This week, as the 'auto-body-count' in France grew ever higher by night, anxiety in the press grew by day. In the U.S., headlines read “Paris is Burning” and commentary ranged from criticism of French authorities to warnings of a “clash of civilizations” that could at any moment sweep the globe. The Week’s Susan Caskie joins guest host Daljit Dhaliwal for a review of the coverage elsewhere in the world.
BOB GARFIELD: From WNYC in New York, this is NPR's On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: And I'm Daljit Dhaliwal, sitting in for Brooke Gladstone. For the past two weeks, the growing tally of burnt-out cars in France, like a war zone body count, has been repeated in the media like a mantra. The riots began in the Paris suburbs but then spread throughout France and initiated copycat attacks in Germany and Belgium. The anger is blamed on the deaths of two Parisian youths who died while being chased by police. Susan Caskie has been looking at the coverage from around the world for The Week magazine and she joins me now. Susan, welcome back to OTM.
SUSAN CASKIE: Thank you. It's nice to be here.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: Well, let's start with the coverage in France. How were French papers reacting to the violence at the beginning of the week, and how did the coverage actually evolve?
SUSAN CASKIE: There was very little commentary initially, it was all news coverage. And then when the commentary started to come out, it focused on the political ramifications of the riots. Le Figaro, Liberation and Le Monde were talking about the rivalry between the Prime Minister, Dominique de Villepin, and the Interior Minister, Nicolas Sarkozy. So it really seemed like they were treating it as just another kind of kind of theater on which this political rivalry could play out. One commentary in a German paper, in the Frankfurter Rundschau, took the French media to task. A commentary there said, "It is as if the intra-party quarrel over who should succeed Chirac were really more significant than the socio-political catastrophe, the material and moral misery that has found symbolic expression in flaming cars." And then we started seeing French commentary about international commentary, so still not so much French commentary about what was happening but about how it was negatively affecting France's image.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: So by the end of the week, was the French press tackling the problems?
SUSAN CASKIE: Yes. They seem now to have really awakened to the fact that this is an enormous crisis, that it reaches deeply into French society. There was a commentary in the Charente Libre, which is a newspaper out of Cognac, where the commentator Jacques Guyon said, "We've been blind. We must open our eyes." And then he went on to say, "We have believed that repeating, 'liberte, equality, fraternity' often enough would integrate our immigrants. But that is not the case."
DALJIT DHALIWAL: And what about other European countries, how did they cover it?
SUSAN CASKIE: One thing that I found that was very interesting was that countries that have large immigrant populations, but not Muslim immigrants, are just as nervous about the prospect of rioting or of unrest as the countries with Muslim populations. And I think in the U.S. coverage, it tended to focus on oh, these are Muslim immigrants and it's the big clash of civilizations. But in Europe they're really not seeing it that way. There are editorials in Estonian newspapers talking about the Russian minority, which is a very large minority there, and they've had lots of trouble [LAUGHS] integrating the Russians into Estonia. And they're taking the French model as an example and saying look, look what happens when you ignore your minority.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: And in the Muslim world, how did it play out there?
SUSAN CASKIE: Well, there's quite a diversity of opinion in the Muslim world, which is interesting. It was more diverse, really, than the European reactions. In Algeria, papers are concentrating mostly on criticizing the security measures that are now being taken, the state of emergency that's been called in France. Liberte, which is from the capital, and also Le Quotidien D'Oran -- they are criticizing the resurrection of a French law from 1955. It allows enormous crackdowns. It allows police to fire on rioters if they need to. And this was last done when France was at war with Algeria, and so the Algerian papers are saying this is an outrage and you're treating these French citizens, who are no longer Algerian, you're treating them the way you treated us back in the colonial period, and it's going to backfire. But then over in other Muslim countries, in Iran-- there are fewer Iranian immigrants in France, so Iran is really looking at this as an outsider-- Iran had the harshest criticisms of France in the entire Muslim world that I saw, lots of calls for boycotts saying "In the name of God, the compassionate, the merciful, France will be struck down for its response," things like that.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: Okay. What about the United States, Susan? There we tended to see two dueling narratives that seemed to divide along party lines. From the right, the riots were seen as part of the clash of civilizations and at one point it was even called the Ramadan offensive. And then the left, the rioters were seen as a disenfranchised population fighting for liberty, fraternity and equality. Is this what you observed as well?
SUSAN CASKIE: In the U.S. press, definitely there was that split. And it's very different from the European press because Europe is not splitting in a left/right way that way. The Washington Post had an editorial saying this isn't terrorism, this is venting. They're venting frustration at years of high unemployment and racism. And that was really the main thesis, that it's not about jihadis, it's not about an Islamist ideology. It has very little to do with Islam; it's about unemployment. And then you go over to some papers on the right. The Chicago Sun-Times ran a column by Mark Steyn. He said, "No, no, no. This is the first skirmish in the Eurabian civil war."
DALJIT DHALIWAL: Thanks very much, Susan.
SUSAN CASKIE: Thanks. It's good to be here.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: Susan Caskie rounds up the world's papers for The Week.