Original guest post
On the week of May 22nd, French weekly newspaper Marianne issued a sensationalist cover on “The accomplices of Islamists,” showing a red carpet being laid to the typical cliché of a dangerous Islamist (wearing a turban, qamis, and a beard).
The issue included 24 pages of articles on people and organizations who are accused of handing over the French republic to the “Islamists.” Included are a mix of profiles described either as accomplices (including a very scary account of an imam in Toulouse, radical political activists such as “Parti des indigènes de la république”), others branded as useful idiots (to quote Lenin’s characterization of social democrats), or cowards refusing to stand up to the Islamist danger (especially targeted are locally elected politicians who choose to accommodate demands coming from “Islamists”).
There is a lot that can be discussed about the issue (we will come to that later), but one article in particular resulted in Marianne receiving an unexpected and hilarious backlash especially on social media. Marianne attacked “Beur Fm,” a radio station dedicated to the “Beurs” (one of the ways North Africans are referred to in France), for its talk show “Les Zinformés.” Marianne accused it of providing audience to extremists, insulting Charlie Hebdo (calling them rats), inviting controversial figures such as “les indigènes de la république,” focusing too much on Israel-Palestine by inviting anti-Zionist figures and implying an analogy between the French joining the war in Syria and the ones joining the IDF when it committed bloodshed and atrocities in Gaza.
As soon as the article was published, a massive campaign ran on Twitter with the hashtag #PensecommeMarianne (think like Marianne), a few samples:
Je cuisine un tajine, je suis une islamiste ? #PenseCommeMarianne
— lala ANNABELLE (@aimane92) May 21, 2015
Translation: I cook a tajine does that make me an Islamist?
Translation: If you listen to Radio-shalom you are a zionist, if you listen to beurfm you are an islamist.
— Massica كيكا (@MassicaRA_) May 21, 2015
Translation: Marianne can’t be found this week at your newspaper stand but around here.
Translation: ISIS has just set the BeurFM flag in Palmyre…
— Thomas BARBAZAN (@ThomasBarbazan) May 21, 2015
Translation: BeurFM presenting its team for the upcoming season.
Translation: Djihad FM continues on BeurFM , join us for some fun this morning!!
— najette dhabi (@NajetteDhabi) May 26, 2015
Translation: Talk show host Yassine Belattar just arrived for his interview at France 5 and had some trouble parking his car.
— Julien Salingue (@juliensalingue) May 23, 2015
Translation: The team of « les zinformés » going home after the show.
The response went viral, it was ranked fifth in France on Twitter. Following that, BeurFm decided to organize a special show called “Djihad FM,” branding themselves as a special show with a prize trip to Syria for the lucky winner.
The choice of mocking Marianne was very successful. The team also had a chance to respond back to Marianne by being invited to TV shows.
But some serious response still had to be done, and it came from media expert Julien Salingue, a regular guest of “Les zinformés,” also known for his sharp analysis on media (on a sidenote he also is an expert of the Palestine-Israel, he recently published a solid book on the Oslo process and its effect on the lives of Palestinians). Julien Salingue delivered a two piece deconstruction of the Marianne work, it can be found in French here and here. The main points of the criticism from Salingue are:
- Marianne, traditionally left-wing, is now embracing themes coming from the extreme right wing, especially newspaper “Valeurs actuelles,” which is known for its anti-immigration and Islam obsession. They even hired a former journalist from that paper (Wladimir De Gmeline) who contributed to the recent issue
- Marianne attacks radio station BeurFM while partnering with RMC, a radio station that was regularly summoned by the authorities for hosting several shows that where racist, misogynous and in which many degrading terms were uttered. One particular example is their mocking in vulgar terms Nafissatou Diallo after the famous sex scandal involving Dominique Strauss Kahn.
- In 24 pages, Marianne never gives a proper definition of Islamism, keeping a vague definition and just focusing on attacking persons and organizations. In another article, there is an analogy made between Islamism and… Judaism and Catholicism…which shows that the issue is maybe not only about Islamism but also about Islam from Marianne’s perspective.
- Marianne pretended to bring in new revelations, but Salingue’s study showed that it was mostly copy-paste work, from all the references and quotes from different people, only 7% at best were new ones (providing a table of the references and names), whereas all other quotes came from previous articles borrowed from other newspapers, reusing old material. Besides, the quotes were all leaning in the same direction, no opposing view was ever considered.
- An article in the issue tried to imply that the French state was befriending the Gulf states to the point of cowardly letting Islamism set the rules, for instance being too afraid to call ISIS “Islamic state” out of fear. In one part the article the state would have even pressed AFP (the French equivalent of Reuters) to avoid using the “Islamic state” term, Salingue showed that a quote from an AFP statement was deliberately cut out of context. The main reason why AFP refrained from the state was due to the fact that it was an inaccurate definition.
- Another article in the issue tried to prove that the French educational ministry evades the problem of an increase in “radical Islam” at high schools, linking it to Anti-Semitism. Salingue showed again based on the original text that the Marianne article included a manipulation of quotes on the nature of incidents at high schools, overly dramatizing or simplifying the issues documented.
Following Salingue’s analysis, another article from another website was check and mate for Marianne as it simply analyzed several programs from “Les zinformés” and reached the following conclusion after listening to 12 hours of the show’s programs:
- Terrorism is clearly regularly condemned during the show
- Antisemitism is clearly regularly condemned during the show
- There are insults during the show, mostly against politicians or journalists
- Islamophobia is an important topic and is regularly debated
- Israeli policies are an important topic and is regularly debated
- There were several stormy debates about the «Je suis Charlie» slogan and the national unity that followed the January attacks
In brief, as Buzzfeed concluded, there are many opinionated debates held at « Les zinformés », one may agree with them or not but nothing to prove any complicity between BeurFM and any scary so-called “Islamists.”
Unfortunately, there seem to have been some threats against Marianne, which have to be condemned (as BeurFM did), but this media frenzy shows that humor and serious analysis work are a much better way of making points while fighting bigotry, sensationalism, or simply Islamophobia. A lesson worth remembering.