In an excellent story on French Muslims, The Washington Post introduces readers to a different side of Paris.
The Post steps off the beaten path of reporting in the wake of last week's terror attacks and ventures into a heavily Muslim suburb.
Here's the nut graf (aka the summary up high that tells readers why they should care):
Within France’s Muslim community of some 5 million — the largest in Europe — many are viewing the tragedy in starkly different terms from their non-Muslim compatriots. They feel deeply torn by the now-viral slogan “I am Charlie,” arguing that no, they are not Charlie at all.
Many of France’s Muslims — like Abdelaali (a 17-year-old high school senior) — abhor the violence that struck the country last week. But they are also revolted by the notion that they should defend the paper. By putting the publication on a pedestal, they insist, the French are once again sidelining the Muslim community, feeding into a general sense of discrimination that, they argue, helped create the conditions for radicalization in the first place.
This story succeeds on at least three levels.
1. It quotes "real people" (as opposed to "talking head" official types) and lets them speak in their own words.
Unemployment and poverty remain far higher among France’s Muslims than in the nation overall. Joblessness and poverty are particularly high in heavily Muslim Paris suburbs such as Gennevilliers, an area of sprawling, dense apartment blocks where at least one of the gunmen — Chérif Kouachi, 32 — lived. On the streets here, Charlie Hebdo remains something different, a symbol of what some, such as Mohamed Binakdan, 32, describe as the everyday humiliation of Muslims in France.
“You go to a nightclub, and they don’t let you in,” said Binakdan, a transit worker in Paris. “You go to a party, they look at your beard, and say, ‘Oh, when are you going to Syria to join the jihad?’ Charlie Hebdo is a part of that, too. Those who are stronger than us are mocking us. We have high unemployment, high poverty. Religion is all we have left. This is sacred to us. And yes, we have a hard time laughing about it.”
An aside: I wish the Post had asked Binakdan what he planned to do at the nightclub. Muslims don't generally drink alcohol, do they? Surely that wasn't Binakdan's plan, right? I'm half-joking, but his response to that follow-up question seriously might provide some additional insight.
2. It offers a nuanced portrait of Paris and doesn't shy away from apparent contradictions in the French attitude toward free speech.
Some insisted there is a double standard in freedom of speech and expression here that is bias against Islam. They cite the 2010 so-called burqa ban in France that forbade “concealment of the face” in public, and which Muslim critics say was clearly aimed at devout Islamic women. They also point to the 2008 firing of a Charlie Hebdo cartoonist — Maurice Sinet, known as Siné — after he declined to apologize for a column that some viewed as anti-Semitic. Such action was not taken, Muslim groups note, after their protests over the paper’s Muhammad cartoons.
Almost 4 million people across France turned out Sunday in support of free speech. Yet, on Monday, for instance, a 31-year-old Tunisian-born man was sentenced to 10 months in jail after verbally threatening police and saying an officer shot in last week’s attack “deserved it.” Also on Monday, a Paris prosecutor opened an investigation against an anti-Semitic French comedian, Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, for a post on his Facebook page calling himself “Charlie Coulibaly” — a reference to Amedy Coulibaly, the gunmen who killed four people Friday inside a Paris kosher market.
Speaking of contradictions, I already praised the Post for focusing on real people and not official types. Then again, the story seems to leave room for responses from French officials on some concerns raised. The newspaper does quote Prime Minister Manuel Valls as saying "Islam is the second religion of France. It all has its place in France.”
3. It provides specific details and paints precise visual images — both characteristics of good writing.
Over the past few days, these societal divisions, in increasingly stark terms, have confronted the French. Virginie Artaud, a 44-year-old art teacher in the Paris suburbs, said her predominantly Muslim class of high school-aged students initially balked Friday when she proposed that they design posters and banners to be displayed at Sunday’s unity march against terrorism.
The world, her students told her, hardly takes notice when Palestinian or Syrian children are killed. Why all the attention for a humor magazine that openly mocks Islam’s prophet?
“I let them all express themselves, even though they were saying the worst things they had to say,” she said. “Everyone listened to each other, and at the end, they decided to make peaceful banners.”
But, she said, she was unsure whether any had attended the historic march. Artaud herself had a banner: a shiny silver placard she held aloft Sunday reading “All United, All Charlie,” along with blue facepaint spelling out the words “Freedom is non-negotiable.”