- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 19, 2005

Missed opportunity

In the highly competitive market in which we work, editors and reporters are always trying to get on the leading edge of the news — to be first to report an important development or identify a new trend.

With fixed events that we all know are coming — elections and summits for example — we write what are known in the trade as “walk-ups,” or “advancers” or “scene-setters,” before they begin. When these are done well, there is often no need for a story when the actual event unfolds.

There is a certain futility in getting too far ahead of the news. Stories about the genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan elicited mainly yawns until TV cameras recorded the suffering. But that is far better than being handed a prescient story on a platter and not having the good sense to use it.

Just a couple weeks before the start of rioting across France, stringer Anton Foek submitted a story about the conditions in some of the poor immigrant neighborhoods of Paris.

His colorful account of his visit to the neighborhoods, peopled mainly by Muslim immigrants from North Africa, painted a powerful picture of a bitter, disenfranchised population as it approached the boiling point.

We failed to recognize what was coming and passed on the article. But much of what he wrote remains relevant, and so I have reproduced some excerpts from it here.

Mr. Foek’s tale

Anne Savigny, representative for minorities and African immigrants [in the French government], cannot visit the neighborhood this morning. “I can give an interview, but not go and see the people today. Be very careful and alert,” she says, without further explanation.

Upon arriving, we see scores of boys in their late teens hanging around high-rise apartments fitted with dish antennas to receive television from North Africa. They are from Mali and Senegal, Morocco or Algeria, coming to Europe in search of a better life.

Madame Savigny had told me that, though born in France of immigrant parents, the boys have almost no education, no jobs and what is worse, no job prospects.

More than 20 surround me immediately upon my arrival and ask suspiciously what I want here. “You must be with the police, I can see your watch and phone,” I hear. Their language is a mix of ghetto talk, Arabic and French, a lingo not many outside their own circles understand.

I ask them about French citizenship policies, and they laugh in my face.

“We are French, but not treated like the French,” I hear. “The bureaucrats have no idea what is going on here, who we are or what we want. To them we are scumbags and that will not change any time soon.

“We are condemned to sell sunglasses and handbags on street corners or be newspaper delivery boys. If we do not want to do that, we have to look for other means to stay alive.”

Behind my back I hear them asking about my watch, camera and tape recorder, and I decide to move along.

At the train station, I run into the police and tell them I talked to the boys. A policeman asks if I am sane. Even they do not go into that particular part of town. …

As the immigrants get financial support from the state, they do not seem to care what happens around them.

Mohammed says he pays the equivalent of $200 a month in rent from an income of $900 from social security. He has a bedroom and kitchenette. He is from Mali and has been in France since 2001. He has not worked a single day in his new life.

“If I understand the French Revolution right,” Mohammed says, “conditions were almost the same as this. Lots of poor people and an equally growing minority of the wealthy.

“And although it is more than 200 years ago, it looks like another revolution is necessary to introduce a new order where the slogan of ‘Freedom, Equality and Brotherhood’ may be applied. If you want to save France, there is no other way.”

David W. Jones is the foreign editor of The Washington Times. His e-mail address is djones@washingtontimes.com.

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