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Maïa de La Baume
Immigration Journalism Fellow shares insights on the impacts of the Charlie Hebdo shooting
Maïa de La Baume, 2013 Immigration Journalism Fellow, shares her thoughts on the reactions and implications of the January 7 shooting at the offices of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and series of attacks that left a total of 17 dead.
Maïa de La Baume is a French journalist currently working as a reporter for The New York Times Paris bureau, where she mainly writes news stories and features about France. Before joining the Times, she worked at Le Monde.fr, and wrote a travel guide on Italy. Her work also appeared in the International Herald Tribune, Vice.com, Courrier International, Figaro Madame and LeMonde.fr. She holds an MA in History and International Affairs from the University of the Sorbonne. Her fields of interest include social trends, human rights-related issues as well as international politics.
What is the general atmosphere in Paris following the tragic events at Charlie Hebdo earlier this month?
The tension was highly palpable in Paris during and immediately after the attacks, with hundreds of army and police forces who were being deployed across the city. The attacks had taken many of us by surprise, so it felt like the entire Paris population had become more watchful and cautious. These tensions were eased later on, when officials and people in Paris and across France marched in solidarity with the victims. Today, Paris seems to have slightly recovered from the shock. People still talk about it a lot, but the mood is more serene. We are now going through a moment of reverence and self-examination.
Your involvement with the French-American Foundation came through the Immigration Journalism program. The Charlie Hebdo shooting, the various responses, and the involvement of multinational terror networks link this incident in several ways to the questions of immigration and integration. How has that been addressed in the early response to the shooting?
The question of immigration was addressed early on, as soon as the identity and life stories of the attackers emerged. But the issue became relevant days after the attack, when France’s Prime Minister Manuel Valls talked about the existence of a “territorial, social, ethnic apartheid,” mainly in the suburbs of French cities. The use of the word “apartheid” was a strong warning signal, and had rarely been pronounced by a left-wing politician. Mr. Vall’s diagnosis was hailed by many politicians, but few challenged France’s integration policies towards its immigrant community. One of the immediate responses to the terrorist attacks was instead to reaffirm France’s attachment to the “laicite” rule of strict separation between church and state.
Is there fear of a social and political backlash against all Muslims? What do you think could be done to avoid amalgam, a post-crisis hysteria or paranoia? How can the media help?
As Laurent Fabius, France’s Foreign Affair Minister said in a recent speech, the Muslims have been the first victims of the attacks. Despite their leaders’ efforts to condemn the terrorist attacks and avoid any confusion between Islam and terrorism, there has been a surge of anti-Muslim violence in the weeks following the attacks. But I don’t believe that there is a widespread rejection of Islam in France after the attacks because people are smart enough to make a distinction between fanatics and religious people. It might only encourage the National Front party to further denounce immigration, especially from North-Africa. I think that the role of the media in France is to show that Islam is only a small part of the problem. The problem is not about Islam but rather unemployment, lack of prospects and discrimination in poor areas around big cities.
What was the general response to President Barack Obama’s non-participation, and a general absence of U.S. leadership outside U.S. Ambassador Jane Hartley, in the day of solidarity alongside so many other world leaders?
French people were surprised to see that neither President Obama nor John Kerry had showed up at the march, especially after such horrific events. But their absence didn’t stir any major controversy, and some journalists (i.e Le Petit Journal) even made fun of it. I think that the French were more captivated by the image of Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas marching together, not far from one another.
How do you feel about many U.S. media choosing not to publish imagery of the Muslim Prophet?
I consider that it is the newspapers’ absolute right to not publish these caricatures. But it is important, in my opinion, to explain why.
Can you explain a little what Charlie Hebdo symbolizes in the French media landscape? What has been the discussion on press freedom in France following the shooting?
Charlie Hebdo was a well-known satirical newspaper but it had few readers. I believe that people found some of its caricatures offensive, and not always funny. But it was also celebrated for its irreverent tone. And many defended the newspaper in the name of free speech.
How do you think organizations such as the French-American Foundation, can provide a platform to address the issues underlying incidents such as this one?
I think that the French-American Foundation should continue to work on issues like immigration in France, and broaden it to include ghettos, discrimination and unemployment. As Ross Douthat wrote it in a recent column for The New York Times, Now France is “once again the place where strong forces are colliding, and where the culture’s uncertainties — about Islam, secularism, nationalism, Europe; about modernity itself — suggest that new ones might soon be born.