The Washington Post and the New York Times give the impression that the attacks in France have nothing to do with jihadism, and everything to do with the excesses of secularism and the failures of integration.
Since Samuel Paty's assassination on October 16 in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, the most prestigious American dailies, the New York Times and the Washington Post, have been sharply criticized in France for the way they present the situation. The headline published by The New York Times immediately after the beheading of the middle school teacher - "French police shoot and kill man after deadly knife attack" - shocked many. It was then modified, but in the following days, several articles revealed a very oriented reading grid.
In the articles of these major dailies, Islamist terrorism in France was almost exclusively analyzed from the angle of a reaction to discrimination against Muslims, with an almost total impasse on the Islamist ideology which motivates these acts.
A week after the Conflans attack, the Washington Post headlined an analysis paper: “Instead of fighting systemic racism, France wants to 'reform Islam'”. Criticizing Emmanuel Macron's measures against “separatism”, the newspaper's correspondent in Paris writes that “instead of responding to the alienation of French Muslims, particularly in the ex-urban ghettos of France, the suburbs [...] , the government wants to influence the practice of a 1400 year old faith ”. He specifies that "experts generally agree" that this alienation is "the main reason why some Muslims are likely to fall into radicalism and violence".
Points of view ignored
However, all the experts are far from agreeing. For example, Hugo Micheron, author of the book Le jihadisme français, said in an interview with Le Monde that “the causes of jihadism cannot be reduced to the difficulties of the suburbs or to French secularism”. But this point of view is not represented in the pages of the major American dailies.
“If you think that some Muslims become violent only because of discrimination and exclusion, you no longer see Islamism as a political ideology with its transnational networks and its own history, an ideology which moreover kills more people. Muslims than non-Muslims, explains Bernard Haykel, professor in the Department of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University. It all becomes an irrelevant detail and it is then the state and French society that are seen as the problems. Jihadism then becomes almost a legitimate resistance. This is what the jihadists themselves say. ”
"The threat seems to come not from jihadism, but from those who react to this crime and who have offended Islam."
Hugo Micheron and Bernard Haykel, summarizing in a column the angle chosen by some American newspapers
With Hugo Micheron, Bernard Haykel wrote, on October 21, a column in Le Monde entitled "A puzzling American blindness in the face of the phenomenon of jihadism in France" in which they summarize the angle chosen by certain American newspapers: "La threat seems to come not from jihadism, but from those who react to this crime and who have offended Islam. ”
In the days that followed, many articles confirmed the criticism developed in this forum. In a New York Times article (translated into French), the problem of Islamist "radical factions" in France is only mentioned in passing and immediately nuanced by the idea that government policy will only make it worse extremism.
A stigmatization of Muslims?
In this text, the Muslim people interviewed almost all say that they feel targeted by the government's anti-separatist policy. One of them says that she is thinking of leaving France. The French state is presented as stigmatizing all Muslims under the pretext of the fight against Islamism.
"Even though there is increasing anti-Muslim hate speech, there is no hunting down of Muslims by the authorities."
Nasser Ramdane Ferradj, of the Collective of Progressive and Secular Muslims
The point of view of other French Muslims, who do not feel targeted, is not presented. For example, Muslim intellectuals have published a column in which they write that Emmanuel Macron's speech “does not criticize Islam. He criticizes Islamism, which is a distortion of Islam. ” Similarly, an activist like Nasser Ramdane Ferradj, of the Collective of Progressive and Secular Muslims (and former deputy mayor of Noisy-le-Sec), disputes the idea that Muslims are necessarily "collateral victims of the hunt for Islamists" .
"Even though there is increasing anti-Muslim hate speech, there is no hunting down of Muslims by the authorities," he said. We are bruised like any French and French. We are above all very aware that secularism has protected us from these fundamentalists, from these radical Islamists who would like to shape us into a rigorous image. " This is not to say that this view is dominant, but it is strange that it hardly ever appears in the progressive American press.
Likewise, ten days after Samuel Paty's assassination, the New York Times published an analysis on "the failure of French integration" with the following caption: "For generations, schools have assimilated the children of immigrants in French society by instilling the ideals of the nation. The beheading of a teacher has cast doubt on the effectiveness of this model. ”
Instead of evoking the Islamist networks which have been mobilized to designate a history-geography professor as guilty of blasphemy, as many French newspapers have done, the emphasis is above all on the way the school French did not succeed in preventing the radicalization of the Chechen terrorist.
"A deafening silence"
The former Inspector General of National Education Jean-Pierre Obin is quoted in the article for a general sentence on the mission of the French school, without specifying that he had just published a book entitled Comment on left the Islamism penetrates the school, which evokes the challenges of schools faced with the demands of certain students and parents, whether it is the refusal of the swimming pool for girls, or the challenges of courses on the Shoah or evolution. An ideological context which could nevertheless seem useful for understanding the attack in question.
In France, evoking this challenge of religious demands at school is no longer just the act of the right. Even a column signed, among others, by Clémentine Autain (who had demonstrated against Islamophobia with the CCIF) evokes the need for a "fight against radical Islamism, the pressures it exerts at school and elsewhere to restrict freedoms, especially those of women or LGBTI + people ”.
“If The New York Times covered a Communist movement, would it ignore the Communist ideology that underlies it, the history of the movement, its important ideologues? Of course not."
Bernard Haykel, Islamic State specialist
In the American press, the profile of anti-Semitic Islamist activist Abdelhakim Sefrioui, on file S, who helped the student's parent to campaign against Paty, is briefly described as "a man whom the French security services describe as an anti-Semitic activist." , a way of almost leaving doubt on the veracity of this label. In contrast, French daily newspaper articles give more details on a character who joined Dieudonné's campaign committee in 2007, alongside far-right activists, deniers and radical Islamists, information that allows us to give an idea of the ideology at work.
Reading these American dailies, one might get the impression that "Muslim NGOs" are targeted by the government just because they are Muslims. Indeed, there are several references to "Muslim associations that the government considers extremist" or "closure of Muslim charities". It is not specified that the main association targeted, dissolved on October 28, is BarakaCity, whose president, Idriss Sihamedi, file S, was recently indicted for the cyberbullying of two Muslim women who criticize him and had in August 2020 tweets close to the apology of terrorism (He wrote: “To die a martyr is the most beautiful thing in the life of a believer.”)
“If The New York Times covered a Communist movement, say the Red Brigades, would it ignore the Communist ideology that underlies it, the history of the movement, its important ideologues? Of course not, explains Bernard Haykel, who specializes in the Islamic State. But with jihadism, it's no. We don't talk about it. It's deafening silence. ”
The angle of victimization
The reading grid has not changed after the attack that killed three people in Nice, with a Tunisian terrorist who had just arrived in France. On October 30, the New York Times headlines in the print edition: "The defense of freedom of expression hardens in France after deadly attacks".
The emphasis is on secularism as a way to exclude Muslims and on a critique of the government's insistence on defending the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. However, according to a 2016 IFOP survey for the Institut Montaigne, "two-thirds of Muslims think that secularism makes it possible to freely live one's religion in France." If it is quite valid to make voices critical of the French model heard, the problem is that it is almost the only point of view that is mobilized (but this is not about articles from the "ideas" pages. or "opinions").
These newspapers operate a kind of victim inversion that prevents understanding of the phenomenon.
In their introduction to the book Inch'Allah, Islamization with an uncovered face, journalists Gérard Davet and Fabrice Lhomme speak of the difficulty of making heard a “reasonable voice, nuanced between the“ ultra-laïcardards ”and other Islamophobes for whom to wear a veil, to wear a long beard and not to eat pork comes back more or less to playing the game of fanaticized killers of Daesh, and, on the other hand, those often qualified as “Islamo-leftists” who paradoxically “essentialize” Muslims , presented as the new “damned of the earth”, by conferring on them the status of victim in principle. ”
Between these two poles, the progressive American press chooses the angle of victimization, perhaps due to the influence, on the left in the United States, of an identity approach to social phenomena, which automatically places “Muslims”. », Not white, in the category of the oppressed. But by accusing the "French model" just after these attacks and by almost ignoring radical Islamism, these newspapers operate a kind of victim inversion that prevents understanding of the phenomenon.