishonest portrait of the city and its inhabitants. “Lawless islamist zones in the heart of Paris” sure sounds great for ratings and the opportunity to advance one’s career by appearing on a national cable news network, but how about a little bit of truth, instead of a lot of sensationalism? But then again, this has been Fox News’ trademark for years, and to cast a deceitful light on an important and serious event might not sound like much to the network. Not only is the view it gives on my city completely inaccurate, but the way it implicitly lumps together extremists with the rest of the Muslim population (and the racist aftertaste this leaves) is what’s really the problem. The consequences of these few minutes of air on our society, here, on the other side of the Atlantic, might be minimal (WE know where we stand), but I felt it was important to present the facts to anyone who might turn to Fox to make their opinion about the situation in France (even though, I fear, these few words will have a hard time reaching them).

The Syndicat National du Journalisme, the highest authority for self-regulation of the news industry in France, states, as the third rule of its Ethics Charter, that a journalist should always “Hold a critical mind, truthfulness, exactitude, integrity, equity, and fairness as the pillars of journalistic work.” Fox News and Nolan Peterson, with these segments, betrayed every single one of those words.

I know neither of them are held accountable by this statement, but we are.

Truthfulness, exactitude, integrity, equity and fairness are the only things we need in the march towards a better tomorrow that we began, as a country, that Sunday afternoon.

P.S. : All the places I’m citing are linked to their respective websites, if you wanted to check on the absence of ISIS seals of approval on them.