The foreign press is having a field day at our expense, said Paris’ Les Echos in an editorial. Just about every major foreign newspaper is treating the disturbances in the Paris suburbs, where the teenage children of immigrants have been burning cars, as “front-page news.” Long articles declaim pedantically that the “French model” of integration is an utter failure. Many of them actually argue in all seriousness that the country is headed for civil war. “France could do without this sort of publicity.”
There’s bound to be a certain amount of schadenfreude, said Yves Thréard in Paris’ Le Figaro. “It’s just too good an opportunity to mock this country, which claims to have invented human rights and is often all too quick to lecture the rest of the world.” Those who felt the sting of our “arrogance” are now taking their revenge. The Americans, in particular, didn’t appreciate the many unflattering comments on their society in the French press during the run-up to the Iraq war and, more recently, in the aftermath of Katrina. But it’s not just the U.S. press that’s been reacting hysterically. Across Europe and even in the Middle East, editorials proclaim “Paris is burning.”
Earth to France, said Martina Meister in Germany’s Frankfurter Rundschau. Your capital is, in fact, burning. French papers “seem more shocked at the foreign coverage of the riots than they are at the riots themselves.” For the entire first week of unrest, French newspapers treated the story as simply a new venue for the political rivalry between Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy and Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin. Commentators focused all their efforts on analyzing which man’s comments on the crisis were going over better with the public. It was “as if the intraparty quarrel over who should succeed Chirac were really more significant than the sociopolitical catastrophe, the material and moral misery, that has found symbolic expression in flaming cars.”
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We have to “open our eyes,” said Jacques Guyon in the Cognac Charente Libre. We’ve been so busy “criticizing the international press” for its overreaction that we failed to notice our own underreaction. Many in France continue to speak in euphemism, to refer to the chaos that descends nightly on hundreds of towns as “incidents.” This is the same obtuseness that let us believe “that repeating ‘liberty, equality, fraternity’ often enough would integrate our immigrants.” Instead, this large group of French citizens feels alienated from the state. For that, “all citizens must feel themselves to be concerned—and responsible.”
Mlada Fronta Dnes
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