Clichés on a Sunday

It has been a sleepy Sunday. I did however read some of this past weeks longer journalistic pieces, and I couldn’t let the day pass without sharing with you how not to write a reportage on the Immigrant Muslims in Belleville.  Simon Kuper for the FT the other day wrote a rather disappointing piece of work on the situation of Muslim immigrants in France today. It starts with some very cliché formulations to set the multicultural scene of Bellville:

‘A class of children pours out of a kindergarten: toddlers of four different colours hold hands while their teachers issue commands in French.’

And quoting the Moroccan novelist Abdellah Taïa on the joy of going to the McDonalds in the area:

“The servers are white, black, Arab, Chinese. It’s almost too philosophical-existential an experience, to see this mélange”.

The rest of the text which is packed with a lot of information presented in a  ‘I am writing my paper for university and have to show I have done my reading’ spirit, Simon seems to want to discuss which is the best of what he presents as two realistic future scenario for Europe:

‘A commonly depicted future scenario for Europe is of “Eurabia”, where a religious Muslim majority runs the ­continent. But most French political scientists and demographers think the Belleville scenario of “mélange” is more likely.’

That quote which basically limits the story to a discussion about a choice between cliché 1 or cliché 2,  is from the 4th paragraph in the text. Although I was disappointed at this point, I kept reading on just because I suspected that Simon’s intention was that of a good liberal.

As expected, the rest of the text is basically just outlining the ‘­Eurabia thesis’ on the one hand and the ‘Melange’ on the other. In the end the Melange is declared the winner with the convincing arguments:

Yet there are two main reasons the Belle­ville scenario looks more likely than the Eurabia one. The first is demographic: no serious demographer expects Muslims to become a majority in any western European country. The second is attitudes: only a tiny minority of French Muslims appears to want to establish a medieval caliphate in Europe.

So, ultimately what is wrong with Simon’s well intentioned article? Well, there are two main reasons for why this article is an example of how how not to write a reportage on the Immigrant Muslims in Belleville. The first is the content: These stereotypes and sweeping generalisations (of which the ones described in the article are more prominent) already dominate the discussion of the subject. So to write an article which at length reiterates them, without presenting any new perspective, just seems like such a waste of time. The second is entertainment value: it’s a really boring Sunday read (contrary to what the article headline suggests).

Basically, Simon Kuper disappointed me. On a Sunday.

To end on a more positive note, there is a really nice book on the suburbs of Paris that makes for a more entertaining read: Emile Ajar: The life before us.

Happy Sunday!


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